Letters to the Editor

Is There a Future in Freelance Translation? Let’s Talk About It! | Christelle Maginot

Thanks for the very thorough discussion of this subject of vital importance to the profession. I would only add a few thoughts.

In my opinion, all the factors mentioned in the article will have the inevitable effect of drastically reducing the demand for good human translators in countries with higher costs of living. When I started out (in the typewriter/snail-mail era), there was no machine translation, so everything required humans. Also, it seems to me, many translation customers in those days were generally better informed about what translation involves and what good translations look like than the large number of people who are looking for something quick and easy these days, and have no problem settling for whatever Google Translate gives them.

Therefore, a large percentage of the “exploding world-wide demand for translation” we always hear about (I have no idea how large, but it must be a considerable fraction) is perfectly happy with “good enough” translations. What supplied a good deal of demand for translators’ services when there was no machine translation is now completely unavailable to us. Smartphone apps have put the old-fashioned phrasebooks out of business, and this is only the beginning of the trend. Most of the estimates of the demand for translation and the size of the market that we see are probably not to be trusted, at least if we’re thinking about good professional careers.

Even highly skilled and experienced translators will increasingly have to change their work methods from the traditional “me and my typewriter/PC, and a few dictionaries to thumb through” to one in which they routinely work in close collaboration with machine translation systems (which, however much we want to deny it, are getting more effective). We may feel comfortable now with looking down our noses at “mere post-editing,” but I think that it will become the bulk of our work fairly soon, and we need to get used to it. We need to make it clear to the public that good translation in the 21st century has become not just a process monopolized by humans, but a partnership between machine translation and the people who know how to work with it.

The nature of the translation industry has changed so much since I entered it that I have no idea how I would counsel someone who is thinking about it as a career today. All I could say is that they should consider very carefully whether it would make any sense for them to start in on it except as a hobby.
Jon Johanning | Philadelphia, PA

Remote Simultaneous Interpreting: The Upside and Downside | Silvana Chaves

After nearly 10 years of doing voluntary simultaneous interpreting at my local church, my first “paid job” as an interpreter was at a conference for the global leaders of my church with over 25,000 attendees. As you can imagine, the venue (Orlando Convention Center in Florida) was gargantuan. In the main hall, our booths were set up behind the stage in the main hall. We had two large LCD screens, one featuring the visual aids being used and the other one a camera showing the main speaker.

The organizers showed me how to operate the console and wished me the best of luck. My booth partner was more experienced, which gave me some level of comfort. We performed our tasks for the next 10 days and everything went pretty smoothly.

In my opinion, there’s little difference between remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) today and what my first experience in a booth felt like. Although I agree that meeting with the speaker(s) beforehand, getting a feel for the room, and having materials and access to the technician is always helpful, in my 10 years of professional experience I’ve come to find that we don’t always get those things most of the time.

My technical experience with RSI has been good thus far, but looking toward the future, I’ll certainly miss traveling to different locations (sometimes exotic ones). Having to commute an hour to get into a booth set up in a windowless room is very different from traveling from, for example, the U.S. to the Netherlands or New Zealand. I can see how some of the conferences I’ve worked internationally will move very quickly to adopt RSI technology, but I also know there are some clients who will not be doing that in the next five years.

So, for now, I’ll cherish every trip to an assignment location just a little bit more, knowing that tomorrow, instead of getting to see the Tasman Sea for the first time, I’ll likely be staring at the rails of the New York subway as I “travel” to do my work.

Cheers to all those among us who have been part of the days when one could really get excited about “going into work!”
Everton Morais | Tuckahoe, NY

Is There a Future in Freelance Translation? Let’s Talk About It! | Christelle Maginot

Thank you for this informative and well-researched article. Unfortunately, most poorly compensated professional translators wishing to enter the interpreting field are not necessarily going to be in a better position than they are now.

Parallel developments in the fields of legal, medical, and conference interpreting are also combining to drive down quality and qualifications in these areas. These developments include:

  • The steady transition from on-site interpreters to phone and video remote interpreting services in courts and hospitals.
  • The increased hiring in state and federal court systems of uncertified court interpreters as a significant cost-saving measure.
  • The preferential use of foreign-based and lower priced U.S.-based interpreters working both remotely or onsite at U.S. conferences.
  • The general uninformed state of knowledge by judges, attorneys, medical providers, and conference organizers who fail to recognize the difference in quality provided by a certified interpreter, as compared to an untrained or poorly trained bilingual.

Kathleen Morris | Chicago, IL

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