Posted by: patenttranslator | October 19, 2015

Continued Reeducation Points: For Obedient Stepford Wives?

On the day of the 2008 presidential election I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw that my son, who had just turned 18, was one of many young people waiting patiently for over an hour in front of a local church where people go to vote in my neighborhood. Churches and garages also serve as part-time shrines to democracy in America because that’s where people often go to vote, under the watchful eye of volunteers, mostly senior citizens.

In San Francisco California, I used to vote in a garage. In Chesapeake, Virginia, it was in a church. In fact, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw so many young people lining up and waiting to cast their vote, I was elated. Finally, things may start changing in this country if young people start paying attention to what is going on, I thought to myself.

It was only this year that I found out in a conversation with my son that the real reason why he voted was that he got extra points for voting in a class that he was taking at a local college. He didn’t really believe that voting for Obama or McCain would make a difference, he just did it for the points. (It so happens that the then 18 year-old was right. Nothing changed whatsoever).

Is it a good idea to give college students extra credit points to vote for candidates preapproved by corporations financing elections, when these are the only candidates who have a chance at being elected? I don’t think so. I think that what the teacher really did was take away from the students the only power they had – it was no longer within the power of the kids to stay home in the absence of a candidate who would represent them.

Incidentally, neither of the final presidential candidates in 2008 even mentioned the biggest problem these kids have had then and have now, which is that student debt has reached astronomical dimensions and by now has surpassed all credit card debt. You wouldn’t need to give students credits for voting if a candidate that would actually want to do something for them was allowed to run for president and had a chance at being elected. But because both parties and both candidates were then and are now generously financed by Wall Street, student loans have very high interest rates and refinancing at a lower interest rate is prohibited by law.

Isn’t the much celebrated “invisible hand of the free market” great?

Is it a good idea to give translators “continued education (CE) points” for participating in conferences, seminars and events that the translators might otherwise choose to ignore if they do not find them particularly useful? I think it’s an even worse idea than giving kids extra credit point for making them vote for a candidate whom they don’t trust. But some associations of translators, in particular the American Association of Translators (ATA), with about nine thousand members, and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in UK, with about three thousand members, think that it’s an excellent idea.

First of all, who or what makes these august bodies, ATA in the United States and ITI in the United Kingdom, qualified to assign special points for continued education of translators? I don’t know how exactly things work on the other side of the big pond, but I know a little bit about how they work here.

The answer is: nobody and nothing. ATA simply declared itself an arbiter of what is and what isn’t continued education of translators, because it is the ATA. Period.

This is the same ATA that has not been able, in more than two decades, to put in place a “keyboarded exam” for translators who want to become “ATA-accredited”, although I understand it spent well over a hundred thousand dollars while trying in vain to figure out how to solve this insolvable problem. ATA members who want to participate in this exam must write their translations with pen on a piece of paper the way it was done last century and the centuries before.

The same organization, so well known for its organizational genius, also decreed that translators who go to the trouble of passing an examination have to do so by scribbling their translations on a piece of paper the same way these things were done several centuries ago, must participate in various seminars and events in order to hold on to their title of being “ATA-certified”, as explained on ATA website: “Currently certified members will have to earn and keep track of continuing education credits, as determined by ATA, in order to maintain their certification credential. Certified members are given three years to accumulate 20 hours of credit.”

Now, some continued education credits can be obtained relatively easily, for instance by attending a meeting of a local ATA chapter. It just so happens that Mad Patent Translator himself gave a talk by Skype to a local ATA chapter in Washington, DC a few years ago, and every participant was awarded continued education points for simply listening to me (I don’t remember how many points they were given, nor did I know about this arrangement in advance).

Apparently, it’s not that difficult to obtain these points, as they are generously awarded (among other things) for holistic seminars conducted by relatively recent translators who explain, probably mostly to newbies and people who need just a little bit more self-confidence, how to maintain a positive outlook – not an easy task if you’re a translator these days.

I also understand that basically all you have to do to receive your quota of “continued education points” is attend the yearly ATA conference. That sounds pretty simple, until you see how much the conference costs now. Here is this information, again from ATA’s website:

Early Registration (by September 25)
ATA Member Non Member ATA Student**
Full Conference: $485 $660 $240
Saturday Only*: $245 $330 N/A

Standard Registration (after September 25)

ATA Member Non Member ATA Student**
Full Conference: $630 $860 $310
Saturday Only*: $315 $430 N/A

Late Registration (after October 16)

ATA Member  Non Member ATA Student**
Full Conference: $945 $1,285 $465
Saturday Only*: $475 $645 N/A

It’s $485 for ATA members or $660 for the rest of the world, early registration; $945 for ATA members who register late, and $1,285 for non-members who register late.

Phew, given the additional cost of airfare, hotel and incidental costs, one would think that translators make about as much money as plastic surgeons, n’est-ce pas? Some people who live off the work of translators make as much or more than plastic surgeons. But very few translators do, if any.

One would not know it from official ATA statements and from the ATA Chronicle magazine (self-described as the Voice of Translators and Interpreters), because only articles reflecting unambiguously pro-corporate views of “the translation industry” are accepted for publication in the Voice of Translators and Interpreters, except for the fact that a volcano of discontent is erupting on social media, discontent with the current status quo of ATA, which officially stands for Association of American Translators, but in my opinion might as well stand for Association of Translation Agencies given the grip corporate bodies have on ATA’s agenda.

The unhappiness with ATA on social media is palpable. Here is a sampling of views expressed on social media recently:

“ATA should be actively working to advocate for translators and interpreters, and not simply keep quiet and misinformed about the issues, or tiptoe around issues while avoiding them, or writing empty platitudes when it cannot avoid direct questions.”

“Today, unfortunately, most gateways to the profession are controlled by that industry and serve as reeducation camps. The associations, which are the first place for budding and even more experienced translators to turn to for help and guidance, spew corporate propaganda and depict a reality in which there is no market outside of agencies. There are courses that under the moniker of “CPD” and the pretense of professional advice are all about preparing the “students” to start a fleeting career as modern agency slaves – including advice to be positive and accept everything with a smile, even when you can barely pay the bills.

And here is my favorite comment, which inspired me to write today’s post:

It’s a sad tale of a slow decline into obscurity. ATA is invisible to the public and to clients, and the tag line, adopted during the height of the PREVIOUS PR and media program, of “The Voice of Interpreters and Translators,” is just a cynical reminder of how that voice has gone completely silent. Sad, really.
And honestly, people, if you want to change this, for the love of all things holy, please stop standing up in the General Meeting of Members on Friday morning and PRAISING this level of incompetence and grand foolishness. I get that the first law of ATA today is to smile like a good Stepford wife and never disagree or cause waves, but it’s precisely that behavior that has resulted in widespread contamination of the association.

Depending on who is awarding continued education points and for what, continuing education points may really be continued reeducation points, awarded to reluctant voters, or to obedient Stepford wife-like  translators after a successful lobotomy has been performed on their original, less educated brains, which are now being continuously replaced by a superior and improved product through continuous reeducation.


  1. Funny that your last paragraph remembers me the movie of “Einer flog übers Kuckusnest.”

    However, it is always the same cuckoo´s net and the same circus. Either you get insane (mad) or amputated, depending on how much power you still have.

    The Indian Chief ran away and I am glad he escaped at last.


  2. I saw this movie in Poland in 1980. It was forbidden in Czechoslovakia back then, but not in Poland.

    “Either you get insane (mad) or amputated, depending on how much power you still have.”

    Or you start writing a blog and call yourself Mad to preempt criticism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done, Steve.

    There are so many issues with the idea of compulsory CPD that I don’t know where to even begin.

    1) ATA CE points (enough to meet the annual quota) are awarded, for example, for attending ProZ’s virtual events, for which you don’t even have to be present, just register (and I won’t even go into the the fact that these virtual events the translators are the real product). This is not shameful.

    2) for centuries translation professionals were engaged in CPD without anyone telling them to. They did so for the same reason any other professional does: to get better at what they do. Turning CPD into a box ticking exercise is not the solution to anything.

    3) People should be aware that the efforts in favor of compulsory CPD are championed by companies who sell (what they call) CPD courses. What a coincidence.

    4) I argue that except of translation of literacy, translation is not a standalone profession. It is a group of sub-specialties within other professions, and is practices by a wide variety of professionals: from inexperienced, through those who treat it as a hobby while living on someone else’s income, to translation professionals who are in this business as a career (and I don’t include the frauds and hucksters in the list). Therefore, the notion that there could be a one-size-fits-all CPD program, or even programs, is beyond ridiculous and put a big question mark on the judgment of our so-called associations.
    What does a freshly graduated linguistics major who is making their first step in this business and don’t really know anything about anything has in common with an experienced and well-established translator, or with an attorney, engineer, or a doctor with 20 years of experience in their respective fields who shifted into translation? The answer is nothing! And therefore it is not surprising to note that most of the CPD that is aimed at translators is focused on the lower common denominator, or in other words, for inexperienced beginners.

    5) The aforementioned CPD only enable people who have no business coming into this business, while promising them all sorts of false promises, and by doing so also enables and supports the exploitative and abusive practices and the mediocrity-centric business model of translation brokers — while dragging the reputation and status of our so-called profession that much more through the gutter.

    Is this is what the translation associations, who pretend to represent the interest of the so-called translation profession and the interests of their members, are in support of?
    Is this what the translation profession is in need for? I argue not.
    If anything, the profession is in dire need of a much more stricter INTERNAL regulation, not commercially driven enablers of mediocrity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for your comment, Shai.

    I wonder whether in countries where corporate members, such as translation agencies and other non-translators, are NOT allowed to be members of an association of translators, the same wheeling and dealing with continued education points is taking place too, or whether it is a specialty of UK and US.

    I also wonder whether I am the only who is reminded in this context of “indulgences” that were sold in Middle Ages by the Pope and Catholic Church to generate money for the Church. As I remember from history classes, selling of indulgences eventually resulted in Reformation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While not all translation association allow such blunt and direct corporate involvement (although these could still creep in), this doesn’t mean they are free of external interests and influence.

      For example, I don’t claim to know all translation associations in the world, but the ones I’m familiar with to some degree all seem to be mostly marketing themselves to translators, and I find this very misguided and unhelpful.
      The associations should have used their resources to market themselves to the potential buyers (i.e. the general public), thus raising awareness to our profession (and its inherit variety) and becoming the first point of contact for anyone who is looking for translation or and advice about translation.
      By focusing on marketing to translators, presumably because more members mean more money, they are becoming, even if inadvertently, another outfit that profits from translators — and this is not ideal, to say the least.


      • I agree with what you are saying. But in a way, it’s the translators’ fault if the association does not work for them and they are not doing anything about it. Just like voters get the government they deserve, translators get the association they deserve too.


  5. As a court interpreter, I’m required to take CE classes amounting to 10 (or was it 12?) hours over every two-year period. It was in this context that I took a course that was almost entirely useless, except for one important thing: it’s introduction.

    “This is basically traffic school for interpreters,” said the organizer.

    Yup. That’s what it is. Just as stupid, just as useless.

    I wish there were anything else of interest in that class.


  6. I never went to traffic school. As you probably know, this is required in many countries, but not in US. My wife was teaching me how to drive (I learned relatively late in life because I did not need to drive in Europe or in Japan, they actually have very well functioning public transportation there).

    It was pure torture for me, probably the worst time ever that I can remember, worse even than boot camp in the army.

    When the day of the practical test came, she said that I was not ready yet because she was not done with me yet. But I drove the car illegally, without a driver’s license, to the Department of Motor Vehicles and I passed the test without any problem.

    She was so pissed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It seems to me that learning how to drive with a spouse as your co-driver is one of the greatest tests a marriage can endure. Well done, both of you, for not resorting to violence.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if we had functioning public transit here? We wouldn’t have to worry about sharing the road with our hordes of texting, eating, or otherwise distracted drivers.

      Since that’s unlikely to be achieved in my lifetime, I’ll reserve my energy for working within our profession. Plenty of scope for world fixing there!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. An excellent article, than you Steve.
    I have always been allergic to the idea of continuing education points (and points of all kinds) and expensive courses/conferences/seminars to get them. I do not understand why one should need an extra “accreditation” either. University degrees should be enough. Life offers plenty of opportunities of permanent learning and improving, and as long as my clients come back, I do not see any reason why I should need points or other credentials.


    • You mean your university does not make you take seminars in CAT tools, holistic life-work balance and techniques for post-processing of the machine translation vomit as a condition of maintaining your diploma?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hmmm, of course I meant “thank you Steve” 😉


  9. Well done for covering this Steve. Translators need to beware all the commercial interests focused entirely on making money out of us and using the associations as a vehicle to do so. I hope you will forgive me if I post this here but if anyone interested in a view of the other side of the pond please read my blog post on the subject:

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember how peeved you were in Bordeaux when this subject came up, that was probably the initial impetus that ultimately resulted in my post.


  10. I can’t directly reply to your above comment Steve, because the nested comments value might be set to only 3, so I’m continuing here.

    You wrote:
    “I agree with what you are saying. But in a way, it’s the translators fault if the association does not work for them and they are not doing anything about it. Just like voters get the government they deserve, translators get the association they deserve too.”

    Yes, the bottom line is that you are right, but it is a little more complicated than this in my opinion. It is a little of a chicken or the egg question, with hints of a catch-22 scenario.

    Many members are indifferent, but the apathy of others is the result of lack of education and being immersed in the poverty and victimization culture those association nurture. Many turn to the associations for professional guidance, but when those association are mainly a vehicle in the service of those who are out to make a buck off of translators, the members might get the wrong idea, and at that stage are not really in a position to question that advice or the actions of the association.
    More experienced translators might have gotten fed up with the mischeifs and left the association (or lost interest and completely disengaged from the conversation and internal affairs), which further disturbs the healthy internal professional balance.

    So yes, basically the members get what they deserve, but this doesn’t excuse the actions of associations, not justifies unethical and unscrupulous activities. In my opinion, that is.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I also think that whether an association of translators does or does not allow non-translators, such as translation agencies, to be members is a good indication of whether the association members understand that they would have a problem and that the association would not really belong to them if they allowed this, or whether they are just happy following the pied piper because everybody else does it too.


    • This is indeed a good indication to both its general direction and what one could expect out of one’s membership, as well as to the professional maturity level of the members.

      Another problem is that while all citizens are allowed and even encouraged to vote, in the associations not all members necessarily have a vote, and the voting itself is usually quite of a hassle (traveling to a conference or attending a meeting, with all the inconvenience and costs involved if otherwise one wouldn’t have attended).

      Liked by 1 person

      • When you have corporate members rubbing shoulders, so to speak, with actual translators in the same association, you should not be surprised if you get mostly a lot of corporate BS from your “translators’ association”.

        How could it possibly be anything else? Many associations know that and that is why they allow only translators to be members.


  12. OSTI, the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters, just had a conference in Oregon. The ATA gave CE points. No, we didn’t preach that the agencies were the only place to get jobs. Companies didn’t have booths. We had no sponsors.
    Interpreters and translators were there, and loved the presentations, and felt that they were represented and felt that it was worth coming. That is why we are growing. We have another presentation coming up on November 14, a freebie on how to run a sustainable business as freelancers.
    Not all associations are like you say. Some of our members may be owners of agencies or companies. They are welcome to be members. A translator has a right to let his or his business grow! They are members as individuals, not as companies, however.


  13. Thank you for your comment, Helen.

    1. I am an owner of a translation agency too. But I am mostly a translator. Owning an agency should not disqualify translators from being members of an association of translators. But non-translators, such as owners of translation agencies who do not translate, should be obviously disqualified. Most associations in other countries do so (for example in Germany), as well as some local associations here (for example NETA, the New England Translators Association).

    2. I am obviously supporting events such as the one you described. My question is: who or what gave the ATA power to award “continued education points”? And how can they possibly link these CE points to maintaining an “ATA-certified translator” status.

    You don’t think that it stinks to high heaven? ATA is obviously doing it to control people and, most importantly, to make money, the way the Catholic Church was selling “indulgences” in Middle Ages. This is wrong and immoral, as well as completely ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It is good practice and frequently required by accrediting standards entities (NCCA) for any professional certifying body to require X amount of continuing education credits (CECs) periodically in order to maintain/renew the credential. There can be problems:
    1) the price that can range from price gouging to pyramid scheme
    2) the quality which is the direct result of the certifying body’s regulations and aptitude (or lack thereof) to evaluate proposals for CECs.
    Problem #1 can easily be solved by forcing your own professional association to provide CECs for free in exchange of your dues. I belong to one like that.
    Problem #2 can be solved by forcing CECs approval to be more stringent and competent. I have and continue to participate in that effort.
    Finally, let me say that a professional credential with mandatory CECs to maintain it is somewhat more credible than one without them. Plus you get to hang out and network with your colleagues. 🙂
    Milena Calderari Waldron


    • Anecdata: I’ve been forced to record CE’s since 2008, when I became a court-registered interpreter (which is the only organization that will provide credentials in my language combination).

      There have been four hours of outstanding, worthwhile education offered. There was one class that was worthwhile, without being outsdtanding. The remaining forty-or-sixty-or-however-many hours were unmitigated nonsense. Lowlights: one seminar consisted of a man reading us a (medical) dictionary for four hours; one involved an “ethics” course where we were told to shut up and let the judge call the shots and only respond to unethical practices after any trial was over; one where we were required to shout out answers in pep-rally style. Oh, and the webinar held seminar-style with court interpreters whose English wasn’t up to conversation (they were only tested for their other language, I imagine. I shudder to think what judges and juries make of this sort of performance.)

      The Administration of the Courts has decided that its translators must sit through these classes, regardless of any benefit thereof. I read it as a scam, of the simulacra variety: have translator- and interpreter-shaped persons go through education-shaped hours, so everyone feels credentialed and can tick the right boxes. Box-ticking is super-important in the U.S.

      Personally, I endure it as gracefully as I can. I’d have attended the outstanding classes even without the requirement (constantly learning is part of my job). I consider it a highway looter’s tax on progress, sort of like a toll booth.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I noticed that it has been common practice for a long time now that translators and interpreters are treated as little, stupid children.

        By courts in the case you are describing, by translation agencies, but also by their own associations in some cases.

        Unless they do something about it, the practice will obviously continue because a lot of people are making a lot of money out of it.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. “It is good practice and frequently required by accrediting standards entities (NCCA) for any professional certifying body to require X amount of continuing education credits (CECs) periodically in order to maintain/renew the credential. ”

    So which NCCA entity accredited ATA to award continuing education credits to translators and link them to ATA’s own accreditation examination so that the examination is invalid unless the translators keeps receiving these credits?

    And what does this NCCA entity know about translation?


    • I don’t believe ATA is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). And I don’t know whether ATA is actively pursuing NCCA accreditation which is outrageously expensive. However, nothing prevents a certifying body to adopt and implement NCCA’s standards of excellence. Here is why:
      1) it doesn’t hurt to look at your own processes with a critical eye
      2) it makes the credential more credible


      • Translators and interpreters have been engaged in continuing education for centuries now. Like any other professional, they do so not because someone sold them (literally) on the idea it is important, but because they see a value and benefit from the sort of continued education or professional development activities they chose.

        No one is arguing against the concept of continuing education or professional development, just its commercial application.
        Not everyone or everything that slaps a CE/CPD label onto itself is beneficial, qualified, or valuable. CE/CPD has many shapes, faces, and forms.

        Liked by 1 person

      • OK, so ATA just went ahead and accredited itself, just as I thought.

        At least the Pope had some credibility when he decided that the Catholic Church was authorized by God to sell indulgences to sinners (since he talks directly to God, it was hard to contradict him).

        Or did God authorize ATA the same way s(he) authorized the Pope to determine in its wisdom what is and what isn’t translators’ education and how they should go about receiving indulgences called “credits”?


  16. All I would add is that we focus so much on outside threats that we are blind to the commercial interests within our profession masquerading as translators and using our associations as vehicles to extract a pretty penny from its members.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Which is what Shai is saying too, and Mad Patent Translator agrees, of course.


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