Posted by: patenttranslator | December 21, 2016

All We Want Is to Have Total Control Over You

Once in a while, I receive an email similar to the one below:

Good day,

 I hope this e-mail finds you well. I’m contacting you because [our translation agency] recently acquired a very large project consisting of translating business material, mostly e-mails pertaining to a merger between two companies, from [a foreign language] into English.

The bulk of the translation will be performed either logging in via VPN into our server or using a special program similar to Trados for which we will give you access, train you and be available for any troubleshooting issues. The reason behind this is that confidentiality is key.

Please let me know if you would be interested in being considered for this project and I can provide you with a bit more information once I hear back from you.

Thanks you, [sic]

[Coordinator’s name]

First of all, “Good Day”?

This is, or at least used to be, a slightly weird salutation used frequently in faxes sent to me in the last century, and then in emails in this century by scammers in Nigeria who were and still are stealing money from so many stupid (sorry, I meant to say gullible) people living in western countries. Nobody else seems to be using this greeting, with the exception of an occasional agency project manager handling a very large project consisting of “millions of documents” (ha, ha, ha).

Although, judging from the coordinator’s last name, it might be a direct translation of the same salutation from his native language into English, which might be the origin of the use of “Good Day” by Nigerian scammers as well.

After only one short email, I already had a feeling that this coordinator might not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Generally speaking, people who are not terribly bright are often very difficult to work with.

And why do these people have to lie to translators even before we start working for them? Millions of documents, each costing about a hundred dollars to translate? Not even a very well heeled law firm, or more specifically its important client, is likely to have a budget for such an expense.

The reason for making translators jump through all these hoops is not that “confidentiality is key”. If an irate translator decides to share confidential information that should never be disclosed, there is nothing a translation agency in its capacity as a mere intermediary can do about it.

The best way to make sure that confidential information will remain confidential is to work only with translators that one knows well and trusts.

This is how things used to work, but that was so twentieth century! This is definitely not the modus operandi in the “translation industry” these days.

Since operators in the modern “translation industry” have “databases with thousands of translators” in them, if we are to believe what they proudly claim on their websites, the old notion of confidentiality of a customer’s information is now quaint and obsolete.

Translators who live in another country or even on another continent will sign any confidentiality agreement they may be asked to sign without feeling bound to comply with anything that is spelled out in the agreement, especially if they are treated shabbily by the translation agency, namely, forced to “perform translation either by logging in via VPN into a server or by using a special program similar to Trados”, and most likely paid low rates and forced to wait for payment two, or even three months, which is not that uncommon anymore in the “translation industry”.

The reason why the kid at the translation agency is so graciously willing “to train me”, moi, a translator who unlike the kid at the agency has 30 years of translating experience, in “using a special program similar to Trados” is that this “special program similar to Trados” counts some words as “reused words”, also referred to as so called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” subject to an obligatory discount that is extracted like three pounds of flesh from the translator by the translation agency – a discount that will not necessarily be passed on to the end customer who may not even know about this interesting arrangement between agency and translator.

It’s easy to tell from even such a short email that this agency would be a customer from hell. Which is why I don’t answer e-mails like this and only use them as a fodder for my silly blog posts.

I don’t want to work for an agent who wants to be in total control of the way I translate. When somebody is in control of what I do when I am translating, it makes it very, very difficult to do good work, especially since I would be making at least 40% less than if I worked directly for the actual client.

An interesting point here that seems to be ignored in the modern version of the “translation industry” is that a translation agency that in fact does exercise total control in the manner outlined in the e-mail over a translator who is nominally “an independent contractor” is treating the “independent contract”as an employee.

Because the amount of control over a person who may be called by the agency  “an independent contractor” is according to US laws the most important factor determining whether such a person is in fact an independent contractor, or an employee (an employee sans benefits), should the agency be audited by the Internal Revenue Service or by a state or local auditing authority (the always popular City Hall), all “independent contractors” who are required to work in the manner suggested in the e-mail would likely be reclassified as employees, which would cost the agency a lot of money for unpaid taxes, plus penalties.

It still makes sense to work for an honest agent, who does not try to treat me as an employee without any rights or benefits, and who creates good working conditions for me when work is slow, and I still do that. But under the requirements so often brazenly demanded by the worst actors in the new version of the “translation industry”, it makes no sense to me to even consider proposals like these that periodically pop up in my email.

As a translator, I am the person who needs to have total control over my own work.Thankfully, as a patent translator who works directly for patent law firms, I am not dependent on the “translation industry” and I do have complete control over the work that I am doing.

One advantage of working with patents is that I am not dealing with little bits and pieces of information, often without any context, while working with an unfamiliar program and on an unfamiliar platform into which I first have to log on only to then yield total control over everything to a kid working for a translation agency.

As an independent patent translator, instead of having to deal with all of that nonsense, I define the working environment that works for me and I then translate the entire patent myself from beginning to end.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have been and still am an avid reader of mystery novels and whodunits in several languages.

To me, a patent translation is like solving the mystery of who is the murderer, while trying to figure out what happened in a complicated plot with several red herrings thrown in it for good measure.

Provided that the mystery novel, or the patent, is well written, I get a great deal of an indescribable kind of pleasure from the reading, or from my daily translating activity that would be difficult to explain to people who don’t read mysteries and don’t translate patents.

But anybody who too has been afflicted by either of the two kinds of divine madness mentioned above – a passion for whodunits, or a passion for translation, will understand what it is that I am talking about.

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