Are they trying to fool the interpreters and translators?

September 20, 2016 § 17 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

We have been under constant and merciless attacks from the big multinational language “industry” corporations for several years. These uninvited guests at the professional language services table have stubbornly fought to take away the market from the professionals who should service the clients through systematically minimizing the role of the interpreter and translator, and dehumanizing the profession by launching a campaign to convince the weak and uninformed that what we do is an “industry”, not a profession.

In the past we have discussed the oddity of having pharmaceutical companies in the same professional associations with the physicians, and we have talked of the way attorneys defend their craft so it continues to be known as the legal profession, not the legal “industry”. Sadly, as you know, there are individual interpreters, translators, and even professional associations in our field that have decided to tear down that barrier erected by all professions to protect both: the end client of the professional service and the professional service provider, and have happily commingled professional interests and concerns with those of corporate entities whose sole objective is to cut costs, provide a borderline service, as long as it is legal and acceptable, and profit as much as possible.  This translates into often deplorable working conditions for interpreters and translators and substandard, often insulting professional fees.

There is nothing wrong with commercial entities following this model. It is legal and that is what they were incorporated for. The problem arises when greedy professional associations, government bureaucrats, trainers, and individual interpreters and translators begin to campaign for this corporate interests completely disregarding the profession and those who provide quality services.  It is very dangerous to have all of these members and peripheral members of the profession ceaselessly attempting to convince professional interpreters and translators, new and old, that the way of the future leads to a profession bastardized by an “industry” where professional interpreters and translators will have to take their marching orders from minimum-wage high school level coordinators and project managers whose only priority is to squeeze everything they can get from the interpreter and translator and pay a fee (that they cleverly refer to as “rate” to rhyme with the “industry” philosophy they practice and try to propagate) worthy of a hamburger flipper, not a professional service provider. For years they have used scare tactics and “there is no other choice” arguments to coerce many weaker colleagues to give in and drink the “industry’s” Kool Aid.

First they tried to shame and ridicule professional interpreters and translators by spreading unfounded and hateful rumors that the real reasons for our opposition to the crowning of these multinational language “industry” service providers were our ignorance of new technologies and our fear of globalization.  Using their very deep pockets, they took this message to all corners of the earth and repeated these lies until many believed them as true.

We all know that professional interpreters and translators are not opposed to technology; it is common knowledge among our peers that we all welcome the opportunity to work and learn from other high-quality professional colleagues who live somewhere else in the world.  The truth that these entities do not want the professional service user-beneficiary to know is that interpreters oppose the laughable fee (again, referred to as “rate” by them) system these outsiders to the profession propose, where they offer to pay by-the-minute of interpreting service over the phone or video outlet, lower interpreting fees for remotely interpreted conferences because the interpreter “does not need to travel” despite the fact that the service, preparation and effort are the same whether the interpreter is at the venue or twelve time zones away. They forget, or choose to ignore, that their savings are already impacted by modern technology when they save transportation, lodging, Per Diem, and travel day fees customarily paid to interpreters in case of travel. Those are the savings, not lowering the interpreter’s fee.

The same situation applies to translators who have welcomed new tools and best practices that enhance quality and reduce time and effort. The things that real professional translators will not accept, and the multinational language “industry” providers who propose no pay for repetitions, numbers, etc., while pretending to use the best of the best in the translation world as mere “post-editors” of the work that computer program algorithms and paraprofessional translators (who have been paid rock-bottom fees) did, so that the final product that the agency’s client sees is at least half decent. Professional translators know that this is not the way to provide a translation service; they know of the time and effort involved in rescuing a non-existent translation from a deformed text they were just handed by the so-called “project manager” (who have no idea of what they are asking the translator to do) is a professional practice that should never happen, but when it does, it should command an even higher fee than a translation from scratch. These translators are not afraid of technology and they are not against globalization; they oppose a job description that resembles more the work of a babysitter (of incompetent translators) than the professional service of a translator.

I know that I am not telling you anything new. We have all discussed these issues in this blog and elsewhere many times, and we have successfully defended our profession by educating the good clients and through pointing out the nefarious services and products that very often come out of these multinational language “industry” companies.  Yes, there are good agencies. We all know who they are, and we shall continue to work with them on a professional relationship based on mutual respect and understanding, but unfortunately, most agencies act as described above.

The reason I decided to write this new entry was to send you all a warning; to give you the heads up: These multinational entities are back, and they have a new strategy.

You see, they are now trying to convince interpreters and translators that they have changed; that it was all a misunderstanding. That they never meant any harm to the individual interpreters and translators. They want you to believe that they appreciate you and cherish you, and they will come up with very creative schemes.

All you have to do is to look at their conference programs to immediately notice how they are designing strategies to make interpreters and translators happy; to make you feel appreciated and respected, so at the end of the day you give up and agree to work for them under despicable conditions.  Look at the different conference programs and see how they are inviting as presenters of this new approach no others than their very own company executives, and interpreters/translators who have decided to abandon the defense of the profession and join the ranks of the “industry” in exchange for who knows what.

This is their new strategy, so we have to be alert. They must think that this time they will get us, but, dear colleagues, we are no Trojans. We will not welcome their “gift” disguised as a horse.  These are dangerous times and the “industry” has deep pockets that they rather use to destroy the “profession” than to attract high-level professional interpreters and translators by paying professional fees.  We cannot let our guard down. We are not “Little Red Riding Hood” but the big bad wolf is trying to get us.

I now invite you all to share your suggestions and experiences in dealing with these very serious problems; I only ask you not to post any comments defending the multinational language “industry” movement.  This is a forum for professional interpreters and translators. There are plenty of places in cyberspace where those who want to praise the qualities of these folks can ingratiate themselves with the “industry”.

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§ 17 Responses to Are they trying to fool the interpreters and translators?

  • The problem, as you are very much aware, is that unlike doctors, lawyers etc. our “profession” is littered with people who are barely literate in any language and have no training whatsoever. There is no real distinction made between these people and professional interpreters, especially not by the employers. Due to the massive influx of immigrants, more and more interpreters are required in Western countries and this has led to a cheapening, downgrading and de-professionalising of our calling. When I first studied interpreting in 1965, conference interpreters were earning the equivalent of US$1,000 a day, now they are earning less than a quarter of that.

    • Sjoe! says:

      Josephine is right. On the other hand, the clientèle is littered with customers barely aware what it really takes (and costs) to acquire and maintain the professional skills and do the stuff properly. “Why, it’s just TALKING!”
      (This is compounded by the broad range of requirements: from a head of state’s speech announcing a new policy, criminal court proceedings and a combat order to a multinational tactical force to “Ask the guy how much this figurine costs” somewhere in a souk.)

      They do find each other, the amateur customers and amateur providers.

  • We have the same situation in Sochi, Russia. Young and ambitious managers of event agencies suppose that a professional interpreter can work for a sum which is equal to a taxi tariff at a high level international business event. I am absolutely convinced that incompetence will result in serious problems – it’s quite enough to dramatically spoil any serious meeting or event and the customers will ask their inevitable question “Why?’

  • Another problem is that some of our associations which are ostensibly “translator associations” have been basically taken over by “the translation industry”. The American Translators Association is a good example of this sad situation. One can see it clearly from the articles published in the ATA Chronicle. Some of them are written directly by representatives of “the translation industry”, some by people who may be former translators but became agency owners and are clearly promoting the interests of “the translation industry” (and I say this as an owner of a small, specialized translation agency, who, however, does not consider himself part of “the translation industry”), and some of them are written by propagandists for the New World Order that “the translation industry” is busy creating for our profession. Although there are many honest translators who generously donate their time and energy working in the ATA to promote the interests of our profession, the people who run the association are doing their level best to turn this important profession of professional translators into low-level, cheap hired help that would be completely subservient to “the translation industry”. If we want to be able to promote the interest of our profession, we need to first make sure that the distinction between the profession and “the translation industry” is understood by all professional translators. The ATA needs to change and it is up to its members to push for this change. I believe that we either need to change the ATA, or if we can’t do that, we need to leave it and create an organization that would in fact represents us rather than “the translation industry”.

    • Until the translator and interpreting professions become protected by law (via licensing) organizations will continue to hire non-professional bilingual individuals to do our work at a non-professional rate or even for free. It is up to us in our own jurisdictions to fight for this. I wasn’t always a fan of licensing as it means more costs and regulation, but it is the only way to prevent non-professionals to put people in danger. Licensing is mostly to protect the public interest. Sign language interpreters are licensed in many states and they have been able to secure a professional standing, with professional working conditions in the states that require licensing (i.e. which only allows professional and licensed interpreters to do highly sensitive work of professional interpreters). Unfortunately voluntary and/or mandatory certification doesn’t go far enough but is an important step towards licensing.

      • Very good points, but the devil is in the details, as always. Who will do the licensing? ATA? (Ha, ha, ha). The City Hall? (God help us all). In some countries, only university graduates who have a diploma in translation can call themselves translators, but here in US it’s the Wild West, anybody can start a business from a kitchen table either as a translator, interpreter, or agency. But your points are certainly well taken. Unfortunately, the ATA is not well equipped to tackle this problem for a number of reasons (the main one being that it is almost completely under the thumb of “the translation industry”).

    • Aisha Maniar says:

      I agree entirely – there is a huge difference between advocating for the translation profession and advocating for the translation industry; unfortunately only individual translators/interpreters are doing the former and we are few in number. Professional linguists (translators/interpreters) are sidelined in this globalised world and in the crises we see around us – I think particularly of the global refugee crisis – where our services AS PROFESSIONALS are indispensable. Unfortunately there ain’t an app for that.
      Given the fact that we largely work individually and remotely (translators, at least), we are easier to target; however, I see the same erosion taking place at a slower pace in other professions too. I’m not a fan of regulation. Strength lies in unity, and I’m not talking about professional associations that do not reflect our concerns and challenges and have failed to educate anyone outside of the profession as to what it is we do.

      • Clearly, when both translators, interpreters, and translation agencies are “corporate members and stakeholders” of the same “professional association”, as is the case with the America Translators Association, this is a big problem and a big reason why the interests of translators are ignored by this particular association at the expense of the interests of corporate members.

        All you have to do is read the ATA Chronicle to see that this is the unfortunate truth. The articles are slanted entirely along the party line of translation agencies and there are no articles in it dealing with the horrible conditions that translation agencies have created for translators in the last two decades or so, including falling rates.

        Other professional associations, for example of actors, writers, bankers, lawyers or of any other profession do not admit as “corporate members and stakeholders” Hollywood studios, publishing houses or Wall Street firms and law firms because these associations understand that it would not be possible to protect the interests of individual members against the assault of corporate greed.

        As far as I know, it is only the American Translators Association that proclaims that both translators and translation agencies are the members of the same happy family and that both translators and agencies have identical interests, which is a big lie.

        Unless and until this changes, I see the ATA more as an enemy of translators pretending to be a friend.

      • Mariano Torrespio Ortiz says:

        Correct, faithful, true, and accurate; and don’t forget, the ATA only rents the post-nominal “C.T.” to a translator, despite the thousand-dollar price tag.

  • Auslandsdeutscher says:

    Well, who are” they”

    The agencies Microsoft TRADOS and other crooks? Demonstrate their selfishness on a daily basis since they only have a vague idea, if at all what happens in the real world of t drivel e source texts formats that need special preparation to become editable

  • Adam Warren. says:

    The bottom line, in this baleful trend, is the struggle for professionals – who care for standards and are keen to give value to their clients – to prevail over “hoof-to-hamburger” industrialists. These, in the words of a proficient, percipient colleague, sell translations as though they were shirts and socks. The word, written or spoken, is not a fungible commodity.

    Another concern is the increasingly noticeable shortening of deadlines. Time is an input that cannot be ridden roughshod over.

    In order to defend our profession, its organisations should concert to raise clients’ awareness world-wide of the need to factor in language from the initial discussion and design stages onwards – to design language needs ab initio into their products or services. That works for industry and finance, say, as it does for international aid and development. Without actually poaching the agencies’ clients, these organisations should by such concerted action give themselves the clout to reach out to industry and the professions in order to impress upon end-users the ominous quality implications of their expecting instant results for peanut wages, in disregard of the need to assure quality at every stage.

    Kind regards to you all – AHW

  • Adam Warren. says:

    I should like to add to my earlier comment that in my view, the most disastrous impact of this “industry”-led erosion of professional standards is upon young colleagues, who may well burn out trying to adhere to what are spuriously held out as “professional standards”: short deadlines, low fees, mismanaged machine translation, among others.

    With kind regards as aforesaid – AHW

  • Mimi says:

    It is extremely sad and worrying that Ljubljana’s Faculty of Arts promotes and invites their students to adapt and gain key competences necessary for working and surviving in language industry.
    I feel a bit betrayed.

  • Lukasz Gos says:

    Thank you, just thank you, Tony. Also: May I translate this for my Polish colleagues?

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