The Premium, the Bulk and the PEMT

Littlehampton3There’s been a lot of talk recently about the bulk and premium market and whether ranting or complaining about the poor conditions found in the former will ever do any good, especially as what everyone should actually be doing is following the lead of the gurus, getting out there and grabbing the best jobs, charging a fortune, earning a six-figure salary and flying first class. Because then there wouldn’t be anything for them to complain about, now would there?

If only this were so easy or possible. The translation sector encompasses as many markets as there are language combinations and specialisms. How you fare or how much you might earn probably depends more on the market you operate in than where you live. It also depends on the subjects you have studied and your specialist knowledge, how good you are at translating and your personality; whether you have the drive, get-up-and-go and belief in yourself that will enable you to land direct clients and charge decent rates rather than relying on an agency to do that for you. So many factors are involved that it’s almost impossible to generalise. And it’s also impossible for anyone to know what it might be like for a colleague in a totally different situation to their own.

the translation sector encompasses as many markets as there are language combinations and specialisms

Yet generalise we all do; generalisations have swept across the Internet in droves. In short, the impression I’ve gained from the many bits and pieces I’ve read scattered around the blogosphere and Facebook is that if you’re not a premium translator earning mega bucks, it’s all your own fault and no one has any sympathy for you. As for the poor sods who engage in post-editing machine translation (PEMT*), well they’re just getting what they deserve. Because it’s not translation, not quality and, frankly, shouldn’t be allowed.

many believe PEMT is not translation, not quality and, frankly, shouldn’t be allowed

Personally, I don’t want to do PEMT, especially not the type where you just clean up the mess a little bit to save on costs. I’ve only ever edited MT (machine translation) by mistake before realising that the text I was revising was actually Google-Translate (GT) output rather than the fruits of someone’s own thought processes. But I see no reason why other translators shouldn’t post edit if that floats their boat, and I find it alarming that the industry apparently wants to abandon PEMT editors to their fate. We should accept that this is not only going to happen, but that it is already happening, probably on a larger scale than most of us care to imagine. Companies want to save costs and PEMT helps them achieve this. Surely as long as: a) clients are aware of the quality they’re getting, how the result compares with human translation from scratch, and don’t expect miracles; and b) PEMT editors receive appropriate pay for their time and effort, then it won’t pose such a problem.

And what’s wrong with the bulk market (I’ll use this term in this post to refer to the non-high-end translation continuum lying between premium and PEMT)? It’s not just agencies that drive down the rates. End clients don’t want to pay for a super-duper translation that is publication-ready if it’s just for internal purposes or information only. Thousands upon thousands of such documents need translating every day. Why do the people who provide this service have to be told they’re worthless idiots and to stop complaining about the pressures on this market segment and instead just move to the premium?

some translators don’t want the pressures working for the premium market entails

Please don’t misunderstand me. I have nothing against the premium market or aspiring to it. Far from it. I’m especially not saying we shouldn’t strive to be better at our craft and our business practices and rise up the rate ladder. But some translators just don’t want the pressures working for the premium market entails, others are on their way there, and quite a few will never make it. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but surely anyone who’s been through an education system realises that we aren’t all blessed with the same skills or outgoing personality. We won’t all be able to shine in the way others do. But I don’t think anyone has any right to publicly humiliate or point the finger at someone in that position. Because, let’s face it, things have been getting pretty nasty recently. And so-called colleagues don’t just bitch about each other on the Internet. They do it as soon as someone leaves the room at conferences too. It’s appalling. And it’s got to stop. Because it’s not doing the industry, whichever part of it you’re in, any good.

let’s show some more solidarity instead of throwing mud at each other

While we’re throwing mud at each other, we’re ignoring issues that we should be addressing: educating clients about translation processes and the quality they can expect from MT and PEMT; the importance of hiring specialists for the documents that really matter rather than entrusting them to an agency that farms them out to anyone available at the time; and ensuring that everyone working as a translator, whichever part of the continuum they’re in, is being paid a decent rate and not signing contracts with abusive conditions.

Could we all show some more solidarity towards each other please? I don’t think this type of behaviour would be tolerated in other professions and so we shouldn’t tolerate it in ours either.

* or MTPE, machine translation post-editing

This post sparked a lot of debate when it was first published on 1 October 2014 on my previous blog. If you would like to read those comments, please click here.

Versión en castellano

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