Posted by: patenttranslator | November 22, 2018

I Felt Much More at Home in the Last Century

When I started my own small business more than 30 years ago, most jobs required a certain level of people skills and the ability to interact well with other people in a world that still relied mostly on humans for most things that mattered. Some people were already using computers or even falling in love with them, but it would take another decade or two for the received knowledge that “algorithms are smarter than the human brain” to sink in.

It’s possible that the word “workflow” existed already, but probably mostly only as a new word in a dictionary, and I am pretty sure that the wording “efficient workflow automation” did not exist yet, which means that the concept of replacing humans by hardware and an algorithm did not exist or was brand new.

Good, reliable and trustworthy employees were very much in demand, treated well and highly valued by smart employers in the old version of our world.

Even my small translation business required a certain level of people skills. I had to be able to talk to people calling me on the phone because some of them could be customers or potential customers. I had to be polite to them, make an effort to conquer my native accent and be quick on my feet to react quickly to what they were saying, while deciding who they might be and whether I wanted to talk to them, or get rid of them.

Back when cell phones were few and even more expensive than they are now, people used to talk to each other on the phone mostly on land lines. When answering machines came into use in the eighties, followed by call ID displays in the nineties, this was a major technological feat and a great advantage for all phone users because we could finally tell who was on the other end of the line even before we answered the phone.

But look what happened in the meantime!

Most people no longer answer the phone now unless they recognize the number of the caller. Unfortunately, the call ID feature does not mean much now because scammers can buy any number in any country and pretend that they are whoever they want to be. The same scammers have been calling my number for years – even though I never answer, just glance at the call ID. The people who do answer these calls must be a distinct minority by now. But apparently, there is still enough of them to keep the con artists busy in their profitable schemes.

So we ignore the phone spam, just like we ignore email spam, including spam from translation agencies that we know nothing about and who know nothing about us. The phone scammers killed the phone as we used to know it, and the email spammers killed email as we used to know it, now that 95% of our email is spam.

Most job offers emailed to me by translation agencies are indistinguishable from plain vanilla spam now. Sometime, a ridiculously low rate is included in the email, but even when it isn’t, I know that the rate is at least three times lower than what I would charge, even to an agency.

Even the wording that translation agencies use in their offers of work is indistinguishable from the phrases that are favored by con artists in the spamming industry. “I am reaching to you” is a rather dramatic introductory phrase, very popular in the spamming industry and in the “translation industry,” that may mean that somebody who does not know you or anything about you would like to sell you a reasonably priced miracle cure for psoriasis (which you hopefully don’t have), or that a translation agency just fired off a dozen emails to find a warm body for a translation project at a rate that I would not touch with a ten-foot pole, often for a language that I don’t even translate, because they found me in a database such as the ATA database of translators.

Because I was born in 1952, I spent most of my life in the last century and it is fairly certain that I will have spent the majority of it in the last century. And I am glad of that. As far I am concerned, it was a much cozier century than this one, at least in the second part of it that I got to experience in person.

It’s not that this century does not have its advantages, it certainly does. For example, it took me only 2 emails and literally just a few minutes yesterday to locate a work contract that I signed in 1980 as I needed to provide evidence that I was employed back then as a translator by a Czech news agency in Prague. So in addition to my American pension, I can now look forward also to a Czech pension, albeit a much smaller one.

But hey, every little bit helps. And unless I am mistaken, Czech pensioners don’t need to pay health insurance payments (because their pensions are so damn small!), so I will probably no longer have to pay for it either.

It would have been much more difficult and it would probably take weeks, or at least days, to do something like that before the end of the last century. But the advantages we have in this century are only or mostly just technological, and most of the time they are probably used more against us than for us or by us.

It is too bad that people skills are not as much needed or valued as they used to be thirty years ago, at least not in my line of work. Instead of relying on inter-personal relationships built over years and decades, people now just look up another database to solve a problem, thinking that they will find what they need in it.

That is one reason why the shelf life of translators and other people who are able to provide a useful, complicated and demanding service is much shorter now than it used to be in the last century.

We are being used basically in the same way as most people use the apps on their smartphones. Those who need us for a while will just download us from a database, use us to perform a task, and once they (hopefully) pay us, we may never hear from them.

The human app is then deleted and replaced by another one next time. In the twenty first century, there is no need to build a personal relationship with a human app, even if the human app does the job and works well.

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Posted by: patenttranslator | November 18, 2018

How Many Translators Does It Take to Fix a Machine Translation?

 

 

The title of my silly post today is of course a variation on the famous light bulb jokes, as in “How many cops” (liberals, psychiatrists, feminists, Christians, etc., even dogs) “does it take to change a light bulb?”

Most of these jokes are very funny and some are very revealing, even though some people might find them a little mean, usually because they happen to belong to the particular group being made fun of.

Some of these jokes are really clever:”How many cops does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two, one standing on a chair with a light bulb and another one turning the chair with the other cop on it around.” Or, ”How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?”“One to change the light bulb and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.” This one is funny without really being mean, which is kind of a rare occurrence in the universe of jokes.

The variations using dogs are a clever way to describe in a funny way how different breeds of dog deal with a particular task.

So anyway, enough of light bulbs and dogs. Let us instead concentrate on the job at hand, which is determining how many translators does it take to fix a machine translation.

I think we have to start with the question “Why should it be necessary to fix machine translations.”

It’s pretty clear why burnt out light bulbs need to be changed. Burnt out light bulbs need to be changed because, unlike cats and dogs, people don’t see very well in the dark. And it’s also clear why machine translations translation need to be checked and fixed … because unlike a human translation, a machine translation is just a translation tool, not really a translation. Most humans have discovered that despite enormous technological progress over the course of the last half century or so, some of the text translated by an algorithm is usually completely wrong and that only a well functioning human brain can figure out where the problems are and how to fix them.

A machine translation may look like a real translation, i.e. like a translation done using a human brain, but it is in fact a completely different kind of animal. Moreover, thanks to the progress achieved in machine translation, unlike ten or twenty years ago, the fact that machine translations now look almost like real translations made it much more difficult to find out where the problems might be hidden in the translations.

Machine translation is now an incomparably better tool than it used to be. It is so much better in many ways except for one – a machine translation is just as unreliable as it was two decades ago. A machine-translated text that looks like it makes perfect sense, reads well and appears to be a really good translation that was created by human brain may in fact be saying the opposite of what the original text says because, unlike human translators, algorithms do not have brains and therefore do not understand the meaning of what the original text is saying.

That is why so-called translation industry is putting so much hope in post-editing of machine translation by human translators as a way to get rid of this pesky problem, a problem that is always encountered with any machine translation system.

But can the post-processing strategy work?

If a human translator were really to fix all of the potential mistranslations in machine-translated texts, he or she would have to spend as much time, and often more time, reading the original text, comparing its meaning to that of the machine translation, and creating his or her own translation, just as if the translation were done by a human translator from scratch.

That would of course be so time-consuming and expensive that it would in fact beat the purpose of the whole post-processing scheme. So the “translation industry” found the perfect solution for this problem, comprising two key ingenious elements.

  1. Instead of actual translators who know what they are doing and who would be likely to demand the same reimbursement for their work as if they were translating instead of just “post-processing”, the industry is using (or wants to use) mere “bilinguals” for the post-processing task, whatever that means, because “bilinguals” are much cheaper than established, experienced translators, most of whom would not be interested in the mindless, post-processing slavery, even if it paid well (which it most definitely does not.)

As a result, what such “bilinguals”, who are expected to charge no more than a penny or two per word for their “post-processing”, are likely to produce is a text from which most glaring mistakes may theoretically have been removed, but not all of the mistakes. Especially mistakes that are crucial to the meaning of entire sentences, which often occur with machine translation programs, such as using “is” instead of “is not” and vice versa, are unlikely to be noticed by rushed and underpaid “post-processors.”

  1. Every now and then, the “translation industry” creates a few new, clever propagandistic buzzwords to make it seem as if a major problem in its quest for “perfect or almost perfect” machine translations has been solved. The latest highly creative buzzwords are “neural machine translation systems” and “deep neural machine translation systems.” As Google puts it, Neural Machine Translation (NMT) is an end-to-end learning approach for automated translation, with the potential to overcome many of the weaknesses of conventional phrase-based translation systems.

Whether this potential is real or not, the fact remains that no matter how deep or how neural a machine translation system is, it will still be unable to solve the main problem, namely how to create algorithms that would in fact understand the actual meaning of a given text, simply because that is an impossibility.

On the other hand, the terminology using words such as “neural” and “deep” is pure genius because it creates the impression that the machine translation system is in fact based on understanding of the meaning of the text. Since neural means “of or relating to a nervous system”, and deep in this context is likely to be associated with “deep thinking”, from a purely propagandistic viewpoint, the combination of such terms is very effective.

The industry is thus continuing to forge ahead with its plans because, regardless of whether the post-processing method makes sense from a practical viewpoint, i.e. regardless of whether the result of post-processing is a much better, or even slightly better product. Whether the mistakes unavoidable with machine translation have been eliminated during “post-processing” or not, the method is effective from the industry’s viewpoint as long as the customers can be persuaded that they are buying good value for their money and receive a good product based on what they are paying for it … despite the fact that most machine translation, even very good machine translation, is available on the internet for free.

So what is the answer to the question in the title of my silly post today? I’m afraid nobody really knows, and nobody really cares, as long the human “post-processors” of raw machine translations can be found at a rate that guarantees healthy profit margins for the industry.

The answer to the question in the title of my post today in fact makes about as much sense as the many answers to the question:“How many dogs does it take to change a light bulb”?

Border Collie: Just one. Then I’ll replace any wiring that’s not up to code.

Rottweiler: Make me!

Lab: Oh, me, me! Pleeease let me change the light bulb! Can I? Huh? Huh?

Dachshund: You know I can’t reach that stupid lamp!

Malamute: Let the Border Collie do it. You can feed me while he’s busy.

Jack Russell Terrier: I’ll just pop it in while I’m bouncing off the walls.

Greyhound: It isn’t moving. Who cares?

Cocker Spaniel: Why change it? I can still pee on the carpet in the dark.

Mastiff: Screw it yourself! I’m not afraid of the dark…

Doberman: While it’s out, I’ll just take a nap on the couch.

Boxer: Who needs light? I can still play with my squeaky toys in the dark.

Pointer: I see it, there it is, there it is, right there!

Chihuahua: Yo quiero Taco Bulb?

Australian Shepherd: First, I’ll put all the light bulbs in a little circle…

Old English Sheep dog: Light bulb? That thing I just ate was a light bulb?

Basset Hound: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

 

 

 

I recently read a blog post of a translator who parted ways with a translation agency that used to be one of her clients for many years. This happened after the translation agency she used to work for was acquired by a much bigger agency which started using practices that are very common in what is now called “translation industry,” practices that are intolerable to most self-respecting freelance translators.

For example, the new company introduced a translation portal through which translators had to interact with the agency to accept a job, submit invoices and keep updating their availability, so that project managers eventually stopped communicating in person with the translators working for them. The portal instead issued automated emails in which work is offered at any time of day or night to a hungry pack of an unknown number of translators who are expected to fight over available jobs as dogs would fight over bones with a few scraps of meat on them that are thrown to them.

Dogs are wonderful people, but most dogs have no self-respect when it comes to begging for food. As far as the “translation industry” is concerned, to treat translators as hungry dogs is simply an efficient method to match available warm bodies with available work.

This is the new, extremely efficient method of “placing” translation jobs with translators that the “translation industry” came up with at the beginning of this millennium. It happened to me as well many times over after about the year 2000, which is how I date the start of the era of the new “translation industry.” As a result, I gradually stopped working for most translation agencies, even though I may have been working for some of them for many years, first only for large ones, and then also for smaller agencies as they started adopting the efficient management model that treats translators as easily replaceable, virtually identical tiny cogs in a big and ruthless machinery.

From the viewpoint of the “translation industry”, the method works very well because it saves so much time to project managers, who then can take on many more projects than they would be otherwise able to do if they had to contact every translator individually, even if only by mail, rather than by telephone as used to be the case not so long ago.

But the side effect of this extremely efficient method is that most translators who consider themselves highly educated and highly experienced professionals will eventually sever all ties with translation agencies who treat them in this manner as I and the writer of the blog post mentioned above did, and the only people who will continue to jump through the ingenious hoops created by a faceless portal will be translators who for some reason can’t find work from other translation agencies (or from direct clients) who would not treat them in such a demeaning manner.

Generally speaking, the reason why people would probably not mind too much putting up with this kind of behavior is that these are translators who know that they have no other choice but working even for the worst agencies out there … because they themselves know that they are not very good.

The portals thus function as a software device that finds available translators very quickly and with the minimum effort on the part of the translation agency. But at the same time, the portal over time separates the best and most experienced translators from such an agency, while bringing in mostly new translators who lack experience, or old translators who lack self esteem, usually because they know that they are not very good.

In other words, the portal method, with numerous missives of emails launched at any time of day or night to many translators, also very efficiently destroys relationships that may have been built between translation agencies and the best translators over many years or decades.

Do the translation agencies realize that this is what is happening? I think that most of them probably do realize that, at least to some extent. But they simply don’t give a damn because efficiency is everything and the new methods are in fact very good at quickly pairing available cheap translators with available translation work.

And that is all that the “translation industry” cares about.

The methods used by modern “translation industry” clearly show that the industry does not value translators as experts providing a complicated and highly labor-intensive service that, depending on the field and the language, can be usually provided only by very few people. What the industry now values above all is the speed at which the transaction can occur, and of course, at what cost.

This why the resulting translations delivered to industry’s clients are now so often pure crap and the chances are that the resulting quality will be even much worse than it is now if the industry has its way and “post-processing of machine translation” by pitiful human beings who are no longer translators will become a new standard and a legitimate way for delivering the bulk of translations.

Is it possible for translators to regain the central role in the translation process that some of us have become accustomed to in the years and decades before the advent of the extremely efficient methods of the new “translation industry”, when translators were still used to interact on personal basis with knowledgeable and intelligent project managers in translation agencies, instead of having to try to satisfy a piece of managerial software written by people who know a lot about efficient management of easily replaceable cogs in a huge machinery, but nothing about translation, software that keeps coming at them with more demands and new requiremens designed to keep the little human cogs making the wonderful machinery of a translation agency working at maximum speed and minimum expense for greater and greater profits of the industry?

I for one believe that based on these new methods, it is not possible for translation agencies to even pick the best person for the job, or for the translators to function as specialized experts within the context of the system that has been relatively recently created by the “translation industry.”

I do think that reintegration of translators in the translation process is still possible, even in the age of disintegration of the role of translators brought to us by the management methods used by faceless “translation industry,” but only for translators who work outside of the automated system created by this industry.

And to me, working outside of the system means working mostly for direct clients, and partly also for translation agencies of the traditional type, namely those that are able to work with translators on a personal level, treat them with respect, and realize that the role played by an experienced translator is the most important element in the translation process.

The ruthless efficiency of translation portals is extremely harmful not only to the quality of translation, but ultimately also to the viability of the entire “translation industry.”

Clients are not idiots, and after a while they are likely to recognize the inferior quality resulting from these extremely efficient managerial methods and vote with their feet.

Which would then mean that these seemingly very efficient methods are in fact very inefficient because it is much harder to find new clients than to keep old ones, and clients will stay with a business only when they are happy with the results that they are paying for.

 

We have all seen how capital has been chasing cheaper and cheaper labor for many decades all over the world. In the translation business, we have seen that this is true not only about big translation agencies, because small agency operations are also very eager to take advantage of cheaper, often dirt cheap translation resources located on the other side of the globe, easily accessible through internet.

The quality of the translations may not be the same if you choose the cheapest translator, in fact it hardly ever is the same, but hey, the price can’t be beat! So who cares about minute details such as whether the translation makes sense, especially since many translation agency outfits would not be able to tell poor quality if it smacked them in the face, especially those that claim to be able to translate anything and everything, even though they don’t understand a word of the languages that they are so expertly handling.

That is why translators living in places and countries with a high cost of living often have to compete with their colleagues who live in a country with a much lower cost of living, sometime even those of us who are working in highly specialized fields.

The flip side of what appears to be a major problem for some of us is that we translators can also take advantage of this situation by rearranging it more to our liking and simply moving to a different location, a place that is much less expensive, as well as pleasant and welcoming.

I did exactly that for the first time when I moved 25 years ago after running my tiny translation business for five years from a small apartment in San Francisco, 40 minutes north, across the Golden Bridge to the town of Santa Rosa in the Sonoma Wine Country.

If I had my choice (i.e. if I were rich), I would probably still be living in San Francisco, a little city that is so different from all other places that I lived in, big and small. But San Francisco was not very suitable for raising children, which was the main reason why I moved my business, just a short distance at first, back in 1992.

In Santa Rosa I escaped the grit of the city. I lost the neon-colored cool fog seeping in from the ocean and the bookstores where I used to love to browse, but the panhandlers and sidewalks reeking of urine were gone too.

And I was able to buy a new, sunny house, much bigger and much more comfortable than the fairly minimalist apartment that we were quite happy to live in for a number of years before the children were born.

And the mortgage was not much bigger than the rent we paid for many years in San Francisco, where real estate prices were already pretty impossible for somebody like me, although not yet nearly as stratospheric as they are now.

This was before most people, including myself, knew what the word internet really meant. But besides the fact that I had to change my telephone number and the mailing address for checks, the only other thing that changed was that I was sending my translation to my customer by a dial-up modem from a different phone number.

Being location-independent is something that many translators take advantage of now much more than a couple of decades ago, either by moving to a cheaper but very attractive area, or to move to the country where the language they translate is spoken..

I know a translator who moved from Canada to Mexico and who just loves living there, although she visits her family in Canada frequently. She once told me that she starts crying every when she starts explaining to somebody why she loves Mexico so much.

I also know several Americans who translate Japanese and who eventually moved for good to Japan to be in touch with the language and culture of their choice.

One is never going to find the perfect place to live. There will always be compromises, and we will always miss some of the things that we loved in our previous location that we no longer have.

Translators are not the only people whose income is usually, although not always, location independent. I am fascinated by Youtube channels of so-called digital nomads, mostly young people who move from place to place, often from country to country, refusing to stay in one place and get a 9 to 5 job like most people, with the obligatory office commute that sometimes shaves off years from our life as we sit stuck in traffic on increasingly more and more clogged roads and highways.

Some of these intrepid nomads live in mobile homes, some find minimalistic apartments or invest their money in tiny houses that can be easily transported to a new, exciting destination.

Some are so clever and handy that they can for example convert an old bus into a cute and comfy apartment. It’s a good way not to waste your money on the rent while living off-the-grid and enjoying the adventure of an independent lifestyle …. although I am not sure how one can live like that without running water and plumbing!

I also don’t know how somebody who is living in a romantic wilderness in the middle of nowhere can have access to fast and reliable wi-fi, but apparently, it’s not a problem anymore these days.

Many of these intrepid travelers have jobs in marketing, PR, or tech jobs that I don’t really understand, and some are even able to make a living from their internet channel by simply documenting their nomadic life. I wonder how long they will be able to live like that. Probably not forever would be my guess.

Some are also retired older folks like me who found a way to beat the system by living on a fixed income, namely their pension, in another a country where their pension goes much farther than in the country where they used to live. Some older couples spend the rest of their life traveling full-time in a comfortable mobile home … probably making up for the drudgery of their 9 to 5 job and seemingly never-ending duties and responsibilities of all dutiful parents.

And why not?

Life is short, and then you die.

It’s a big world out there, and if you have the courage to drastically change your life, you can turn this world upside down and make things work to your advantage … if you are able to look at this  brave new world from a totally different angle than most people.

 

 

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 27, 2018

What Is An Average Rate Paid to Translators?

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”

Woody Allen

According to a survey of rates paid to translators in Belgium published in an article in Slator on October 24, 2014:“The average monthly gross revenue for translators and interpreters in Belgium is EUR 3,400.69 (USD 3,942.67) and EUR 3,796.87 (USD 4,401.99), respectively, the survey showed.

Aside from average monthly gross revenues for translators and interpreters, the survey also came to a few other key conclusions.

The average rates paid by translation agencies are EUR 0.0995 (USD 0.11) / word and EUR 39.09 (USD 45.27) / hour. In comparison, direct clients of translation pay EUR 0.13325 (USD 0.15) / word and EUR 54.68 (USD 63.32) / hour. Direct clients paid the highest for financial translation, while agencies paid more for scientific / medical translations.”

I will not discuss in today’s post rates paid to interpreters because I know basically nothing about this subject. But I believe that I know quite a bit about rates that are paid to translators in different countries, especially in the United States, because I have been working for agencies and direct clients, although mostly for direct clients, in the United States and other countries for more than 30 years. Because I also work as an agency with a select few translators, I also know how much I have to pay to a specialized and experienced translator if I want to make sure that he or she will be willing to work for me for years to come.

The results of the survey are probably quite relevant to how much translators in this small, multilingual country are making on average per word, per hour, and per year, especially those who work mostly for translation agencies. The fact that the article refers to agencies as what they are, namely translation agencies, instead of using the ridiculous, propagandistically misleading abbreviation LSP (as in “Language Service Providers)”, the term adopted by the “translation industry” to confuse their clients, makes it possible for me to take the article as a serious and mostly impartial piece of writing rather than a PR piece lauding the “translation industry.”

We all happen to know that translations are provided by translators, not by translation agencies, which buy translations from people called translators and then sell them to their clients at a significantly higher price.

The fact is that the translation agency owners and people working in most translation agencies – although definitely not all of them – don’t even understand the languages that they are translating, let alone that specialized subjects that they are handling.

I think that the average rates of EUR 0.0995 (USD 0.11) / word and EUR 39.09 (USD 45.27) / hour are probably what most somewhat experienced translators can expect to be paid by most translation agencies, not only in Belgium, but also in other countries, provided that these translators avoid notorious outfits that pay exceedingly low rates to translators who do the translating work for them.

The rates that I pay to translators working for my modest enterprise are generally a little higher, but not by much. Sometime, when I am asked by a client, often only a prospective client, to provide a competitive bid for a given project, I pay slightly less than the rates mentioned above in the Belgian survey because I am trying to underbid somebody else.

Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose, depending on how low I can go.

But I would never say something as outrageous as “my budget for this job is .xxx cents per word” because I believe that self-employed translators may not be dictated to by a middleman how much they must accept for their work. That is in my opinion deeply immoral. I simply ask for a price quote while explaining the situation, which I am then free to accept or not to accept.

There are, of course, so many variables when it comes to rates paid to translators that even the term “average rate” is questionable. Is there such a thing as an “average rate” for a “translation?” I don’t think so. The rates paid for Korean or Japanese, for example, are generally significantly higher than the rates paid for Spanish or Russian, simply because there are many more good translators in the latter language combination, compared to the former.

There is also a big difference between how much or how little translators living in different countries are willing and able to work for, because the cost of living in Western Europe or United States, for example, is much higher than the cost of living for example in Mexico, Brazil or Thailand.

As mentioned, some translation agencies try to find translators willing to accept a low, often ridiculously low rate, by bombarding translators listed in different databases with a job offer ending with the phrase “our budget for this translation is .xxx per word.”

The hungriest dog will then be thrown a bone with tiny bits of meat on it. The quality of the translation will then of course correspond to the miserable rate, but the thing is, most translation agencies who treat freelance translators as indentured servants can’t tell the difference in quality anyway. So as far as they are concerned, obtaining the lowest rate possible for a given translation is in fact the only thing that matters to them.

One factor that helped to push the rates paid to translators lower and lower in recent years is the presence of blind auction sites such as Proz where translators must fight to underbid each other. I know that whenever I look for a new translator, translators who are willing to work for the lowest rates are those who are proudly listed on the Proz website (and often only there) because they have been trained by Proz for many years to win projects by underbidding other translators.

What I would question in the data obtained in the Belgian survey of rates is the very small, almost minimal difference between the rates paid to translators by translation agencies and direct clients.

If it were true that the difference between the “average” rate of US$ 0.11 paid by an agency and of US$0.15 paid by a direct client is only 4 cents per word, it would kind of make sense for translators to forget about direct clients and concentrate only on agencies who have a lot of work and pay decent rates.

Finding a direct client generally takes a lot of times and much more work is usually required. The translator has to first figure out who his or her direct clients might be, how to find them, and how to make a connection with them that will result in highly paid, interesting and continuous translation work.

But once you find a few good direct clients who also have a lot of work, they are likely to stay with you for a long time, which is not necessarily true about agencies in the current dog-eat-dog environment of the “translation industry”.

As other translators have also said on blogs and other social media, it is probably true that most translators are not exactly long-term, strategic thinkers, and thus end up as takers of low rates from translation agencies.

I think that the difference between the rates paid by agencies and by direct clients is much higher than what is listed in the survey. Typically, the rate that can be charged to a direct client is usually double the rate that translators are paid by translation agencies.

A translation agency that would charge only 4 cents more per word to the clients than what it pays to the translators who work for it would probably not last very long, unless it had an unlimited supply of work in huge volumes. Even then, it would probably feel the need to increase the rates charged to its clients very soon.

Since most translators who mostly work for direct clients are not exactly dumb, in fact they are by definition the very opposite of dumb, they presumably know that the they can get away with a significantly higher rates for direct clients. So why would they be happy charging them only a relatively small percentage above what they can get from agencies?

Some might be happy to do that, but most are probably smart enough to charge the same or only slightly lower rate than what translation agencies are charging direct clients for translations.

I don’t know what happened there. Maybe translators who make good money working for direct clients are too busy to bother with income surveys …. or maybe they don’t want anybody to know how much they are really making.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 25, 2018

So I Did It Again!

So I Did It Again!

After 35 years in America, I decided that it was time to move on, which is to say move again to another country – this time to the country where I was born 66 years ago.

Prior to arriving to San Francisco where I did not know a single soul, I spent over a year working and waiting in West Germany for a US immigrant visa. 37 years ago, it was possible for refugees from communist countries to immigrate to United States, they just had to find a sponsor in United States, apply for a visa and go through the procedure. So I did that because I’ve always wanted to see America and live there, ever since I was a teenager.

The catch was that people like me could never return to their country – not even for a visit – because the communist government considered people who failed to obediently return to their designated spot behind watch towers and barbed wire traitors and criminals.

Like most people, I thought that the iron curtain would still be there for another half a century. I felt that I had to do something about it, so I chose emigration, a fairly common form of protest back then and after a year and a half, I arrived to San Francisco.

America has been good to this immigrant, and I will always be grateful to this huge country that is so different from any other country that I have lived in or been to – a country that still has space for me and took me in when I needed it most, a country where people treated me like everybody else, just like they have been treating for a few centuries millions of other immigrants with a funny accent, a plan and a determination to make it, no matter what. I can only hope this is a tradition that will continue for a few more centuries.

My plan eventually worked and I was able to start a successful, highly specialized, small translation business that still exists, even though I am officially retired now and live on a different continent. Just yesterday I gave a quote for a fairly substantial translation project, and today I was given green light by the customer and started working on it.

After 33 years of a tempestuous and ultimately tenuous marriage, now that the children don’t need us anymore, it was time for me and my wife to get a divorce so that each of us could go their own way. My wife (ex-wife now) will be returning to Japan soon, and I too have returned to where I came from.

After living for many years in a big American house (huge by European standards), with four bathrooms, nine rooms and a big two-car garage, I now live in a small studio and for the first time in almost 30 years, I don’t even have a car. What I now have instead of a car is an ID for seniors, which I can use to ride the buses and trams in the town of České Budějovice for free and buses and trains in the entire country for 75% off the full cost of the bus or train fare.

I remember that in early eighties, buses, trams and cable cars used to cost a nickel for senior citizens in San Francisco. I wonder how much they are now. Given how things have changed after the arrival of high-tech companies a couple of decades to the city that I loved so much for so long, I am sure they are not a nickel anymore.

From what I read in newspapers and see on Internet, the greed of high-tech companies like Apple and Facebook turned San Francisco from one of the most livable cities into one of the most unlivable cities in America. At least I still got to live there when people who were not necessarily rich were able to enjoy the parks, the ocean, the galleries, the many restaurants and the incredible nature surrounding San Francisco.

Do I miss my spacious, comfortable American house in Virginia? You bet I do, a little bit, anyway. Even more than the house I miss the squirrels, birds and turtles who were coming to our backyard looking for food as we were feeding and watching them from our kitchen. My wife picked fitting names for the little creatures: the hungriest squirrel was Chuppee, and the hungriest cardinal was named Pete. Their offspring got their name too, up to third generation. It was a real ZOO there! I also miss the eerily primeval smell of mud and water at the pier not far from our house, the dozens of crabs scampering about on the mud when the tide was going out at an incredible speed, sideways as if they lived in a different world, where directions, dimensions, colors and smells are very different from those that humans know from their world …. which they do.

I even miss the violent subtropical storms with pouring rain, thunder and lightning that sometime knocked out the power for hours so that we had to switch to candles, as if we were suddenly going back in time some two hundred years.

I definitely do not miss the humidity and the hurricanes though, especially the days and weeks when we had to follow the track of a hurricane on TV news, trying to figure out how close to us or how far from us the next hurricane would land. And once a hurricane landed far enough, another one was forming already again somewhere in the ocean.

The house was much too big for us once the children moved out and the dogs died, one after another, which was more than ten years ago …. and I definitely do not miss the bills that come with having a big house like that.

So after 18 years in California and 17 years in Dixie, I am back on may native, South Bohemian soil where I saw the light of this world for the first time.

Things have changed so much during the years when I lived in other countries … Germany, Japan and United States, that I feel very much again like an immigrant in a strange, unfamiliar country.

In other words … the great adventure continues.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 20, 2018

Can You Focus on Direct Clients Only?

We lost because we told ourselves we lost.

Leo Tolstoy

 “You cannot focus on direct clients only. This is a utipia [sic]. Direct clients pay more, but are a one-time client or one who will send you two jobs in a year. In addition, they are not acquainted with our market and trends, so it’s a bit harder to negotiate anything. Agencies pay a bit less, but they can be regular clients sending you many jobs per month for several years. I’ve had great direct clients, all of them were a one-time client or a few-months client. In my annual statistics, 75% of my income, at least, come from agencies”.

[Excerpt from a comment on a discussion group of translators]

Wow! There is so much to unpack in this short, ignorant comment! Just about everything in it is only a reflection of the seemingly very limited experience of an individual translator who is probably not a very good businessman and definitely not a strategic thinker.

The truth is you can focus on direct clients only, and you definitely should if you want to be able to have a business that actually makes enough money for you to be able to enjoy it, especially given the recent developments in the predatory “translation industry.”

It does not mean that you cannot occasionally also work for translation agencies, but you should absolutely not focus on them, as most of today’s translation agencies, which like to call themselves “LSPs”, are only ignorant and greedy middlemen, the equivalent of the proverbial low-hanging fruit, a fruit that is often in today’s version of the “translation industry” literally rotten to the core.

Working only for direct clients is not a utopia, however you want to spell it. I know that because I have been working only or mostly for direct clients for over three decades now, and because I also know many translators working from and into many languages and fields who almost never work for agencies either – although they sometime work as translation agencies.

What is our secret? It’s not really that complicated. Year after year, we have been ignoring the low-hanging fruit and we mulishly pursue our goal regardless of what anybody says. We are all stubbornly independent, but every translator uses a different method for this purpose.

Is it not only logical that different translators will need very different methods depending on factors such as what languages and fields they translate, where they live and how much money they need to make for a comfortable income. Time is also an important factor that may change ….. well, just about everything.

So many things have changed over the last three decades! Thirty years ago when I was starting out as a freelance translator specializing mostly in technical translations and translations of patents from Japanese to English, with a few German patents thrown in for good measure, it was a very different world. Internet did not really exist yet, at least not for most people, there was no machine translation, and there was a great demand for translators who could translate highly technical texts from Japanese to English.

I mostly translate German patents now, and very few Japanese ones. While most of my translations were for so-called prior art purposes two or three decades ago, I now mostly translate patent applications for filing translations of foreign patents in English. These are just a few of the changes that my business has had to adapt to over the years.

The conditions were very favorable for my budding freelance translation business three decades ago, but as I have said already, these conditions changed over time. As the Latin adage, originating with Ovid, puts it: Tempora mutantur nos et mutamus in illis (Times are changing and we are changing in them.)

Thanks to the Internet, there are many new resources available to our clients now that were not accessible to them a decade or two ago, which among other things eliminated the need for translation of a lot of information for prior art purposes. But on the other hand, the omnipresent Internet also created a need for translation of information that did not really exist or was invisible even a few years ago.

We need to be aware of the changes in the translation market and our business must evolve along with these changes as different types of translations are required by a changed translation market. And I am not talking in this case about “adding post-processing of machine translations as one of our skills,” which is what the “translation industry” is salivating about.

Although the propaganda machine of the “translation industry” keeps telling translators that this is a skill they need to acquire, this is the lowest-hanging fruit of them all, a fruit emanating such a foul odor that I can only feel sorry for people who feel that they have no choice but deliver themselves to the industry for post-processing of the machine translation detritus.

Let’s try to unpack another chunk of the statement above.

“Direct clients pay more, but are a one-time client or one who will send you two jobs in a year. In addition, they are not acquainted with our market and trends, so it’s a bit harder to negotiate anything.”

It’s simply insane to expect our customers to “be acquainted with our market and trends.” If we want to be successful in our chosen career, it is up to us to acquaint ourselves with the markets of our existing and prospective customers and the trends in these markets. If we want to do our job well, we have to find out as much as possible about the business of our clients, and adapt our skills to match these trends if we want to find them and once we have found them, to keep them.

Incidentally, we cannot do that if we work only or mostly for translation agencies because translation agencies do not want us to have any contact with their clients as they know that many of them could choose to work directly with a translator instead of having to go through the intermediary of an agency.

Regardless of the many changes that the translation market has experienced already and will be experiencing in the years and decades to come, there will always be an urgent need for highly specialized, highly educated and highly experienced translators in different translation fields, a need that the “translation industry” is unable to respond to as it puts its faith mostly in greedy and irresponsible, self-destructive schemes such as outsourcing of translations to cheaper and cheaper venues hidden behind several layers of “back offices” located in countries with low cost of labor, or in “post-processing of machine translations” and other get-rich-quick schemes”

Which is why it makes very good sense for individual translators to focus only on direct clients, regardless of defeatist statements often seen on social media.

Posted by: patenttranslator | September 16, 2018

The Minimalist Business Owner

Minimalism is a very popular trend now. At the moment it has turned into something of a fashionable craze, especially among young people who like to travel and call themselves digital nomads, and who sometimes move to another country or keep moving from country to country while inventing new ways to make a living using simple high-tech tools, such as creating all kinds of different videos. I find it difficult to stay away from the Youtube videos in which fearless nomads, young and old, but mostly young, male and females, vegans and carnivores, describe and demonstrate their fascinating minimalistic and/or nomadic lives and experiences.

Older people sell their houses, which have become too big for them now that they are empty nesters, younger ones give up on the idea of ever owning a big house and move into a small apartment or a tiny house, which is often on wheels so that it can be easily transported. Everything is so well designed and the space available is the tiny houses is so well organized so that all that you need for your life and your work and all of your material possessions will fit more or less comfortably into a few hundred square feet of space.

Such a tiny house, currently a popular feature of the minimalist lifestyle, is not really for me at this stage in my life. After decades of the nomadic existence of a technical translator who was bouncing for more than 30 years between San Francisco and Tokyo, then from Tokyo back to San Francisco, with the last 17 years spent in a typical bedroom community in Chesapeake, Va, creature comforts like a really comfortable bed and a big comfy sofa where I can plop down with a beer and binge-watch another Neflix series on a big screen TV, are much more important to me than they used to be when I was much younger.

Minimalism is also one of a few avenues available to peacefully but effectively protest against an unfair status quo. Most current business models are organized so that regardless of how much we make, we have to pay so much in interest rates and many visible and invisible taxes that in the end we don’t really own anything, usually regardless of where we live. Unless we are very rich, things are set up so that the banks and the City Hall are the real owners of what we may think of as our own property.

One big reason why minimalism is now so popular is probably the fact that probably the only legal way for those of us who are not real estate moguls to pay as little in taxes as possible is to make as little money as possible, while managing to figure out how to live off a smaller income.

For young people who have no children, I think that temporary minimalism is a really good idea. Once they start having kids, it will probably not be such a good idea anymore. Fortunately, as my children are adults now, I don’t really have to worry about them at this point. (Maybe it’s time now for them to start worrying about me)?

For older people whose children have flown the coop a long time ago, a minimalist vision of the way they run their small businesses also makes a lot of sense. A few months ago when I was putting together my tax return, I was telling about my plan to stop working like a robot and to move to a country with a much lower cost of living to my tax accountant. He stopped looking at the numbers on the monitor, looked at me and said “If I could do that myself, I would do it in a heartbeat.” He is about 10 years younger than me, so he might go for it too at some point.

Being a minimalist business owner who now needs much less money than than during the maximizing phase a few years ago, in addition to my modest retirement income and savings, also means that I can be very picky about the clients that I work for because an additional income from my work is no longer a necessity.

I had already fired all translation agencies that I used to work for over the last few years and I now regularly work only for very few agencies, only occasionally and mostly on very small projects (I will do in a pinch, but I am usually too expensive for big projects.)

As a result of the bloodbath in the “translation industry” over the last two decades that pushed the rates per translated words down even for highly specialized translations, the ability to slowly transit to a more minimalist approach to making money could not have come at a better time for me.

I think that what the “translation industry” is doing by aggressively competing on prices and volumes while all but ignoring quality is crazy. The agencies may be making money in the short term by using a number of tricks such as “post-processed machine translations” as if they were the same thing as real human translations, or outsourcing work to amateur translators in invisible “back offices” in low-cost countries, but in the long run, the industry is digging the grave not only for us, translators, but ultimately also its own grave.

What the so-called translation industry has been doing for the last two decades by constantly devaluing its own product, which used to be recognized as important strategic information, and replacing valuable information by billions of cheaply generated words, many of which are copied and discounted because they don’t necessarily have much to do with the original information since they were generated by machines and sub-prime translators, and then measuring its prowess by the number of often meaningless words generated by algorithms, is clearly not in its own interest.

But the industry does not care. Everything is sacrificed in the interest of short-term profit.

There are very smart people in this industry and many of them must understand that this is the case. But they do not care, probably because it is greed (not love) that in the end conquers everything (Omnia vincit avaritia). I write about the peculiarities of the greed in the new “translation industry” all the time on my blog, so I will try not to repeat what I have said here so many times already in today’s post.

Can a small business owner who is a single translator resist the overwhelming pressure of the industry, which is urging us all to shut the hell up and join the faceless crowds of thousands upon thousands of propagandized and constantly manipulated, disposable translators who are forced to work for a suicidal industry (while it is still around) for lower and lower rates?

I believe that the best way to resist the modern business trends is to make the industry irrelevant by avoiding the worst actors in the industry and concentrating on highly specialized translations for a few direct clients, who need exactly the kind of translations that we are able to provide and who pay much better rates than what is available from the so-called translation industry.

It takes perseverance, a lot of effort and usually a long time to find such a client, and there is no single recipe for achieving a good result, because different rules apply to different people and types of translations and there are also many other variables.

There is no website or blog that would describe what to do and how to do it. The advice that I have been so selflessly dispensing for free on my silly blog here, along with inspirational Youtube videos for quite a few years now, is in any case now dated and possibly not very relevant anymore given the constantly changing landscape in the translation business.

Scio nihil me scire (I know that I know nothing). A strategy that worked for me 30 years ago may no longer be applicable to present time.

But since the rates that good direct clients (and they are out there if we can find them!) will pay are multiples of what the industry is generally able and willing to pay, a minimum number of good direct clients is all that a minimalist business owner such as myself needs to live and work, while keeping some money in the bank for a rainy day, and also to have some time for other things than just constant work and hustle to find more work.

Once a few such good direct clients have been found and won over, only a minimal effort is usually needed to keep the business of a minimalist business owner running more or less smoothly most of the time.

The alternative is to give up trying to establish long-lasting relationships with direct customers and join the ranks of thousands of disposable translators working very hard for less and less money for higher profits and greater glory of the “translation industry.”

And the inescapable fact is that every translator who depends on the middlemen, (or “intermediaries” as one of my blog’s readers likes to call them), becomes disposable as soon as another translator offers to do the same work for less money.

What translators are saying is that machine translation should be forbidden and only human translations should be allowed,” said a commenter on a Facebook group of translators recently.

It should be noted that when I took a look at who this person was, I saw that, purely coincidentally, this person who infiltrated a number of groups for translators although he himself is not a translator, was selling his own customized machine translation system.

What he said was of course a lie. That is not what translators are saying. At least not translators who still have a functioning brain. Only a total moron could believe that anybody has the power to “forbid machine translations”, especially since most machine translations are free. Not even translators are probably as stupid as the above-mentioned troll suggested.

What we are saying is that machine translation is only a tool and not translation.

We understand that machine translations are very useful, not only to translators, but also and especially to non-translators. The problem is that people are led to believe by the “translation industry” that machine translations are actual translations, because they are constantly bombarded by insidious propaganda of the “translation industry” whose aim is to erase in the minds of most people the difference between human translations and machine translations so that the machine translation snake oil could then be sold to clients as real translations.

After all, machine translation is so much cheaper than actual human translation!

Machine translations may sometime look like real, i.e. human translations, which happens once in a while when the stars are aligned just right, which is to say when an algorithm found a previous translation of a human translator that happens to be perfectly compatible with a document “translated” by the machine translation tool. But as anybody who has dealt with machine translations knows, looks can be deceiving.

“Human Parity of Machine Translation” Is a Myth

According to a recent article published on September 7, 2018, by Gino Diño in Slator, which criticizes among other things the transparent hype created around “neural machine translation,” so-called human parity of machine translation is not what the words seem to suggest, as is often the case when we talk about misinformation launched into the world by the “translation industry.”

As the same Slator reporter wrote in a previous article titled “In Human vs. Machine Translation, Compare Documents, Not Sentences,” Microsoft authors claim in their paper that human parity is achieved “if there is no statistically significant difference between human quality scores for a test set of candidate translations from a machine translation system and the scores for the corresponding human translations. In other words, if a bilingual human evaluator judges the quality of human and machine translations as equal (difference in scores are statistically insignificant), then the machine has achieved human parity.”

On surface, such a claim appears to be reasonable. But as an English politician put it a long time ago, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” When a group of independent researchers, Läubli, Hennrich and Volk, from Standford University, University of Edinburgh, and Zurich University, respectively, who were not paid for their research by Microsoft, looked more closely at Microsoft’s human parity claim, they found some very interesting facts:

“Microsoft followed current research standards in their methodology, where usually, “raters see single sentences – one by one, from any of the test documents, in random order – and rate their adequacy and fluency on a scale from 0 to 100.”

However, in this process, Läubli said it would be “impossible” for evaluators to detect certain translation errors, and thus they were unable to properly take these into account.

He pointed out some of the major problems in Microsoft’s process, among others:

  1. Evaluators were bilingual crowd workers, not necessarily professional translators.
  2. Evaluators only assessed adequacy, not fluency.
  3. Evaluators “never directly compared human to machine translation.” They looked at them separately and assigned scores.”

It’s no surprise to me that these evaluators reached the conclusion that Microsoft wanted them to reach. A translation that purposely ignores context is not a translation. Such a translation is bound to result in major, unforgivable and meaning-changing errors because context is the oxygen without which the meaning of the words, the sentences and of the entire document suffocates and dies.

Läubli, Hennrich and Volk further write that the NMT evaluation methods need to be changed, and even state that “Spreading rumours about human parity is dangerous for both research and practice: funding agencies may not want to fund MT research anymore if they think that the problem is “solved” and translation managers are not going to be willing anymore to have professionals revise MT output at all.”

Let’s say that a well researched scientific paper of several thousand words that is based on the Microsoft style statistical method for machine translation results evaluates the prospect of mankind to survive World War III in a document that is translated from Chinese into English. Even if the conclusion of the article in Chinese were to be that humans WOULD NOT survive such a catastrophic event, based on the statistical evaluation method that compares only words in separate sentences, without paying attention to context (since the meaning of the context is something that cannot be programmed into an algorithm), the result of the machine-translated version could be easily that humanity WOULD survive such an event.

A mistake like this can happen very easily in a machine translation. I have seen it dozens of times in machine translations of German patents when the word no (nicht), which can be in German hidden at the end of a long German sentence where the verb is sometime found, was wrongly assigned or missed by the software, although such a mistake would not be missed by a human translator who understands and pays attention to the context.

Machine programs for Japanese suffer from a similar problem with verbs that can change the meaning of an entire paragraph and are hidden in places where algorithms fail to find them, as well as with continuous series of characters which are often interpreted erroneously, just like compound nouns are often misinterpreted by super-cool MT algorithms in German.

In fact, the more translators use computer tools, for example to ensure consistent terms, the more their translations may be exposed to grave and really stupid errors caused by non-thinking algorithms. Just yesterday I was proofreading an excellent translation of a patent into German in which there were many “compound nouns” containing prepositions and articles that were run together and joined with nouns. After talking to the translator, I discovered that the problem, that was initially invisible to the translator in MS Word, was probably caused by the CAT tool that he was using (the much beloved and celebrated memo-Q in this case).

IT that Helps People Work Better and IT that Replaces People

There is a difference between IT that helps people to work better and IT that replaces them. Computers and IT have been affecting the work of all of us for several decades now, regardless of what we do for living. There have been many articles claiming that most doctors and lawyers will be replaced in the next few years by IT as some professions have been already, and it is likely that, for example, an anesthesiologist could be replaced by a specialized computer as described in this Washington Post article which is already three years old.

After all, a state-of-the-art machine is much cheaper than a doctor!

But would you want to be diagnosed by a machine before an operation that could (or not if it is based on incorrect information) save your own life?

I would want the anesthesiologist to have the best equipment with the best software currently available to do the job. But I would not want to have a machine diagnose me before an operation instead of a doctor because I happen to think that the chances that replacing an experienced and highly educated human called anesthesiologist by state-of-the-art equipment with the best available software would kill me are unacceptably high.

The chances of replacing an experienced and highly educated human translator with a tool that most translators have been using for quite some time, called machine translation, will kill the meaning of the translation are equally high.

But that is not how the “translation industry” looks at machine translation and what it can and cannot do, because the industry is only interested in maximizing its profit.

So it is only natural that the industry would design an evaluation method according to which “bilingual crowd workers”, whatever that means, compare human translation to machine translation by looking only at separate sentences and assigning points to them without looking at the context or at the meaning of the entire article and without actually comparing the human translation to the MT result, so that they (“the bilingual crowd workers” who are not translators and who don’t consider the meaning of the entire document) would find MT to be “equivalent” to human translation.

First you design a method that is guaranteed to prove your point and then you publish the result of your impartial test with great fanfare.

After all, that is how the “translation industry” has been selling its snake oil to gullible customers for quite some time now.

The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person.

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

In a funny and terminally cute clip on Facebook, four babies in pink and white baby clothes who have apparently just learned how to walk can’t get enough of sharing their love for the world and humanity by enthusiastically hugging each other. Each baby hugs another baby for a couple of seconds, and then the hugging partners are switched until the hugging endurance of each of the babies has been sufficiently tested and proven to themselves and to the world, or at least to the watching public.

This clip was recently used by a translator on a Facebook group for translators as an advertisement for the next ATA (American Translators Association) conference, which will be held at the end of October in New Orleans.

The association of the image of an ATA conference with cute babies greedily, joyfully and incessantly hugging each other is in my opinion a good one. As I wrote in a previous post almost four years ago, the central team of that promotional video clip from a previous ATA conference emphasized creating bonds between what in the ATA parlance is called “newbies and buddies”.

Newbies would in this case be relatively recent translators who can be likened to a somewhat grownup equivalent of the babies from the cute baby-hugging video clip, and a buddy would be an equivalent of a benevolent parent making sure that the newbie-babies eventually grow up as suitable members of the ATA.

Who is suitable material for a new ATA member, you might ask?

Based on what I read on social media, an ideal candidate for a new ATA member is a baby-translator who in addition to sincerely trying to figure out how to make enough money to pay the bills by translating, something that I have been trying to figure out for the last three decades, is not only eminently huggable, but also eminently amenable to the corporate propaganda of the “translation industry” which is dutifully disseminated about once a month on the pages of the ATA Chronicle to its paying members.

By the term corporate propaganda of the “translation industry” I mean at least readiness, if not necessarily eagerness, to obediently accept every new invention of the “translation industry” imposed on impressionable baby-translators, such as readiness to accept demeaning, immoral and illegal “Non-Disclosure Agreements”, which are very different from what one would generally think of as a Non-Disclosure Agreement, willingness to accept reduced payment demanded by some players in the industry for repeated words (called in the agency lingo “fuzzy matches and full matches)”, or to perform as a human robot processing for the equivalent of minimum wage machine-translated detritus to make it look like a real translation.

All of these relatively recent gimmicks of the “translation industry” have been propagandized and celebrated on the pages of the ATA Chronicle for the last two decades, while to my knowledge, not a single article critically analyzing these shady practices has appeared in the ATA Chronicle, which calls itself  “The Voice of Translators and Interpreters.”

Although the ATA calls itself a professional association, it is obviously nothing of the sort, as anybody can become a member of the association upon payment of membership fee, which at just shy of 200 US dollars is neither too high, nor too low.

This is not the case with any other generally recognized association of professionals, at least none that I can think of at the moment, such as lawyers, writers, or painters. Lawyers need to have a law degree to be admitted to the American Bar association, writers need to have written some books or movie scripts, and painters need to have created at least a few paintings to be considered for admission to their respective associations.

Not so with the American Translators Association.

ATA’s often recited professionalism is not even aspirational – you can be a life-long, completely and proudly monolingual individual, for instance an owner of a translation agency, a PM (an agency’s project manager), or an employee of a company who is perpetually hunting for fresher and cheaper translators and who could not translate his birth certificate into another language if his life depended on it, and still be a card carrying member of the American Translators Association.

The fact that anybody and his dog can be an ATA member upon payment of membership fee is very much against the interest of us translators, because if anybody can be admitted to the profession (if I dare to call it that), then there simply is no profession.

I don’t think that I am exaggerating here. If you want to test what I just said, give your dog a last name in addition to his first name, call him for instance Muffin Whittaker, send a check to the ATA, and your monolingual dog, Muffin Whittaker, will become a new valued member of this association.

I do believe the ATA will take your money if you don’t tell them it’s a dog (although it would be a waste of your money, of course.)

Which is not to say that being a member of the American Translators Association is necessarily a complete waste of your resources. It may not be the best way to use your money, but probably not the worst way either.

Remember the hugging babies video? We can all use a hug every now and then, and the sad truth is that none of us is hugged nearly enough once we are no longer babies and our mother is no longer there to give us a hug every once in a while!

If you are an ATA member and a translator who, like most people, is suffering from a hugging deficit although you are still quite huggable, you are in luck!

All you have to do is add another thousand or two thousand dollars (depending on how far you live from New Orleans, how soon you send your registration money in (early registrants get a discount), and what kind of hotel you want to spend a couple of nights during the ATA conference, and you’re all set for an orgy of hugging and receiving hugs from fellow translators (for the most part) at the next ATA conference.

It is quite unlikely that you will find direct customers at the conference,who are looking for seasoned translators and willing to pay good rates at the conference, although you will be exposed to many specimens of representatives of the modern form of translation agencies who are looking for cheap new translators among the many newbies, as I was when I went to an ATA conference many years ago in San Francisco.

But you will be able to finally  quench your thirst for hugging and being hugged, a largely unrecognized human right and a a primal, essential, physiological need that most of us have been unable to satisfy since we were babies.

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