Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Translation Market – Is it Really Understood?

I saw some interesting comments to a blog post by Kevin Lossner that I thought would be good to share with the community that reads this blog, as it raised some cogent points I thought. The comments basically talk about a larger more complex translation market than many of us might believe exists based on market research available. I do not claim to have real insight or knowledge of this larger translation market, but I am definitely aware that the largest translation initiatives in the world are generally overlooked by traditional market research e.g the many branches of the US government (DoD, NSA, CIA, FBI, DIA, State and even Commerce), the EU and I expect many of the clandestine “intelligence” operations around the world, especially amongst the G20 governments.

I would also bet that the really big, almost nation-like, Fortune 100 corporates also have captive and hidden translation operations that are buried and invisible within PR, Marketing and Investor Relations somewhere to translate the stuff that really matters or is really secret. (I would not be surprised if the people in these departments did not even know if a localization team exists elsewhere in the corporation.)  If it really matters, why would you ask Lionbridge or SDL (or any other large LSP) to translate it? definitely is something to ponder upon.   Surely it would be more likely to go to internal subject matter experts, or to trusted and elite boutique services that actually understand the subject matter of the material, and can protect the information with the same zeal and protective assurances as those who create it.  Imagine you are an oil company called ABCP and want to make sure that you look less culpable for a major accident caused by management insistence on moving ahead with a risky drilling project. I think the odds are high that the translators chosen to translate critical memos and communications and "put the right spin on it" before it is shown to regulators are going to be different from the ones that work for Lionbridge since it might save a few billion in damages that will have to be paid.

I also generally expect that specialists, i.e. translators with demonstrated subject domain expertise, will have a much brighter future than those who will translate anything that is within arms reach. Specialization means building subject matter expertise, which I think will matter more and more, and I for one would stay away from LSPs who do not specialize or have long-term demonstrated competence in a few select domains.

I find this discussion interesting also because I think that repetitive, low-value, short shelf-life, bulk (high volume) content is eventually going the way of PEMT or even raw MT, but there is a huge world of high value content that is unlikely ever to head that way until we reach the Star Trek Universal Translator levels of quality, which are not expected to be available till the 24th century. I actually think that IPO and many SEC filing documents (10K, Registration documents) and user manuals of any kind including nuclear machinery and medical equipment are fair game for competent and very specialized PEMT initiatives, but I would not use MT for anything that requires linguistic finesse or reading between the lines e.g. wedding vows, great literature, letters to the board/stockholders or poetry. Even in those areas where you have high volume and lots of repetitive and highly similar content, MT can work well only when real expertise is applied, and there is a real and active collaboration with translators and linguists who all want to produce an engine that will reduce future efforts.
These are some of the excerpted and unedited (by me) comments made by Kevin Hendzel at the blog post referenced above written in a more visceral style than the more careful elaboration in much greater detail on his own blog. I don’t agree with everything Kevin says about MT, but I think his views are generally based on deeper observations than “MT is crap” and I can appreciate that we have different views on this issue. (Excerpts printed here with his and Kevin Lossner’s permission.)
From my own viewpoint, it does seem that the localization industry/bulk translation market has long suffered from a “we’re the only game in town” problem. There’s an amusing story about SeaWorld (an aquatic theme park in the US) that goes a long way toward illustrating this exact echo-chamber problem that the localization industry and pure bulk-market providers seem to be perpetually trapped in. Occasionally you’ll see protesters outside SeaWorld holding up signs that declare: “It’s not SeaWorld, it’s PoolWorld.” The corporate entity SeaWorld telling tourists that these tiny, familiar pools constitute “the sea” does not make them the sea. The sea is immensely, incalculably larger and more complex.
The same is true of the translation market. Referring to the tiny pool you are familiar with (low-end bulk localization and translation) as “the sea” (the whole rest of the market) tends to distort one’s sense of the enormity of the sea, the complexity of sea life, not to mention how damaging it can be to trap sea life in unfamiliar and hostile surroundings. There may also be value in dispensing with a couple of misconceptions.
Myth #1: There are two market segments (premium and bulk) that are easily delineated and the premium market is dramatically smaller than the bulk market.
Reality: There’s a very long continuum that encompasses all market segments, with raw bulk free MT at one end and $25,000 tag line translations of 3 words at the other.
It’s far more accurate to characterize the continuum in terms of gradual and consistent gradations of shade rather than in terms of clear differentiating boundary lines. The “premium vs. bulk” dichotomy is a form of shorthand only. That also applies to price and quality, since the correlation between the two is not always linear. The premium sector includes commercial segments that are fiercely guarded and (often) shrouded in secrecy to prevent additional competition. Many of these are boutique translator-owned companies that deliberately fly under the radar of “research” companies like Nonsense Advisory (itself shamelessly in bed with the large companies it purports to “cover,” and stubbornly resistant to acknowledging its own 50-kilometer-wide blind spots) to avoid alerting other companies to their profitable businesses. There is an astonishing amount of money in these premium sectors. Pure translation alone in the high-end expert pharmaceutical, medical device and IP litigation as well as the premium legal, financial and marketing sectors across all languages and in all countries dwarfs the entire global IT localization industry by about two to three orders of magnitude. There are some years where one single IP pharmaceutical litigation case in Japanese-English alone will run into the $10 - $20 million range – about 10 times the “savings” that TAUS preaches are available to localization companies and their end clients that embrace their “translation as a utility” model in localization. That’s one single translation project in one single language pair. And the net profit margins are considerably higher.
Myth 2: Price is the key differentiator between the premium and bulk market.
Reality: While it’s true that the premium market tends to operate at higher prices, the market really operates on a completely different value proposition than does the bulk market. That proposition is that the cost of failure is dramatically higher than the cost of performance.
So in the premium market, the cost of translation errors – liability, regulatory failure, loss of life, damaging publicity or significant loss of prestige – far outweighs the cost of “getting it right.” Paying whatever cost premium for translation that is necessary to PREVENT the cost of failure is viewed as a wise investment.
In the bulk market, those two are reversed. The cost of failure is low, so there is no corresponding push to invest in getting it right. This can be tested by comparison to the dynamics of other industries, too. The cost of failure for a Walmart product is very low – the consumer almost expects the damn thing to break. It’s the same with cheap online localization and “just good enough to understand it” bulk translation. But a fractured fuel pump on a Boeing aircraft in flight has an enormous cost of failure, so several layers of review, ongoing maintenance and testing as well as regulatory enforcement are built around it in an effort to ensure that does not happen, a process which drives up fuel pump manufacturing costs dramatically.  When the failure of an IPO or the collapse of a deal due to a translation-related regulatory failure or when nuclear weapons are improperly dismantled or lost to unknown people – yeah, that’s a very, very high cost of failure. Wallets open up to pay a premium for translation in these cases. Of course, translators who want to play in this market must be Boeing quality, though, not Walmart. (If any serious person considers this view “elitist,” I will contemplate the validity of that charge when that person agrees to fly on Walmart-manufactured jet aircraft that fly without regulatory approval or oversight.) :)
Myth 3: The largest translation company in the world is Lionbridge, crowned once again by Nonsense Advisory.
Reality: It isn’t. It may be the largest localization company that openly shares public financial data in an easy-to-read format and hence is trivially “researched,” but it omits huge operations that just don’t advertise their existence in quite the same way. For example, there are Global Linguist Solutions and L-3 Inc. just in the US alone. Never heard of either, right? GLS won the original US Army contract to support Iraq ops worth about $4.64 billion over five years after L-3 had the original one pre-Iraq. Perhaps more to the point in terms of current size, the U.S. Army recently awarded a huge US Army contract referred to as DLITE valued at $9.7 billion to 5 companies including those two. Those are JUST the U.S. Army contracts. The open, unclassified ones. This does not include all the other U.S. federal open spending on language services for all the other agencies that these same companies along with DynCorp and McNeil and Booz Allen and a dozen others that have never been to an ATA or any other translation conference compete for and win. It also omits all U.S. classified and confidential contracts. It omits all other governments’ outsourced classified and unclassified language spending. It’s like omitting the Indian Ocean and half the Pacific from your "research."
It’s a vast, complex, cloudy and immensely varied translation sea out there.
I know that those who have dealings with the US government around translation technology at least have an inkling that this is true. It is sort of like the discussions on the Deep Web which contains much of the highest value information available in the world that is not indexed or accessible by the search engines that we all use. This is the part that is private, gated and contains the really important high value content that can only be seen by people who are properly authenticated and authorized. I can’t say for certain that the proportions in the graphic below are true for the translation market but based on what I directly know about the data volumes processed in the clandestine communities it certainly would not be impossible.
Deep Web icebergdeepweb
Anyway I thought this subject was interesting and worth more exposure. Also, it was easy to do as Kevin Hendzel wrote the bulk of this post.Smile   

P.S.  I thought it was worth adding this post-script here since Luigi Muzii has also made extended comments on his blog on this subject and so I add his Twitter comment to the main body of this post.

From @ilbarbaro
My comments to @kvashee latest debated post can be found in, and


  1. I like your post, and I like Kevin Hendzels blog. As in most cases his points are good – BUT - Who actually cares about the size of the translation market? I don't.

    For me it looks like this huge ocean described by KH. Sure there are a few beaches with lots of loud kids and tourists, but as soon as you move a away from the crowd, the beaches (translation market) get much quieter and might even be nearly empty. Kevin Hendzel recommends specializing to get out of the crowd. This is definitely true, but specializing might also include building your own market by moving into an market that was not aware that they needed translation or by using technology that solves certain unsolved problems in an existing market (no, I am not talking about MT).

    For me, the size of the market is of no real importance, it is so huge and so diversified, there is enough space for a lot of different fish. We have a completely different problem that is our limiting factor growing and covering a bigger market share.

    There are not enough trained specialists (translators, PMs, linguistic analysts) available for in-house jobs. Working with freelancers is fine, but there are jobs where I want to use in-house staff. With in-house staff, you know what they are capable of, you have control over their CPD and training, and their knowledge and your confidential information stays in-house. Freelancers are often just not good enough and if they are good, they might not be available, and building a “freelance” team to work on a joint project is a complete different game altogether.

    Up to now I have been walking the beaches of the translation market ocean, sometimes going for a short swim. But now, with the team of in-house experts and industry partners, I guess it is time to set sail and to follow the stars. Columbus did not know the size of the ocean and I bet he really did not care. I don't want to know the size of the ocean/market, I just want to find the next island that has not been discovered by tourists or the way to India.

    Siegfried Armbruster,
    MD, Owner of GxP Language Services - Pharma/Medical Translations | Founder of the Alexandria Project

  2. Stephan Oeller

    NORAK Group

    I agree with you Siegfried

  3. Marek Piorkowski

    Managing Director at Text United GmbH

    I am not that sure that Columbus did not care how big the ocean was :) He probably underestimated it....But I understand your point.

  4. Claudia Brauer

    Translator & Interpreter Trainer @ BRAUERTRAINING

    Very interesting post, EXCEPT: MANY of the most impressive technology developments in our world come from the military. The internet, just as an example. The Military actually are at the forefront of Machine Translation, believe it or not. They, more than the private sector, recognized that need years ago. So do not be naive in thinking that they are "outside" the market of machine translation because, in fact, they are helping drive it. And just as the internet, or satellites, or flying to the moon, after a couple of decade, it becomes commercial. I know it for sure. And what is "visible" is still huge. Just did a very quick search on Google using "Military + Machine Translation" and got some interesting articles.

    Just for reference:

    <> (this is from 1997... can you imagine what they have done in the past 20 years?!)

    I would say that, on the contrary, the human translators for military contracts need to urgently develop PEMT skills to continue servicing future military contractors.

    The same is happening in the patents market and in the pharmaceutical industry, where localization is being adopted with urgency.
    Yes, human translators will continue to be needed for niche markets (I know I am) but then the "bulk" of translator will need to be tech-savvy to remain competitive.

    1. Some of the links were dropped above:

      ust for reference:

  5. Kevin Hendzel

    Managing Director, Experis/ManpowerGroup

    It's true that MT has a crucial role in US government language services, especially in the IC. It's essential when the material requiring translation is coming at you like water out of a firehose in over 150 languages.

    Some of that material only requires "ballpark good enough to understand" quality. But there is also a substantial role for "gisting" which is used to identify what requires expert translation by highly-paid translators with specialized subject expertise.

    Then there are the legions of expert human translators -- some government employees, others exceedingly well-paid contractors -- who work in the premium market in those hundreds of languages. They translate all the material where absolute precision is required, and insight into intent is crucial. Yes they know and leverage technology, but it's often not the technology you think it is. (It's not MT).

    Mostly they use wetware. :)

    These are just some of the translators who lie "below the water" in Kirti's iceberg analogy.

    The real value in the premium market lies between the ears. I do think we need to be careful to be realistic about the likely role of technology and resist the temptation to predict (for the 287,576th time) that the Universal Translator is 10 nanoseconds away.

    And just for the record, the Universal Translator in Star Trek -- a show driven by the creativity of writers who knew the complexity of natural language -- reads brainwave activity. It does not even deal with words at all.

  6. Chris Durban

    Thanks for this refreshing read.

    I’ve read quite a number of posts here in which (from the outsider’s viewpoint) starry-eyed members of the MT Old Boys Club sang odes of mutual admiration to their tech/business savvy and dominance of the translation market. With a definite "only act in town" vibe -- except, possibly, for “poetry, literature and marketing” (hmm, perilously close to this post's reference to "wedding vows, great literature, letters to the board/stockholders or poetry"... :)).

    Not to mention articles where the "argument" seemed to consist of setting up straw men (translators are scared witless by technology, for example).

    And here, suddenly, we’ve got a different take. Very nice!

    FWIW, I work in one of the premium segments Kevin describes, focusing on corporate, financial and crisis communications for clients in the private sector.

    Confirmation: with these clients it is indeed critical that the supplier “actually understand the subject matter of the material” (!). As in: you don't even get a look in the window without that. A problem I see is that companies trapped in the MT/bulk business model can't begin to pay for the *translation* skills they need (and in any case claim to sell). After all, technology can only take you so far; it takes time (hence money) for translators to master and stay on top of their subjects, and to do the work properly. Because translators also have to be able write well (as in “compellingly”). As you speculate, the generally clunky "good enough" output typical of all-languages/all-sector vendors just doesn't make the cut once a document “really matters” to a client. And yet that is all that these vendors can afford to supply. Big problem there.

    Yet should I complain? Some of my current customers have in the past foolishly entrusted their mission-critical work to bulk operators -- and it's clear that there’s no client more faithful than one who comes to you singed and reeling. But it has been irksome to see journalists quoting CSA’s skewed “statistics” (“Translators are paid an average $0.12 a word”) when the reality in this segment is much, much higher. (And rightly so.)

    At the recent FIT conference in Berlin, Jaap van der Meer -- who seems like a lovely man -- conflated “translation industry” with “localization industry” and was called on it. He apologized. But he then went on to plead for high-end translators to contribute their efforts (by which I understood texts (?)) to “improve” the TAUS model. As with the MT Old Boys Club's carrying on, I admit I found this almost comically naive, showing zero understanding of the stringent confidentiality, regulatory and strategic issues that apply to work produced in the premium sector.

    You write "I would not be surprised if the people in these departments [IR, PR and Marketing] did not even know if a localization team exists elsewhere in the corporation." What I find surprising is that the *localization teams* have been so utterly (willfully?) unaware of what is going on higher up in the same entities they sell their services to.

    I looked forward to reading some of the MT geeks' reactions to this post... but there don't seem to be any (?). Why would that be?

    Thanks in any case for writing it.

    @Siegried: surely it’s significant that your company doesn’t claim to translate anything that moves (all languages, all fields). That alone sets the bar much higher than for bulk vendors.

  7. Tom Hoar

    Managing Director at Precision Translation Tools Co., Ltd.

    Thanks Kevin. I think I covered most of your points with "report is accurate inasmuch as they define the bounds." If ManpowerGroup chose not to report, does that mean the business didn't exist? It's simply a hole in the reporting. Buyer beware.

    Always consider your source(s). To that end, I just reviewed CSA's "top-x" lists I have dating back to 2005 (not all). L-3 (formerly Titan) appears in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010 but not in 2013 or 2014, sometimes with CSA's specific wording "also specializes in government work." Some reports cite "Lionbridge also derives a portion of its revenue from government work."

    As for my made-up term, just having a little fun. Sure, Gov'ts practice many kinds of bidding from sole-source to limited competition to open competition. Contracts that support full TS-SCI requirements are clearly not open to everyone. There are MANY levels without those strict requirements. I think @Siegfried sums it up nicely, "there is enough space for a lot of different fish." I, for one, don't expect one omnipotent organization to describe all the fish! Always consider your source(s).


    1. Kevin Hendzel

      Managing Director, Experis/ManpowerGroup

      Thanks for the clarification.

      If you go back and read my material carefully, you'll see my point was not that CSA caught one company (my "never heard of them, right?" was a rhetorical question for the reader), but that it has over the years consistently missed dozens of others, several of which have revenue in language services that exceed those of Lionbridge.

      Color me crazy, but I suppose my expectation is that a research organization that charges thousands of dollars for its "research" would in fact, well, you know, conduct actual research. :)

      As I've indicated elsewhere, perhaps the time has come for us to consider supporting the establishment of a nonprofit organization that teams up with major translation organizations and translation users as well as government agencies along with top-notch researchers to actually do the job CSA pretends to be doing. And in the process share all that research across the board, with everybody, and for free.

    2. Tom Hoar

      Managing Director at Precision Translation Tools Co., Ltd.

      I understand your points. Still, CSA is only one organization among many... Gartner, Forrester, IDC cover the beat occationally, but without the focus. I fail to see how another organization, nonprofit or otherwise, would solve the problem. Whether nonprofit or for-profit, data that relies on the volunteer graces of industry participants will be inaccurate.

      In this fragmented, self-focused -- dare I say selfish -- industry, I don't see an uprising of cooperation. Just ask LISA how well the market players work well and play well together. However, if nonprofit status has some unrevealed advantages, why create yet another nonprofit? Why not expand an existing one like GALA?

      Another approach? One view of this industry is a production business that manufactures words. Industry-standard manufacturing codes exist for language services (SIC, NAICS, These codes allow industry analysts to track market trends. Why not lobby for more government regulation and finer details (additional codes for sub-categories) that require companies tp report their production through these mechanisms?

      Then, large language services sales must be reported. The large players can't hide. I seem to remember meeting a lobbiest at a GALA event. Maybe this point of crossover between regulation and nonprofit is a place to start this initiative. In this world of government-mandated raw data, the analysts (CSA, Forrester, Gartner, IDC, etc) don't have to worry about manufacturing data, but rather analyze it like other indurstries' analysts do.

    3. Kevin Hendzel

      Managing Director, Experis/ManpowerGroup

      My personal view is that the industry is not so much "selfish," as fragmented to an extent that's almost hard to grasp.

      Imagine trying to get a handle on the size, growth and revenue of mom-and-pop dry cleaners in the US. You'd better be prepared to hitch a ride with the Google street maps cars for a year or two because that's what you're going to need to do. Go out and visit every one.

      If I remember my history correctly, CSA was a breakaway from Forrester, which was doing a 30,000 mile high view of the industry, and not doing it very well. IDC was worse. The bar for research is so low that it's been set on the floor. We can do better by engaging translator organizations and government agencies that already track certain data. I'm aware of the NAICS codes systems -- I'm a technical translator myself -- although I'm not aware of such a system being used successfully with other knowledge industries like law or finance.

      We can learn from the huge mistakes made by CSA and Forrester.

      I do think competition is key. When you have none, the methodology can fall apart and the prices go through the roof.

      LISA had its own problems, principal among them being exclusionary and unoriginal. I watched them steal several of my own conference session topics, one of which involved inviting the exact same speaker and using the exact same session title and the exact same content that we'd used at ATA and all without attribution. Stealing other's ideas without attribution is a bad way to do business.

      GALA's views do not align with the best interests of professional translators today, I'm sad to say. That's not to say that we can't collaborate, but the general trend of portraying translators as interchangeable cogs, and "translation as a utility" to use that foolish and wrongheaded TAUS slogan, has already alienated a lot of the very talented and successful people you need to attract and engage in the first place.

    4. Claudia Brauer

      Translator & Interpreter Trainer @ BRAUERTRAINING

      I do believe translation is becoming a utility and I know that "old time" (yes, read in between the lines too) translators disagree. Recently someone challenged me to train the new breed of translators and I have indeed researched in depth the training needed to have competitive translators prepared for the year 2015 and 2016. The absolutely need CAT tools and PEMT skills. Thus, evidently, a "new generation" of translators will be trained, who start from their own experience as technology users. I believe the "old timers" who have been alienated will continue filling the needs of specialized niche markets and as they grow older (very soon), their replacements, tech-savvy translators & interpreters (transinterpreters, having BOTH sets of skills and using technology as prime medium to produce and deliver their services) will indeed become the norm. Yes, "old time" translators and interpreters will be as rare as writers who still use a typewriter. But that is the cycle of all professions. Doctors had to learn to use computers. So did architects. And yes, there are "Ivy League" type professionals who have a specific market for their very highly trained minds but 95% of us, however, come from non-Ivy league environments and make the "bulk" of the profession. That is OK. That is the bulk of the market anyway.

    5. Kevin Hendzel

      Managing Director, Experis/ManpowerGroup

      Claudia, I'm sure we would both agree that translators are technology early adapters. Those "old time" translators who refused to use computers disappeared in the late 1980s.

      I think it's a bit of a straw man argument to paint translators as behind the times in technology. Sessions devoted to TM tools and computers and their use in translation practice drew huge crowds dating back to 1993 at ATA conferences. Today they are a key focus at all ATA conferences.

      In my view your argument vastly overstates the role of PEMT technology in actual translation practice, since in many ways it's already hit huge walls and failed. And I'm not only a (reasonably accomplished) technical translator with 34 published books in translation, I've used a cutting-edge technology myself -- voice recognition -- before most translators had ever heard of it.

      It does appear that the strongest advocates for any technology are the ones who profit from it. This is one reason TM tools are pushed so hard on translators -- the translation companies profit from it -- but those same companies and technology vendors are silent on voice recognition, despite its ability to triple or quadruple translator income. It's because only the translator benefits from it.

      I surely appreciate your views, but you do recognize that you sell precisely the training services that you are advocating in your argument and that on some level is important to take into account.

      In my case, FWIW, and it may be worth nothing at all, I make exactly zero from voice recognition, my blog, my writing, my consulting and my work promoting translators and translation for ATA for over a decade (in fact, it cost me tens of thousands of dollars of my own money to do all that work).

      I might also add that the premium market trades on very specific writing and collaborative skills -- it's where personal interaction, discussion, re-writing, honing, and standing behind one's work rule the day. And this is hardly a "niche" market, as it dominates huge sectors of the market with the largest profit margins. All this has only recently become visible because several of us have stood up and pointed it out.

      In fact my prediction is the opposite of yours. The market has already split into the low-paying razor-thin low-risk market of underpaid post-editors who wish they were doing something else and the much larger and more demanding market that's actually expanding right now -- where writing skills, subject-area knowledge and the ability to work in collaboration with clients to deliver real value rule the day.

    6. Claudia Brauer

      Translator & Interpreter Trainer @ BRAUERTRAINING

      Kevin, I really hope you are right and I am wrong, though I recently added a whole new set of workshops to walk the walk of my tech-savvy point of view, so from a point of view of profits, I still hope I am right.

    7. Kevin Hendzel

      Managing Director, Experis/ManpowerGroup

      There will always be people who choose to work for Walmart. :) <---- I'm just teasing you, but please recognize that the market split I mentioned above has already happened. In the premium market rates are rising, and rising fast. In several sectors it's not even clear where the ceiling is.

      If a translator can make $2,000 or more a day working in the premium market, why in the world would it make sense to train on post-editing in a PEMT environment where they make $20 an hour? This is the reality of the market today and the momentum for the future.

    8. Claudia Brauer

      Translator & Interpreter Trainer @ BRAUERTRAINING

      Because not all translators are as lucky, or as well connected, or have as good marketing skills, or do not live in the USA or Europe, or the list goes long. Walmart is the largest retail in the world. That means that there is enough people in the world to buy there. I do not have many friends who buy Louis Vuitton, and that is OK. The same happens in the translation and interpreting market. High-end excellent quality translations and interpreting is well paid and only for a few (been there, done that). Most of the market, however, is not for those connected or having the skills to find the niche. The "bulk" is growing. And tens of thousands of interpreters and translators are making (and will hopefully continue to make) a decent living without being in the high-end of the market.

    9. Kevin Hendzel

      Managing Director, Experis/ManpowerGroup

      It's not Louis Vuitton. "Premier" does not mean small. It does not mean "niche." It means excellence where excellence is required.

      A better analogy would be to the entire global aerospace manufacturing industry. Valued in the billions. Exceedingly high cost of failure, huge requirement for talent and pay people exceedingly well.

      This idea that it's about "being connected" or "lucky" as a requirement for the premier market really baffles me. Surely you appreciate that it was not "luck" behind my lifelong focus on developing and maintaining world-class expertise in both the sciences and in translation, right? Likewise I'm sure you appreciate luck played little role in Chris Durban moving from a small town in rural New York state to Paris without a penny to her name and building her hugely successful practice up from nothing?

      The bulk market sure is growing, but the rates and wages for translators are collapsing and have been for several years.

      By contrast, the rates and wages in the premium market keep rising and have been for several years.

      It's every translator's choice. You can develop the expertise, collaborate with colleagues and master your subjects. Or you can work for Walmart wages. I'm sure Walmart would love to have you! :)

    10. Claudia Brauer

      Translator & Interpreter Trainer @ BRAUERTRAINING

      Yes, I agree. Me too.

  8. Walter Keutgen

    in anticipated retirement

    Many remarks came to my mind when reading. One when reading the last two comments: Building up the expertise for the premium market? One must eat every day, hence pay one's food every day. Those who do not need starting working the first day after getting their diploma are happy.

    1. @Walter, just speaking for myself, I began working to feed myself at $0.03 a word under supervision from my expert translator colleagues long (very long) before I joined the premium market. In fact, without that rigorous training over many years, I doubt I would have had the skill set necessary to get even close to being able to move upmarket.

      There are always objections why translators can't do things. We call it the "Yes, but..." disease. We can entertain a billion theoretical reasons why one cannot go out and change things, or adapt to new markets, or upgrade one's skills or collaborate with talented colleagues to learn and progress upmarket.

      The other option is to simply go out and do them.

  9. My comments to @kvashee latest debated post can be found in, and

    Luigi Muzii a.k.a @ilbarbaro

  10. @Luigi -- Well that was very entertaining in a fiction sort of sense, but two of the posts appear outdated and if anybody is actually reading any of them, they sure aren't commenting on them.

    Also, the stats you quote are wrong. The US BLS stats are only taken from a limited-pool slice (about 5%) of in-house government translators working in the bulk market whose employers are compelled to respond because of the low-end contracts they perform on.

    The high-end premium government market is in classified (up to TS-SCI) and the secure sector and hence those employers are exempt from such reporting. I wouldn't expect you to know that, or to know that it's hundreds of times larger, and translators are paid on average between 2x and 5x more, meaning they earn more than management, but throwing around statistics without knowing how the data are collected or which market is represented is not going to give you much of an accurate picture.

    Long before I became one of your disparaged bloggers, I built up (and later sold right before the 2008 market collapse) a multimillion-dollar boutique translation company with an in-house staff of 125 and colleagues in 29 different countries. So my knowledge of the premium market is direct, first-hand and authoritative in a real-world sense, not one extracted from theoretical musings on psychological profiles of people I've never met.

    And even that company was built up on the revenue I earned as a freelance translator focused on translating books and articles in the scientific market and later at the very top of the US government, including for the White House.

    How many people and families have you supported with your own willingness to risk your own hard-earned capital to build ongoing and successful ventures? In my case (last I checked) it ran into the range of several hundred people spread across the globe.

    My company paid ATA translators $9 million over the lifetime of my company. How many translators or language professionals have you employed in your career? Can you put some money behind all those disparaging and empty words?

    The frustrated party in all these discussion so far appears to be you, not those of us who have already amassed the real-world commercial entities that produce jobs and keep people employed, not to mention work to promote higher wages for translators, gain public recognition for the profession and drive work into the hands of translators worldwide.

    I do understand this urgency to try to disparage the premium market translators. If I worked in MT I'd be concerned too by comparisons to the $38 billion valuation of the human translation market.

    Your tiny pool of water in MT has a valuation that barely nudges, charitably, $0.1 billion. And it has a history going back 60 years. You'd think it would have certainly been a lot more successful over that period, right? Real translation -- human translation -- has grown by a factor of about 10,000 over the same period.

    So I understand the source of your frustration. But snark and disparagement and imagined psychological profiling of people you don't even know in blog posts nobody reads is no substitute for solid data, first-hand experience, real employment for translators and a vision on how to promote translators' best interests in the future.

  11. James Davis

    Independent Translation Professional

    Is this a useful question for a working translator? Much more useful, is "Is it growing or shrinking?" and "Which parts are growing and which parts are shrinking?"

  12. James, your question is answered five different times in the text of the article and the blog post:

    1. The premium market is growing and translation rates are rising.

    2. The bulk market is erroneously seen as the only market, and translation rates in the bulk market are collapsing and have been for quite a long time (some data indicate by 35% over the last 4 years).

    3. They key to joining the premium market lies in subject-matter expertise, specialization, honing writing skills, collaborating with colleagues and engaging directly and personally with clients as well as expanding your marketing horizons to include direct clients.

  13. Post by: Henry Hinds


    Regarding the comment "put the right spin on it", ethical translators are not "spin doctors", but I suppose that with the offer of a good sum of money, we could all accept practicing that craft.

  14. And I add...

    I forgot to add that your post is a very interesting one

  15. Indeed

    Henry Hinds wrote:

    "ethical translators are not "spin doctors". "

    those translators are called marketing specialists :)

  16. "And [MT] has a history going back 60 years. You'd think it would have certainly been a lot more successful over that period, right? Real translation -- human translation -- has grown by a factor of about 10,000 over the same period.".

    MT has been incredibly successful, not over the span of 60 years but essentially since Google Translate switched to statistical methods less than 10 years ago. It did take the calculating machines and their computing successors a few decades too before they had a real impact on society. This recent success of MT may not meet everyone's criteria, because it comes for free or nearly (not unlike the Internet, actually), but the sheer volume of words processed and, more importantly, the communication it has enabled, surely counts for something too.

    Admittedly, that's raw MT, not post-edited. Post-editing has a more recent history than MT, and only for about 5 years have we even been looking into how to show that it can increase productivity (which as I like to point out is only one of its potential benefits).

    The success of raw MT doesn't seem to have had a major negative impact on neither the premium nor the bulk markets (maybe just the need for some translators to educate their clients, over and over again), it possibly even has generated additional demand. So MT has created its own -- absolutely massive -- market. There is now a nascent volume market between raw MT and the bulk which turns out to be a great match for equally nascent variants of PEMT (e.g. on mobile devices, or combined with online language courses), and in the bulk market, organizations are finding out how to best integrate PEMT into their bulk production. Can we ask for a little bit more time before we decide that PEMT is irrelevant :-)

  17. MT has not been "incredibly successful" in terms of revenue -- actual market value from MT products and services, which was the context of that comment. Today the MT market is valued (charitably) at $0.1 billion, which would put it at 0.0027% of the current market value of human translation.

    So yes, one would think over its 60 year history it would have done much better than that.

    And let's remember for all the talk of the wonders of the statistical approach in GT, it's secret weapon is the massive bilingual lexicons it deploys, the vast majority of which were produced by human translators.

    In very important ways, GT is not unlike a very sophisticated TM tool.

    Does PEMT have a future? Sure, like all tools, as long as it's controlled and deployed by people who seek to leverage its advantages rather than use it as a weapon or leverage against people forced to work at abysmal wages in sweatshop conditions.

    On the other side, I would certainly agree that raw GT MT is both advantageous for producing translations that would otherwise never be done (for which it's used millions of times a day online right now) as well as a hugely valuable tool for gisting through billions of pages of material in search of material requiring human translation.

    1. Kevin
      I'm not sure that you saw the recent post the Larger Context Market where MT does indeed create huge value in ways that are complicated to measure definitively but are still clearly indicated and indisputable (to me anyway).

      I am curious if you have any new views based on this analysis.

      BTW congratulations on nurturing all the talents of your daughter who looks like she has a very bright future ahead.


  18. John Colby

    Underpaid advocate and representative w.r.t. government agencies

    Very cogent analysis.

  19. I agree, specialization is one thing that sets translators apart. There are clients who require over the top translation services because of the sensitivity of their documents. Certainly, translators can make or break a transaction. It is so important to find the right people for the job.

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