Posted by: patenttranslator | May 20, 2018

Out with the New, In with the Old – a Time Tested Alternative to the New Translation Industry Model

We translators love to constantly complain on social media about how we are treated by translation agencies, or by what is now called the “translation industry” (always in quotation marks on my silly blog, to distinguish this particular industry from translation as a profession, because these are two very different things.)

But when the shoe is on the other foot, when one translator works for another translator, who would then in this case be the equivalent of the “translation industry”, how do we treat the translators who work for us? Is there a difference between us and the industry in what we do unto others?

I think so. In most cases, I have noticed that most translators in fact do unto other translators as they would have them do unto them.

Just like some translators are not really of this world although they do live in it, there is a part of what is called the “translation industry” that is not really a part of the industry, and that part is made mostly of translators or former translators who also run what is a de facto small translation agency.

I myself have been working for other translators for many years and although that part of my life seems to be mostly in the past now, there are quite a few translators who are still working for me or for my small enterprise that is based mostly on translation of patents.

Because I mostly translate patents, the translators that I myself have been working for in the past two decades and who no longer send me work, because they are retired or no longer with us in this world, were also patent translators. In fact, they were mostly German translators, who just like me were translating German patents directly for patent law firms and occasionally needed help with translations of Japanese patents.

As I have said, they no longer send me work, probably because there is less demand for Japanese. But just last week I talked to one of them who translates German patents and who used to send me Japanese patents for translation, on and off for quite a few years. She is in her early eighties now but she still works, and there is plenty of work for her, she said, although she tries to find enough time for traveling as well.

There are generally a few important differences between how the translation agencies run their business in the toxic environment of new “translation industry” and how individual translators and some small translation agencies work with translators. Here are some of these differences:

  1. Paying Good Rates Is the Best Way to Ensure Excellent Quality of the Translation

Based on the new “translation industry” model, most translation agencies try to find the cheapest translator who should still be able to do a given job. The results are often not very good, especially since most translation agencies are unable to evaluate the quality of translations (that’s why they need to send a translation test to every new translator for their kind of evaluation that can be done by somebody who understands only one language and generally knows nothing about the subject either.)

But individual translators can tell good quality from poor quality and they are also often able to pay higher rates to other translators because they make most of their money from their own work.

I don’t pay “stellar” rates as one cheeky translator (who just like me may be a bit spoiled when it comes to rates because he mostly works for direct customers) once complained to me, but the rates that I pay are quite a bit higher than what the big players in the “translation industry” typically pay, generally twice as much as what a typical mega agency would pay.

(Please don’t send me your résumés. I need only a few people for only a few languages and there is so much fraud in the fake résumé business that I am only willing to consider translators who have been recommended by other translators that I know already.)

  1. Paying Quickly Is Almost as Good as Paying Twice

Another distinguishing features of translators and small to tiny agencies that used to and sometime still do send me patents for translation is that they pay within a few days, which is to say that they usually mail me a check as soon as they have received my translation.

This is very different from the model of the “translation industry”, which generally pays in two to three months to take advantage of a long “float time” during which the industry can let us wait for our money while we are forced to extend credit to the industry, often for a very long time. Who cares how are the translators going to be able to pay their bills before the payment finally arrives?

That’s their damn problem, right?

Well, not really, at least I don’t think so. And because the projects that I handle as an agency are not that many, they are usually relatively small and I have some money in the bank set aside specifically for this purpose, I pay translators who work for me on the first and on the fifteenth of each month, which means that nobody has to wait to get paid for more than two weeks, sometimes only a day or two.

  1. A Non-Disclosure Agreement Is Generally Only an Unenforceable Piece of Paper

Unlike the new “translation industry”, I don’t believe much in long, demeaning and sometime illegal NDAs that all translators are forced to sign in exchange for promises of future work, which often turns out to be nonexistent.

If a translation agency treats a translator in this manner, it clearly demonstrates a lack of respect for a translator, and the translator will have no respect for the translation either. Unfortunately for the clients, this means that any NDA could be violated by a translator without a second thought, especially since it is difficult or impossible to prove a violation, in particular if the translation agency is located in another country.

The best way for a translation agency to show that it respects the people who are working for it and whose work is indispensable for the agency’s profitability or survival is: 1. when it pays translators good rates, 2. when invoices are paid quickly (or at least within the promised time period), and 3. when the agency maintains basic norms of polite conduct in the communications with the translators.

I still know a few translation agencies that check all of the boxes for the simple categories mentioned above and those are the only agencies that I still work for.

And when I am the agency, I try to fit into them my little enterprise as well, which among other things means that I basically only ask translators to sign an NDA if it is required by the client. This happens once in a while, but not very often and when it does, the translators only need to sign a short statement about confidentiality.

Instead of relying on a piece of signed paper with thousands of words of tricky and scary legalese on it that for the most part has nothing to do with confidentiality of documents anyway, I try to establish a relationship of trust between myself and the translators who work for me. I believe that this is by far is the best way to ensure the confidentiality of documents.

I believe in the principles outlined in my silly post today because this is how the old “translation industry” used to work, before mammoth agencies ruined it, especially as smaller agencies started to imitate the ruthless corporate methods of their larger and particularly arrogant and greedy brethren.

I try to imitate the old translation agency model because I think that the old model is much better not only for translators, but also for their clients.

Painful experience has taught me that few things in life are as stupid as trying to find very good wine in a very cheap wine bottle. You have to pay a decent price for a decent wine. Don’t be surprised if a cheap wine turns out to be poison that will give you a major headache.

Despite the propaganda of the “translation industry” extolling the advantages of “new and innovative techniques”, referring in fact mostly to dangerous and counter-productive techniques for post-processing of the machine translation detritus, translations are in this respect no different from wine.


  1. Really great post, Steve. We have found, similar to you, that small translation agencies run by people who are actually translators themselves OR who run the old-style model of people who may not be linguists but who respect our skill and professionalism, are the best to work with. These are also the people we respond to when they come to us with an urgent request, even if we are busy with other jobs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s easy not to give a damn about people who have only contempt for you you, but very hard not to care about people who seem to care about you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Cheryl, I have “liked” your comment, although I am not sure about intermediaries “who are not linguists themselves”, and it’s an euphemism. Of course they are less terrible than arrogant and disrespectful intermediaries, but they are incompetent. They only function by hearsay – and then think they know… To me, they don’t belong to the translation market, full stop… 😉


  2. Steve, you wrote “arrogant and greedy” intermediaries: this is because they are INCOMPETENT, on top of being dishonest. If they UNDERSTOOD anything about the intellectual service by university-trained linguists called “translation”, they would understand that they have to DEFEND QUALITY, if only to make sure they get paid (so they are IDIOTIC too), which entails DEFENDING REASONABLE PRICES AND REASONABLE PRODUCTION DEADLINES. Those who don’t do that and engage in a time race & price competition do not understand anything about translation and DO NOT BELONG TO THE TRANSLATION MARKET. THEY ARE JUST ONLY USELESS and DANGEROUS LEECHES… Amen.

    Please note that, LEGALLY, they DAMAGE OUR COMMERCIAL IMAGE by promising just any price and production deadline to their customers, who are also ourrrs, and they are thus LIABLE TO GET SUED.

    I wish more translators would remind this to those leeches more often.

    They are also liable to get sued every time they act like EMPLOYERS by imposing prices, rebates, tools, platforms, deadlines, payment methods, i.e. by trying to have any form of AUTHORITY to a mere SUPPLIER who is NO EMPLOYER.

    One of such leeches has just been RECLASSIFIED AS AN EMPLOYER by the U.S. Justice – and it’s about time that things change!

    Please, also remind them of that, for yourself and the entire profession.

    Last but not least: please remind those leeches that UNTRAINED TRANSLATORS ARE NO TRANSLATORS and that NOWADAYS THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT GETTING TRAINED in a profession that one pretends to exercise: there is a TRANSLATION SCHOOL IN EVERY CITY WORLDWIDE nowadays, contrary to the pre-World War II period (and our legislation dates back to that time, unfortunately: this must change to: end-customers do not realise HOW MUCH DAMAGE is done by those negligent, clueless amateurs, in their huge majority.

    See aligned texts coming from subtitling providers for example: these are done by mostly untrained bilinguals who translate LITERALLY because the peanuts they are thrown do not pay for their research time, they do not know how to carry a research anyway, and most of all: they don’t give a shit…

    As in GLOSBE (sources are provided, e.g. subtitling sources),
    but also in LINGUEE
    = a DISASTER…
    Nowadays, when an aligned text comes from a large company or (inter)national, we have a 95% chance of getting a correct translation, but the rest is often just worthless… and that JUNK FEEDS OUR MACHINE TRANSLATION CORPORA, for which some of those leeches dare asking for REBATES…

    And it’s a VICIOUS CIRCLE: the more amateurs feeds those corpora, the more the next amateurs provide DETRITUS, garbage, etc…

    This is an attack against our profession.

    Please also remind the leeches that (post-)editing of machine translation TAKES LONGER THAN TRANSLATING FROM SCRATCH, thus should entail a SURCHARGE instead of a REBATE.

    And that they MUST INFORM THEIR OWN CUSTOMERS, who are also OURRRRS by the way.

    Otherwise they might get SUED for DAMAGING OUR COMMERCIAL IMAGE.

    The same goes for AMATEUR translators: please let them know they might GET SUED FOR DAMAGING OUR COMMERCIAL IMAGE.

    This might be the BEST WAY TO GET RID OF THOSE CROOKS.

    And I don’t care if they have been infesting the translation market for 10 or 15 years: THEY GET THEIR TRANSLATION DIPLOMA, or they will be kicked OUT of the translation COMMUNITY, de facto.

    I mean, if you have proofs that they produce junk.

    You can see that when they participate in Proz Kudoz and TCterms, for example: you easily see the bad translators and you can check their profiles…

    Let’s be ruthless here: it’s them or us… 😉

    Because they give the leeches the impression there is an ENDLESS SUPPLY of “translators” (which is untrue: good translators are rare), which DRIVES PRICES DOWN and SHORTEN PRODUCTION DELAYS – because they don’t check anything/enough things (and don’t know how to, don’t understand the importance of CHECKING ANYTHING THAT ONE IS NOT 100% OF (a mistake slips in SO EASILY…) because no professor ever TOLD them).


    And I do hope that the above comments are considered as “vitriolic” by the criticized leeches and amateur “translators”, by the way! 😉

    There is a LinkedIn Group created by an untrained translator (he only passed some State translation exam, with no mentioned training…) who is not sure what the purpose of his conversation group is, after several years, is unable to draft a questionnaire (“Yes/No No, I no longer wish such or such sorts of people to belong to the group”: should we respond the intuitive “No: No, we no longer…”, or the counter-intuitive but logical: Yes: No, we no longer wish…”? And this profound asshole pretends to be, not a translator (which he is NOT by the way), but a “COMMUNICATION” specialist (kiss my feet)…

    So from now on, I will be ruthless and only choose – and recommend – groups created by TRAINED translators and not profound imbeciles. And dishonest ones: he pretends to exercise pressures on the leeches re. translation fees (we don’t say “rates”, by the way, this is intellectual work by university-trained people), but his group is hidden from the rest of the Internet. Much worse, he lets translation companies infiltrate a group in which translators think they can speak freely. So he protects his potential customers by hiding his group from the Internet, but puts the 8,500 members in danger of losing customers by criticizing them, without letting them know that the group is infiltrated. Indeed, his group description, in the right-hand column, is very vague: “people who have some connection with the translation profession”… How to be betrayed by your own colleagues (if that asshole is to be considered as a colleague in the first place)…

    Let’s also notice that instead of focusing on exerting pressure on intermediaries that impose low translation fees, he also admist conversation threads on non-payers – which in fact represent 99% of the threads.

    And in his group description, he mentions some result he is hoping for (daydreaming of EUR 0.11 fees in this post-economic crisis era…). No conversation thread has EVER reported such a gain, which is proof that the initial aim of his group is a failure – because he is a profound I-DI-OT: if you want to exert pressure on the leeches, you have to make your group PUBLIC AND WARN YOUR COLLEAGUES on that public character and on who is accepted as members.

    Indeed, among freelance translators, we have every right to criticize CAT tools, low rates, non-payers, bad business practices, etc, but if the non-transator and profound asshole who created the group lets the group be infiltrated by our exploiters, no wonder he UNDERGOES PRESSURES and even THREATS…

    As he admitted, ONLY ONE PERSON out of 8,500 has left the group for not agreeing on some of the comments made: that’s NEGLIGEABLE, yet that profound asshole and non-translator dared to mention it as being supposedly an argument to VIOLATE FREELANCE TRANSLATORS OF THEIR FREEDOM OF SPEECH, which THREAT he is LIABLE TO BE SUED FOR.

    Since the year 2000, the translation profession has been VIOLENTLY ATTACKED BY THOUSANDS OF LEECHES; the response must be APPROPRIATE…

    Amen and have a nice day. 😉


  3. Erratum: “to a mere SUPPLIER who is NO EMPLOYER” -> “to a mere SUPPLIER who is NO EMPLOYEE”, of course. Sorry.


  4. Erratum II (sorry, just proofreading, have been using a portable keyboard): “(and our legislation dates back to that time, unfortunately: this must change to: end-customers do not realise HOW MUCH DAMAGE is done by those negligent, clueless amateurs, in their huge majority.” : “this must change to” -> “this must change too” and close the parentheses before the full stop.


    I should have proofread before posting… but I am sure the most intelligent ones among you have understood in spite of the few typos, made with an unusual keyboard (I don’t translate with this one)…


  6. Interesting reading, thanks.


  7. “I believe in the principles outlined in my silly post today because this is how the old “translation industry” used to work, before mammoth agencies ruined it, especially as smaller agencies started to imitate the ruthless corporate methods of their larger and particularly arrogant and greedy brethren.

    I try to imitate the old translation agency model because I think that the old model is much better not only for translators, but also for their clients.”

    I absolutely agree with you, Steve. “My word is my bond” is worth rather more than thousands of words of “NDA”.

    Liked by 1 person

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