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Call for Proz, Trados and “all” to save the translation business
Thread poster: Jo Macdonald

Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:58
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Nov 16, 2013

This year for me there’s been a big drop in translation work.

After almost 15 years as a pro translator I am seriously considering starting a second job, translating may become a less important part of my life, and I don’t know if I’ll continue updating my Cat tool or subscribing to Pro web site services.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to continue working the way I have in the past, but it really feels like the bottom is dropping out of the translation business.

From reactions on the Italian forum it looks like many professional Italian translators are no longer working as much as they used to and are thinking about looking for another job, either to translate part-time or just stop translating all together. Some already have a second job.

Personally I think this reduction in the amount of work is due to several factors.
- machine translation offering low quality work for free and translators willing to “edit” this rubbish to bring it up to an “acceptable” standard for laughable rates.
- The huge number of new translators trying to find work on the market, mostly presumably at low prices
- Good translators working for cheap rates
- The current economic crisis
- Customer preference for cheap rather than quality translations

If many pros stop working as translators there will be less quality translation around, and perhaps fewer people investing in translations web sites like Proz and CAT tools like Trados, etc.
New translators are less likely to make long-term, costly investments in software or web sites than pros.

Imo it is in the best interests of pro translators, Proz, Trados and any others who make their living out of this business to try and stop the bottom falling out of the translation market.

From what I’ve seen Proz no longer promotes old pro translators, just new members; I haven’t seen my old profile featured in years, and almost all featured pros look like they are pretty new members.

Trados actively promotes machine translation asking its customers to sign up to Bewords when installing the software and offering Google translate and other MT services as a valid translation option.

We, as translators ourselves can be just as guilty, lowering our rates, editing or contributing to MT databases, etc.

Imho this behavior is killing the professional, quality translation market. Is this really what Proz, Trados and we as translators want and if not, what can we do about it if anything?


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:58
Russian to English
+ ...
I have personally had much more work than any other time Nov 16, 2013

but I mostly do literary and legal translation -- some academic, where CAT tools have almost no use.

Yes, I agree with you --- with many points. Machine Translation is mostly built on Translation Memories provided by translators-- this is the main reason why many companies require it.

I got quit a few jobs from Proz this year, so it might be different for different people, or language pairs, at least.

And, I absolutely agree that most MT, for any professional use, is utter "rubbish". I'd rather teach a robot to cook. I think the odds might be higher than have MT translate anything properly.


[Edited at 2013-11-16 12:03 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:58
Spanish to English
+ ...
MT - the curate's egg Nov 16, 2013

LilianBNekipelo wrote:
... I absolutely agree that most MT, for any professional use, is utter "rubbish". I'd rather teach a robot to cook. I think the odds might be higher than have MT translate anything properly.


[Edited at 2013-11-16 12:03 GMT]


If you know how to use it properly, MT can save some time as well as wear and tear on your carpals, etc. However, if left in the hands of the unwary, the outcome is likely to be a dog's breakfast.

About 5 minutes ago I idly ran the Spanish phrase "zonas socieconómicas favorecidas" through Google translate (the paying option GT4T) and was shocked to see the translation provided was "DISadvantaged socio-economic areas", i. e. the exact opposite of what the original actually says. Caveat emptor.


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The Misha
Local time: 05:58
Russian to English
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There is no single "translation market" and the bottom is not falling out of it Nov 16, 2013

Instead, there are millions of individual translators, with different abilities and circumstances, operating in a myriad of disparate pairs and specializations and managing their individual businesses with varying degrees of success. Incidentally, Proz and Trados are also businesses - driven by profit rather than your well-being or mine, just about like any other business on earth - again, including you and me. Sadly, none of these businesses last forever (does anything?). I have been in a different business before, which eventually ran its course - not so much for the entire industry, but for me personally - and had to be abandoned. This is no bottom falling out, this is called change, and unlike the silly common mantra change isn't good - not the kind of change anyway that runs you over and leaves you broken and bleeding on the side of the road.

If what worked before isn't working any longer, then apparently something needs to be changed in how you do it, or even what. You can try to embrace that change, or simply move on to something else. Translators taking up other jobs? Well, good for them, if they are happy with them. If tomorrow all Italian - or Russian, for that matter - translators quit, the world is very unlikely to come to an end, or even any kind of a perceptible standstill.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:58
Member (2007)
English
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I see the future slightly differently Nov 16, 2013

Many of these cheapskate clients are new to the industry: they would never have dreamt of selling to foreign markets until recently. Many of these "did a foreign language at school" translators are new to the industry: they would never have got any work until recently.

But, as far as I can see, the old market of serious businesses wanting to be taken seriously on the world market is still there; and they still need qualified and skilled career translators to do those translations. We just have to build a fence between the two extremes, and position ourselves solidly on one side, and not try to straddle the two.

The translation industry is certainly not dying; far from it - professional translation has a great future, IMO. But it is undergoing massive change, which will be hard to bear. Many translators who make insufficient effort to position themselves will fall the wrong side of the fence.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 07:58
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Markets and translators vary a lot Nov 16, 2013

Markets first...

There are some markets that are overall strongly driven by low prices and abusively long payment terms. No, this time I'm not referring to India or China, but to countries like Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, possibly among a few others.

Please keep in mind that I said "strongly". These three European countries I mentioned have a significant population of translation clients aligned with the mainstream practices adopted elsewhere on this planet. However specifically there, the cheap and slow-paying translation clients seem to have outnumbered the worthy ones.

From actual samples I've seen (retranslation requests, all from the UK), machine translation has qualitywise surpassed the output of several, many, or countless cheap translators. As I had predicted, these cheap translators are being ousted from the marketplace by the bottom feeders: no matter how bad it is, if they liked it cheap, they'd love when it's free MT.

Then PEMT came up. Some end-clients would not tolerate the bad quality from free machine translation. Would these clients tolerate PEMT? From the only sample I had, they shouldn't. I was assigned a translation job involving operating instructions for some high-risk industrial facility. The agency provided me with some reference materials. It didn't take me long to realize that those references had obviosly been PEMTed. Some tricky phrases had fooled MT into saying the wrong things, and these had completely eluded the "PEMTor". These PEMTed manuals are potentially like a time-bomb planted in that facility. I hope the folks there know the ropes, and never have to actually read these PEMTed manuals for guidance.

I get the impression Italy and Spain do it out of tradition. As over the years so many translation agencies got away with it, more and more joined the bandwagon to make a bundle. That must be why the good ones have been outnumbered.

In Britain, the cause seems to be sheer greed. I compare this Proz forum thread with this link.


Now translators...

Those translators who failed to develop their skills in order to create a noticeable overall gap between their output and MT's should either do it pronto, or give up on translation and move to another endeavor ASAP.

On the other hand, the demand for skilled professional translators is growing as fast as globalization becomes more and more pervasive everywhere. It is a booming business presently.


Finally, the players...

Proz has nothing to do with all this. It merely "mirrors" - to some limited extent - demand and supply. It certainly enhances visibility within the translation market, without regulating it in any way.

SDL Trados was the one who promoted fuzzy match discounts in the marketplace. To me, it looks like a car manufacturer having bombarded taxicab users to demand discounts from drivers using cars fitted with automatic transmission and/or power steering, because their jobs would be less tiresome with these. Bear in mind that cab operators were the ones who paid extra for these features.


Bottom line is that MT is now performing a cleansing operation in the translation market. To a lesser degree, it is like Hippocrates: since his days, 'healers' have lost their status, however there is still a number of them around.

One common problem is that there are some professionally skilled translators who have been told so often that their (standard market) rates are too high, possibly by these overwhelming bargain-hunting clients, that they believed it. A lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth. This impaired their assertiveness to approach a worthy client with worthy average market rates. When the worthy client sees their subdued rates, they think it's too good to be true, and look for someone else to do the job to their standards.

I learned this last lesson in 2010, when exclusively due to currency exchange rates I was forced to raise my international translation rates by 20%. This led me to lose all my somewhat less desirable clients instantly, and in no time introduced me to a whole new flock of clients who were used to pay 20% more nowadays for the translation quality I had been delivering throughout all these years.

[Edited at 2013-11-16 19:39 GMT]


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 11:58
English to Polish
+ ...
... Nov 16, 2013

Here's the problemz:

1. Translation aside for the moment, interpreting has traditionally been a servile job actually performed by slaves (such as captives etc.). There's also a mental connection with native guides from colonial times.
2. Right now translation requires a lot of education with quite some depth and breadth but pays little money and respect in proportion.
3. Regardless, responsibilities heaped on a single translator seem to be huge, as in one person uniting the provinces of several different competent professionals.
4. ...Whereat nobody can succeed perfectly. Real and merely perceived failures are misunderstood and so a stigma sticks.
5. As a result, the translator is the one guy who's got to do everybody's job and also clean after everybody, gets paid little and is structurally positioned to attract accumulating blame.
6. The cheapness of much of the entire industry is beyond comprehension regardless.
7. In effect this is really an ungrateful job.

Also some factors to consider are that:

1. We live in appearance-driven times. People are no longer required to be smart, solid work is being phased out.
2. There is an overreliance on public procurement and other procurement/contracting procedures. People think that just because of 'requiring' something in a contract and dictating a low price to get it they are actually going to get it.
3. In connection with #2 they don't even think about actually cutting the costs by smartly designing the processes and optimising the use, reuse etc. They just employ the leverage to require as much as they can while paying as little as they can.
4. (Nobody needs to optimise for multiple languages if he can just force translators to work for peanuts translating long tracts of stuff that could be handled by a bunch of lean SQL queries, for example.)
5. Agencies and clients are losing their connection with reality, common sense and sometimes basic politeness. This results in a child in the fog kind of industry or I'm just having a bad day today.

In any case the problems are often caused by translators and agencies acting like amoebas and bending over backwards to please ignorant people. The fear of displeasing a client has long taken a psychotic dimension to it. I think it can be described as a psychosis.

As for Trados, it needs to sell. In order to sell, it needs to be necessary. So one's gotta make Trados necessary in order to sell Trados. Also agencies operate their own CATs in an increasing proportion. We can probably talk about some semblance or stage of vertical integration.

On the other hand, there's a tendency among translation agencies to become 'outsourcers', losing their traditional aspects and merely focusing on marketing, selection and communication, i.e. basically forwarding. Their risks are often transferred onto translators contractually... which is actually no guarantee to the client because a translator just doesn't have that kind of deep pockets.

Diffusion of responsibility ensues because the client doesn't want to pay adequately for the effort and resources required to satisfy his demand. On the other hand, the agency doesn't want and can't within that small budget anyway provide all the necessary proofreading, editing, specialist consulting etc. On the third hand (translators are known to grow four to eight hands), translators obviously don't want to become responsible for the full TEP + DTP + research + risk. Nor can they adequately fulfil that role.

And nobody will admit the above.

[Edited at 2013-11-16 20:33 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:58
Russian to English
+ ...
You must be kidding, Lukasz -- where are you getting your ideas from? Nov 16, 2013

Perhaps in some countries which practiced the capture of human beings for various purposes, but not as a general rule. Some interpreters and translators used to be offered as much gold as the weight of certain books if they could translate them, or held some of the top positions in the courts. The ability to speak various languages was something highly valued.

I have never seen any attitude even vaguely similar to what you have been talking about. Translators and interpreters, especially those working for some serious entities like courts, embassies, or some organizations connected with the United Nations are treated the same way as the diplomats. I am not sure where you can really see something like what you have been talking about.
.
I just think you are plain wrong, based on what I have seen even in the the European reality, which I know to a considerable degree, I can say that I have never seen any of that attitude among professional, prestigious companies -- I don't mean any charlatans, or imposers, but real linguistic companies and other entities that need linguistic services. I think people who know many languages would be the last human beings to tolerate any kind of slavery or serfdom.
so if some companies hoped for that, they chose the wrong batch.

As to the other points of yours -- to be considered -- I completely agree with most of them. The style, content and ethics are being replaced with speed and glitter -- sort of.

Trados reminds me just of the vacation shares, or whatever you call them -- something created to sell, as you said, that would attract agents who would present the thing as something indispensible and try to create the whole environment around it the way so it appears necessary.

[Edited at 2013-11-16 21:37 GMT]


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Inese Poga-Smith  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:58
Latvian to English
+ ...
It's called cheapness Nov 16, 2013

Cheapness is the disorder causing all kinds of troubles. At first it occurred as an acute condition when all production was moved to China and other low labour cost countries, and it's become chronic by now, although some production has started to flow back to other countries because of absurdly low quality. We all know the saying: you get what you pay for. Translation industry is no exception.
The only trend I can see in operation of agencies is that to please the client at any price. Any price means in this case: translator gets close to nothing even though he or she does the job. It's hilarious how cheap are the offered rates. I suppose, if somebody wants to work for 20 bucks all day long, they should be allowed to.
For the rest of us: it's our choice to work for decent rates, to change the job or do whatever we consider useful. The only thing some translators don't get is: there wouldn't be any agencies without translators. Please start to respect yourself.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:58
Russian to English
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I think they pay more Nov 16, 2013

in some Asian sweat shops these days, than $20/day.

They pay about $80/day plus food at McDonald's. No high school diploma required.


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Lorraine Dubuc  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:58
Member (2013)
French to English
+ ...
Hi Jo, Nov 17, 2013

I am disappointed too when I see that some translators accept working for 2 cents a word. When I did my degree 30 years ago, the rate was around 25 cents a word for technical translation and a little less for a general subject. I was told this week at the SDL meeting that the best current rate per word is around 14 cents if you are lucky. This is a shame.

CAT tools are OK but they also somehow kill the profession because everybody can buy such a software, get an instant translation (of poor quality I may add) and have someone proofread it to make it sound OK.

Well, I have decided to charge an hourly rate which is normal for the field, so at least I get paid for the time invested no matter what the job is. This way, I keep respecting my co-translators and the time that they have invested in learning and building their career.

In my opinion, the best way of getting respected is to have sufficient self-esteem to refuse to work at ridiculous rates.






[Modifié le 2013-11-17 01:23 GMT]


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 11:58
English to Polish
+ ...
... Nov 17, 2013

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

Perhaps in some countries which practiced the capture of human beings for various purposes, but not as a general rule. Some interpreters and translators used to be offered as much gold as the weight of certain books if they could translate them, or held some of the top positions in the courts. The ability to speak various languages was something highly valued.


All of the Med practiced slavery in years leading to the formation and then decline of the Roman Empire. What you're referring to is the occasional episode in which Arabic rulers in a new zeal to uplift their civilisation with science and culture that stood to be inherited from the Greek, decided to reward well the scholars who translated the important legacy. It had little to do with most of what we do for a living.

Please don't be ignorant of the fact that the most important cultural nexus between various civilisations in antiquity were slaves deported to get the costs of war to pay back (or weaken the opposing populace). That is, for example, what happened to Polybius of Joseph Flavius.

The most archetypal bilingual is the slave or the child of one.

I have never seen any attitude even vaguely similar to what you have been talking about.


I can't believe that unless you actually don't follow the forums here.

Translators and interpreters, especially those working for some serious entities like courts, embassies, or some organizations connected with the United Nations are treated the same way as the diplomats.


Nope. Just nope. Certain translators and interpreters may perhaps hold junior diplomatic, military or civil ranks perhaps to the level of a mid-ranking civil servant or field grade officer (Eisenhower's was made a colonel) or subambassadorial diplomatic staff, but you're exaggerating by far.

I am not sure where you can really see something like what you have been talking about.


Umm, like, life? Take a look at the forums, seriously, look at the contracts, look at the jobs. Tell me that 'we can only pay USD 0.03 for this' and 'you must keep the formatting', to shave off the most extreme examples, is the type of royal treatment you're talking about.

I think people who know many languages would be the last human beings to tolerate any kind of slavery or serfdom.


Not quite my opinion on the basis of interaction with linguists. Linguistis defer to clients in matters of language rules which the linguists have studied and the clients have not, which is basically the definition of getting outranked and overmanded on the basis of rank and supply-demand mechanic and actually oneself assisting in the process, which is another sign of subjection.

As to the other points of yours -- to be considered -- I completely agree with most of them. The style, content and ethics are being replaced with speed and glitter -- sort of.


That's because of how the work has been depreciated.

Inese Poga-Smith wrote:

For the rest of us: it's our choice to work for decent rates, to change the job or do whatever we consider useful. The only thing some translators don't get is: there wouldn't be any agencies without translators. Please start to respect yourself.


Don't be an orthodox capitalist. Capitalism's main failure lies in its presumption of unbound rationality of information etc. Capitalism justifies whatever's the current state of the market through the absence of a different state of things, presuming that consumers, employers and any other small people would always all act the way that would be the best for their interests as long as everybody else did the same. But, people obviously won't unite in such kind of fashion because they have no means to do so. You'd need to address them, congregate them, push some measures through etc. That ultimately often amounts to a grassroots initiative referred to as a riot, or an actual revolution. Pretending that everything is okay because nobody has successfully done anything about it... until a bloody revolution does something about it.

It's the same in the translation market. A lone translator here and there setting his prices to whatever he believes he should be earning is going to starve. You need demand to sell your supply, but you also need information and a bunch of other things to make the connection between the supply and the demand. (Which simplistic capitalizt assessments love ignoring.)

Not that I'm a lefty or anything like that. I just don't like arguments based on presumptions that don't work.

[Edited at 2013-11-17 01:39 GMT]


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 18:58
Japanese to English
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Ayn Rand Nov 17, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:
Don't be an orthodox capitalist. Capitalism's main failure lies in its presumption of unbound rationality of information etc. Capitalism justifies whatever's the current state of the market through the absence of a different state of things, presuming that consumers, employers and any other small people would always all act the way that would be the best for their interests as long as everybody else did the same. But, people obviously won't unite in such kind of fashion because they have no means to do so. You'd need to address them, congregate them, push some measures through etc. That ultimately often amounts to a grassroots initiative referred to as a riot, or an actual revolution. Pretending that everything is okay because nobody has successfully done anything about it... until a bloody revolution does something about it.

[Edited at 2013-11-17 01:39 GMT]


This statement reminds me so much of Atlas Shrugged (happen to be reading it now). Many great ideas in that book, but almost all of them presuppose a fairly idealistic type of human that I don't think exists in any kind of significant numbers on this planet.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 07:58
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Slaves x Polish culture Nov 17, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

Perhaps in some countries which practiced the capture of human beings for various purposes, but not as a general rule.


All of the Med practiced slavery in years leading to the formation and then decline of the Roman Empire.

The most archetypal bilingual is the slave or the child of one.


This is a Polish trio. Łukasz is 100% Polish, in Poland AFAIK. Lilian has her roots there. I am the son of a couple from Krakow who migrated to Brazil after WWII. For the record, I can "barely" speak/understand Polish - this is the best description of it.

The reason I'm writing this is that several years ago I read that a Brazilian soap opera, Escrava Isaura had been a smashing success on Polish TV.

At that time, knowing some Polish culture from home, and having met some Polish newcomers and visitors now and then in Brazil, I wondered how long would have been the "introduction to the concept of slavery" program, in order to enable thoroughly Polish spectators to understand that setting.

I had a recent discussion (outside Proz) with some fellow Brazilian translators on "nonexisting concepts" in the target language, and my example was slavery for Poles. I searched YouTube for Escrava Isaura episodes dubbed in Polish. Found a few lectored in "Silesian", for instance this one, which sounds enough like Polish for me to understand some of it.

My point was that the word I found in PL for "slave" is "niewolnica", which, to my lame knowledge of the language, translates literally into "not-free-person". Puzzling... it could apply to a prisoner as well.

We - translators - tend to complain about the e-slavery attempts from sweat-shop-style translation agencies in India and China. Yet what these try to do is not different from what we hear about some of their domestic employment practices.

The three countries I mentioned on my previous post have that noun in their respective languages (slave/esclavo/schiavo), so they are familiar with the concept. However it does not prevent some operators there from trying to implement it online upon hiring translators.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:58
Russian to English
+ ...
Sorry, Lukasz Nov 17, 2013

but I think your train of thought has been derailed by some isolated impressions. The prestige of the translator's profession and the qualifications required have always, or mostly, been on the same level as those of scholars' and lawyers'. So I don't really know where you got those impressions.

In the communist countries translators were usually university professors, who held PhDs I know that for sure because one of my father's best friends was a translator -- he had a PhD in Slavic languages, and taught part time at the university. You could not even register for the certification exam, if you did not hold a degree in linguistics --language studies. No one without the governmental certification could work as a translator or interpreter for any kind of remuneration. So, I think what you've been saying is pure fantasy. You might have mixed up the profession with bilingual receptionists, or something like that. Some agencies might have, too, in fact.

Even the Slaves who worked in the capacity of interpreters in the Ancient world were only Slaves by the name, and of course had some limitations of personal freedoms due to the laws of certain countries during the Antiquity period, but they were very intelligent, influential people, who almost controlled to whole countries and the politics to an enormous degree. I think you have the opposite idea, for some reason.

And to Henrique -- interesting to here about your roots. It is true that there is no hoistory of slavery in Poland, although the Polish peasants had been often treated worse than slaves, for centuries. Niewolnik (male) and niewolnica (female) are very similar to a slave or serf, perhaps. The word cannot refer to a prisoner. Wiezien is prisoner (it should have some diacritics -- I am sorry, but more or less).

[Edited at 2013-11-17 13:41 GMT]


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