Posted by: patenttranslator | February 14, 2016

Is Your Professional Association Really Your Friend, Your Enemy, or Your Frenemy?

About two years ago I gave a talk by Skype to a meeting of a regional ATA (American Translators Association) chapter. When I saw the credits rolling down my computer screen at the end of the meeting, I discovered that ATA members who were present at the meeting were awarded eCPDs (Continued Professional Development points) for simply listening to me. I was not told in advance about this arrangement, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I just chuckled a little when I saw the announcement.

But the more I think about eCPDs, the more I am puzzled by them.

When I gave a talk in person last year at the Third IAPTI Conference in Bordeaux, France, no eCPDs were awarded to the translators who listened to my learned presentation. I will be giving another presentation in a couple of months at the BP16 (Business Practices) Conference in Prague, Czech Republic, and no points will be awarded to the audience there either for listening to Mad Patent Translator or to any of the speakers, at least as far as I know.

So many people are giving advice to translators these days. Some of them, possibly many of them, although probably not all of them, have generally useful information, especially for newbie translators. Given that I have been working as an independent technical translator for almost three decades, I hope that I am one of them. I do want to share a few things with fellow translators that I have learned over the years, because sharing a few tidbits is all one can aspire to achieve during a talk lasting about an hour. I also want to be able to listen to other people who may know something that I don’t know yet and that I really need to know.

Things change so quickly in our world. Just because I have been doing what I am doing for a long time does not mean that I know that much about anything. Maybe I have been able to provide quite well for a family of four on the single income of an independent translator mostly because I just got lucky.

I think it’s wonderful when translators share their knowledge with their colleagues. But why should translators’ attendance at translators’ meetings or conferences be compulsory? And who determines what subjects and which speakers qualify for these “continued education points”, how many of these points are awarded, and for what?

I don’t know. Somebody, somewhere, is vested with this considerable power to create an obedience enforcing mechanism, while the whole thing is about as transparent and democratic as the Electoral College and the System of Super-Delegates in the political system here in the United States. Or perhaps even less, I would say.

The Electoral College is a relic from the 18th century designed as a system for counting votes when only very few people, specifically only white male land owners, had the right to vote. Females were not considered to have a sufficiently evolved brain capable of handling such a complicated undertaking as voting, and a black person was considered to be only three fifths of a person, so black people were naturally excluded from voting too.

The System of Super-Delegates is a much more recent invention – it dates back to the National Democratic Convention of 1968 – but it’s based on a similar concept to the Electoral College – namely making sure that some people will always be much more important than others because too much democracy is really very bad for people. It is basically designed to give power to party apparatchiks to maintain the status quo by swaying election results in favor of a candidate of their preference and making it quite difficult for popular candidates – such as Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders – to be elected by popular vote.

People don’t really know what’s good for them, that’s why in a real democracy, it’s best to leave important decision to important party leaders – or to an even more important Supreme Politbureau.

But I should get back to the subject of my post today. I am hardly the only one who is puzzled by the way eCPDs, or points assigned to translators who obediently participate in webinars, speeches and conferences, are designed and used at this point. Nor am I the only one who is disgusted by the intriguing commercial aspects of the system of points that are awarded in exchange for a fee.

As a blogger in the UK put it in a recent post titled “Beware the box tickers” under the subheading “CAPTIVE”:

“If we’re not careful, and with the best of intentions I’m sure, we’re going to end up with a situation where those providing training have a licence to print money as we will have no choice but to pay them to tick our boxes. With compulsory CPD they would have a captive market and be able to charge whatever they liked for providing whatever courses they liked, as long as they could get them approved. But, as I’ve already indicated, the accrediting bodies are sometimes associations of the very kind that demand the CPD, which suggests that approval might not be all that hard for them to achieve.”

I am actually not all that sure about the “with the best intentions” part. I don’t really know how things work in the UK, but I understand that basically all you have to do here in the United States to make sure that you will have enough points to maintain your ATA accreditation current is to attend the yearly ATA conference.

In the interest of full disclosure, I hereby disclose that I am an ATA member, have been for many years, but not an accredited one. This is because I don’t need ATA’s accreditation for anything (none of my direct clients or even agencies that I work for have ever asked me about it), and also because a quarter century ago when I was considering whether I should take the accreditation test, I chickened out when I realized that my translations would have to be handwritten. Writing in longhand is a lost art to me that I have not engaged in since I was writing my thesis on Japanese Self-Defense Forces called Jieitai, before I graduated with a degree in Japanese studies in 1980. I couldn’t type back then, so I had to pay somebody to type my thesis on a typewriter. At this point I am a pretty good at touch-typing, but I can’t really write anything longhand if it’s longer than about 50 words.

Also, so far I’ve attended only one ATA conference, in 1988 in San Francisco, because back then I lived in the Bay Area.

Although I do not know exactly how the system works, I think that there is indeed a very strong possibility that the system of eCPDs has been designed by translators’ associations, here and abroad, mostly as a license to print money for said associations, while also contributing to the general welfare of serial webinar givers and serial speakers.

This would also include myself if I offered seminars through my blog in exchange for payment, which I do not do, or if I agreed to give talks to translators that are deemed by someone somewhere for some reason to be worthy of some eCPDs. I have done that, but only once and only because I was unaware of the arrangement.

I don’t know how much money bloggers who are using their blogs partly or mostly as a marketing platform to advertise their paid courses and seminars are making in this manner. More power to them along with healthy profits, if their courses and seminars are any good, I’d say. But since at this point I do not consider it likely that I would be in need of such seminars, I generally unsubscribe from these marketing platforms, even if I had originally considered the blogs interesting. I try to stay away from advertising as much as possible in a world that is submerged in an ocean of advertising to such a point that we can barely breathe.

As I have already said, all one has to do to maintain ATA accreditation current is attend the yearly ATA conference. It sounds like an easy enough condition, and it is that if you are willing to spend quite a bit of money (especially for newbie translators) every year on the conference to have your eCPD duckies lined up properly every year.

Look at the table with the various registration costs depending on how soon you decide to part with the first portion of your money, soon to be followed by quite a bit more:

REGISTER BY SEPTEMBER 25
& SAVE 30%

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

If you add the cost of registration to the airfare, hotel, meals and transportation, you could be easily talking two thousand dollars or more.

From the viewpoint of an association’s bean counter, it makes very good sense to gently nudge through compulsory eCPD points association members into spending their money every year on a conference if these members need to maintain their accredited status, while also offering other educational venues in exchange for “educational points” to less affluent members during years when business may be slow.

From another viewpoint, the practice might appear to be a slightly tawdry license for an association to print money by trying to force association members to participate in compulsory activities and venues that may or may not contain much in the way of educational value unless you are a beginner who does not know much about anything.

It is up to you to decide whether your professional association qualifies in your mind mostly as a friend, which would certainly be the ideal case, or mostly as an enemy, which hopefully is not the case, or as a frenemy, which is a relatively new word defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as somebody who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.

Personally, I consider people who say that they are my friends and that they only want what’s good for me – while they are mostly trying to figure out how to make money off me – to be at best my frenemies.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Wow, the ATA conference is, I think, rather more expensive than ITI’s. That *is* a lot of money to shell out, even if it may be tax-deductible.

    What also surprises me is when the Powers That Be designate a particular event as constituting x hours of CPD time. I look at an event that starts at, say, 9.30 am and finishes at 1 pm as 3.5 hours (we may be able to argue about whether a 15-minute coffee break should be deducted, I suppose, although assuming that people would carry on discussing the subject through the break that might be debatable), yet sometimes I will find that the event has been “officially” designated as 3 hours. Very strange. And what happens if the event overruns significantly? It has been known 🙂

    Like

  2. Thanks for your comment, Allison. How much would the ITI conference cost, I wonder?

    Like

  3. Great post Steve. The ATA website says CPD is important because “Languages, specialties, and technology grow and evolve quickly in a global society”. So you would expect their CPD requirements to be primarily focused on language improvement, developments in specialist fields, and CAT tools. And for any PD to be effective it surely needs to be assessed, measurable – if it’s not, how can you identify that any “professional development” has actually take place?

    If I understand it correctly what we have instead is largely passive involvement in courses/seminars/events that are generally not assessed, and often (sometimes?) quite peripheral to what ATA clearly considers the key areas (language, specialties, tools). Examples being general business skills, marketing, wellbeing.

    Any assessment system that essentially involves counting the number of courses done or events attended is an excellent way of counting how many courses you’ve done and events you’ve attended, but is woefully ineffective at assessing how you have developed as a translator.

    Like

  4. Thanks for your comment.

    I really don’t like the way the CPD system has been dumped on captive ATA- accredited translators. I don’t think it works at all. It stinks to high heaven, especially since it logically launched a parasitic industry of serial webinar-givers and serial speakers who may be just indoctrinating poor newbies to ensure the proper group-think instead of teaching them something useful – like how to get rid of people like you and me and work instead for direct clients. (No offense meant).

    It seem to work the same way in UK. I wonder, is this how things work in Australia and New Zealand too?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not really the one to answer as I don’t know the specifics, but NAATI in Australia is at least a bit different. Nowadays you get accredited for 3 years, then have to apply to be revalidated. And the revalidation criteria are a combination of PD and work done. I think the minimums you have to demonstrate are 10K words a year for translators and 40 hours for interpreters – make of that what you will.

    But there’s no revalidation required for accreditations issued prior to 2012 I think it was.

    I absolutely agree T&I associations should be involved in helping translators be better in business and get direct clients, in fact I think it should be a major focus. But should that qualify as professional development? Not to my mind. That’s about business, not the profession.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 1. It seems that NAATI has a very different approach from what they use in UK and US.

    2. “I absolutely agree T&I associations should be involved in helping translators be better in business and get direct clients, in fact I think it should be a major focus. But should that qualify as professional development? Not to my mind. That’s about business, not the profession.”

    Right, it should be a major focus, and it is not.

    In any case, I am not sure that T&I associations are able to competently and impartially evaluate “continued professional development”, but I am sure that the way it is done now, at least here, will result mostly in nepotism and profiteering.

    Teaching translators about business and things like how to evaluate and develop business opportunities and find direct customers (not just giving a catchy name to a paid webinar, but really teaching translators something useful), would be probably much more important for translators than “CPDs”.

    Like

  7. Presumably the motivation behind instituting CPD requirements is really all about trying to improve the perception of our profession. Look we have PD requirements, so we are a legitimate profession, not something just anyone can do.

    That’s commendable, but it isn’t easy to create a system that evaluates language improvement/updating across all languages, or specialist training across the whole gamut of subject areas translators deal with. As you say it may be beyond T&I associations, but surely ATA with all its resources could come up with something reasonably good if they were so inclined. So the easy solution is to include general business skills. You can understand why, but it’s a cop out and to my mind undermines the whole CPD system, and possibly actually works to discredit the profession rather than raise our professional standing. Anyone from outside looking at it closely might be left shaking their head. And it’s spawned the type of issues you and others have identified, which you’d think T&I associations would be quite concerned about. But they don’t seem to be.

    Like

  8. I usually enjoy your posts, Steve, but this particular one appears to be based on false premises. Yes, attending workshops and seminars is the most obvious way to collect CPD points, but it is only one of seven categories. I can only assume that, not being certified, you were not aware the other six, which are:

    Category B: Independent study of educational T&I (or T&I-related specialty field or business practices) audio or video, films, slides, Internet, or articles on T&I, T&I technology, or the translator’s specialty fields published by recognized private national and international trade associations, corporations or organizations

    Category C: Authoring or editing published books or articles on T&I

    Category D: Teaching or developing a T&I course, seminar, or workshop. Credit may be earned only for new presentations. Repeating the same presentation does not earn additional points

    Category E: Volunteerism (T&I-related work or school outreach presentations)

    Category F: T&I Work experience Particularly challenging assignments, allowing the member to expand his/her translation and interpreting capabilities

    Category G: Membership in professional associations other than ATA

    Most of these are free, and all are designed to encourage knowledge sharing and acquisition and further involvement in the profession. I cannot say that I completely agree with the wording and the distribution of points, but as a principle, CPD is the basis of earning recognition for translators and interpreters as professionals on a wider scale. For instance, Quebec has a very stringent CPD requirement as the condition of being part of the legal entity which regulates professions, and is working towards earning the right to a reserved practice for certified translators and interpreters. In three Canadian provinces, only members who have passed the certification exams (which is offered in all language combinations, by the way) have the right to use the title “certified translator/interpreter/legal interpreter/terminologist, etc.”. All professions and most trades have a CPD requirement, and I wouldn’t want translators to face less stringent requirements to practice their profession than, say, an electrician.

    Finally, everyone but the amateurs in translation or interpreting do CPD in the course of their daily work (categories B and F), and it just comes down to writing down a few notes and reporting them once every three years, so forgive me if I think that you are flogging a dead horse here.

    Like

  9. 1. “I can only assume that, not being certified, you were not aware the other six, which are:

    Category B: Independent study of educational T&I (or T&I-related specialty field or business practices) audio or video, films, slides, Internet, or articles on T&I, T&I technology, or the translator’s specialty fields published by recognized private national and international trade associations, corporations or organizations

    Category C: Authoring or editing published books or articles on T&I

    Category D: Teaching or developing a T&I course, seminar, or workshop. Credit may be earned only for new presentations. Repeating the same presentation does not earn additional points

    Category E: Volunteerism (T&I-related work or school outreach presentations)

    Category F: T&I Work experience Particularly challenging assignments, allowing the member to expand his/her translation and interpreting capabilities

    Category G: Membership in professional associations other than ATA”

    Perhaps it’s because I am mad, but I think that this is completely preposterous. Who is doing the evaluating, God Herself? How can anyone possibly evaluate all of this stuff?

    2. “All professions and most trades have a CPD requirement, and I wouldn’t want translators to face less stringent requirements to practice their profession than, say, an electrician.”

    You are wrong here, Evelyna. I have been working as a translator for three decades and I never did and never will have to put up with any of these “stringent requirements”.

    All I have to do is make sure that my clients, who are mostly highly educated patent lawyers, often patent law firm partners with decades of experience, like my translations because they can use them when they fight their fights in court, or when they file new patents for their customers. Should they start finding out that my translations are not very good, they would immediately start sending the work to somebody else and I would end up sleeping under a bridge.

    And I would end up sleeping under a bridge regardless of how many eCPDs I may have collected.

    3. “so forgive me if I think that you are flogging a dead horse here.”

    You are forgiven. But what I am flogging is not a dead horse. This issue is very alive, just get off your own high horse and start listening to living and breathing translators.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Steve, I’m glad you’re calling out the problems that can arise when professional T&I associations require, grant, or endorse CPDs (or, in the U.S., “CE” for “continuing education”) that drain a lot of hard-earned money out of translators’ wallets. It’s interesting to note that in some other professions, associations such as the American Bar Association itself offer free webinars for lawyers to earn continuing education credits, while a quick search I did of CE courses for accountants turned up almost 40 companies that offer them free of charge. This is the best way to set standards in a profession while avoiding the outright conflicts of interest we see multiplying in professional translation associations.

    And Dennis, you’re right on target when you describe many of the T&I courses/seminars/events as dealing with “general business skills, marketing, wellbeing.” In fact, I suspect most members of ATA and other national associations are not even aware of how trashy and amateur some of these CPD-worthy materials make our profession look. If the original impetus behind certification and continuing education was to promote the professional stature of translators and interpreters by emulating the requirements used by other professions (doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc.), then why are our national associations undermining that stature by offering CPD credits for fluff that makes us the laughing stock of other professionals?

    Do I exaggerate? Take a look at a couple of actual examples of ways you can earn CPD credits and decide for yourself:

    ** A pricey webinar series called “The Holistic Translator” that deals with “values, attitudes and beliefs” rather than what it considers our mere “knowledge and mechanical skills as translators.” Sample webinars in the series include:
    — “The Meaning of Life” (covers topics like “passion versus mission: pleasure and pain”);
    — “The Mojo Factor” (“On leaping out of bed in the morning”);
    — “In Search of Happiness” (about “happiness, fulfilment, lack of suffering”);
    — “The Change Process Inside Out”; and other warm, feel-good topics.

    ** Another webinar series is called “The Future-Proof Translator,” which, for a tidy wad of cash, will let you earn credits from various national T&I associations. This series includes soft, fuzzy webinars such as:
    — “The human side of change” (in which you’ll learn that “our ability to cope with change and to limit its impact on our productivity depends on our ability to process all the emotions that it triggers”);
    — “Goal setting – setting the direction for change” (to “help you set clear goals that are aligned with what matters most to you”);
    — “Obstacles to change – overcoming limiting beliefs” (“how to identify and overcome potential roadblocks to change, such as fears, doubts and other limiting beliefs”); and more that make me wince to list.

    I could turn to the myriad of marketing webinars out there for CPD credits, but this post is already too long, so I encourage you to explore how many of them sound like infomercials rather than professional development.

    Line up these bunny-rabbit topics against the kinds of solid continuing education required by the American Medical Association, the American Institute of CPAs, the American Bar Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and their counterparts in other countries. And we complain about why the public doesn’t seem to take translators and interpreters seriously?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “It’s interesting to note that in some other professions, associations such as the American Bar Association itself offer free webinars for lawyers to earn continuing education credits, while a quick search I did of CE courses for accountants turned up almost 40 companies that offer them free of charge. This is the best way to set standards in a profession while avoiding the outright conflicts of interest we see multiplying in professional translation associations.”

    That is interesting. I did not know that.

    So why would associations of translators who make a fraction of what most lawyers, doctors or even accountant makes require that translator must pay for obligatory CPDs or CE points?

    Unless it’s all mostly about money. Then it would make perfect sense.

    Like

  12. For those who don’t know, this was the sin that I committed on Paula Arturo’s blog:

    Dear Paula:

    “I refuse to buy into determinism, especially when it takes the form of hippie pop culture.”

    “(That is so funny, it really made me laugh).

    Given that you are half my age, which means that you don’t really know anything about life yet, I will try to ascribe your comments to youthful ignorance and exuberance.

    See you in Prague in less than 3 months – if you still talk to me at that point.

    Over & Out”

    And then she went ahead and proved that I was right about her with her comments.

    If you can’t accept when somebody who is twice your age says that when you are in your early thirties, you don’t know much about life much yet, you are indeed very immature.

    Like

  13. The ITI is similarly obsessed with CPD and I have a similar story. I was supposed to go to a CPD course (can’t remember what it was about, but it was probably something useful, unlike the 90% that are not). Anyway, an interpreting job suddenly came up, listening to conversations between employees at a merchant bank to see if they were breaking the trading rules, and I couldn’t go. Nevertheless, I was duly provided with a nice attendance certificate!

    Like

  14. I hope you will also blog about ISO standards for translations, you have referred to it briefly in other blogs. The ITI Bulletin this month contains an article about a new standard ISO 17100! Standards for translation are as ridiculous as standards for creative writing. Did Shakespeare and Dickens have to comply with “standards”? On the other hand, as you have rightly pointed out, there should be an ISO for the lists of ingredients on processed food packets. Many of them trumpet “fat-free” when they are full of salt and sugar and “no artificial colours” the most misleading and uninformative of all!

    Like

  15. These so called standards are absurd. They only specify how to shuffle papers around the desk, without saying anything at all about the quality of the translation, or the qualifications of the translator.

    But as an advertising gimmick, they must work really well because so many outfits have been using them for so many years.

    As an advertising gimmick, they are the product of the mind of a genius in the field of commercial propaganda!

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: