Posted by: patenttranslator | January 6, 2018

Another Self-Serving and Useless Resolution of the American Translators Association

At its 58th Annual Conference, held in Washington, DC, on October 25-28, 2017, the 10,000-member American Translators Association adopted the following resolution with 87% of the votes cast:

“Whereas translators and interpreters are committed to promoting and facilitating communication and understanding between peoples, be it resolved that we, members of the American Translators Association, strongly oppose all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, or sexual orientation, as well as all forms of expression of and incitement to xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance, and strongly favor welcoming qualified immigrants who, with their skills and knowledge, contribute to the wealth of our country or seek refuge here from war or persecution.”

It’s immensely gratifying (isn’t it?) that ATA is opposing “all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, or sexual orientation, as well as all forms of expression of and incitement to xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance, and strongly favors welcoming qualified immigrants”.

Or could it be that this resolution is in fact just another useless and empty proclamation that almost nobody will read and that will not do anything to help a single refugee or immigrant?

Since most decent people are against all kinds of discrimination, which probably includes translators, I see the resolution cited at the beginning of my post today mostly as a useless, empty, self-serving and hypocritical gesture that is not very likely to help anybody.

Most associations of stamp collectors and mushroom pickers, or of professional dog groomers, or of cat fanciers are probably also against xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance. But for some reason they don’t seem to feel the urgent need to issue lofty resolutions on these subjects.

Instead, they publicly express their opinions on issues that have a direct impact on problems concerning their members, issues like declining monetary values of stamp collections, the health of mushrooms in our forests, information on treatment of ear infections of our dogs and on how to best help stray cats.

Why is the American Translators Association not following their example, which it could do by issuing a resolution that actually means something to its members?

What this translator and 10,000 other members of ATA would dearly like to know is what ATA’s positions are on issues directly affecting our work and lives.

Issues such as the ones that I will now dare to mention below, albeit only very briefly, because there are many issues that impact the lives of translators on which ATA does not seem to have any position whatsoever.

I am convinced that if ATA found the courage to take a position on any of the issues briefly mentioned below, and preferably more than just one such issue, it would be greatly appreciated by the 10,000 members of ATA and that many more translators would likely join the association.

The fact that the words 10,000 members have been frequently thrown around by ATA for a decade or two probably means that the association is not growing because it is losing its old members who are qualified, educated and experienced translators. The association now manages to survive by growing its membership base mostly thanks to newbies.

Most translators don’t care about ATA’s rhetorical positions on issues that it can’t influence much, facile positions that look good on paper, while they cost ATA absolutely nothing. Instead of ATA’s position on discrimination against new immigrants and refugees, I think most translators would like to know ATA’s position on issues that we struggle with every day in our work.

Does ATA have an official position for instance on the following three issues:

  1. Why are the rates paid by the translation industry to translators falling, and what can translators do about it?

In the last two or three decades, rates paid to translators have been steadily falling courtesy of so-called translation industry, as the translation industry has been and still is outsourcing its translations to low-cost countries where important and highly complicated translations of complex documents are often done by translators who are extremely cheap, but who lack the education, skills and experience required to work as competent professionals, and who have to use machine translations to hide the fact that they don’t really understand the information in the source language and are not really fluent in their target language either.

The result of this approach is of course garbage that is sold by the translation industry to clients as real translation, which gives a bad name to all of us.

Why is it that there has not been a single article analyzing the causes of this development, very unfortunate for hard-working translators, in the ATA Chronicle, the official publication of the American Translators Association?

  1. What is the general position of ATA on machine translation?

Why is it that ATA, as far I know, has no official position on what machine translation is and what it is not? Shouldn’t it have a position on an issue that is much more important to us, translators, than for example “racial hatred and religious intolerance”, something that ATA feels so strongly about that it felt necessary to include it in its latest resolution?

Is machine translation a legitimate form of translation, comparable or tantamount to human translation? That is how the translation industry sees it, although most translators see it simply as a tool, a very useful, clever and ingenious tool, that translators and non-translators alike can use for free, but that should not be mistaken for actual translation.

  1. What is ATA’s position on post-processing of machine translations?

Is post-processing of machine translations an advisable technique, or at least an acceptable technique for translating complicated and important documents, such as medical diagnoses, good manufacturing practice manuals, or procedures used for maintenance and testing of nuclear reactors?

The position of the translation industry on this particular technique, which would be highly profitable for the translation industry (if the industry could only make it work), is of course clear. As far as the translation industry is concerned, post-processing of machine translation is absolutely the way to go!

Judging from the propagandistic nature of many articles published in the ATA Chronicle over the last few years, which celebrate and recommend the use of translation technology to translators, it seems that as far as ATA is concerned, it is only natural that human translators should be used to assist machines, instead of the other way round.

Since no articles questioning the propaganda of the translation industry have been published in the ATA Chronicle, it seems to me that the position of ATA, though never stated publicly, is the same as that of the translation industry.

I think that “machines good, humans bad”, to paraphrase George Orwell, or good only for miserably paid, mind-numbing post-processing drudgery, would sum up quite nicely the position on this issue not only of the translation industry, but also of ATA. If I am wrong, can somebody please point me to an article that was published in the ATA Chronicle, which is officially called The Voice of Translators and Interpreters, that was a serious and credible analysis of this technique, instead of a propagandistic piece written for and by the translation industry to brainwash translators?

The translation industry loves numbers, algorithms and percentages. As far as the industry is concerned, numbers and algorithms tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

But the way the “translation industry” uses numbers, algorithms and percentages is again just commercial propaganda that means nothing. It means nothing because the “translation industry” does not understand that although the number of correct words in a sentence can be measured, the meaning of these words is simply not measurable.

A Japanese sentence saying “It is our expert opinion that the Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactor would be vulnerable to a disaster that could be caused by a big tsunami”, which could be easily mistranslated by an algorithm glitch as “It is our expert opinion that the Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactor would not be vulnerable to a disaster that could be caused by a big tsunami”, is about 97% correct.

Only a careful, qualified, well-paid translator who is not working on a tight deadline would be likely to notice that the machine translation is 100% incorrect.

I don’t think that a poorly paid post-processor of machine translations of nuclear reactor tests, who likely lives in a country where human labor is very cheap, much cheaper than in Japan or United States, who does not really understand Japanese all that well and who does not really know English that much either, would be likely to catch such a minute mistake.

Which is one reason why I really would love to know what ATA’s official position is on post-processing of machine translations.

I do appreciate ATA’s opposition to “discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, and its concern about “xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance”.

As a former new immigrant who came to this country 35 years ago with all of 500 dollars in his pocket and a determination to make it here no matter what, and who eventually raised a family and built a successful translation business, mostly because he picked the right country for something like that, I myself naturally have a soft spot in my heart for new immigrants and refugees because I understand what they are going through. I too “strongly favor welcoming qualified immigrants who, with their skills and knowledge, contribute to the wealth of our country or seek refuge here from war or persecution”.

But I think that most Americans don’t need to be reminded by another self-serving resolution of the American Translators Association how they should feel about refugees and immigrants. It so happens that many Americans are either immigrants themselves as I am, or children of immigrants as my children are now, or grandchildren of immigrants as my children’s children will be one day.

I also think that most of the 10,000 translators, who in spite of everything still are members of the American Translators Association, would really appreciate it if  ATA let them know what its positions might be on some of the issues that have had a major impact on their life and work for several decades now.

If ATA wants to prove to us that it is really interested in representing the interests of translators and interpreters instead of those of the seemingly omnipotent “translation industry”, taking a position on the three issues mentioned in my post today, issues on which ATA to my knowledge never has taken publicly a position to this day, would be a good start.



  1. I agree.
    A couple of years ago I became very involved with ATA. Last year I decided to refocus my time and efforts on my business instead.

    In the past 10 years the translation/ interpreting Industry has been growing between 15-17 percent a year. If ATA actually represented well our industry, you would expect it to reflect that yearly growth and now be somewhere near 22 thousand.

    I have observed many long time members leave and folks like you entertain the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I have observed many long time members leave”

    Sad, but unavoidable. What value does the ATA provide for long-time members?

    As a long-time member myself (since 1989), I can’t really think of anything.


    • I felt that if they had an effective and visible public outreach, the results would be beneficial for our industry as a whole. Part of that public outreach is to take a powerful stand on certain issues some of which are mentioned in your post.

      Our industry has been growing, but average wages are going down. This means that cheap service is growing faster than quality.

      Last year I did more for my business by concentrating on it than any benefit I could get from ATA. I felt that I worked very hard volunteering my labor and resources for the ATA only to see much of it backtrack with internal petty politics. I don’t mind volunteering my services if it results in the greater good.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Solid points here. I think that many members and former members would agree that the ATA does not represent our interests. As far as I can see, the abdication of this organization’s responsibility as an entity representing North American translators began when it allowed non-US citizens to join as “associate members.” This meant (to take but one example) that English-to-Spanish translators residing in Los Angeles and Chicago suddenly had hundreds (thousands?) of counterparts residing in La Paz, Lima, and elsewhere willing to provide the same service for half of what they charged, and who could now boast of ATA membership and certification.

    As far as I can see, the ATA is very much in bed with the major translation software companies that take out advertising in their magazine and that are the major sponsors of their events. As for their annual conferences, beleaguered translators – many of whom have seen their rates plummet over the past ten years – are invited to spend 4-5 days at expensive venues where they are relentlessly targeted by companies plying the latest and greatest in expensive translation software, and invited to cocktail hours where they can partake of canapés and mini-kabobs courtesy of rapacious large agencies offering Third-World rates to their “valued vendors” in the First World.

    Um, no thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your comment, Robert.

    I don’t agree that only US citizens should be allowed to be members. I think that at least permanent residents (“green card” holders) should have the same rights in this respect as citizens.

    I am not sure how things work in other countries. Do non-citizens and non-residents have the right to join the associations of translators in other countries, such as in Germany and France? I don’t know.

    But I agree with everything else you say.

    The problem of who can be an ATA member is in fact much bigger, because anybody who pays the membership fee can become and ATA member, as I wrote in these two posts: and


    • Hi Steve.

      I also do not have a problem with green-card holders residing in the US being eligible for ATA membership. But citizens of countries where the standards of living are much lower, and therefore where the notions of “acceptable rates” are radically different? No way. Allowing membership of persons from such countries is a betrayal of what ought to be ATA’s mission.

      This is something that opened floodgates to cheap competition for many of ATA’s US members, for reasons I stated in my previous post.

      As to your question re other national/European organizations, I am fairly certain that these are territorially based (i.e., citizenship of the nation or supranational entity in question is required). Perhaps someone else can confirm.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Czech Union of Interpreters and Translators requires neither Czech citizenship nor residence in CZ to join. The sole criterion is that the member be a professional translator, e.g. by submitting a copy of their business licence or providing other proof that they are a paid translator or interpreter.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I hope translators in other countries will say something on this subject here.


    • Thanks, Elizabeth.

      That makes sense to me.


    • FWIW, the Brazilian Translators Association does accept foreigners as members. To join, you must produce (if I remember correctly) a degree in translation, published translations, copies of invoices you issued for translation services, or some other translation-related qualifications.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Paolo.

        Makes sense to me.

        I wonder, is there an association of translators in any country on this planet that you can join simply by paying the membership fee, without having to prove in some manner that you are in fact a translator?


  6. Translators and interpreters are in the business of bridging gaps between languages and cultures. For us, diversity is not an afterthought, but the essence of our profession. Also, a substantial proportion of translators living in the US, Steve and myself included, are immigrants. The anti-immigrant sentiments expressed by the alt-right affect all of us. Would you like to be called a “dirty foreigner” or see signs “No … need to apply” (insert your favorite race or nationality for the dots) on the doors of businesses? We must vigorously oppose those fascistoid sentiments before they become official policy.


    • So the alt-right is winning the red herring game.


    • “Would you like to be called a “dirty foreigner” or see signs “No … need to apply” (insert your favorite race or nationality for the dots) on the doors of businesses?”

      No. It never happened to me in the last 36 years, so I don’t really worry about something like that happening any time soon.

      But I would like to know why the ATA does not have any positions on the issues mentioned in my post today and instead just keeps issuing facile, cheap, PC positions that, as far as I can determine, mean absolutely nothing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As a member of ATA’s board of directors for 13 years, chair of its Ethics Committee, editor of the Translation Journal among other positions I’ve served in, I’ve not only spoken up on the issues you mentioned, but also actively contributed to solving or mitigating those problems. That said, it is my experience that ranting against the “translation industry” or the other irreversible trends in our profession (however unfavorable they might be for us) is at least as useless as speaking up for diversity and against discrimination.


  7. “So the alt-right is winning the red herring game.”

    I’m afraid I have no idea what this means.


  8. Surely, membership of a professional association/institute is based on recognition and certification of a PERSON’S professional qualifications, skills and ethics. Key, therefore, is the standard and quality of membership acceptance requirements set and enforced by the association/institute. Assessments and policing of standards applicable in countries other than the home country of the association would be fraught to say the least. Given, for example, that the ATA accepts corporations as members, would indicate to me that it is not a true professional association, and I, for one, would not join it.


    • Things are different in Australia and other countries, Louis.

      ATA gladly accepts non-translators, including agencies and corporations as members.

      In fact, the only requirement for being an ATA member is payment of the membership fee.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. “That said, it is my experience that ranting against the “translation industry” or the other irreversible trends in our profession (however unfavorable they might be for us) is at least as useless as speaking up for diversity and against discrimination.”

    Ranting, huh?

    Thank you so much.

    If ATA is unable or unwilling to do anything to do anything about these “irreversible” trends, then it’s completely useless to actual translators.

    Which explains why it’s membership is declining.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hear, hear, Steve!


      According to your view, ATA has been, and continues to be, entirely impotent in responding to the trends discussed by Steve in his post (and his coverage of the unfortunate trends was by no means exhaustive).

      Is that right?

      If so, then what real use is it?

      Oh right, it can boldly stand up and denounce racism and intolerance. I wonder how many hours were spent discussing and drafting that resolution. Nice to know that our membership dues were put to good use. I hope that at least the coffee and pastries at the meetings where the statement was hammered out were of reasonably good quality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chocolate donuts and Starbucks coffee would be my guess. Given how expensive ATA conferences are, they can easily afford that.


  10. “It never happened to me in the last 36 years, so I don’t really worry about something like that happening any time soon.”
    Have you seen the Charlottesville demonstration or any video of an alt-right meeting? Nazism started exactly the same way in civilized Germany, and there too, people didn’t believe it could happen there.


  11. ATA’s membership is not declining, and the association IS doing a lot for translators. You would be aware of the details and could possibly also contribute to it doing more if you participated in its activities, for example, by running for the Board or volunteering in one of the committees.


    • “ATA’s membership is not declining”.

      Fortunately, you are not under oath, Gabe, so you can say anything you want on my blog.

      But if ATA membership is not declining, how is it possible that 2 years ago ATA had 11,000 members and now it has only 10,000.

      It sounds like 2 + 2 = 5 to me, and I am not interested in giving my own free time to an association that does so little for translators, so much for the “translation industry”, and on top of that, is so weak in math.

      This is what I copied from the ATA website two years ago for a post I called “Will the ATA Survive the Year 2025”, linked above:

      According to ATA’s mission statement on its website, “The ATA was established to advance the translation and interpreting profession and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters”.

      “ATA’s 11,000 members include translators, interpreters, teachers, project managers, web and software developers, language company owners, hospitals, universities and government”.


  12. Well, yes, fascism is always a danger.

    So that’s why ATA has a position on fascism, but not for instance on post-processing of machine translation or obligatory discounts for “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”.

    OK, got it.


  13. If “The ATA was established to advance the translation and interpreting profession and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters”; and it committed itself to achieving its mission, it would be acting against the interests of its ‘industry/corporate’ members; and vice versa, of course. A horse at the front and another at the back of the cart, both pulling in opposite directions.
    This being the case, it is not reasonable to expect it to achieve anything beyond making profound statements about discrimination and the color pink.
    Even Mathew (6:24) knew you cannot serve two masters.
    Nothing will change until it turns the ‘industry’ out of the ‘temple’ and starts to focus on the interests of PROFESSIONAL translators only.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Nothing will change until it turns the Nothing will change until it turns the ‘industry’ out of the ‘temple’ and starts to focus on the interests of PROFESSIONAL translators only.”


      But I don’t think the ATA can change.

      I think that translators in this country should start another association that would in fact represent them instead of representing the “translation industry”.

      If was younger, maybe I would try to create an alternative to ATA, but I am too old for that now.

      So I’m just ranting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that ATA is, in all probability, incapable of changing.

        I also agree that a radically different kind of translator’s association that truly does represent translators’ interests is needed.

        Any such hypothetical association would, for starters, have a membership policy the very opposite of the ATA (i.e., strict admission criteria based on a combination of formal education, professional experience, and testing).

        There are simply too many (self-styled) translators out there (at least in the major language pairs). A lot of these people need to either change their line of work or be clearly seen for the inferior practitioners they are (i.e., they can continue to ply their wares, but without being able to boast of membership in a truly professional association).

        While we are on the subject, there are also too many agencies. Many of these outfits function as nothing more than brokers, securing work for translators and pocketing a large percentage of the job fee for themselves.

        Moreover, freelancers are ill served by, which does not attract direct clients and, at best, acts as a liaison linking freelancers with the kinds of broker/agencies paying low rates that I have described above. Like ATA, has also played its role in facilitating entry into the market of thousands of dubiously qualified translators. (Hell, you can even set up a profile on the site for free. And if you pay an annual membership fee, you can have added status simply by virtue of membership).

        So there really is a lot that is messed up in “the industry.” Not everything can be laid at the door of the ATA, but its inadequacies are certainly a big part of the problem.


  14. I think that the launching of blind auctions like Proz or Translators Cafe, where hungry translators keep underbidding each other until the lowest bid wins a crummy job is a big reason why the rates for translation have fallen so much in the last decade or two.

    It makes sense to avoid Proz, unless you are a total newbie. Even total newbies should realize that they will never make any money unless they are able to eventually graduate from Proz jobs to better work.

    I also think and hope that translators will stop being apathetic and start looking for an alternative to ATA.

    Since ATA is doing nothing for us and since it can’t be reformed, (as Gabe put it, the trends that I am “ranting about” are in ATA’s opinion “irreversible”), translators need to create their own association, an association that would be fighting for their interests and against the interests of the “translation industry”.

    ATA is boldly issuing resolutions against racism and fascism, while completely ignoring issues that impact our work and our income, because it is working for the “translation industry” instead of working for us, which should be its job.


  15. Remarkable, percutant article. I would like to know indeed ATA’s position on these issues.


  16. Thank you.

    Unfortunately, ATA has no time for taking a position on any of the issues mentioned in my post because they are busy very courageously fighting fascism, racism, religious intolerance and a whole bunch of other issues that are so much more important that the actual issues affecting directly translators.

    And who could blame them?

    Thanks God they’ve got their priorities straight!


  17. But can’t ATA be reformed, though?

    I’m assuming the constitution can be changed with a 75% or 2/3 vote of members, and that the overwhelming majority of members with voting rights will be individual translators, not corporates.

    If that’s the case a resolution could be brought to the AGM and with large-scale voting by individual translators the corporate membership category could be removed.

    Not impossible, surely …


    • Not imposible, but unlikely, in my view. I would say guess that 100% of the persons in the ATA hierarchy, and maybe 90% of those “highly active” in the organization, have a vested interest in things staying just as they are, and would fight tooth and nail to assure that they remain so.


      • [Apologies for typos in above post!]


      • “I would say guess that 100% of the persons in the ATA hierarchy, and maybe 90% of those “highly active” in the organization, have a vested interest in things staying just as they are, and would fight tooth and nail to assure that they remain so.”

        I agree.

        I think that ATA has outlived its usefulness to actual translators.

        ATA is now useful mostly just to translation agencies, CAT software manufacturers, and the like, and to some limited extent also to newbie translators.

        Why am I still a member and why do I keep writing posts about the ATA?

        Einstein said that the most powerful force in the Universe is compound interest, but I think that the most powerful force in the Universe is in fact inertia.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Corporate members or their representatives (unless they are bona-fide translators) have no voting rights whatsoever and are not eligible to serve on the Board or on certain committees. These rules were instituted exactly to prevent translation companies, software vendors and the like from controlling the Association.


  18. Something like that is probably not impossible, but I think that is very unlikely to happen because as Robert mentioned in his comment above, ATA is dependent on corporate money that it gets not only from translation agencies, but also from software companies and other sources of corporate largesse.

    That is why in its present form, it works for the “translation industry” instead of for translators.


  19. Steve, I asked for and got the ATA membership numbers from Mooch. He told me that membership peaked with the 2009 New York Conference at a record 11,102. Since then, membership has been virtually constant: The year 2015 ended with 10,505 members. 2016 with 10,515, and 2017 with 10,533. No decline (except for the slight one-time drop from an abnormally high number in 2009), but no growth either.


  20. Thanks, Gabe.

    Mooch, huh?

    Good name for a bean counter.


  21. Mooch is the nickname of Executive Director Walter Bacak, which he himself likes and often uses.


  22. Steve, I voted against the resolution in D.C. for the same reasons you mention here.


    • Which means that either you are a fascist, racist, xenophobe and homophobe, or you managed to keep your sanity, despite ATA propaganda, which is not an easy thing to do.


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