Posted by: patenttranslator | November 15, 2015

No One Is Forced to Buy CPD Indulgences?

“No one is forced to attend any seminars, so if people want to, then that is up to them.”

(From a comment in a discussion on a blog of a fellow translator)

If you were paying attention in your history classes, you may remember that during the Middle Ages, the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church were selling “indulgences” that affluent sinners were encouraged to buy to have their sins forgiven by the Church and thus also by God.

Nobody was forcing the well-heeled sinners to buy “indulgences”. Nobody, that is, with the possible exception of Jesus himself because if you failed to purchase sufficient indulgences from Catholic Church for the sins committed while you were still alive, Jesus would be sure to have a word with St. Peter who would then have no choice but to send the person who failed to purchase the required “indulgences” straight to the infernal fires of the innermost circle of Hell, no matter how loudly the poor sinner might be banging on the Pearly Gates.

You could buy “an indulgence” even if you committed murder, although this one was of course expensive, the equivalent of a very expensive car today, a Lamborghini rather than just an introductory Hyundai, Toyota or Ford model, especially if the murder was particularly heinous.
When Bob Dylan says in his song “Masters of War”:

“Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made

Will never buy back your soul”

he must have been alluding to this system of “indulgences”.

Clearly, Bob Dylan doesn’t want to understand that money always had and always will have the power to buy everything and anything, but that’s his business.

The growing disagreement with Church practices, which eventually led to several translations of the Bible into several national languages in Europe, resulted in religious wars that lasted for over a century in what became known as Reformation, namely a mostly futile attempt to reform the greedy practices of the Catholic Church. Because the Catholic Church was simply not reformable, at least not in the 14th and 15th centuries, the immorality of the requirement for purchasing “indulgences” as penance for human sins eventually also resulted in the split of the Protestant Church from the Catholic Church.

Although no one was forced to buy “indulgences” from the Pope, if you were Catholic and failed to pay for your sins in this manner, you were sure to go to Hell based on the teachings of the infallible Catholic Church, and some people thought that this was just a bit too much.’

More than half a millennium later, the American Translators Association is now encouraging translators who are “ATA-accredited” to attend various kinds of seminars to be granted continued professional development points (CPDs), because without CPDs from these seminars, these translators will not be able to maintain their “ATA-accredited status”, ATA’s equivalent of sending translators to hell (with a small “h” in this case, I think), for failing to purchase ATA’s indulgences called CPDs. I’m not sure how exactly these things work in the UK, but I hear they have a similar system there too.

The ATA continuing professional education points (or CPDs) are indulgently granted, albeit mostly in small numbers, for just about anything.

I am told that you can get CPDs for things like listening to people who explain to you how to eat properly (as a translator), how to get paid by payment-forgetting translation agencies, how to maintain the proper spirit, posture and weight by practicing yoga (as a translator), or how to purchase a special table so that you can stand up while translating instead of sitting down like normal people do when they are working, and various other revolutionary concepts.

And of course, you can get CPDs for seminars about how to use absolutely indispensible computer tools such as Trados, and about proper techniques for post-processing of machine translation detritus. It’s all about continuing professional development of translators. And since the mission of the American Translators Association is to make sure that its members are well prepared for present and future challenges, this naturally also includes the obligatory use of Trados and expertise in proper post-processing techniques applicable to machine pseudo-translations. If you don’t use Trados and don’t even know how to post-process pseudo-translations, how can you even call yourself a translator, huh? Go and get some CPDs so you can sleep at night.

Fortunately, even just listening to me is worth a few CPDs. After I once gave a talk by Skype to a regional ATA section, I found out to my surprise that the translators who listened (with baited breath?) to my introduction to the mysteries of translation according to the Evangelium of Mad Patent Translator were also granted some CPD points.

I felt honored and humbled at the same time.

I will be surprised if the CPD situation does not eventually result in the equivalent of religious wars and a major split in the translating profession in United States and possibly also in other countries.

I just hope that I won’t end up like the quarrelsome Bohemian reformer Jan Hus who was first excommunicated and then condemned as an obstinate heretic for his preaching against the immorality of “indulgences” to be burnt at the stake at the Council of Constance in 1415.

Jan Hus came to Constance to defend his teachings (he was famous for fiery sermons against greed in a little church, which you can still visit when you go to Prague along with other tourist traps as the restored church where he used to preach is still there), and also to defend himself against the charges brought against him as he was assured safe conduct by the Emperor, whose name was Sigismund, as the Emperor’s word obviously meant something. What he didn’t understand was that although Sigismund would never go back on his word, he only meant safe passage from Prague to Constance, not including also safe passage from Constance back to Prague.

I think that the contradictions behind the granting of CPDs by several translators’ associations to members of some associations are one reason why there is already a split occurring among translators. Beginners flock to seminars, most of which require payment of a fee, so that they could be indulgently granted CPD points in recognition of their efforts to zealously educate themselves in a manner approved by the ATA here (and I am told that a similar system is practiced also by the ITI in UK).

Most experienced translators, however, not only don’t give a damn about CPDs, they think it’s a total joke, and as far as I can tell, one reason why they are leaving the ATA in droves is that they just can’t bring themselves to participate in silly seminars without which they would be unable to maintain their ATA-certified status.

Just like the immorality of the Catholic Church so well illustrated by the invention of “indulgencies” more than half a millennium ago led to a split in the Church, the silliness of the requirements for “CPDs” as practiced now by the American Translators Association is thus causing a split among translators.

I think that ATA should do something about this problem, preferably get rid of this newly invented system of “indulgencies for translators”.

Unless ATA does so, I think that it will become a home mostly just for beginners, also known as “newbies”, who are always warmly welcomed by the association, while more experienced and more established translators will be shunning the institution that was established more than half a century ago.

And because history tends to repeat itself, the more experienced translators who don’t agree with the system of “indulgences” for translators may at some point start their own association of translators, or join existing associations in other countries that don’t have silly rules that are really hard to swallow – unless you are an inexperienced, naive newbie who just blindly and unquestioningly trusts an established authority.



  1. Yep. being a *certified* ATA member still means something in the translation world. And it is my only formal credential. That is why I remain a member.

    (By the way, did you ever notice how many uncertified ATA members there are in pairs where certification is available?)

    But as you rightly point out, the organization blithely accepts and even embraces trends hat degrade the profession, and its system of CPDs is a joke.

    I myself fulfill the requirement by ordering CD-ROMs of a couple of the annual conferences and answering a few set questions about each of 20 articles. The last time I did this, I noticed how poorly so many of them were written.

    Oh well. At least I didn’t have to spend a couple of thousand dollars to actually attend those conferences in person….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said. Finding ways not to waste money while accumulating CPDs is a constant challenge. I wonder if reading Steve’s blog on a regular basis can be credited as “Independent Study.” I’m going to try entering it on my next reporting form!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It definitely should be! And once it it is approved by ATA, I will put a collection jar on my blog so I can cash in a little too!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “(By the way, did you ever notice how many uncertified ATA members there are in pairs where certification is available?)”

    I did notice. Why do you think they don’t bother?


    • My own suspicion is that a large percentage of them have not been able to pass the certification test, perhaps even after multiple attempts.

      After all, it defies logic that the droves of uncertified long-term members in pairs where certification is offered are all simply so well qualified (formally or otherwise) that certification is simply irrelevant to them….


      • I don’t know, Robert, but it is certainly irrelevant to me and my clients.


  3. So be sure not go to the next ATA Conference, Steve. Remember history, and what happened to Jeníček! The ATA won’t even guarantee you safe conduct going there, much less getting back!
    BTW – the system of the CPDs has been around at least since 2003; that’s the year I got my certification.
    Ah yes, and while we are at it–isn’t post-processing your favourite pastime these days? Tsk, tsk!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So glad you still read my silly blog posts, Volkmar.

    Didn’t know you were certified.

    BTW, I am not certified, only certifiable.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I ALWAYS read and enjoy your posts, Steve. And spent at least 3 months this past year in the Bohemian Woods near Prague (envy!). Weather was fine, hot summer, and the beer was/is as good as ever. Going there again next Wed.

    As for the ATA certification–I don’t think it is a big deal, and I didn’t bother to keep up my “accredited” status, as it were. It’s just that some people want to see something official, so as to be sure that I can actually do what I claim to be able to do. In that case, I send them a pdf of my certification. Normally, that will do. If not, I will send them one of my patent translation samples. If they survive that, it’s usually a deal.


  6. “As for the ATA certification–I don’t think it is a big deal, and I didn’t bother to keep up my “accredited” status, as it were. It’s just that some people want to see something official, so as to be sure that I can actually do what I claim to be able to do. In that case, I send them a pdf of my certification.”

    Good thinking, although it would be probably deemed illegal and sinful by ATA since you dare not to participate in properly approved seminars about proper eating techniques and procedures for translators and such for which you could legally obtain highly coveted CPDs.

    I wonder if we will ever meet. I will be in Prague next year for a few days in mid April at the BP16 conference. Here is a link to speakers at the BP16 Conference in Prague:

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You would not be the first Czech to be punished for the crime of speaking his mind. There were a lot of people who suffered that fate in the 1950s after the Communists imposed their rule on post-WW2 Czechoslovakia. I studied Czech language at Lancaster University during and spoke it fluently then as we had an influx of Czech students and academics who sought asylum in the UK after 1968. It still angers me that nobody has really been punished for the crimes committed by the Communists during the 1950s. By the late Sixties the atmosphere seem much more easy-going than in the USSR or Hungary. Best regards, looking forward to your next piece Barry Appleby

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I for one am happy to do CPD – *where it is relevant to the work I do*. Given that I translate patents for a living, that leaves me a very broad field of potential subject-matter where I could do with improving my knowledge/understanding. The question is how to ascertain whether individual CPD items are worthwhile – or, as Steve says, whether they are just a question of clocking up points to meet a target. I’m sure my clients would be glad to hear that I’m doing a webinar on, say, mechanical engineering (actually, one client does ask to keep their record of my CPD up to date), but would not be interested if I was doing something about how to improve ergonomics at work. I believe ITI’s current attitude is that it encourages CPD, certainly among Qualified Members (which I’m not), but it’s not obligatory – but I could be wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The system here in the UK is that ITI members are expected to do 30 hours CPD a year, but the ITI does not specify what counts as CPD (or particularly police the requirement, as far as I can tell). I can live with that!
    But you make an interesting point about about a potential split in the profession. ISO17100 makes it a requirement of “language service providers” (i.e. agencies, for the most part) to keep a record of “how [translators’] competences are maintained and updated”, i.e. CPD. Translators who work through agencies are going to have to take CPD courses so that their agency clients can tick the right boxes for their certification.


  10. Thanks for your comment, Nigel.

    Most translators, including this one, understand that application of industrial standards to translation (ISO means Industrial Standards Organization) is a bad joke. But it is an excellent gimmick for advertising purposes, which is why some agencies like it, especially those who translate everything from any language to any other language without expertise in anything.

    With the ISO certification and CPDs, agencies are thus creating their own reality in which the normal laws of physics or logic are irrelevant.

    Fortunately, in contrast to the artificial universe of a certain segment of translation agencies, in the real world, direct clients and even quite a few agency clients are still able to use their own brain.


    • As someone who has pushed hard for CPDs aka CECs, CEUs. I feel duty bound to chime in.
      First, it’s not productive to lump CPD discussion with standards discussion (ISO and others). They are two very different animals.
      As everyone knows, there are valuable CPD events and incredible waste of time and money CPDs. Some people just like to buy junk and some are very gullible.
      Are CPDs useful and valuable? It depends on the quality of the material presented, the instructor and where the attendees are in their career.
      Are CPDs necessary? Yes, for the maintenance of professional certifications. ATA translator certification is one. There are dozens of interpreter certification programs that require CPDs to maintain the credential.
      Who controls the quality of the CPDs? Each certifying body has its ownprocess, some better than others.
      Are CPDs pricey? It depends. Some are free for members.
      Can CPDs be earned only from the certifying body? Not necessarily and each one has a different process for applying and approving them.
      Is there such thing as “the business of professional certification”? You betcha!
      In summary, if you are dissatisfied with the way things are then roll up your sleeves and change them which is exactly what I did. It took me five years but things are quite different now.
      In Washington State, the Department of Social and Health Services began testing interpreters in 1992. Twenty years later they had certified about 8000 interpreters for medical and social services in all languages. I called it the 3-D list filled with the Departed (moved out of state or left the profession), Dishonest (yes, criminals) and Deceased. Some had never attended a single class on anything and provided substandard services. Ethical violations were rampant. Their contact information was useless. Mandatory CPDs were introduced as a means to put some order in this program. On January 1, 2019, when the deadline expires, I can guarantee that we will not have the 8000 of dubious quality. We will have better trained and more ethical thousands less.
      For those interested in best practices for professional certification programs I recommend the free guide that NCCA has published, National Commission for Certification Accreditation.


  11. “Are CPDs necessary? Yes, for the maintenance of professional certifications. ATA translator certification is one.”

    CPDs have been required for about a decade for the maintenance of ATA translator certifications, but they have never been required for the maintenance of real certificates, such as a university diploma.

    My diploma in Japanese and English studies was issued in 1980 by Charles University in Prague, which has never required holders of real diplomas to acquire CDPs, which is to say never since its founding in 1347.

    Unlike certifications of the type of the ATA certification, real diplomas in fact do not have such requirements. My clients seem to know that because although some of them asked me about my educational and professional background, none of them asked me whether I am a holder of the ATA certification in almost 3 decades that I have been translating patents.


    • Professional certifications a very different from university diplomas. You’re comparing apples to oranges. Professional certifications are also sometimes called occupational licenses. The bar exam, for example, is a professional certification which is quite different from a law degree. Not everybody with a law degree passes the bar exam. Structural engineering is also a professional certification. Very few engineers pass that certification exam.


  12. So university diplomas and university titles are not professional certifications, and that ATA thingie, (which is not a license for anything, you are comparing apples to oranges), is a professional certification! But this professional certification remains valid only when you also keep continuously acquiring CPDs which are granted for things like how to post-process machine translation detritus, or how to eat properly (which admittedly might be difficult for translators if they have been “editing” machine translation detritus for more than 15 minutes), is a professional certification.

    I simply had no idea!


    • My examples apply to the United States. I have little knowledge or understanding about how things work in Europe.
      Some professional certifications can also double as an occupational license since they are a pre-requisite to obtain a license. Occupational licenses can only be granted by government agencies while professional certifications are granted by government agencies and/or private organizations such as the ATA. ATA translator certification is a vendor driven professional certification because ATA members are for the most part engaged in selling translation services.
      To summarize, mandatory CPD is an integral part of any professional certification. This is a direct result of the professionalization of translators and interpreters.
      If you believe ATA has been too lax in its CPD policies, then you should do everything in your power to improve ATA’s CPD policies. There’s plenty of room for improvement. Join the certification committee, for example, and change things more to your liking. We are the ATA, you and me and our colleagues. ATA is as good and as bad as we make it.


  13. Dear Milena:

    I am talking about United States, I have been living and translating here since 1982.

    I am a member of the ATA, have been for a long time, but unlike you, I do not take the ATA very seriously as I do not consider it a professional organization.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, the ATA is at this point almost completely irrelevant to most established translators. At least that has been my experience, and judging from comments on my blog, I am talking not just for myself.

    I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t join any ATA committees.


    • What a pity! ATA would greatly benefit from people like you. Last year I participated in the drafting of a survey for interpreters. When asked how much of their income came just from interpreting, the responses surprised us all. While some earned 90% of their income interpreting, others’ 90% came from teaching other interpreters. This, coupled with professional certification by private organizations, is what some now call “the business of professional certification”. You know what I’m talking about. Mandatory trainings from an approved list of trainers to allow you to take the test, $. Registration fees, $. Test, $. Badge, $. Mandatory CPDs from approved list, $. Renewal fee, $. Directory listing fee, $. Have I mentioned the licensing of trade marked trainings? And let’s not forget the text books, DVDs, etc. I hope you’re hearing the cash register in the background.
      When you look at the short bios of some (definitively not all) of these CPD aka CEC or CEU trainers, it is not uncommon to find some explanation along the lines of: After some time working as an interpreter/translator, presenter XYZ realized that s/he couldn’t make a living from this profession so s/he decided to become a trainer of interpreters/translators and/or a language access consultant. The other frequent career path, mind you, is to become a small/niche/boutique language company.
      Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Bernard Shaw
      It is the all too common “can’t make a living from this profession” that is the real problem we must address as a group. And your blog posts do a great job of shining a light on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Coming slightly to the party, but what the hey.

    A qualification or certificate means that you reached a certain standard at a certain point in time. I received my Diploma in Translation in 2008, so I could translate to that standard then. On its own, it doesn’t mean I still can now (for the benefit of any clients reading this, I can – actually I can do it better, because I do CPD…). Carl Lewis won Olympic medals for sprinting in the ’80s, but I wouldn’t fancy him against Usain Bolt nowadays – clearly, he hasn’t been doing his sprinting CPD ;).

    Everyone needs to do CPD. Even someone who’s been translating for 87 years (not a personal dig at your good self, naturally) needs to, as our source and target languages evolve in that time, as do the subjects we translate about. Maybe we don’t all need to be told how to eat or sit, but at least we need to keep up with developments relevant to what we do.

    The problem, as you astutely point out, lies in CPD-by-numbers schemes like collecting CPD points. These are hopelessly flawed, partly because they incentivise people to do courses even if they are poor quality or irrelevant to them, partly because some CPDs are worth more than others (e.g. some of the webinars offered on are of dubious value, even when the subject area seems sound), and partly because some of the most valuable CPD involves general reading (including blogs of experienced folks like your good self) and reflection, none of which can be quantified by the ATA or any other association. The associations and institutes are making a rod for their own back if they are seriously trying to rate all forms of CPD or even all forms of formal CPD.

    The UK CIoL’s Chartered Linguist scheme requires Chartered Linguists to detail the CPD that we do, including what we got from it, why it is relevant, and what we plan to do next, CPD-wise. This approach allows professionals the freedom to decide, like the adults we are, what kind of CPD is best for us (and, by extension, our clients).

    I imagine you’re not a committee person, but how about a consultancy role? Sanity testing from the Mad Patent Translator ;)?

    Liked by 1 person

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