Posted by: patenttranslator | June 11, 2017

Is Trados Co-Responsible for the Falling Rates in the Translation Industry?

Is Trados at least co-responsible for the wage theft known in the translation industry lingo as “full and fuzzy matches” and the resulting reduction of at least 30% in the rates being now paid by translation agencies to translators?

That is the question that I would like to pose to readers of my silly blog today.

Whether you like Trados and other assorted CATs and use them or not, or whether you find them counterproductive as I and many other translators do, I think that your answer would have to be “yes” if you take an honest look at what happened in the “translation business” over the last decade or two.

Almost seven years ago the spirit moved me to write a post titled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or any other Translation Memory Tool”. When I wrote it, most commenters somewhat forcefully disagreed with me, many gleefully denounced me as a technophobe, luddite, or worse and proudly pronounced their undying loyalty to their beloved CATs in general and to Trados in particular.

As a positively mad patent translator who, inconceivable though it may seem to some, believes in the superiority of human brain over software packages and as a result refuses to use Trados or any other translation memory tools, I was the odd man out when I wrote the post. This is a position that I am quite used to and in fact enjoy due to my inherently contrarian nature.

There clearly must be something very wrong with me.

But that was seven years ago and things are not quite the same now as they were then, judging from the continuing popularity of this post and some of the views expressed more recently in the comments. At this point the post has had over 20,000 views and dozens of comments; at least half of them agreeing with my position that was fairly unusual and audacious seven years ago. It is one of my “evergreen posts” – every now and then somebody links to it for instance on Facebook and the old post starts piling on new views again. It had 276 views yesterday (out of a total of 475 views on my blog yesterday).

I think that even seven years ago, many people did not like Trados but were too intimidated by the translation industry to dare to express a negative opinion about this computer tool, a conditio sine qua non (an indispensable tool) in the minds of many, and in the minds of all inexperienced newbies for sure, given how conscientiously, diligently and assiduously the translation industry was pushing this tool.

The reason why translation industry was and still is so eager to insist on obligatory use of Trados is not exactly a mystery.

I used to work for more than a decade, since the late nineties, for a really good translation agency in California translating long Japanese biomedical and medical patents and medical studies for them at fair rates.

Then one day about 15 years ago I received a new translation order that I was supposed to sign and send back. The last paragraph of the translation order had me baffled because it specified the exact percentages (fractions) of the actual rate that would be applied from now on in every translation to something called “full and fuzzy Trados matches.”

So I called the person who sent me the job, somebody I used to enjoy working with for about a decade, to ask her what was this thing called Trados and what where those “full and fuzzy Trados matches”, because honest to God, I did not know.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” she said. “If you don’t have Trados, that’s fine” she added and proceeded to explain to me what these fuzzy and full matches, that I was told not to worry about, were.

But this formerly very nice agency that used to have quite a bit of work at fair rates for me for many years then completely stopped sending me work within about a year, presumably because they did find somebody who obediently agreed to be shortchanged based on the larcenous concept of “full matches” and “fuzzy matches.”

Fortunately for me, I was at that point already working mostly directly for patent law firms, and so far, patent law firms have not been pushing obligatory use of this particular tool that the translation industry is so enamored with (knock on wood).

Direct customers, at least those that I work for, never, ever ask about Trados or CATs, probably because they don’t know and don’t care what these things are. And why should they? What they care about is:

  1. How much I charge for my translations (because their customers understandably don’t like to spend a lot of money for translations),
  1. Whether my translations are accurate enough to be used as evidence in court, and
  1. Whether my translations are suitable for filing new patents based on translations of patent applications that were originally filed in another language.

I never asked, but I have a feeling that if they did know what these things called CATs and Trados are, they would demand that I don’t use them because they need translations that are the product of the brain of an educated and experienced translator, not the product of algorithms that by definition cannot take into account the different contexts of the patent documents.

How do you for example defend a translation as evidence in court if the translation is to a significant extent the product of an algorithm?

It is one thing if a translator uses CATs, even Trados, because he genuinely likes it and finds it useful, not only for generating as many “word units” per hour as possible, but also for maintaining consistent terminology.

Even I can see that, as long as the translator is in charge, as opposed to the software being in charge, CATs can be a useful tool for this purpose, although I personally prefer not to use them because I also see that these software packages have too many disadvantages for a translator specializing in the patent field, while in many other fields these tools are completely unusable.

But to demand that all translators use them for all translations, and then to refuse to pay for certain words in the text because they have been already mentioned in the text, which is what the translation industry is doing, has been doing for more than a decade, is theft of labor, plain and simple.

I think that if our associations of professional translators, and I am talking about the ATA (American Translators Association), UK’s ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting), Germany’s BDÜ (Federal Association of Translators and Interpreters), or IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters), want to be worthy of the designation “professional” that they all like to throw around so much, they should make clear their position on the use of CATs public, and in particular their position on the use of Trados, which is so assiduously being pushed by the translation industry on us all, and which renders the official rate being paid to translators essentially meaningless for the reasons I have outlined in my post today.

Otherwise, I don’t think that our esteemed translators’ associations deserve to use the words “professional translators” in description of which profession’s interests they represent and serve.

For that matter, I think that it would be a good idea for the company that sells to translators the CAT tool that is now called Trados SDL Studio to also make public its own position on partial payment or non-payment for translated words that have been creatively identified by the translation industry with the aid of Trados as “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”.

I for one would like to know whether the company is on our side, or whether it is firmly on the side of the translation industry.

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Responses

  1. There is nothing wrong with you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with every non-fuzzy, non-matched word you say. Having been translating patents for 20 years now I have clients who throw their hands up in horror if I suggest I might get some software to translate their intricate statements of opposition and so forth. I have direct clients as well as agency clients and have always, and will always refuse to use algorithms to do my work for me. Let those who want cheap translations have cheap translations – I prefer to supply quality, hand-made, and my clients know and value that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “I never asked, but I have a feeling that if they did know what these things called CATs and Trados are, they would demand that I don’t use them because they need translations that are the product of the brain of an educated and experienced translator, not the product of algorithms that by definition cannot take into account the different contexts of the patent documents.”

      I think Charlotte and Steve are both getting a bit confused with machine translation here, though: CAT tools are an aid, nothing more. They can be set up to insert your chosen items of terminology into your target sentence; on occasion, if you’re lucky, they may say “Hey, you’ve already translated this string once before! here it is!”, or may allow you to look up how you translated it previously. They *don’t* do the translating themselves – that is still down to the translator. And if you don’t “contaminate” your own databases with someone else’s material the translation will always have been yours, regardless.

      Like

      • You won’t believe it, but I know the difference between machine translation and CATs.

        Machine translations are very useful for my purposes, while CATs are completely useless.

        Like

  3. You are totally right. However, you are mixing up the role of the professional associations, who usually cannot make any representation on rates, and the attitude of the translators themselves who should not accept to be treated as word processors. If the translators themselves do not stand up for their rights and accept the conditions imposed by agencies, there is not much their associations can do. By doing so, these translators forget that they will be held responsible for the whole translation if the scope of their work is not clearly defined in their contract. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. In other words, being a professionnal means taking full responsibility for your work and acting accordingly, and getting paid for this responsibility.

    Like

  4. Professional associations cannot have a position on what is clearly wage theft?

    Then what is professional about them and why should we have them at all?

    I was trying to imagine an association of professional accountants that would approve of a wage theft scheme wherein old numbers would be obligatorily thrown in for free or reimbursed at a fraction of the cost of brand new numbers …. and for some reason I started laughing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Steve, I think you can literally blame Trados GmbH (now defunct, bought by the Evil SDL Empire) for all this match scale bullshit. Old-timers who were on the scene in the 1990s told me about how the marketing morons there spun this one out of air, telling potential translation buyers that “translators typically give discounts on the following scale…” while actual translators in the audience thought “WTF? a fuzzy what? We don’t need no steenkeen discounts!” There’s more to the story, but I’m not in the mood for it. Those who prefer to drink polluted water in the bulk market bog are welcome to it.

    I consider these tools very useful as you know for organizing, archiving and retrieving my work; I can’t think of a more efficient, faster way to dig up the genetic engineering terms I had to make up over a decade ago or put together a nice review glossary or bicolumnar discussion document for a client. But imposed discounts which very often bear no relationship to actual project efforts are worse than theft – they are simply nonsense. Much of the stuff I see doesn’t fit with any cookie-cutter charge template, especially when one is dealing with poorly prepared, poorly organized source materials or a CAT-based project organized by some fool who doesn’t even understand the tool. Most projects are unique and costing should reflect that.

    Liked by 4 people

    • lossnerk, I wish the site would let me Like your post!

      Steve, the answer to your question has, I think, to be a resounding “yes”! It was certainly Trados who promoted the fiction that if a sentence has been translated once it doesn’t need to be done again, not even to adjust its grammar to a different point in the patent, and therefore shouldn’t be charged at full rate.

      (Of course, the fact that most patents still don’t come in a reliable computer-readable form means that the argument doesn’t hold a lot of water for patent translators anyway)

      Like

      • Thanks for your comment.

        All of the patents for filing that I translate, and at this point I mostly translate patents for filing, are in MS Word.

        But I would not dream of murdering and dismembering them with a memory tool.

        And my clients might stop sending me work if they found out that I rely on algorithms instead of relying on my experience of 30 years.

        Like

  6. A former ATA president, who just happened to be among other things a Trados trainer, was years ago introducing Trados to unsuspecting translators with these words:

    “I just completed a 34,501 word project in 10 hours thanks to AutoSuggest, Context Match and the other nifty time-saving features within SDL Trados Studio 2009 SP1. That’s without having much of anything in the pre-existing TM!”
    Marian Greenfield, Translator and Trainer

    You must be familiar with this statement, Kevin, because I am quoting it from an old post by Jill, which includes comments by you and by Bernie Bierman in two languages (Ach! Mein Hertz schwimmt in Blut!)

    https://translationmusings.com/2009/11/25/trados-ad-tempest-in-a-teapot/

    Like

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You sound very lucid and your assessment with the translator’s pay decrease equally realistic. May I add that it is not just the translation industry that assiduously pushes the use of Trados. It is part of the mandatory curriculum for a Bachelor of translation at four universities (or should I say stables?) in Montreal, and most likely elsewhere. I feel sorry for all these young minds that will be turned into zombie translators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do think it’s understandable that modern-day translation courses, which are largely preparing translators for freelance careers rather than the staff jobs some of us older translators were lucky enough to get should cover CAT tools and other things necessary to a freelance such as business practices as well as translation per se, though. They should, however, be careful about the impression they give about how essential such things are.

      Like

      • The problem is that most of these new translators may think that these tools are required in their profession regardless of what they translate, when the fact is that they are suitable only for a few fields, and that that this kind of software should be used judiciously even in those fields.

        Otherwise, Zombie Universities will be turning out Zombie Translators.

        Like

  8. Thanks for your comment, I did not know that.

    Shame on these Zombie Universities!

    Like

  9. I have never thought about translation tools in this manner, perhaps because I am getting into the industry at a time when CATs are a norm. But I agree that no client or agency should refuse to give a translator a job because they do not use CATs, what should matter is that quality translation is delivered in good time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. CATs are a norm for newbies. But not for experienced translators. Some use them, some don’t, and it’s nobody’s business what kind of tools they use.

    Like

  11. Have CAT tools had an impact on the overall pay of translators? Certainly, in case one blindly accepted the skewed rationale of the new agency model of full vs. fuzzy matches. Did they impact rates per se? I don’t think so.

    At the same time, I am quite certain that CAT pools did have a great impact on the earning potential of translators because CAT tools are just so symptomatic of what Steve routinely calls the “new agency model” or what I refer to as the “industrialization” of the business of translation.

    I also do remember the times when translation agencies/firms were usually run by people who were either translators themselves, or non-translators who still had some foreign language background, or at the very least people who had more than just a superficial appreciation for what translators actually did or what translation actually involved. In other words, people who were aware of the “qualitative” aspects of translation.

    But now, it’s an entirely different ballgame. By now, the “translation industry”, at least the mega-agency part of it, is run by people who don’t seem to have the slightest clue about translation, about translators, let alone being language professionals themselves. Needless to say, they would not know a thing about the “quality” of translation, and truth be told, they could not care less. Seems like this new corporate CAT/MT universe is entirely populated by business people, and software engineers, and mathematicians and whatever not… anything but language professionals or, God forbid, actual translators.

    What the self-anointed translation industry leaders all do care about, of course, are the “quantitative” aspects of translation, which is really the only relevant aspect when it comes to “selling high, buying low”. It is really the only thing they can care about, even if they really wanted to care about anything else (which is doubtful).

    So, for the quantity aficionados, things are actually very simple: a text is nothing more than a quantity of “translation segments”, which can be stored and then recycled as necessary. For them, the fact that a translation segment is already in memory simply means that it doesn’t have to be translated anymore, it just needs to be inserted, and voilà, that’s not translation, right, so why should the translator be paid a second time? And if something similar has been translated, well, according to their logic, that’s a “fuzzy match”, which shouldn’t be paid in full, because, in their non-translator world, it does not require the same translation effort as a full match.

    For the translation industrialists, there are also no longer any words, just “units”. Just like there are no translators, just “vendors”. I have yet to be actually called a “translation unit vendor” by any of them, but I know the time can’t be far off.

    And with their extremely limited knowledge (if one can even call it “knowledge”) of what translation actually is – meaning an assembly-line production of translation units, which unfortunately still requires translators as some sort of at best semi-skilled labor, hopefully to be rendered obsolete in the very near future – it should not really comes as a surprise to any of us that they have been pushing very hard to impose this concept of theirs, not only as the best one, but as the only viable one, really.

    Nor should it come as a surprise that the ones they have been able to convince of this outlandish statement are mostly newbie translators who simply do not know any better, who believe that “CAT tools are the norm now”, which is a myth the new agency model is all too happy to perpetuate ad nauseam, despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

    Whenever clients ask me why I don’t use CAT tools, I personally always respond the following, in this order:

    1. Stability issues with CAT tools: I am not looking forward to unexpected software conflicts and computer crashes with CAT tools, which have been very well documented, so by not using them, I avoid the risk of being unable to complete a project on time, which is paramount for me.
    2. Based on many years of experience and actual try-outs of different CAT tools, they offer no time savings for me for the kinds of projects I usually work on.
    3. Through their “segmentation”, they interfere with my personal “creative flow” when translating and actually decrease both my translation output and translation quality.

    After that, I have never had any agency probe any further into any additional reasons and motivations… in which case it is probably a good thing that they don’t really know anything about what projects CAT tools are actually helpful with and for which ones they are a waste of time (my point 2) and what the creative process of a living and breathing translator actually entails (my point 3).

    Sorry for the long post, guys… it’s my first one on this blog, and I have been wanting to share my comments for quite some time now, so please forgive me.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you so much for your comment, Albert.

    It’s long, but very insightful.

    In fact, it is long enough that I could publish it as a short guest post on my blog in a few days if you want me too.

    Or you could elaborate on it a little bit.

    Please let me know.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. That would be fine with me, Steve. I actually feel very honored, especially since I am someone who has been enjoying your views on translation and the translation industry since the days when you were writing articles for the Translorial and we were both NCTA members…. and even back then, some 20 years ago, I thought whatever you were writing was the only thing worth reading….

    Like

  14. Thank you so much for your kind words.

    I will publish your comment in a few days when the interest in this posts dwindles a bit – it had about 300 views yesterday and about the same number of views already so far also today.

    I will let you know before I publish your comment as a guest post.

    Thanks again!

    Like

  15. Reblogged this on Translator Power.

    Like

  16. Always interesting to read these kind of articles, and the comments. I’m not qualified to comment on the main topic really as I’m not a translator and only know the industry as a CAT tool vendor… although I do think we aim to support as many players in the industry as possible. We are trying to sell software!
    But these comments you made were quite interesting for me:
    “Direct customers, at least those that I work for, never, ever ask about Trados or CATs, probably because they don’t know and don’t care what these things are. And why should they? What they care about is:
    How much I charge for my translations (because their customers understandably don’t like to spend a lot of money for translations),”
    Somehow that whole point makes little sense to me given the context of your article.
    And this one:
    “You won’t believe it, but I know the difference between machine translation and CATs.
    Machine translations are very useful for my purposes, while CATs are completely useless.”
    I think I’d be right in thinking that most professional users of CAT tools, translators, would not see it this way at all. Some get good use out of machine translation, others say they would never use it. But I’ve yet to hear anyone say that the machine translation is useful to them compared to the other features available to them which are useless. Perhaps there’s something else, unwritten, in this article about being qualified to judge what benefits you can get from a CAT when you know how to use it to your advantage, and have built up a careers worth of resources relevant to the things you do. Or perhaps you’re right, which would be interesting indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t really understand what you are saying …. unless it is that you don’t really understand what I am saying.

      Like

      • Sorry for that. On the first point I meant that as these tools can provide a means for clients to lower their translation costs, and as your clients care about how much they spend for the translations, why wouldn’t they care about them? I can understand them not knowing about them, but if they did then surely they would care?
        On the second point I wondered if you not using these tools meant that you are hardly qualified to judge whether they are useless or not?

        Like

  17. In some cases, you may be indeed providing savings for some clients in some translation fields, namely those in which CATs can be used without compromising the quality of the translation too much.

    As a translator who has studied the issue of CATs quite comprehensibly for a number of years as documented by the number of posts on this subject on my blog, and who has tried to use them and found them counterproductive, I believe that I am qualified to talk about them.

    All vendors like to boast about the savings that can be achieved with whatever it is they sell.

    In most cases, however, the money that is saved by paying translators less than what they used to be paid 10 or 20 years ago thanks to the fact that so many agencies are using CATs, and Trados in particular, to identify so called “full matches and fuzzy matches” and shortchange the translators, I believe that the money saved in this manner does not go to the actual clients, but straight to the pockets of the translation industry operators, whose greed and ruthlessness are legendary.

    For instance, I know that at least some translation agencies specializing in patents use and require the use of a CAT tool from translators, but as I said in the post, I never had a patent law firm client ask me to use these tools.

    One important reason why I don’t use CATs is that if I did use them and my clients found out about it, they would probably stop sending me work because my translation must be able to withstand for example questioning in court, and unlike a real translation of a human translator with a lot of experience in the relevant translation field, algorithms cannot be used as evidence in court.

    As another patent translator put it in a comment here:

    “I have clients who throw their hands up in horror if I suggest I might get some software to translate their intricate statements of opposition and so forth. I have direct clients as well as agency clients and have always, and will always refuse to use algorithms to do my work for me. Let those who want cheap translations have cheap translations – I prefer to supply quality, hand-made, and my clients know and value that.”

    Finally, since you did not mention anything about it, I take it you have no position on the central question of my post, namely whether Trados is at least co-responsible for the lower rates that translation agencies are paying to translators, although not necessarily saving their clients money by charging them less, which is why I call what they are doing wage theft.

    After all, as a tool vendor, why should you worry about little details like that?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m afraid I still find it very difficult to follow your logic. You stated that
    “…unlike a real translation of a human translator with a lot of experience in the relevant translation field, algorithms cannot be used as evidence in court.” Unless you used MT (which you seem to prefer) the content of the translation is entirely down to you, the human translator. The CAT is just a tool to help you organise the work, achieve consistency more easily, and hopefully tackle the volumes more efficiently. What algorithms do you think are being used to provide a finished translation without your input?
    I also think whether you are asked to use CAT tools or not is entirely irrelevant. The choice is yours and if you don’t like them that’s fair enough.

    Do I think Trados is at least co-responsible for lower rates? I believe translation technology really started to get going around the 1950’s, long before Trados, although this started with grand ideas of MT. Translation, along with many other industries that strive to use technology for improved efficiency and higher volumes, will eventually see costs dropping. This is the nature of technology. The introduction of TMs and processing of sentences to find repetitions was probably the first indication of how this technology would eventually affect human translators and this wasn’t Trados. I believe it was the much respected Alan Melby and his team at Brigham Young University in the early 80’s. This was introduced through a company called ALPS who used it in a commercial MT system, and after this IBM and Trados moved the technology on with the introduction of fuzzy matching. Today the concept is probably used by every CAT on the market. So to come back to the question, do I think Trados is at least co-responsible for lower rates? No I don’t. I think this is the inevitable consequence of change and technological advancement in which Trados just happened to be one of the first. I don’t think they are any more responsible for lower rates to translators as they can be credited with reduced costs for translation consumers, or the growth of the global marketplace where language is so important. It’s inevitable and I think laying the blame at an individual or a single company when so much research was going on to help support the increased demands for translation is pointless.
    So to avoid the effects of working in a high volume playing field where use of these tools is virtually a requirement the answer for now is to find direct clients who don’t have high volume requirements and have not felt pressured to reduce their costs. Makes complete sense to me, and if you find you can work better without a CAT when working for these clients then good luck.

    Like

  19. “So to come back to the question, do I think Trados is at least co-responsible for lower rates? No I don’t. I think this is the inevitable consequence of change and technological advancement in which Trados just happened to be one of the first. I don’t think they are any more responsible for lower rates to translators as they can be credited with reduced costs for translation consumers, or the growth of the global marketplace where language is so important.”

    Thank you for your frankness.

    It’s good to know that you don’t give a damn about translators since your real customers are translation agencies.

    Like


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