Posted by: patenttranslator | October 29, 2017

What Would I Do If I Were ATA President

It came to my attention two days ago, (via Facebook Messenger), that somebody penciled me in for ATA treasurer at the ATA (American Translators Association) Conference in Washington, D.C.

Ha, ha, ha, it ain’t gonna happen, I thought to myself and had a good laugh. But I wondered, who might have committed such a rebellious act without running it by Mad Patent Translator first?

I am just guessing, but I think that what prompted the Unsub (UNknow SUBject, an abbreviation familiar to viewers of crime shows, frequently used by detectives who are trying to identify a shadowy criminal who despite their efforts remains at large), to nominate me at the ATA Conference that was taking place in Washington, D.C., was the shared memory of a post that I wrote a year ago, called What Do Translators Associations Want from Us and What Do We Want from Them.

It might be a wee bit presumptuous of me, but I think that the Unsub penciled me in because he or she agreed with the silly post linked above. It was only after I took a better look at the picture of the votes received at the ATA Conference in DC that I saw that I was proposed (presumably by the same Unsub) for three positions, not just one: ATA President, ATA Secretary, and ATA Treasury.

I am not very good with numbers, so I would probably not make a good Treasurer.

I don’t think I would make a good Secretary either – too independent …., some people might even call me too wacky, or worse.

But I believe that I would make a damn good President, if I say so myself. After a year or two, the ATA would be unrecognizable.

Here are a few basic, and in my view very necessary changes that I would propose if I had the bully pulpit of an ATA President. I would use the position to try to change this august organization in meaningful ways that would be in my opinion helpful to our profession, if I still dare to call it that after so much damage has been done to our profession by the “translation industry”, while the ATA either stood silently by, or even actively supported the pernicious agenda of the “translation industry” by allowing the industry to publish its propaganda materials in the ATA Chronicle.

  1. I would make it more difficult to join the ATA.

Currently, anybody and their grandmother (and possibly even her pet rabbit) can join the ATA upon payment of the membership fee of US$190. How can it possibly be called an “association of professional translators” if anybody can join it without having to show any credentials or evidence of anything relating to translating or interpreting experience?

What has happened over the years, partly due to this policy of doors that are open to anyone who is willing to pay, is that the ATA membership is now mostly valuable to “newbies” who may find it difficult to get any work if they have no experience, no university diploma or specialized certificates, etc.

At present, ATA has these main membership categories:

  1. associate member in good standing, and
  2. ATA-certified translator.

Based on the current ATA policy, “ATA Membership is open to anyone with an interest in translation and interpreting”.  This means that anybody can become an ATA member in good standing by paying $190, no questions asked. On the one hand, it is a good thing for budding new translators. But on the other hand, it is clearly also a bad thing when anybody can call himself “professional translator” or “professional interpreter.”

I would create a new category for newbies who have no college diploma in translation, or credible evidence of translating or interpreting experience. Perhaps it could be called a “candidate category” instead of the current category of “associates”, (which is incidentally the same term that is used to describe Walmart greeters), so that the ATA candidates would be able to be promoted to a better sounding category later, for instance if they received a university degree, or if they could prove relevant experience in translating and interpreting, obtained for example during the course of at least two years. The details would need to be worked out and I would be open to suggestions.

I do believe that newbies are entitled to receive help from ATA and guidance from its generous members, but I don’t think it is a good thing when ATA currently makes no distinction between members who have advanced university degrees and decades of experience, and total beginners who don’t know anything about anything …. yet.

After all, we were all total beginners at first.

ATA has some sort of an examination that is supposed to validate a member as a translator. If you are an ATA member, show up for a written exam during which you prove that you are able to translate several paragraphs of a text from or into a foreign language, and an ATA proofer says that you did a pretty good job, you become an ATA-certified translator, regardless of your diplomas and/or certifications and experience, or the complete lack thereof.

I would propose to keep this ATA exam, suitably tailored for specialized and clearly specified fields such as literary translation, or financial or patent translation, because it is arguably better than nothing. But again, the exam is probably useful only for people who have nothing else as proof that they are in fact what they say they are, i.e. translators.

On top of that, the ATA certification remains valid ONLY if you continue paying ATA membership fees and participate in further ATA-approved seminars and educational activities. The seminar can be given for example by somebody who looks and sounds like a teenager and imparts wisdom to seminar attendees seeking what is called “continuous education points”, for example on the subject of how to use Facebook or Twitter to find new clients.

If you attend an ATA conference, you have basically satisfied most of the requirements for maintaining your ATA-certified status.

Although I have not gone to an ATA conference since 1998, I am sure that one can find a lot of useful information at every single one of the ATA conferences, not to mention the opportunities for networking and meeting new and old friends.

But given that attending the yearly ATA conference will set a translator back at least $2,000, probably more if one includes airfare, hotel and a very high conference fee, especially if you wait until the last moment because your finances are kind of shaky, I  would try to get rid of this extortionary requirement.

I believe that translators should attend a conference because they want to do that, not because they will be awarded points for it.

The real purpose of the requirement for maintaining the ATA-certified status is so evident that I don’t want to waste any more time on this subject.

So I would get rid of these requirements. Either the ATA exam can stand on its own as proof of some sort of an achievement, without demanding more and more money for it every year from translators who take it, or it’s a joke.

I received my diploma in Japanese and English studies (from Charles University in Prague) in 1980. The diploma, which is is still valid, prepared me quite well for a long and fairly successful career in technical translation on three continents over the course of more than three decades, and I never had to pay my old Alma Mater another penny for it after graduation.

  1. I would propose that only actual translators be eligible for membership in ATA.

This means that translation agencies, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and other alphabet agencies would no longer be able to join ATA as “corporate ATA members”. I am sure that there is no shortage of other associations for corporations that non-translators can join, for profit and companionship.

An individual representative of a translation agency or of one of the alphabet agencies would still be able to join the ATA under Mad Patent Translator’s presidency, but only as an individual translator. A believe that monolingual people who know nothing about foreign languages or translation should not be members of the American Translators Association, just like people who know nothing about accounting cannot be currently members of the Association of Certified Public Accountants.

  1. I would propose that ATA start issuing publicly its official positions on issues that are important to translators, such as post-editing of machine translation, obligatory discounts for “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” and other creative inventions of the “translation industry.”

I know that ATA frequently issues its positions on numerous issues such as gender discrimination, or the plight of refugees. And why not, it does not cost anything, and it looks good on paper?

But does the ATA believe, for example, that post-editing of machine translation is the way of the future and that it is a “useful tool” that its members should add to its inventory of professional tools?

I am not sure, but from reading articles published over the last five years or so in the ATA Chronicle, it would seem that it does. All the articles in the Chronicle that I have read were written by proponents of post-editing of the machine detritus, so as to lick it into a shape that would almost resemble a real human translation.

It must be a mere coincidence that all of these articles were written by representatives of translation agencies. Although some of the articles written by these representatives of the “translation industry” who were former translators, not a single one was written by a current translator who would dare to propose a different view, namely that post-editing of machine translations is just another greedy scheme, which in addition to further lowering our rates, (generally miserable rates that have been lowered by the “translation industry” already by at least 30 percent in the last decade or so), can only result in clearly inferior translations and further destitution of translators.

Not to mention that forcing translators to have to do something like that is tantamount to inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on humans who have committed no crime.

That is my position, and I have been very public on what my position on this issue is.

But if ATA really believes that post-editing is the way to go as the articles in the ATA Chronicle suggest, it should issue its official policy statement on an issue that is very frequently discussed by actual translators on social media.

  1. I would also propose that ATA issue its official policy statement on the subject of “fuzzy and full matches”.

Does ATA have an official policy on the legitimacy (or illegality) of a scheme that the “translation industry” calls “fuzzy and full matches”, which means that for some words and/or formulations, translators are paid much lower rates, or nothing at all, if these words or formulations have been used previously in the text of a translation.

Sadly, unlike when it comes to ATAs position on discrimination based on gender, I don’t know what the opinion of the ATA board is on this issue either. But if I were ATA president, I would try to push ATA to adopt an official policy on “fuzzy and full matches” too. Of course, if it were up to me, I would call it as an ATA President a transparent scheme at wage theft by the worst elements in the “translation industry”, which, as well all know, has a lot of pretty bad actors in it.

Just imagine what would happen if I were to tell the guy who does my taxes that I will reduce the amount I pay him for “fuzzy numbers” (numbers on my tax return that are similar to numbers that he was working with last year), and nothing for numbers that he just copied from the last year.

He would have a good laugh at my account and I would have to look for a new tax accountant.

But although this is precisely the logic that the “translation industry” is applying to translations, as far as I know, the American Translators Association” has no problem with this kind of fuzzy thinking, and no official position on this issue either.

If I were an ATA president, these are some of the changes that I would be fighting for. Therefore, there is  clearly no chance that somebody like me could become a president of the American Translators Association, at least not at the current stage in the pretty long history of the American Translators Association.

Which may be the actual reason why somebody in frustration penciled me in, instead of voting for one of the officially sanctioned candidates.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Kudos, Steve! I don’t generally attend the ATA conference, but if there were a candidate espousing such a platform, I would definitely vote for it!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Me too, of course!

    Like

  3. Hello Steve! Great post … as per your usual. I agree that translators should not be awarded points to go to conferences, but that they should do it out of interest to learn and improve, and of their own will.

    Like

  4. High school kids are awarded special points for things that their teachers want them to do, like participating in something that the wise teachers approve of. But translators are not stupid kids who need to be awarded points to do “the right thing”, are they?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Steve, so much of your point 1. makes me think of the past or current situation in the UK with the ITI as well.

    “Currently, anybody and their grandmother […] can join the ATA upon payment of the membership fee of US$190. How can it possibly be called an “association of professional translators” if anybody can join it without having to show any credentials or evidence of anything relating to translating or interpreting experience?”

    Quite. I don’t have any particular objection to people who merely have an *interest* being able to join in some form or other, *provided* that a clear distinction is made between them and people who are actually professional translators, even if relatively inexperienced ones. After all, I believe I’m entitled to join the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents in some form because it’s a field in which I have a professional interest, but it doesn’t qualify me to carry out patent-attorney activities. I worked hard to get the letters “AITI” after my name (it required a certain amount of experience, references and so on), and was appalled when that status was discontinued and those of us who hadn’t taken the Membership exam were suddenly lumped into one category along with (translation) students and any Tom, Dick or Harry who was vaguely interested in translation matters. Thankfully, ITI eventually reversed that decision and reinstated us.

    “I would propose to keep this ATA exam, suitably tailored for specialized and clearly specified fields such as literary translation, or financial or patent translation, […]”

    This sounds like what ITI does.

    “On top of that, the ATA certification remains valid ONLY if you continue paying ATA membership fees and participate in further ATA-approved seminars and educational activities.”

    Thankfully, ITI hasn’t gone quite that far: CPD is greatly encouraged, but not required, as that could just lead to people doing loads of not-very-relevant courses just to clock up the requisite number of hours.

    “Either the ATA exam can stand on its own as proof of some sort of an achievement, without demanding more and more money for it every year from translators who take it, or it’s a joke.”

    “I received my diploma in Japanese and English studies (from Charles University in Prague) in 1980. The diploma, which is is still valid, prepared me quite well for a long and fairly successful career in technical translation on three continents over the course of more than three decades, and I never had to pay my old Alma Mater another penny for it after graduation.”

    The situation is similar with me. I think it’s a question of whether the exam is regarded as a qualification or as a requirement of membership – there’s a conflict between the two. If it’s a qualification, then yes, once you’ve qualified you should keep it for life regardless, but if you want to retain Membership you have to keep paying for it. In the UK, this has sadly led to a situation where retired MITIs are finding that if they want to call themselves “MITI (Ret.) [or whatever the abbreviation may be] they have to continue to pay a membership fee, or they drop the “MITI”. I don’t think this situation exists with other professional qualifications.

    And yes, I also agree about point 2: there is far too much potential for a conflict of interests if you have corporate members as well, especially those LSPs who do not act in the best interests of individual translators.

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: