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)
Non Member ATA
Full Conference: $485 $660 $240
Saturday Only*: $245 $330 N/A
Standard Registration (after September 25)
Non Member ATA
Full Conference: $630 $860 $310
Saturday Only*: $315 $430 N/A
Late Registration (after October 16)
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.