“Globalization”, “Globalizierung”, “globalizace”, “mondalization” – I hear or read this word in various languages whenever I watch news or read a newspaper online.
Globalization has had a major impact on our world: it made some people much richer, mostly those who were already very rich, and some people poorer, mostly those who were not very rich to begin with. I am told that it also lifted some people out of grinding poverty, mostly people in what is still called the third world. I have no way to verify the statement in the previous sentence, but it probably is true to some extent.
Globalization not only made billionaires out of people who only had a few hundred million before it started reshaping the world in the mid 1990s. This after Bill Clinton, who felt our pain so convincingly in 1992, signed NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association) a few years later.
Anger at the results of globalization also resulted a few decades later in Brexit and in the election of another president who, although he lost the popular vote by more than two million votes (while 45 percent of eligible voters stayed home!), managed to paint most of the states in the United States with an angry red color in places where the ignored and underpaid (former?) middle class is seething with rage at a neoliberal establishment that brought it nothing but humiliation and suffering.
Globalization also proved to be a perfect medium for various types of criminal activities. Most of the junk mail in my mailbox, and yours probably too, which has links asking me to click on them to verify my credit card information or sign up for a new warranty on my refrigerator or car, is sent from somewhere in Europe, Asia, or Africa, because it is very difficult for police located in one country to go after criminals who are located on another continent.
For several months I have been receiving threatening recorded calls from the “Internal Revenue Service” asking me to contact them immediately because the “IRS” filed a suit against me. I had to get a new telephone number that I use only for direct communication with my clients, and I don’t answer calls to my business number that is on the internet unless the callers seem legit, which is almost never the case. Many people do this these days.
I read in the Washington Post a few days ago how crooks pretending to be calling from the IRS created a sophisticated organization in India and the United States that swindled many people out of many millions of dollars, I forgot whether it was tens or hundreds of millions.
During the last two decades globalization has also reshaped what is now called the “translation industry”. Because unlike for example hair cutting, which is a highly regulated professional activity requiring a specialized license that can be obtained only after hundreds of hours of professional training, translation is an unregulated, semi-professional activity in most countries – just about anybody can do it.
And just about anybody does do it.
When a client looking for specialized translation service clicks on an advertisement on the internet, there is no telling who this client will be dealing with and who will in fact be translating the document that needs translating, whether it is a birth certificate, a college diploma or transcript, a software manual, a patent application, or an article from a technical journal.
Years ago when the internet was still kind of new, there used to be a popular joke:”When you’re on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
When clients click on links to translation agencies on the internet, they have absolutely no idea what kind of dog they might be dealing with and who will actually be doing the translation. The client may be dealing with an “entrepreneur” working out of his kitchen on a laptop somewhere in India who put together a website created from radiant Photoshop images. That website may have no physical address, or if there is an address, it may be just a post office box in New York or London, while the office may be located in Thailand or Bangladesh.
Or the link click could lead to a large agency with offices in half a dozen major cities, in which kids fresh out of college willing to work for low wages are being trained in how to parcel out translation jobs to people calling themselves “freelance translators”, who again may live anywhere on this troubled planet.
Whether the people calling themselves “freelance translators” are highly educated and highly experienced specialized professional translators or rank amateurs who have no business translating anything (let alone important and complicated documents, although they made it their business), is not really all that important to the guy working on a laptop from his kitchen, or to the monolingual kid working for a large translation agency whose arms are stretching like an octopus’s tentacles across several continents.
What is much more important in our globalized world to most translation agencies is how much the “freelance translators” are charging for their work. And that is why the translations may be done by the same person, whether a customer is dealing with a huge agency or with a guy working on a laptop out of his kitchen – namely the cheapest warm body available at the moment.
From the viewpoint of the client, the results of this “bottom line” approach to translation are often pretty ugly.
I have been in this “translation business” for so long now (more than three decades) that I seem to be able to recognize certain trends that may not be obvious to most people.
For example, I remember that after 2003, when the phenomenon of globalization and its effect on translation as a professional activity was still relatively new, many new customers were finding my website at PatentTranslators.com and asking for price quotes for patent translations. This happy period (for me) lasted for a number of blessed years during which I kept adding new customers, many of which later became repeat customers, mostly patent law firms.
My busiest and most profitable years were 2006 through to 2008, and new business kept rolling in from new clients who found my modest website until the year 2010, when the demand suddenly dropped by about 25 percent.
I think that the drop may have occurred not only as a result of a worldwide economic recession, but also as a result of maturing of “the globalization of the translation industry”, which in concrete terms meant that the market ultimately became saturated with offers of translations at rock-bottom prices, prices so low in fact that they would not be survivable by an educated and experienced translator living in a high-cost Western country.
But after a period of dropping demand, I seem to have experienced an uptick in the demand for my services again last year, with a more dramatic increase this year. I am only guessing, but I think that the increased demand is the result of what might be called “translation industry fatigue”. Customers are tired of paying for substandard translations necessarily resulting from the “bottom line” approach of the “translation industry”, translations that are sometime so bad as to be almost unusable.
So, as they are trying new alternatives, new customers are again discovering my website. A desire for change, change at almost any cost, whose distinct component is what might be called a globalization blowback, or disgust with the results of globalization, is clearly the leitmotif of the second part of the present decade.
This globalization blowback has resulted so far in Europe in Brexit, and in this country, it will soon install in the White House a candidate who, although he lost the popular vote by many votes, still managed to somehow beat his opponent, the second time that this happened so far in the last 16 years.
If I am right about this, the globalization blowback in what for lack of better term is called the translation industry also creates new opportunities for independent translators who are disgusted with working for the “translation industry” and for specialized translation agencies who, unlike a large part of the “translation industry”, possibly most of it, are in fact able to provide the kinds of services that clients actually want and need.
Will they be able to take advantage of this development and make a connection with clients who need their services? Or will globalization continue to grind on, producing layers and layers of inferior but relatively cheap translations on top of even more affordable abominations such as “post-edited machine translations”?
Only time will tell. But as I learned in my Latin classes in high school, (before globalization, there was a time, decades ago, when kids in high school were taught a foreign language called Latin), “Dum spiro, spero“, which means “While I breathe, I hope.”