Posted by: patenttranslator | May 11, 2019

Beware of Fake Marshmallow Tests

The marshmallow test is a name that was given to a famous experiment conducted originally by psychologists at the Stanford University in the nineteen sixties on little children. During the test, the sly psychologists put a marshmallow in front of children and told them that they could have another marshmallow for a grand total of two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes before starting to stuff their faces with the candy in front of them.

Some children, possibly the future brilliant leaders of America, displayed an iron, incredibly strong will, waited for the promised second marshmallow and then happily got to eat two of them. Some, probably most of them, could not resist the temptation and therefore received only one marshmallow.

We are all subjected to many marshmallow tests throughout our lives, for instance when we make a decision whether to get a job at a young age, or whether to study for years a certain subject in a certain field, which in some countries (but not all of them) implies also taking on a crushing debt to be repaid over many years, for a promise of a more lucrative occupation than what would one be able to earn with a job a blue-collar line of work later in life. Unlike in the case of the children who took the marshmallow test at Stanford University, the promise of a reward in the form a well-paid job in real life of course later sometime turns out to be a damn lie.

The name given to the process occurring during marshmallow test in our brain, whether it is already fully developed or not yet, is called delayed gratification. Sometime it makes a lot of sense to delay the pleasure of eating a marshmallow because then we get to eat two of them. But sometime, if you wait too long or if you deal with a cheater, somebody may steal the single marshmallow that a moment ago was sitting right in front of you if you don’t eat it quickly enough.

Since we are given many marshmallow tests throughout our live, we need to keep in mind that a marshmallow in hand may be better than two promised ones, especially if they were promised by a politician.

For instance, a couple of years ago I had to make a choice when to file for Social Security payments, also known as old age pension. I could have filed early at the age of sixty-two, but had I done that, my old age pension would be reduced by 25%, I think. Many people simply have no choice and file as soon as they become eligible for some money and accept the bitter pill of a big reduction in income for the rest of their life. Fortunately for me, I was not quite in that situation. Or I could have waited until I turn 70, and the pension would then grow by 30% above the 100% promised at the “full” retirement age of 66 (which will soon be raised to 67).

But would I even still be alive by then? Or healthy enough to enjoy my pension after the age of 70? And what about the marshmallows, or the money, that I would be losing every month? I did not want to wait that long. In the end, I sat down, calculated all of the marshmallows that I would be losing if I wait until the age of 70 and decided that the best age for me was to file at the age of 64.5. So that was what I did.

Most of the time, we are not really conscious of the fact that we are given a marshmallow test. Especially people who work as independent contractors are given many marshmallow tests by people who are trying to figure out how to best take advantage of the independent contractors who will work for them by giving them a fake marshmallow test so that they could pay them less.

The way this happens is when during a fake marshmallow test for translators, they are promised by translation agencies that if they accept a certain way of working and for example counting the words a certain way (with tools like Trados, for instance), they will receive 5, 6, 7 or even more marshmallows instead of a lousy singly one.

But as we all known, what happened instead during this particular fake marshmallow test pandemic was that even though translators were able to translate many more words with an obligatory tool, almost always at the expense of quality, their remuneration was reduced so drastically by the word-miscounting tool that instead of receiving 5, 6, or 7 marshmallows for producing many more words, in the  end they received only half a marshmallow.

The general acceptance of magical CATs by so many translators, and in particular of the marshmallow-devouring CAT concepts for counting words, or rather not counting some words, called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, by translators in the last two decades or so is a big reason why translators are now making significantly less money than they used to twenty years ago.

When some translators now proudly state in their résumé that they use Trados, they do so to demonstrate to potential translation agency customers, if we can call them that, in the so-called translation industry, by showing how well versed they are in the modern tools of trade of the industry.

All newbies proudly state that they use Trados, without realizing that they are only advertising in this manner their willingness to be cheated by the agencies when they accept an order to use a certain kind of a tool by a translation agency, a tool that is very handy for wage theft that is by now widely practiced in the industry, unlike translators who understand that what kind of tool they use is nobody’s damn business.

As far as I know, nobody ever asked Dostoevsky what kind of ink, pen or paper he was using to write Crime and Punishment with, and I am pretty sure that if he were ordered to use a certain kind of tool for his work by his publishing house, he would send them all to hell and change his publisher.

Of course, unlike in the times of Dostoevsky, we now all have to use a computer with a word-processing program that is compatible with what everybody else is using, we have to be able to use internet and I hear that even CATs like Trados may be useful for some kind of translations, although I kind of doubt it.

But our professionalism, if there is such a thing in the translating profession, if that is even a profession, is not measured by what kind tool we use for our work, but by what we have in our head, what we are able to do with it, and how clever we are in finding, choosing and keeping or dumping our customers.

Especially if yet another marshmallow test is being unleashed on unsuspecting translators by the so-called translation industry, it’s best to keep in mind that instead of giving us more marshmallows, the industry is most likely conducting another fake marshmallow test aimed at preventing us from keeping even the few marshmallows that they used to give us … so that more marshmallows would be left for translation agencies.


  1. Have you read Cicero´s “De finibus bonorum et malorum”? That was a big marshmallow test, isn´t it?


  2. I have to say that I did manage to draft 6000 words in a couple of hours the other week thanks to my TM program. Due to my brain’s built-in shredder for my work, I totally hadn’t recognised that I’d already done something pretty similar!


  3. I don’t know what it means. I never draft any translations as I would consider it a waste of time. I just translate.


  4. Some very interesting points there. We bargain with the future when we wait. We literally sacrifice something now to get that something else in the future. I’m not very good at that. I tend to want my marshmallows right now!


  5. A marshmallow in hand is often worth ten promised ones.


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