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Thoughts on ATA?
Thread poster: Preston Decker

Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:22
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
Jan 16, 2015

Just renewed ATA (American Translators Association) memberships for my partner and I. I'd forgotten that they were about to expire, and clenched my teeth a bit when I saw the prices (all in all not very much, but I always have this feeling when renewing memberships).

After renewing, I went back and started looking through new contacts for the year. Our Proz memberships paid for themselves several times over in new contacts, but this was less true of ATA: as far as I can tell, we lost money on our ATA memberships this year (although I'll grant that being able to put the ATA logo on our website may have played a role in attracting clients from other sources). Part of this, I'm sure, is because I have not kept my ATA profile as up to date as my Proz profile, and this is something i need to fix.


I personally like some aspects of the ATA,but others frustrate me. I wish the Chronicle had a bit more substance, and that the ATA's general translator search results listed translators only by their native language; I'm on page 6 of their Chinese to English results, and there are a lot of translators ahead of me who seem to be primarily English to Chinese translators. More than anything, since their certification program is their primary calling card, I wish the ATA had a certification test in my language pair, especially since it is such an important one (they certify from English to Chinese, but not Chinese to English).

I'm wondering what other ATA members think of their memberships? I know some people love the organization, and find it brings them quite a bit of new business. These seem to be people who are more involved with chapter meetings, ATA organization, and the conference. This is true of Proz as well, but the difference is that Proz allows people to be active in an online setting, which is much more attractive to someone like me who is not living in the US at the moment. Has anybody left ATA and found another association that they feel better suits their needs?







[Edited at 2015-01-16 10:32 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:22
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
You win some, you lose some Jan 16, 2015

Preston Decker wrote:
Our ProZ.com memberships paid for themselves several times over in new contacts, but this was less true of ATA, [for] as far as I can tell, we lost money on our ATA memberships this year.


Sometimes you'll win, sometimes you'll lose. My ProZ.com membership has never paid for itself, but my ATA membership has. It depends on many factors.

I wish the Chronicle had a bit more substance...


I'm not a member of ATA for its magazine. The magazine uses high quality print, and will definitely help to get the general public and non-members interested in the industry and association, but half of the content generally isn't much better than what you'd find on translators' blogs.


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Michael Joseph Wdowiak Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:22
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Relevant and interesting: Jan 16, 2015

https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/for-better-or-worse-still-an-ata-american-translators-association-member-in-2015/

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bohy  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 06:22
English to French
+ ...
Listing swamped by non-native speakers of the target language Jan 16, 2015

The only interest I've found in ATA membership is to be listed as "Certified translator", which helps stand out somewhat. I get most of my customers through the ATA (but it has decreased these last years). Agencies usually accept decent rates. If not certified, I don't think it wold be worth the money.
I do understand that there is no ATA certification in your pair, but the process to include a new certification pair is long. Are you sure there's not something on the way? Did you ask ATA? It may help you decide if you want to wait or not.
I've checked the translators listing for your pair. It's true that you get 339 results, but if you make an advanced search, requesting only translators whose native language is English (your target language), you'll find only 100 translators, and you are in good place (20th).
So, obviously the results are swamped by 70% of translators that don't translate into their native language...
Knowing that there is no certification in your pair to help you stand out, you should probably react officially towards ATA to avoid at least this swamping.
You could propose for instance that, for the language pairs where there is no certification at least, the translators which are native speakers of this target language be listed first. This implies of course a software modification, but as all data are in the database, it should be feasible. Not sure how long it would take, though.


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:22
German to English
Limited utility for me Jan 16, 2015

Until the advent of the Internet, it was difficult for translators to connect with other language professionals. We recognized one another through secret handshakes, certain combinations of colored clothing, etc. There was a forum, now defunct, on a major information service that predated the Internet, but it was sparsely visited until the Internet became popular. It was there that I learned about the ATA, and I joined that organization.

Its monthly magazine was slick, but the articles were, to be honest, lame. The annual conferences offered possibilities to network, attend presentations, exchange résumés. Eventually the Association started sponsoring fora on Yahoo devoted to specific language divisions. The German division forum was – and still is – a useful venue for solving problems relating to terminology, customer relations, etc. There is also a member directory used by some agencies to find translators. I remained a member for a few years, then stopped renewing my membership at the end of the last century, as I didn't see the point to continuing.

While I was a member, I never seriously considered obtaining ATA certification, allegedly key to getting better rates. The examination was (and may still be, for all I know) hand-written. Is that really how translators work? Apart from a few recipes translated for friends, I have not translated a document using a pen and paper in the 40+ years I've been doing this kind of work.

A few years ago the annual conference was held in a city where my daughter was attending university, so I rejoined so that I could get a cheaper rate for the conference while deducting much of the cost of the trip to visit my daughter from my taxes. The publication had improved somewhat – potentially useful material had increased to about 50% of the editorial content, and the articles for the most part were better written than before. The conference was well-organized, some of the presentations had interesting titles, and people seemed to be having a good time. However, of the presentations I attended, very few were on a professional level, and I was disappointed. In fact, the best presentations were held before the official opening of the conference.

The job offers that came through the member directory were shockingly – even insultingly – poorly-paid, considering that it was an organ of a professional association. Once again, I let my membership lapse.

ATA membership might be useful to people early in their careers, as its publications provide some perspective on a diverse industry. The conferences provide a venue for people to meet, have a few drinks together and complain about the industry. But the organization really came to late to the game to promote professionalism, and its recognition of the use of technology in the translation process is inexcusable.


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 13:22
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
On the other hand, one company did find me through XXX Jan 16, 2015

I've had one scam email (which you've actually seen) and zero job-related contacts - or if they found me through ATA, they did not say so.

I keep my membership because at the end of the day it's not a huge amount of money, and I could certainly see a scenario where having the membership will be helpful down the road.


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:22
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Jan 16, 2015



Thanks for this. Steve has a great blog, and that was quite an interesting read.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:22
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Pros and cons: A personal view Jan 19, 2015

Given that I have no formal training in the translation field and no degree in the one source language I work from, ATA Certification is my one and only formal credential as a translator. And, of course, in order to retain this credential, I have to remain a member of the organization. I have no doubt that my ATA Certification has translated into a much higher level of income than I would have been able to earn without it. Furthermore, certain agencies and clients have found me through my ATA listing. In addition, there are certain (usually small) jobs for which ATA Certification is required (e.g., translation of official documents) and I have received quite a bit of this kind of work through my listing.

In my view (and bearing in mind that I work in a common language pair for which certification is offered) organization membership without certification would not be worth the money. I also think (in the absence of indisputably solid credentials) that it looks very bad to have been a longtime ATA member who works in a pair for which certification is offered, but without having certification. The certification test, while challenging, should not be insurmountably difficult for a minimally competent professional translator. Dozens (nay, hundreds) of translators who are "members" of a professional organization without holding the certification of that organization is definitively not good for the profession in question.

This leads to a more important criticism of the organization: As far as I can see, the ATA does not do enough stem the tide of forces that depress prices in the industry. Thus, "anyone" can join the organization; American citizenship is no longer a requirement for membership; machine translation and CAT programs seem to enjoy the organization's uncritical acceptance; and non-native speakers are (as has been pointed out in this discussion) allowed to use the organization to offer their services as "professional" translators into languages in which they are not native--this even in the case of the common language pairs in which there is no shortage of qualified translators who are native in the target language.

To my mind, for common language pairs like the one I work in, the only valid ATA membership offered should be certified membership. Perhaps the test requirement could be waived for those holding Ph.D.'s in the literature or linguistics of a language other than English, a bachelor's degree or higher from an accredited foreign university in a non-English speaking country, Federal Court Interpreter Certification, etc. but only in such cases.

The one and only time I attended an ATA Conference (San Francisco, 2007), my experience was much like Kevin's: the most worthwhile sessions I participated in took place prior to the official beginning of the conference (and in fact cost extra money). The other sessions I attended were something of a mixed bag. It is worth noting in this connection (and consistent with Kevin's observation) that the transcripts of many of the presentations at more recent conferences that I reviewed (i.e., in order to get my CEUs to maintain certification) were riddled with errors.

I disliked the highly commercial atmosphere at the conference (e.g., aggressive promotion of the latest and greatest in expensive CAT tools, work management flow software, etc.) as well as a certain snootiness radiated by a disturbingly large proportion of the persons manning the booths of the major agencies that had a presence there--many of whom seemed to have no more than an incidental connection with the profession of translation.

Then there is the fact that these events are invariably held in expensive hotels and expensive cities. So a big outlay of cash for--alas--very little return.

All in all, I'd have to say that I would prefer to spend the money for a real vacation, and do my learning and development through the abundance of resources available on the Internet and elsewhere (and at far lower cost).

I agree with what others have said regarding the irrelevancy of the Chronicle. In fact, I opted last year to stop receiving a print version of it.

In the end, I plan to remain an ATA member for the practical reasons I've referred to above. At the same time, I have to say in all honesty that I am really not an active member of the organization, and that I find it wanting in certain critical respects.

[Edited at 2015-01-20 00:22 GMT]


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I get better value from my ProZ subscription. Jan 20, 2015

I've been a member of ATA for about five years, and have gained one regular customer and a handful of very occasional ones as a result. I know it's not just a way of getting work, but it is an important factor in deciding whether to renew your subscription.

I agree that the magazine is dull and out of date, but to be fair they are in the process of revamping it, and they did a reader survey recently. Personally I'd be happy to get a PDF version and a reduced subscription.


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:22
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
How about partnering with other associations Jan 20, 2015

Robert Forstag wrote:

Given that I have no formal training in the translation field and no degree in the one source language I work from, ATA Certification is my one and only formal credential as a translator. And, of course, in order to retain this credential, I have to remain a member of the organization. I have no doubt that my ATA Certification has translated into a much higher level of income than I would have been able to earn without it. Furthermore, certain agencies and clients have found me through my ATA listing. In addition, there are certain (usually small) jobs for which ATA Certification is required (e.g., translation of official documents) and I have received quite a bit of this kind of work through my listing.



Quite envious that ATA offers a test in your language pair. Chinese to English is a big enough pair that you would think they'd offer it. In fact, I spoke to a long-time translator two years ago who said she remembers the ATA discussing a Chinese to English test as early as the 1990s. Still hasn't come to fruition.

Just an idea (in fact I think I'll write to ATA and mention this), but why couldn't ATA and an organization like ITI recognize each other's certification test results, especially for language pairs that aren't currently offered by one of them? Not only might it reduce costs for both organizations, but it would provide a certain amount of competition between the two in administering tests--I bet ATA wouldn't have waited until the last couple of years to begin moving away from handwritten tests for the pairs it does offer if translators in other pairs were able to take the 'cozy' do-it-from home MITI test.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:22
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Unacceptable Jan 20, 2015

Preston Decker wrote:
More than anything, since their certification program is their primary calling card, I wish the ATA had a certification test in my language pair, especially since it is such an important one (they certify from English to Chinese, but not Chinese to English).

I find that amazing and it would be unacceptable to me. My main aim in joining the ITI was to be able to take the test and get a piece of paper to be able to wave in front of clients, just in case a degree in the language and 20 years residence isn't enough to persuade them I have the linguistic chops. It's a signalling mechanism. Without the prospect of that certificate I wouldn't have bothered joining the ITI.

If there's anybody from the ATA here, perhaps they would like to explain how they don't have certification in both directions for two of the most widely spoken languages in the world - especially given China's growth over the past decade.

Perhaps it's a case of "country club management" in the ATA. My default position would be to assume some blend of incompetence, complacency and laziness, but I'm prepared to be persuaded otherwise.

Dan


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:22
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
ATA and ITI exams not compatible or comparable Jan 20, 2015

Preston Decker wrote:
Why couldn't ATA and an organization like ITI recognize each other's certification test results?


Probably because the two exams have very little in common. ATA's test is handwritten, in a closed environment, with a very restricted time limit, with only paper dictionaries allowed, in which cheating is almost impossible. ITI's test is an "at-home" test, in which the translator has four days to complete it, and he may use any resources available to him, except for TMs that he did not create himself. Cheating is "prevented" by having the translator declare that he "didn't cheat".

Dan Lucas wrote:
Perhaps they would like to explain how they don't have certification in both directions for two of the most widely spoken languages in the world - especially given China's growth over the past decade.


Maybe there's too little demand in that language combination, or not enough skilled examiners in it.


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Michael Joseph Wdowiak Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:22
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
The ATA's method of testing is ridiculous and out of touch with reality Jan 20, 2015

Samuel Murray wrote:

Preston Decker wrote:
Why couldn't ATA and an organization like ITI recognize each other's certification test results?


Probably because the two exams have very little in common. ATA's test is handwritten, in a closed environment, with a very restricted time limit, with only paper dictionaries allowed, in which cheating is almost impossible. ITI's test is an "at-home" test, in which the translator has four days to complete it, and he may use any resources available to him, except for TMs that he did not create himself. Cheating is "prevented" by having the translator declare that he "didn't cheat".

Dan Lucas wrote:
Perhaps they would like to explain how they don't have certification in both directions for two of the most widely spoken languages in the world - especially given China's growth over the past decade.


Maybe there's too little demand in that language combination, or not enough skilled examiners in it.


Given the way I work, I'd say forcing me to do a test with a pen, in a closed environment, with a very restricted time limit, with only paper dictionaries allowed … would amount to cheating, but by the ATA. I don't work like that, and haven't for around 20 years now. In what way would this be a test of my abilities as a translator in the real world?

I don't have a great memory and rely heavily on my very specific setup at home in my office. I use zillions of resources (software, books, online, etc.) when translating, rely heavily on my CAT tool, all my glossaries and TMs, my non-translatables list, my spelling lists, my QA software, sometimes I use Dragon, I use a Wacom tablet and a mouse simultaneously, etc. etc. etc. The ATA test, as described by Samuel, would be pretty much meaningless if used to assess my skills as a translator.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:22
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Michael, it levels the playing field Jan 20, 2015

Michael Beijer wrote:
Given the way I work, I'd say forcing me to do a test with a pen, in a closed environment, with a very restricted time limit, with only paper dictionaries allowed … would amount to cheating, but by the ATA. I don't work like that, and haven't for around 20 years now. In what way would this be a test of my abilities as a translator in the real world?


I don't think any translator works like that anymore, but many exams in other fields or at other institutions are still written in longhand, i.e. pen and paper, even though very few people will actually write e.g. a full report on paper these days. What's more, forcing all candidates to use pen and paper levels the playing field -- all translators are under the exact same pressures. You might think that it would put you at a disadvantage, but you're actually at the same disadvantage as everyone else.

And, no, the purpose of the ATA exam is not to test how well you would do "in the real world" -- this is what distinguishes it from e.g. the ITI exam, and why I don't think they are comparable or compatable.



[Edited at 2015-01-20 12:21 GMT]


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:22
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, but... Jan 20, 2015

Samuel Murray wrote:

Michael Beijer wrote:
Given the way I work, I'd say forcing me to do a test with a pen, in a closed environment, with a very restricted time limit, with only paper dictionaries allowed … would amount to cheating, but by the ATA. I don't work like that, and haven't for around 20 years now. In what way would this be a test of my abilities as a translator in the real world?


I don't think any translator works like that anymore, but many exams in other fields or at other institutions are still written in longhand, i.e. pen and paper, even though very few people will actually write e.g. a full report on paper these days. What's more, forcing all candidates to use pen and paper levels the playing field -- all translators are under the exact same pressures. You might think that it would put you at a disadvantage, but you're actually at the same disadvantage as everyone else. And, the purpose of the exam is not to test how well you would do "in the real world".




I don't disagree with the sentiment of leveling the playing field, but the problem is that the ATA does this in a way that hurts the goal of their exam--to certify qualified translators. Online research abilities are a HUGE part of what it means to be a translator today. Having an exam which doesn't include any electronic devices completely negates this aspect of a modern day translator's skills.

To be fair, the ATA is working on this. From the ATA's website: "ATA is working to make keyboarded examinations possible, but no certain date has been set at which this change from handwritten examinations will take place. For the time being, no electronic equipment of any kind is permitted in the examination room. At the certification exam sitting, an exception is made for disabled persons, who may write their examination on a non-memory typewriter."

In regards to my idea for allowing candidates to take exams from the ITI if not offered by the ATA, yes, the exams are apparently very different, but these are still two of the most influential translation organizations in the world, and I think most would agree that a pass on the ITI examination would be an acceptable substitute. More importantly, I have a feeling that if the ATA really allowed this to happen, a few more testing pairs would suddenly pop up on the ATA website.

[Edited at 2015-01-20 12:32 GMT]


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