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Translation Claims

Things aren't always what they seem to be online. What people say about themselves does not always correspond to who they really are and do in the physical world. If I took everything I read in online forums at face value, I would feel inordinately incompetent with my feelings hurt.

When I first joined ProZ, I would eagerly go to the forums and ask any question that came to mind. I received some good responses, but others were less encouraging. After a while, I just ended up reading them, or "lurking" in forum parlance.

One attribute I found in many posters was what I perceived to be exaggerating or boasting. I'm thinking specifically of the ProZ daily poll in which members were asked things like how much cups of coffee they drank per day.

In this poll and other forums, I came across claims made by translators that may not be entirely true. Here are a few of them:

  • You should only translate into your native language.

First of all, define mother tongue/native language. Is it the language you learned at your other's feet? Is it the language you were educated in? What if you grew up in a country where two or more languages are spoken and you learned them all simultaneously? Can you have two or more native languages? More than debate it, I put these questions forward for you to contemplate them.

To state "I only translate into my native language." is great from a marketing perspective and is partly true, for you can express yourself well in the language you acquired versus a language you learned as an adult. But here is another question: What if you are a non-native speaker of English but speak it well and you have an advanced degree in art history? Could I, as a native speaker of English, be more qualified than that person? My answer is no.

  • I have never missed a deadline.

What is a deadline? A date and time that a translation is due. What would count as missing one? To me, missing a deadline means you never alerted the client that you had problems meeting that deadline and they had to email you and complain that they hadn't received the translation yet. That is unacceptable and grounds for never sending the translator more work. However, considering time differences, like the six hour difference now between Chile and Spain, what if you started working on a document when it is nighttime over there, and you realize that it is in Catalan instead of Spanish. How are you going to meet the deadline when the translation is due the next day at 3 a.m.? Supposing the document was too long for another translator to finish in time, would you have missed the deadline? Whose fault would it have been?

  • Machine translation will never surpass human translation.

Ten years ago, I would have agreed with this claim. Now, I'd say that you'd be surprised at how good a machine can translate certain texts. Sometimes I even learn from machines. They can surprise me. Translators making this claim would use examples from Google Translate that were silly and highly inaccurate. What they have to understand is that in the market that most of us are in, clients seek translations that are "good enough" for a fairly low price instead of close to perfect as you can get. So as long as a machine translation is good enough, translators will edit the machine's work to achieve the client's goal. But I don't think we will be replaced anytime soon, because a) a machine cannot produce a guaranteed translation without human intervention and b) there are always types of texts with which machines don't fare well, such as fiction.

  • Agencies are inherently bad.

Wow. If that were true, I wouldn't be in this business, I guarantee you that! As with the other claims, there is some truth to it. I have had bad experiences with agencies: some rates are too low, on occasion I have not been paid, deadlines can be unrealistically tight. Agencies, nonetheless, provide us with our bread and butter. If you are successful at attracting direct clients and earning more, then that's great. However, that's not easy to do, and it's not guaranteed success. Direct clients can decide not to pay you, make you revise the finished product time and again, and may be not that steady. You also have to do the marketing and invest in advertising, website, etc. whereas agencies do all of that for you: all you are expected to do is translate.

As for the low rates, in many cases that is undeniable, but then again, what other online job are you able to do that earns as much as translating? In my case, nothing comes close, so I am thankful for this market all the same.

Whatever your viewpoint on these issues is, I think it is wise not to complain or argue with others online. You never know who will read it, and you might be hurting yourself if you talk bad about another translator or agency. The proper channel to complain about poor agencies is the ProZ Blue Board.

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