Posted by: patenttranslator | June 28, 2018

“Mama Hotel” and Failure to Launch (a Successful Translation Business)

“Failure to Launch” is a really funny movie with Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker about a guy in his mid thirties who does not want to leave the house of his parents. I saw it some time ago and then all but forgot about it.

But not completely because I keep being reminded of how the central theme of that comedy is relevant to major shifts that are now seemingly inextricably woven into the modern society in ways revealing the changes that we have been going through in the last few decades.

I love my sons and I miss them something terrible now that they live thousands of miles away.

But at the same time, I am so glad that both of them left our house a decade ago at the tender age of about 18, driven by the incredible drive that pushes young almost-adults toward freedom, which to them means to be who they want to be. It felt so good to suddenly have the whole damn house to myself (upstairs) and my wife (downstairs) once they were gone.

I remember how a neighbor of mine, who at that time had two very young daughters and a slightly older son living with her and her husband, asked me with what I thought was a melancholy smile with a touch of envy when we met by chance at a supermarket, “So, how does it feel to be empty-nesters?”

It felt pretty good, I told her, with a grin on my face.

The failure to launch the career of a talented, new college graduate is now also a common result, after years and years spent studying subjects referred to somewhat disparagingly as “humanities” such as history or linguistics, for too many young people who decided to follow their passion and majored in what attracted them to their chosen profession.

But an economic system that places a high value on technical subjects and especially on mathematics because they are so useful for the casino games played on Wall Street, makes it now so difficult for these young people to find their place in life that many of them simply give up and instead move back to the their parents basement. The way this relatively recent phenomenon is put in English speaking countries, namely that the adult children live “in their parents’ basement”, while in some languages, for example in German, or Czech or Slovak, the expression for failure to launch adult children’s lives is referred as having children who are still living in the “Hotel Mama”.

In some countries, especially in Asia and South America, it is quite common for several generations to live under the same roof and share the same house. In the past, this usually meant that the parents who became grandparents wanted to live with their adult children to be close to their grandchildren and in return, their adult children were able to help them as they aged and tasks such as shopping for groceries became too difficult for them.

In some countries, even in countries such as Japan where the tradition of extended families living under the same roof in the same house has been much stronger than in many European countries, aging parents and mothers in particular are now frequently complaining on social media about their inability to get their adult children to find a well-paid job, get married and finally move out of their parents’ house.

The children sometime don’t have much of a choice: the jobs are not nearly as easy to be found as they used to be, and those that are available don’t pay enough to support a family.

So the children usually get to stay in the “Mama Hoteru” for as long as they need to (and sometime much longer), until they are ready to launch their own career. But what options do recent graduates with a degree in languages have these days to launch their careers? Not many, unless they are ready to start slaving their lives away in underpaid jobs in the “translation industry” where they can mostly work either as project managers, or as “machine translation post-processors” for the greater profit and glory of the “translation industry”.

When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, there were quite a few jobs that I could and did choose from right after graduating with a degree in Japanese and English studies. My first job was working as a translator for a major news agency, and in the second one I was working as a research assistant at the Oriental Institute in Prague.

After I decided that I needed a radical change of scenery, it took me just a few weeks to find a job as a multilingual Visitor Services Representatives at the Convention and Visitors Bureau in San Francisco, and yet another radical change of scenery resulted in a job as a translator for an import-export company in Tokyo, until I finally launched my own translation business after my return from Japan to San Francisco more than 30 years ago.

Although all of these jobs were entry-level jobs that paid a relatively low salary, the jobs were there for language majors. The money I made was enough to live on while I was still single, and in each of these jobs I kept learning more and more about what I really wanted to do with my life, until I understood that what I wanted to do was to launch my own translation business and did that more than 31 years ago.

But what about the recent graduates with degrees in languages? What choices do they have?

After several decades of internecine price wars in the “translation industry”, so destructive both to translators and the quality of translations, during which translation work was outsourced by many translation agencies to several layers of what is now called back offices located in third world countries where translators are much cheaper than in Western countries, translators from Western countries with university degrees are now too expensive for the “translation industry”, even if they just finished their studies and are willing to work for what is not very much money, as I was all those years ago.

I saw somewhere on the internet that universities that teach linguistics and languages nowadays have in the curriculum seminars on “new occupations that do not exist yet” for students majoring in languages, such as post-processing of machine translation, which is described as a “promising career” for young graduates.

Wow! What a great career for a recent graduate with a PhD in linguistics!

After about two decades of mutually destructive price wars among agencies big and small in the “translation industry”, I think that had I been born four decades later and had I launched my translation business in the year 2018 instead of the year 1980, my amazing and daring adventures in the land of translation, which took me from Europe to America, than to Japan and then back again to America, would probably never come about.

Everything would be so much harder for me that I would most likely failed to launch a successful translation business and I would then have no choice but either to become an underpaid agency slave, (a fate worse than death), or to return to “Mama Hotel” to try to figure out my next move.

Oh, and as much as it pains me to say it, I am so glad that my sons did not follow their father’s example and chose a different career that has nothing to do with translation.


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