Posted by: patenttranslator | June 27, 2019

Changes in the Field of Translation Management Inevitably Lead to Vanishing Expertise of Translation Industry’s Project Managers

Every now and then somebody or some institution sends me a paper on trends in translation by what is now unquestioningly called the “translation industry”, as if it were perfectly natural to call cognitive and intellectual processes occurring in the brain of persons a translation industry, a writing industry, or a thinking industry, etc.

I usually scan a few lines and then discard what is mostly another example of transparently propagandistic public-relation propaganda designed for yet another “LSP” (“language services provider”), which is the name translation agencies nowadays prefer.

One reason why I actually read the paper sent to me, called “Changes in the Field of Translation Project Manager: Findings of a Longitudinal Ethnographic Study,” was that its authors, Hanna Risku, Jelena Milosevic and Regina Rogl, called in their paper translation agencies what they in fact are, namely ‘translation agencies’, instead of using the politically correct term – in the translation industry, that is – the term “LSPs”, meaning ‘Language Service Providers’, which they are not.

The translation service is provided by actual translators, not by the agency managers, let alone by the translation agency owners, who in the present form of the ‘translation industry’ are almost always monolingual, and thus know nothing about translation – except for how to buy and sell them.

Because the paper was about management of translation projects, as expected, it did not say anything about translation as such, or much about translators, except to mention requirements on the translators, discussed briefly below, which make no sense to me.

The emphasis was on translation production networks organized by an unnamed translation agency in Austria, probably based in Vienna, which was originally involved predominantly in projects involving technical texts for business, something that I have been involved in too for more than 30 years now, both as a translator and as a project manager.

The paper mentioned changes in two historical stages of the ‘translation industry’: changes between 20001 and 2007 in the first stage, and then changes between 2007 and 2014, by asking translation agency project managers interesting questions. This is also a topic that I know something about as I have been writing about these changes frequently in my critique of the ‘translation industry’ on this blog since about 2010.

Some of the changes between 2007 and 2014 were outlined in the paper as follows:

1. Growth and diversification: Company management staff told us that at a certain point in this period (2007-2014) they had decided that they did not want to company to grow any further. However, they noticed that growth was unavoidable, and the timing of the 3rd observation period was a conscious and established strategy.

• The number of PMs [Project Managers] had increased to 13 and the language of the company meetings had changed to English – at least whenever there was a non-German speaking information and communication technology [ICT] expert present.

• The ICT expert was one of the new specialized jobs. Similarly, the management of contractors (i.e. the recruitment and evaluation of external translators and translation agencies had been made the sole responsibility of one specific employee. For the first time, the company also now had an employee focused specifically on sales and purchasing who made contact with potential industry.

In many interviews the participants mentioned an external recruiter who, for a number of years now, had been responsible for the recruitment and evaluation of new employees.

• The scope of the services offered by the company had also expanded. Previously, they could be seen working in specialized fields of translation, but in 2014 they were offering a variety of services, covering various different forms of translation and interpreting. Specific examples include localization of software and advertisements, audiovisual translation (subtitles, voice-overs), translation of legal documents and offering training in intercultural communication.


3. Fragmentation of the use of tools: a remarkable number of individual software packages wee now used at different stages of a single translation project (depending on the client, language, text, PM). There were various specialized software possibilities for different tasks, such as terminology management, translator quality management and quality check …. The different tasks, both of administrative and project management nature, and the single sub-processes required the use of various software. To give an example, quality management and control – the measures a PM takes to check a text after receiving it from a translation and before they send it to a proofreader – required a combination of various different programs, which each check only one part of the text, e.g. the terminology. There are various proofreading methods too, ranging from tracked changes in a MS Word file to a web-based platform where the changes are made according to a specific automated workflow procedure.


6. There were also changes in the translators’ roles. Much – even more than before – was expected of the translators before they were given a test translation. The translators had to provide references from their customers, they had to be native speakers of the target language, live in the target country, have knowledge of certain CAT tools and have an academic degree in languages. In addition, the translator had to have work experience and be able to secure an external revision of their translation complete [sic] by a colleague. All this information, as well as feedback on the translator’s work, was stored in a contractor database. [Emphasis mine].

Much is indeed expected from the translator, but most of the requirements make no sense to me.

  1. The translators have to provide references from their customers.

Personally, I never do that and I have never been asked by a direct client for references. Most of my customers are patent lawyers who understand that by providing references in this manner I would be infringing upon the confidentiality of the projects that I handle for my clients. And I know that if I identified my direct customers to a translation agency,  many agencies would see it as an invitation to poach my clients.

When I work with a new translator, which does not happen very often, I never ask for a test, which the agencies expect to be completed free of charge, presumably because the translators’ time is of no value as far as they are concerned. I simply ask for a sample of previous work, which unlike a typical translation agency, I am perfectly able to evaluate on my own. If the qualifications of the translator seem impressive enough,  I usually send at first a short actual translation to a new translator, for which I obviously pay.

However, since the PMs working in the current version of translation agencies in the ‘translation industry’ do not understand the languages or the subjects that they are handling for the agencies, they do need to have a sample test for this purpose. If the result matches closely existing translation, the PM will assume that they have a good translation. If not, it is a bad translation. Unfortunately, the PM usually has no way to determine whether the translation supplied previously for the test was passable, good, excellent, or riddled with mistakes, which often happens when monolingual managers attempt to control multilingual projects.

To insist that the translator work into his or her native language does make sense, although there are numerous exceptions to this rule.

But many native speakers of for instance of German or English live in countries such as Mexico, France, or Japan. I know that because the best translators that I work with often do not live in the country where they were born. To insist on speakers living in their native countries makes no sense. For example, the best translators from Japanese into English, who are native English speakers, in my experience live in Japan. I work with two excellent German translators, one of whom lives in Mexico, the other one in Turkey, etc.

  1. The translator has to have knowledge of certain CAT tools.

Now why would that be? It is none of my damn business what kind of CAT tools translators who work for me use. I only care about the quality of their translations, not their tools. This is partly because I am not interested in stealing money from them by insisting on what the ‘translation industry’ calls full matches and partial matches, i.e. words for which the translator is not paid because they are repeated in the text, which is a dirty and illegal practice and a subject I deal with in several posts on this blog.

  1. The translator must have an academic degree in languages.

No, he or she doesn’t need to have a degree in languages. All other things being equal, it is best if the translator in fact does have a degree in languages. I have a degree in Japanese and English studies and I am very proud of it. But there are many excellent translators who have a degree in something else than languages, for instance in chemistry or sciences, and many of them are thus much more suited for certain types of technical translations than translators who only have a linguistic background. This is just common sense.

Insisting on academic background in linguistics is a misguided policy, at best. A law degree, for example, is obviously more useful to a translator translating obscure legal texts than a degree in languages. I think that all of the translators who work for me have a university degree, but only a relatively small minority among them have a degree in in languages.

  1. The translator has to be able to secure an external revision of their translation complete(d) by a colleague.

This is unfair and completely ridiculous. First of all, who will pay for it? The agency, I would hope, although I can’t be sure about it. Many agencies will probably try to force the translator to include the cost of an external proofreader in the rate of the translator, which would be morally indefensible.

Let’s think about this strange requirement. Should the agency not be able to at least proofread a translation, or secure and pay for an external, independent proofreader if the agency is unable to do so? But if the agency can’t do even that,  what is the agency’s actual job? To my mind, such an agency is a thoroughly incompetent parasite.

In the modern version of the ‘translation industry’, everything is compartmentalized in translation agencies to such an extent that no person in an agency is really able to assume responsibility for the entire transaction.

Here is another revealing quote from the paper:

Previously, every PM was responsible for all communication with the translators and translation agencies within a project, including problem solving and giving feedback. Only in special cases were problems referred to the managing director. Now if the problems come up, the PM contacts a specific colleague who was responsible for managing the contractors (translators and agencies). Thus, crisis communication with the translators was the responsibility of one specific employee and no longer part of the PMs’ work.

Wonderful! So if the translator has a specific problem with the job, for example related to terminology, he or she can no longer ask any questions the PM who handles the job who might therefore know something about it because communication with a translator is “no longer part of the PMs’ work”.

The translator has to ask another person who is presumably not only monolingual, but on top of that knows nothing about the project. In such astructure it’s definitely better not to ask anybody anything at all since nobody is likely to be able to have any answers.

I could go on and on for at least another ten pages analyzing what I see as problems in how the ‘translation industry’ is nowadays handling translation projects, but I don’t want to make this post too long.

Suffice it to say that although robotization of the way project managers and translators who are now forced to handle complicated translation projects may be cost-effective, the many problems that I only touched upon in my post today will in my opinion inevitably lead to poor quality of translation, which will not be detected or even suspected by project managers who must handle everything and anything for the agency, without understanding the languages or subjects that they are handling, and without being able to talk to the translators about potential or real problems.

That is so efficient, isn’t it?

But although the forced robotization of the work of translators and project managers, de riguer in the ‘translation industry’, is one possible and popular model because it is so ‘effective and cost efficient”, another model is also possible.

It is the model of a small, highly specialized translation agency or an individual translator who works only or mostly with direct clients and avoids the ‘translation industry’ like a plague that it is. That is the translation and translation management model that I have been using in my own work since 1987, and with considerable success, I should add.

I think that the fact that I am still here after more than 30 years, able to compete with the ‘translation industry’, speaks for itself.


  1. Dear Mad Patent Translator
    I haven’t read your blog piece yet because I haven’t yet recovered from your delightful musical introduction with 7 year old Anastasia Tyurina on her balalaika. Just watching her performance, her facial expressions, observing her consummate musicality makes me marvel at how quickly the young of our species are able to develop levels of skill that many of us will never even hope to reach. What fun to watch!


  2. Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, she is amazing. What a sweetheart.

    I hope you will enjoy the post too!


  4. “Vanishing expertise”, indeed! A while ago, I was doing a translation for a different branch of a particular client who I’d been working for for years. With the “usual” branch, I was used to being told to ask about standard terms in their specialist field to make sure that I got the preferred translation (and it would be passed up the chain if necessary to get an answer), so of course I did the same with this other branch. The response I got was very much along the lines of “I’m a project manager, I don’t know that sort of thing”, and there was no attempt to find out.

    Oh, and I like your reference to unqualified personnel checking test translations against a “correct” text. Many years ago, I registered with a language-related job agency which didn’t deal a lot with translators. I did their French test translation: a business letter. I still swear that they marked me down because I translated the (then?) standard florid complimentary close (“Veuillez agréer, Messieurs, l’expression de mes …”) as “Yours faithfully” rather than translating it literally!


    • Ha, ha. I’m alwas laughing when I see this letter-ending French phrase. It is so French! Do you know how they had it translated in their “correct” sample?

      Dne 6/27/2019 v 4:52 PM Patenttranslator's Blog napsal(a): > >


  5. It’s starting to look like delivering a one-pound parcel with a 20-ton semi-trailer. The value/quality of the parcel becoming insignificant in the scheme of things.


  6. The less the agencies know about languages and translation, the more they rely on “quality assessment tools” such as software and on rules designed by monolingual translation managers.

    The results are often catastrophic – while the agencies have no idea that what they are doing is harmful instead of being beneficial to the quality.

    Industrial production is often not compatible with quality, and definitely not when it comes to translations.


  7. “1. The translator has to have knowledge of certain CAT tools. Now why would that be?” Thanks for that. And I really love your videos!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Providing references” is often a tool to scan the competition rather than an actual request for references. I heard of a translator who confirmed this with the help of one of his long-standing clients. With the client’s consent, he provided their name as a “reference” to three agencies. All of them tried to poach the client from him–apparently without even knowing what kind of translation he provided.


Leave a Reply

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: