If you grew up with holes in ya zapatos
You'd be celebrating the minute you was havin' dough
The following message was posted this week to an old item from a few months back on the ProZ-TAUS debate, in which the Holy Trinity of L10N Automation was convened to recite the by now stale message that translators will not be replaced by computers (only degraded). It is an interesting testimony because it is a counter to my thesis that post-editing will be accompanied by lower absolute rates (i.e., both per word and per day, month, and year). Check it:
I realize this comment is really late, but speaking of PE payment, I just finished a 2 year PE project that actually put some decent bucks in my coffers and was so incredibly easy for someone with my experience and education in translation. (10 yrs. experience, MA translation).
At the volume I could do on it (paid at discounted word rate), I earned about 100 bucks per hour. However, I agreed to it only because of the major concession on quality. This stuff was all internal and would not be published, so they didn't care about the quality. They asked for "understandable" and "good enough" quality.
"Good enough" and "understandable" are subjective. I often found many of the garbled, yet decipherable, sentences simply "good enough." ;-)
No complaints from them.
However, I have had agencies approach me with projects that need to be publishing quality--and they want a discount for MT--my response is usually to look at the MT version, find it unusable and needing of complete re-translation and offer them 2 options:
1) inflated word rate by 50% if they insist on use of the MT.
2) regular rate if they want it translated from scratch.
Needless to say, I don't normally get chosen for these kinds of ridiculous proposals. ;-)
MT can be used well on the type of project I described, which I just finished doing. It all depends on the content and the purpose of the target text.
I personally think that MT has no place in publishing quality work--not yet at least. No matter how many strides they make in MT, they are a loooooooooooong way off from replacing humans.
Whether PE becomes a viable market strategy will be up to us translators. I did it for a bunch of easy, repetitive internal garbage that is of interest only to the C suits of a particular company--and made very decent dough. (I also did not lose my style--I can still translate at proper quality too.)
If it becomes the standard for publishing quality work, well, I'll be looking for another profession.
Sorry for the anonymous post, I don't want this client to make a guess at who I am if they happen to stumble on this.
I don’t doubt this testimony is genuine. However, I doubt that $100-per-hour of post-editing is in the cards for many individual translators in the future. Two observations are in order:
1.- The market for translations is very inefficient. I won’t go into the theoretical meaning of economic inefficiency, but I will only point out a symptom of that inefficiency. Any translator can confirm this: Rates offered vary insanely from one job offer to another, by factors of 100% or more. Not even websites such as ProZ have managed to constrain the spectrum of translation prices. I already hear some ninny raising his hand to say: “Of course rates vary. That is true of any market. Rates will vary according to language pair, experience, difficulty, specialization, volume, regularity, etc., etc.” As usual, this is a truism that papers over the fact that a variation of one or two orders of magnitude is way too large for a rational market.
2.- In an inefficient market, there will be huge outliers. Our anonymous poster is just such an outlier. My bet is that, in the future, competition among cheap translation providers will tend to reduce the occurrence of such outliers. This $100-per-hour rate is an inefficiency that will be gradually scraped away as one or two or three low quality players become slightly more dominant in their niche. (Incidentally, the fact that the author of the message maintains his contribution anonymous confirms this. His suspicion is that if his clients discovered that the same tweaking of MT output can be obtained at a much, much lower price, they would turn to another provider… because the service is a commodity.)
I agree with the anonymous author that there is not a place for MT in material for publication… yet. There would be, perhaps, if the MT people got serious about quality metrics. That way, when I came into the office in the morning, with my Starbucks venti and munching on a croissant, and read 57% accuracy, I would simply eject the refuse into hyperspace and greedily keep the 95% matches. But since some MT specialists have claimed on this very blog that any Google Translate match is equivalent to a 95% Trados match, you will forgive me if I remain a skeptic.
I wish I were wrong. If I am, and I end up as a post-editor making $100 an hour, I’ll be right there with you, oh anonymous contributor, filling up jacuzzis with Cristal, raising the roof, and lighting Cuban cigars with one-hundred-euro bills while Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” blares in the background. I will gladly sell my soul, sans sales tax, if any such there is to sell.
But I truly, truly doubt that this will happen. The impetus behind cheap translation is precisely to lower quality expectations and make the entire process as cheap as possible. You might think that this is irrational, but the business model simply depends on volume, which is why these companies are trying to convince Fortune 500 corporations to translate Facebook status updates.
Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in Spain. To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.