The Downward Spiral

Translation agencies never cease to amaze me. A couple of weeks ago, an agency I have never worked for emailed a list of professionals (including myself) saying that they work extensively with machine translation and are therefore recruiting post-editors. To try and convince translators to drop their standards and self-esteem and accept such work, they list the following “benefits”:

–  less typing
–  faster work
–  well-paid work
–  you acquire a new skill
–  you show that you are a translator who keeps up with the evolution of the profession

These arguments strike me as rather weak: in my (admittedly very limited) experience working on machine translation, it is tedious, confusing and consequently rather time-consuming, i.e. everything but “faster”; “well-paid work” seems contradictory to the very idea of replacing humans with machines and since agencies always try to squeeze as much as they can out of suppliers for as little money as possible, this sounds pretty unconvincing; as for the last point, this may be a part of the industry, but it certainly is not part of the profession. (Judging by their website, this agency is also one of those who do not know the difference between interpreting (live/oral translation) and interpretation.)

While the email attempts to sell machine translation as the technology of the future that translators should keep up with if they do not want to be left behind, the message to clients on the agency’s website is far more reserved: in a small, half-hidden subsection, it is mentioned that they offer a machine translation service but that it is only good enough for very repetitive texts and for getting the gist. Does this mean that they put all texts into Google Translate and the client either knows it’s a machine translation they’re paying for, or the client has the option to pay a premium for a human being to edit it but without knowing that machine translation is part of the process? The website does not say.

Once again, agencies will compete on price, rather than on value, until they hit the bottom – both in terms of price and quality – and expect qualified professionals to follow them into this downward spiral. Well, believe it or not, I’m not up for the ride!

spiral staircasePhoto: manifestedharmony.com

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