Posted by: patenttranslator | September 8, 2017

Welcome to the Jungle of Translation Industry 2.0

Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on the bizarre concept of the so-called ISO certification process, one of the modern features in the jungle of translation industry 2.0, for example this one in 2014, this one in 2015, or this one in 2016.

The concept of certifying a translation by a translation agency, which is to say a certification of a translation by a middleman or a broker rather than by the actual translator who translated the document, is seriously weird.

Unless the broker in question is also an experienced translator who knows both languages and is familiar with a specialized subject, which happens extremely rarely, he has basically no idea whether the translation is very good, or whether the entire translation is more or less just one huge typo.

This means that the one person who in fact could certify a translation — although not on the basis of ISO standards, which were originally designed for industrial products and therefore cannot be applied to intellectual property, i.e. activities occurring in the human brain — would be the translator who translated the document in question.

Most translation agencies in translation industry 2.0 are extremely reluctant to allow translators to certify their own translations, because the person doing the certifying needs to be identified. Many translation agencies are afraid, and with good reason, that if the agency’s client should find out who the actual translator is, she might try to establish a working relationship directly with the translator to save money.

At times translation agencies play an important and useful role and sometimes do add significant value to the entire transaction, for example when they coordinate translations of long, ongoing complicated projects from or into several languages at the same time.

But in many cases, for example when the direct client is a patent law firm that is only interested in patent translation from or into a certain language, the translation agency is typically unable to add any value to the translation project, beyond matching a suitable translator with a given project (assuming they can do that).

To make sure translators remain anonymous, hidden and unfindable, translation agencies in the 2.0 version of the translation industry have been busily designing longer and longer so-called “Non-Disclosure Agreements” (NDAs), that specify among many other highly restrictive and at times plainly illegal clauses that translators may not approach the actual client who ordered the translation under any circumstances, except with written permission from the translation agency, and in particular under penalty of death.

Well, no, not under the penalty of death, not just yet, that was just a joke, of course, intended to illustrate the current thinking trends and methods popular in the jungle of the modern version of the translation industry.

Although who knows, since translation industry 2.0 has been getting away with so many clearly illegal practices, it might just be possible that future contracts for translation industry 3.0 will in fact in a few years spell out that the penalty for talking to a direct client is DEATH!

As I wrote some three years ago, while the concept of applying industrial and commercial standards to industrial production of duffel bags, dog food and diapers makes very good sense, applying the same concept used for industrial and commercial standards to the intellectual activity called translation is something that only an inspired translation agency advertising manager could come up with.

ISO certification of a translation is simply a clever marketing gimmick because the certification says absolutely nothing about the education, qualifications, credibility and experience of the actual translator.

Even if the translator is an inexperienced newbie, and incompetent imposter, or just another cheap warm body cobbling together something from machine translation for another back office without understanding the subject, such translations can still be certified by a translation agency that is dutifully following all of the principles of ISO certification in the translation industry.

After all, these principles only spell out the procedure on the agency’s side, which is to say how the translation is supposed to be shuffled among desks of a translation agency by people who typically don’t understand the languages used in the translation.

ISO certification of translation is simply a big lie. But because it is a big lie that is useful for marketing purposes, hundreds or thousands of translation agencies have jumped on the ISO-certification bandwagon.

At this point, there are many versions of ISO (and also various other, equally insane versions of non-ISO translation certifications), none of which has anything to do with the accuracy or quality of a translation.

In fact, when I receive offers of “collaboration” from outfits in far-away countries who are eager to become a “back office” of my eminently specialized translating enterprise, shady “back office” operations that invariably pay translators peanuts, partly because they are located in countries where the cost of labor is very cheap, and partly because the “back office” concept adds yet another level of middlemen who need to be paid — one in a Western country, plus a secret middleman in another country — many of these shady operations proudly announce that they are “ISO-certified.”

And many of these “back-office” agencies, who specialize in working as subcontractors for other translation agencies, proudly list the large translation agencies in Western countries that are already using these outfits as clients of their “back office”. The list reads like a veritable who’s who in the translation universe (or jungle): all the mega-agencies are of course there.

I recently found out from a discussion on Facebook that there is yet another a new wrinkle in the ISO translation certification process. One translator started the discussion on Facebook when he wrote the following:

“Client [meaning a translation agency, Mad Patent Translator] suddenly asks me to include the following statement on every future invoice as “part of their ISO process”:

“I (Insert name) can confirm that I have deleted all audio files and word documents that I have received and created on behalf of XYZ from my personal computer and/or any other storage device I might have held these files within. I further confirm that I have also emptied my trash folder on my personal computer. This was checked as accurate on (insert date).”

While in the prehistoric times of translation industry 1.0, which is to say before the advent of the internet, translation agencies invested a lot of time and effort in trying to identify the best, most honest and trustworthy translators for projects, because they understood that their reputation depended on the kind of translator who would work for them. In translation industry 2.0, the translator is an afterthought – an unimportant, anonymous cog hidden somewhere in a “back-office” of a big machine word-producer.

Translation agencies in the jungle of version 2.0 of the translation industry don’t worry about the qualifications or character of the translators they use. Instead, they add another nonsensical and unenforceable clause to an NDA that already has more than three thousand words.

In translation industry 1.0, an agency person, usually a former translator, might have called me and said something like this: “Steve, we have this client who is paranoid about confidentiality. Could you please destroy all the printouts of the translation and delete all the files from your hard disk and also from floppy disks to keep this client happy, once you get paid for the work of course?”

I seem to remember that something like that did happen to me, but not more than once or twice — in thirty years — because I don’t remember the details.

If I got a call like that from an agency I knew well, I would agree and would then do exactly as asked … once I got paid, of course.

But that was translation industry 1.0, when people who were running translation agencies could still trust the translators who worked for them because they knew them well from a working relationship that often lasted for many years, sometime even decades.

In translation industry 2.0, translation agencies that proudly announce they have 3,000 “professional translators” obviously don’t know and don’t care about the scores of translators who may be working for them through a secret back office somewhere on the other side of the world.

And they again add another weird and unenforceable clause on page 14 of the “Non-Disclosure Agreement”.

I am just guessing here, but I think that it is very likely that a back office operator somewhere on the other side of the world, upon reading such a clause in his contract, might be thinking to himself:

“Wow, it looks like this translation is about an important secret.

There could be big money in it for me too. I wonder who could I sell it to.”

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