Curva Fin Bloque
POST FEBRUARY 2, 2012

Translation agencies bad practices (and how machine translation can help)

This is a copy of our posting in the LinkedIn group “Translation agencies bad practices”.

The question is “How much a translation agency pays on average to translators?” – disregarding from the start that there are staff and freelance translators with quite different aims and that one translator may be so at an organization because of personal believe (Pangeanic is a member/sponsor of Translators Without Borders, for example, where professional freelance linguists and volunteers are required but whose presence is still needed). I’m not one for wanting medals on my jacket, but we like to give back to society at Pangeanic, and thus we also support Medicin Sans Frontiers and, personally Amnesty International and UNHCR.

I am an engineer who turned into linguistics and by chances of life, began a career in translation. I tend to compare the feedback and the opinions of translators with what happens in other professions. It is a horror story. Entry level is quite low and any bilingual thinks he/she is qualified as a translator. Tools come later. Most have no idea of formatting and know practically nothing about the technology they are running on their PCs. Running a translation agency I have dealt with cases of translators not using spell checkers (and not knowing how to use them!), not using (or knowing about) coherence tools like XBench or QA Distiller… even from full-fee professionals. Practically none have heard of ISO standards.

This is the quote from our entry. I encourage all translators to

a) become aware and expert with CAT tools;

b) establish a quality, self-checking routine;

c ) become interested in the technical developments of the industry, from CAT tools (not everything ends with Trados, there’s MemoQ, Swordfish, OmegaT, tools that do a very good job for a very reasonable price). Distrust any plumber who comes to fix a leak in your house empty-handed but saying he knows a lot about water…

“The problem here is the name and the aim of the group itself. I find no other “electricians’ bad practices” or “how much does it cost to hire a plumber”. Our profession is at a time of technological change with the advent of machine translation and user empowerment. First, translators should leave their attitude of being “creative re-creationists” unless they translate works of literature (which is one of the worst paid activities in translation, if we count by the word). I have been a freelance translator, run my own LSP and developed MT software, so believe you me I am not biased at all. I understand the will and the need for a one-person company to make a living, the pressures of a translation agency having to deal with 20 languages and unreasonable deadlines and fees and, above, the help to automate. Lastly, something that I have learnt is that translators loathe and despite machine translation and their new role as post-editors (just like workers destroyed machines in the 19th-century industrial revolution) but most are not ashamed of a “bottom up” approach when it comes to using GT to boost their productivity (see http://meteteme.blogspot.com/2011/11/la-posedicion-zombificacion-del.html?spref=fb – it is in Spanish but highly enlightening and you can use Google Translate to get the gist).

It is an opinion of a freelancer who has worked as a staff translator for 4 years. Freelance translators do not like being “told” they have to post-edit, although the practical change is minimum – and they can put their precious neurons to a better use, for example, adding feedback to improve technology with better translations. No other freelance profession (journalist, electrician, car mechanic, plumber, even lawyers!) would resist a tool that enhances productivity/turnover…. even if it meant lower rates but more work…. The issue is that there are not enough qualified translators around and too much content to be translated. How to tackle that and not if I’m paid 1 cent more than the average is the real point.