Bashing the client-bashers

Bashing the client-bashers

Do we really need to be told how to behave?

One of the most talked-about sessions at the recent Elia Together conference in Barcelona was a joint presentation by Lloyd Bingham and Andrew Morris concerning online translator behaviour. It was a session that moved me to react at some length in the part of the session given over to comments and questions – and not precisely in a positive way.

So what is going on with translator behaviour? Well, Lloyd would have you believe that it’s a jungle out there. He presented extreme examples of client-bashing and insults to other translators taken from a random week on a translator’s forum which was not named, but was almost certainly the Facebook group Things Translators Never Say. The chosen examples were quite shocking, full of four-letter outbursts. But what Lloyd didn’t say is that TTNS is, as Douglas Adams once described the human race, mostly harmless. Its page is mostly filled with mild complaints and sarcastic comments that provide the same sense of recognition and release as, say, going to see a stand-up comedian. It doesn’t actually solve any problems but it makes you feel better for a while and realise that other people face exactly the same difficulties as you do.

Zealous
Bingham

Lloyd Bingham

Lloyd and his presentation partner, Andrew Morris, would say that this unproductive moaning should be replaced by positive thinking. Well, it almost certainly should, as common sense tells us that action to solve problems has to be better than merely complaining about them, but, as the title of this blog notes and as Andrew himself admitted, we are only human. His solution is a Facebook page for like-minded translators which turned into a group and which is now becoming a kind of fee-paying club for zealous positive thinkers, one or two of whom were keen to make their voices heard in the discussion that followed the presentation. Lloyd’s answer is action against those who would dare to blacken the name of translation with unprofessional behaviour.

Personally, however, I would question the need for any kind of “solution”. Firstly, if the consequences of four-letter customer-bashing are as negative as we were led to believe, with clients apparently watching our every move, the guilty freelancers won’t last long. Secondly, I doubt it’s possible for fellow translators to control others’ online behaviour in any case. We can hardly close down Internet forums, after all, and the use of associations’ codes of conduct applies, by definition, only to their members, for all the fire and brimstone breathed by a female member of the audience apparently responsible for the conduct committee of the British Institute of Translators and Interpreters. Lloyd made the fair point that ranting was a waste of energy. But how much more energy would be wasted trying to silence the ranters?

Not only that, it seems to me there’s something rather unpleasantly prissy about trying to impose our standards on other people. At one point, Lloyd talked about himself and Andrew “spreading the gospel”, as if this were some sort of evangelical crusade. But my view is that we’re all grown up enough to take responsibility for our own behaviour. I wouldn’t swear about clients for the simple reason that it seems to me a rather stupid thing to do. Others do it and will have to accept the consequences, whatever they may be. But, however much I broadly share their standards of behaviour, I might easily post something sarcastic or do something else Lloyd or Andrew might not agree with. It doesn’t mean any of us is wrong or bad, just different. Andrew made the point that he found the ranters rather childish, with a “black and white” attitude to things. But trying to stop them is surely displaying just the same attitude: translators who rant – bad; translators who don’t rant – good. I would say that the most mature reaction, if we don’t like what goes on in part of the Internet, is simply to go elsewhere. I certainly have when I’ve felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in a forum or on a page, although I have to say bad language has never been the cause.

Trolls

There is a final point too. The whole anti-ranting crusade could even prove to be counterproductive, because all it is likely to attract from the “bad” translators is a tirade of ranting and abuse. As I concluded my contribution to the debate, one of the oldest sayings in social media is: “Don’t feed the trolls”. In fairness, the tenor of the debate inside the auditorium following the presentation was more in favour of the initiative than against, although the only really worthwhile argument I heard them use was the possible bad example set by ranters to impressionable young translators. However, outside the hall it was a different story, and several people approached me to say how much they agreed with my views, some of them describing the presentation in much more derogatory terms than I’d have been prepared to use.

Even Andrew conceded that my points were reasonable and it was good to be able to talk to him and to shake hands with Lloyd afterwards. I have nothing against either of them personally and Lloyd in particular (because I know him better) is someone I like and respect as a professional, even more so after he generously thanked me for my contribution to the debate. But however much respect I have for someone, that doesn’t mean I need him or anyone else to tell me how to behave.

 

 

93 Comments

  1. Thanks for your review, Simon. It’s crucial for us to peer-review each other’s ideas in our profession.

    It’s important to clarify some points and also point out some inaccuracies, though:

    – Firstly, the specific fora in which this activity takes place are irrelevant. The idea is not to name and shame groups, but to criticise the activity itself. Much of TTNS is, as you say, harmless. That kind of activity is not being questioned, a distinction I clearly highlighted in the presentation. That said, the mild complaint and sarcasm are as futile and, dare I say, unprofessional as the expletive-laden rants. Even situations provoking a ‘harmless’ sarcastic response must be dealt with professionally – otherwise how can we call ourselves professionals?

    – Secondly, the answer to unproductive moaning is not positive thinking. It is responding to the situation in a way that finds a satisfactory solution for the translation professional and, if appropriate, the client. One ides I raised was indeed for professional associations to take action against unprofessional behaviour, but this would only apply in extreme cases, for example whereby a translator refers to his/her client as an effing c-word online, which is not unheard of.

    – Thirdly, I did not suggest ‘controlling’ translators’ behaviour or ‘silencing’ ranters. I suggested that a change in mentality in required. I certainly did not suggest to close down the fora in question.

    – Fourthly, we should indeed be grown up enough to take responsibility for our own behaviour, but it is not as simple as you portray it. This activity not only affects the translator in question, but the wider profession and the professional who dwell within. Professional translators should not have to suffer from their image being tarnished by translators who cannot act professionally. So, not feeding the trolls is sadly not a solution.

    I really valued your contribution to the presentation discussion and your thoughts in this blog post too and, even though some points have been exaggerated, I feel it’s important to clarify what the message is.

    Ultimately, it is not about preaching or telling other translators what to do, it’s about encouraging them to think differently, in a way that will help them to be happier and more productive in their career, in a way that also benefits the professional as a whole, to realise that they are their own boss – not an employee or victim – and if a client pisses them off, not to jump straight onto Facebook to garner sympathy, but to communicate with the client. The keynote speaker pointed out the irony that a lot of translator-client problems are down to miscommunication. At the end of the day, if we don’t like a client, we can sack them!

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  2. Couldn’t agree more, Simon. I’d just like to point out that 99.9% of colleagues are complaining about agency practices and disrespectful PMs, and not about direct clients. It’s been quite trendy lately to refer to agencies as direct clients but in my opinion this is simply wrong. I have to say that I have not one single bad word to say about any of my direct clients, however, when it comes to agencies, I have a few complaints of my own. Whether I choose to discuss them online in private fora or closed groups is my own business. Direct clients do not have the time to stalk us on Facebook, and frankly, they couldn’t care less what we think about them. I believe this talk is simply about telling colleagues to behave and be nicer to agencies, and as such I personally see no value in it.

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  3. I did not attend Lloyd’s and Andrew’s conference, so this is just a more general remark to the subject.
    Translators are just a group of people doing the same for a living, and everyone can set up as a translator. That is how it is. And as such people run their business following their own personality and ethical standards. It is no secret that social media and the possibility for everyone to express their frustrations – or worse – have led to a terrible downgrading of online (and real life) behaviour. Online you can express everything that you would never say to a person, without hardly any consequences.
    I don’t see this negative behaviour as a specific problem for translators. It is rather a general problem of mutual respect and how to deal with others in work life and in general. For example a lot of employees are bullying each other in the office or are being bullied by incompetent bosses. Not to mention the way you can be apostrophized if you unwantedly stand in somebody’s way or wait too long at the green traffic light.
    Positive and negative attitudes are a question of a general approach to life and civil attitude towards others. The question one could ask is if these general life-coaching themes belong to conferences about translation aimed at translators and LSPs?

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  4. “Professional translators should not have to suffer from their image being tarnished by translators who cannot act professionally.” [Lloyd Bingham] I don’t for a moment imagine that to be the case. I haven’t even heard of this Facebook group, nor do I know which other forums you may be referring to. I would, however, put money on the fact that my clients are not spending their time reading them, in fact they are even less likely than me to know they exist and nor is their impression of me in any way being influenced by what they may read there. In fact, it’s a mighty odd suggestion.

    I can’t say I understand why this has become a topic for presentations or publication in the ITI Bulletin. I simply haven’t seen this behaviour probably because I don’t hang around in public forums. Similarly, I know to avoid newspaper comments because I know they’ll be crawling with trolls. If you don’t like it, walk away – simple. At the same time, people should feel absolutely free to express any opinion they wish (if done in a reasonably civilised manner). Let’s stop the gagging. This has become all-pervasive. These days even the mildest criticism is labelled as an attack.

    I presume the clients you think may be present in these groups are agencies? I don’t refer to agencies as “clients” and I get confused when others do. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that there are way too many agencies these days who simply don’t know how to behave and are exploiting translators. Their demands would have been unthinkable only 10 years ago so it’s just possible that this “ranting” is coming from people who know better and refuse to accept unreasonable terms. In my view, they have every right to complain, even name and shame. I can assure you this is not exclusive to the translation community, exactly the same thing happens in hundreds of other professional discussion groups. Just ask around.

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    • Hi Lisa,

      There seems to be some confusion. No-one is suggesting that we shouldn’t be free to express our opinion, nor has anyone suggested that people need to be gagged. No-one is saying no-one has a right to complain. We should quite rightly highlight the problems we face in our profession, especially the unreasonable demands from agencies.

      The issue is *how* we go about it. Option A: post a woeful rant online (sometimes with a few effs and jeffs directed towards the client – agency or direct) and typically give into the client demands. Option B: resolve the situation by communicating with the client, either by negotiating or refusing to work with them.

      The issue of whether clients are reading these fora is irrelevant as this is more about self-regulated professional standards.

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      • Whether or not clients are visiting these forums is evidently not irrelevant to you as you have expressed concern about the rest of us being tarred with the same brush. If that isn’t the case then I remain baffled why you’re bothered by any of it all.

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      • "There seems to be some confusion. No-one is suggesting that we shouldn’t be free to express our opinion, nor has anyone suggested that people need to be gagged. No-one is saying no-one has a right to complain."

        But Lloyd, didn’t you yourself ask me (along with a number of followers and youthful friends, who were calling me "an ageist", more than half a dozen of them if I remember correctly), in social media to "apologize" to one of your equally young friends when I dare to only slightly disagree with what she said in her blog that I ascribe her comments to "youthful exuberance and ignorance"? How is that not trying to gag people? To me a childish behavior like this is a confirmation of the fact that some people are indeed trying to gag other people. Let’s hope they do it mostly out of youthful exuberance and ignorance because if that is the case, they will probably grow out of it.

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    • "If you don’t like it, walk away" is exactly my attitude, Lisa, and I shall continue to join you in applying it.

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  5. As a preface, I agree with Diana that blurring the nomenclature line between between brokers and translation buyers leads to confusion. While technically agencies could be described as clients, there is a difference in the business dynamics.

    Second, there seems to be another common confusion: Criticism of practices does not equal ranting or strife; and disagreement does not equal "hating" or "attacking".

    The same goes for plain-old venting. Service providers (i.e. the people who deal with clients) in all the industries I know are engaging in a similar type of venting and sharing "horror" stories. Translators did not invent anything nor unique in doing so. This is mostly a release and a coping mechanism to "keep sane", so to speak — and almost everything is done anonymously and with reasonable respect. Indeed, some of it is repetitive, boring, and stale, but the number of extreme cases in which people crossed the line into the realm of inappropriate or worse are few and far between on these fora. The other side of the coin is that some of the stories are told in a way that offer some insights and even a lesson.

    There is no argument about how being proactive and drive a change is better than just "complaining", but one doesn’t necessarily comes at the expense of the other. If we are indeed a professional community, which is the general premise here, then criticism and scrutiny should have a prominent place on our agenda and we should <strong>protect the principle of free speech at all costs</strong>. Would creating an atmosphere that undermines the credibility and integrity of anyone who gives a feedback that is different from the agenda set by the "thought police" benefit the translation practitioners and the profession? I argue that it will have just the opposite effect.
    And maybe this is just the problem. I already commented on this in this blog (and other places), but perhaps the notion of a translation community is just artificial. We are not all peers, we do not all believe in the same standards and principles, and we don’t even treat our work and its importance the same way. So before trying to formulate what is allowed and not allowed to be said, maybe maybe we should take a real and honest inward look and try to figure out some of the underlying issues that later can manifest themselves in a way that reflects badly on the profession.

    Unless (strategically) leaked, the general public has zero visibility (and interests) into the exchanges made in a translation-eccentric fora just as it doesn’t have access to what, say, IT-professionals complain about in their closed communities. Brokers (as opposed to true translation practices which can also be broadly classified as agencies), on the other hand, might — which brings the conversation back to the first point about the inherit differences in dynamics between a broker and a translation buyer.

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  6. Hi Simon.

    I agree that private venting can be a healthy and necessary prelude to a more constructive public (or, at least, client-facing) response. But the dividing line between public and private is less clear than it used to be. Having a moan and a cuss with your close mates or significant other is one thing; venting on a ‘private’ social-media group, where probably most of the other members don’t know you very well, is another.

    As Graham Cross pointed out at last year’s MET conference, referrals from colleagues can be a very important source of new business; they certainly have been for me. So if a translator comes across as churlish, sweary, entitled, pontificating, brusque or generally difficult, then how likely is it that their colleagues will refer clients to them? Indeed, there are people that I would not refer to, because I’m not convinced that their idea of customer care is the same as mine.

    In other words, careless talk can cost us clients.

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  7. At the risk of becoming a client-basher-basher-basher – well said, sir.

    You mentioned it, as did Oliver, albeit from a slightly different tack, and I tend to concur, that perhaps the main point in all this hoo-hah is that of the impression created within the translator community itself, in terms of likelihood of benefiting from referrals. As I said in the comments here https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/disruptive-thinking-is-usually-more-constructive-than-always-agreeing-with-the-wisdom-of-the-crowd/ this is arguably useful, since it could indicate those with whom working relationships would be difficult. Why muzzle them? 🙂

    Like others, I also don’t buy the reputational harm to our industry as a whole. As I mentioned here http://cbavington.com/blog/2016/01/29/antisocial/, I actively go looking for this stuff when news of a meltdown or controversy reaches my ears, and I never find it. The more this debate drags on, the more I am getting the impression that this behaviour is confined to a few groups on Facebook. Surely, then, the most efficient solution to this perceived problem is to ask the moderators of those "professional" groups to impose some professional standards. Speak to the dozen or so people in a position to make the world a better place. Job done, and the rest of us won’t even notice.

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  8. For me, this whole discussion boils down to mutual respect. I’m all for avoiding strife and discord in the profession, which is precisely why I’ve exercised my right to leave those forums where ranting, moaning, client and colleague-bashing seem to be the flavour of the month. Others can do what they wish, of course, but I think it’s much more productive to be a member of a positive-thinking, supportive community than one where people daren’t make a contribution without being jumped on from a great height. I’ve seen this not only in FB groups, but also in professional association e-groups, even to the extent that people are afraid to join or to ask queries, because the reputation of some particularly ferocious members precedes them. How can such an environment possibly be beneficial to good working practices, or to encouraging newcomers to the profession? I can assure you, too, that direct clients can be equally as demanding as agencies; the secret is to recognise your limits and walk away in the face of unreasonable demands. We set our own agendas and have the right to work and associate with those we choose.

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  9. I have two questions, if I may:

    1) Is there not a risk that these “positive, supportive communities” might be feeding the next generation of hamsters? How is a newcomer supposed to be able to differentiate between good or bad clients, good or bad CPD, good or bad practices if a positive spin is put on everything?
    2) We’ve established that several of us have never come across the effing and blinding or the jungle being described. Why are we raising its profile still further by writing about it in journals or giving talks about it at conferences attended by agencies? Chances are they probably weren’t aware of it either but you’ve made darn sure they are now.

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  10. Hi Simon,

    An important point to note about the group in question is that most posts are structured as follows:

    ‘humorous (may or may not be humorous depending on one’s sense of humor – such a personal thing), ironic statement of what the translator did not actually do, followed by, crucially

    a statement reflecting the – usually professional – action the translator actually took.

    I think this point has been overlooked a little amid all the hoo-haa.

    Another week, another little controversy in our little online world, business as usual then, ha ha?

    Thanks for writing this post, as I had no idea what the admin of the group in question was referring to until I found it. 🙂

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  11. FWIW, I found out today that the group mentioned thus far is in fact a closed group so chances of clients happening across this "unspeakable behaviour" are pretty slim anyway. Moreover, anything said there should have remained there – at least that is how I view a closed group.

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  12. Hi Simon thanks for this post. It has been an interesting read as I’m another one who would not have had a clue about the "strife" on some closed Facebook groups for translators until it was made public (for me, when photos of the "slide of profanities" shown at the ELIA conference appeared on my Twitter feed). I wholeheartedly agree that swearing about clients and colleagues is unprofessional, but like others, I question the wisdom of drawing unnecessary attention to the issue.
    P.S. I am firmly in that camp of people "who are clearly not the type to want to go on to the Internet and swear about clients but who do have serious misgivings when people try to tell them what to do". I’m also unhappy about any suggestion that translators who choose not to subscribe to positive-thinking communities, or who dare to raise even the slightest concern about some of the more dubious developments in our profession are moaning, self-pitying, negative or "ranters".

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  13. I’m rather bemused by this whole thing, even after Lloyd’s welcome clarifications. I mean I know that Andrew is an assiduous conference-goer, and I assume that Lloyd has been to a fair few conferences and training events in his time: have you heard what people are talking about, and they way they are talking??!! Or do we just drink in different bars?
    Because one point I must absolutely disagree on is Lloyd’s assertion that "the specific fora in which this activity takes place are irrelevant." No, the forum is very relevant. I describe my clients and colleagues very differently to my partner than I do on my blog, and differently again when I’m face-to-face with colleagues or when I’m on Facebook or Twitter. TTNS is a closed group (as is Standing Out, for that matter), that means that posts are only visible to members. It is ridiculous to hold people to the same standards in a closed Facebook group than on more public fora – so ridiculous that the *only* reason for doing so would be to stifle genuine expresssion of opinions.
    As for the idea that "professional translators should not have to suffer from their image being tarnished by translators who cannot act professionally,” well hmm, maybe not. We shouldn’t have to suffer from our image being tarnished by incompetent practitioners, but we also shouldn’t have to have our image tarnished by being offered 0.036 GBP/word to translate sensitive government documents, or 14 GBP/hour to interpret in the courts. We shouldn’t have qualified public-service interpreters in the UK leaving the profession because they can earn more as classroom assistants!
    Lloyd and Andrew have chosen their field of battle here, and I think they should be called out on it. Is it really the greatest problem facing our profession that translators are sometime a bit rude about each other – and especially about clients – in a relatively private environment? What about the <a href="http://visverborum.com/i-need-technology-technology-threatens-to-replace-me/">systematic misselling of machine translation by the large agencies</a>? What about the <a href="http://visverborum.com/dear-anonymous-translator/">translators who take on more than they can chew</a>? What about the translator CPD industry that has grown up, offering products that are – with a few exceptions – either grossly over-priced for their value or simply not fit for purpose, and which is yet actively supported and promoted by our professional organisations, to the point that both the ATA and the ITI *manage to make a loss* on CPD activity that is so obviously profitable for others. And yet Lloyd and Andrew are worried about a handful of translators losing their cool and being a bit rude in a relatively private forum…
    I realise that this is a long and confrontational rant, but I shall attempt to finish on a positive note. I don’t agree that “Positive Thinking”, on its own, is a route towards anything but poverty – there has to be some salable skill as well! I would recommend the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport to anyone who is unsure of this: it’s full of real-life examples from fields outside of translation. I also agree 100% with Lloyd’s assertion that “we should indeed be grown up enough to take responsibility for our own behaviour,” and so up our own professional practice rather than moaning publically about what others do.

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  14. I despise thought policing and behavioral policing as well. Who are Andrew and Lloyd, why do they even matter, and why are they telling us how to behave?

    We are all beholden to the way we present ourselves. Let us worry about that. We don’t need two chronic conference attenders to wag their fingers at us and tell us to behave.

    And I say this as someone who comports herself in a professional manner on all sorts of fora. Frankly, I am more concerned about the wage gauging, the sub-par translations and the never-ending race to the bottom that is so rampant in our industry rather than a few people bitching about agencies on a closed Facebook group.

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  15. Joining a private Facebook group which was set up to allow translators to blow off a little steam in a safe environment then violating that trust certainly seems most unprofessional to me, if we’re casting aspersions as to translators’ ‘professionalism.’ Not to mention that broadcasting the very worst examples found (which look terrible, I admit) to a gathering of agencies seems like a sure-fire way to magnify the importance and apparent frequency of such postings. I’m not sure of the motives of the finger-waggers – do they want us to leave the group in question? Do they then want us to pay to join their own postive thinking group? Do they want to position themselves as ‘the good guys,’ and, by extension, anyone who is not a member of their positive thinking group, would be ‘a bad guy’? I’m actually amazed that people have so much energy and time to spend blogging, writing, talking about this non-issue (well, it was a non-issue until this breach of trust occurred)…

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    • "The motives of the finger-waggers", Jane? Perhaps, attacking is the best form of defence, as the old adage goes.

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  16. Thanks for your interesting post, Simon.
    (I am so little involved with social media that it took me a few days to find my way here and read it, imagine that.)
    As several of your commenters point out, surely ranters/folks who carry on outrageously — or even semi-outrageously — in online forums burn their own (potential) bridges to other arenas and connections.
    If these people actually are expert — or even good — translators, that seems counter-productive.
    But thrusting them into the spotlight is as silly (or possibly manipulative? I’m now wondering about that a bit, I admit) as, say, MT gurus yanking the occasional ranting-against-MT blogger out of obscurity and using him/her as "proof" in their own narrative claiming all translators are terrified by technology.
    Speaking of which, I would dearly like to hear more support for the hottest tip I know of for translators looking to build their business.
    Ready? Here we go: *Become a better translator.*
    As the split between bulk and premium market segments widens, that is far, far more important than all of the life-style and business tips I’ve ever read. And I write that as someone who has, in the past, written at some length about the importance of translators pulling up their socks and adopting businesslike attitudes.
    Could the pendulum please swing back a bit, guys? Master your craft; do the deep work (as Nigel (above) and Cal Newport have pointed out).

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    • Thanks for your comment, Chris. The idea of "becoming a better translator" also being good business is certainly the lesson I’m drawing from the discussion here.

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    • Hi Chris,

      For at least the past year or two I’ve been talking about bringing the focus back to language skills and subject area knowledge, being a better translator and in turn providing our clients with a better service. I wrote about this half a year ago on my blog: http://decipherit.net/blog/blog.php?d=2 The translation conference circuit, CPD businesses and social media have been swamped by talk of business, lifestyle, marketing, productivity, embracing change – translation skill isn’t even in the picture.

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      • Hi Lisa,
        We’re clearly on the same page here.
        I’ve also found it useful to reflect on how things evolve (although this could simply be my limited awareness of stuff going on in the big world out there — and an attempt to justify my own activities, actually :)).
        E.g., twenty years ago it was striking (to me) to observe how very amateur many translators came across to potential clients. Basic business smarts, e.g., lots of carrying on about how tacky it was to discuss pricing or negotiate with potential clients. So in our translatory discussions in online forums it seemed useful to focus on that area. Or possibly it was just that I had more time on my hands then. 🙂
        About the same time, in my language combination it was clear that many (most?) translators were busy translating everything that moved. Hair-raisingly so: lists of 20 "specializations" were not unusual. Hence the utility of reminding well-intentioned people that specializing in A, B or C of necessity involved actually investing time and effort to master the subject *before* seeking clients in that area. Good clients deserve better. NB technical expertise going far far beyond "vocabulary" and the like.
        Nowadays there is definitely a greater focus on specialization, which I applaud, and there are quite a few paths for acquiring insights and expertise. (Again, assuming aspiring specialist translators are prepared to do the work.)
        But like you perhaps, in recent years — as well-intentioned budding translators flood into the market — I’ve grown increasingly aware of how scrappy and scanty many "candidates’" (and, let’s face it, practitioners’) knowledge of their source language(s) is; how tenuous their grasp of how transferring meaning from one language to another actually works.
        It’s a short jump from that to awareness that price/deadline pressures at the bottom end of the market (where vocab replacement seems to work just fine many instances) are increasing.
        Ah, but how about this: that at the more demanding end of the spectrum (clients who care, with budget) genuinely attractive opportunities are also increasing. Yet translators (or, possibly "translators" :)) who don’t actually master the craft in any substantive way won’t get a crack at those cool opportunities unless they get better at the work itself.
        The connection I see here to Simon’s post is summed up quite nicely by Rose, below: "It’s our collective incompetence that pisses off direct clients, not any moaning that goes on in private Facebook groups"

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    • Indeed. A nice post to round off the discussion (for now?). It took me a couple of days to figure out what was going on, too, as I’d been a bit busy in the real world mixing with my clients (imagine that!).

      It is funny how the comments on this post have ended on a similar note to Paula Arturo’s recent post, wherein one translator accused successful translators of being deceptive (or ’emotional’, where female, and presenting facts he did not like), while also questioning why these upmarket translators had never once given him a referral. The conclusion there, too, was we simply need to be better translators.

      That is a message I have tried to portray, perhaps with varying degrees of success, at my last four conference presentations. It will be a more direct focus of my talk in Warsaw in a couple of weeks, where I’ll also highlight examples of successful and specialised translators, while explaining the link between one and the other.

      If only translators spent as much time on improving their skills – in terms of specialist expertise and raw translation and language skills – as they do (a) complaining in forums, (b) bashing other translators, (c) reading and listening to psychobabble life-coaching fluff, and (d) defending themselves against the attacks of ultimately jealous colleagues, then I think we’d all be better translators. In this scenario, I doubt our profession would have such an image problem, either…

      Oh, and an FYI for the apparently unaware:
      It’s our collective incompetence that pisses off direct clients, not any moaning that goes on in private Facebook groups.

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    • Very well put, Chris. I agree completely! We have to make sure that we are worthy of a premium market.

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  17. Thank you for this brilliant and thought provoking post, Simon.

    I have to admit that I’m a little uncomfortable with *some* of the things that get said online at times, but it has more to do with the way we treat each other (and the level of prejudice, ageism, sexism, jealousy, etc. that we exhibit in some of these exchanges) than with how that may or may not affect the collective image of translators as a whole. I doubt that such comments are seen by direct clients unless actively taken outside those private groups. But if anyone has conducted serious research proving the contrary, I’d love to see it.

    I blogged about a related issue in the past based on a case where a translator (who in my view is a serial agency basher) went online and *publicly* shared *confidential information* about an agency’s direct client/document to brag about his “clever” responses to the agency owner in a negotiation that went sour (possibly on the count of the translator’s ego, but that’s just my personal opinion). That is the kind of thing I think we need to avoid, as sharing confidential information and boasting about rudeness in open forums does affect a person’s image, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it affects the image of translators as a whole.

    So I think we need to view this on two levels: 1) how our online behavior affects our own professional image individually, and 2) how the online behavior of translators in private groups affects our collective professional image. I don’t think there is any evidence to support that #2 is an actual problem.

    Like Chris and Rose, I believe that what we do need to worry about is translating well. Our collective image suffers when way too many of us fail to render high-quality products. Like Rose, I’m inclined to think there is a certain level of collective incompetence that makes people falsely believe anyone who can utter somewhat coherently in a second language can translate, kind of like that episode of House where they use an online stripper to translate medical records. I’m sure she was a fine stripper, but what does it say about our image as professionals when the social imaginary is that anyone can translate? Of course, I’m thinking of the "social imaginary" in the terms of Jurgen Habermas and similar thinkers. Could this social imaginary be a product of that collective incompetence? If so, then that’s what we need to focus on fixing.

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  18. What’s really costly to us as a profession is the following:

    1. A painful and persistent shortage of translators with the premier-market or higher-tier specialized bulk-market skill sets and years of expertise honed under the watchful eyes of daily review and revision by our colleagues – please focus on that last phrase because it’s just so crucial, as all of us work under the critical eyes of our valued colleagues – such that their product places them solidly in a market where price is among the least concerns of a paying client.

    We know this because these markets are screaming for more 3-star Michelin work and say so regularly in public.

    These translators in the premium market and higher-tier bulk markets have so much work that they typically turn down more work than they actually accept.

    2. Some translation agencies DO indeed treat translators poorly, but are more in a McDonalds food fight, so offer fractional rates compared to what translators can get on their own.

    The poorly treated translators blow off steam in locations that are invisible to clients – again, a point worth being made again – these are translator-only closed fora.

    3. Translation conferences have trouble attracting the premium- and upper-bulk-market translators with the real translation expertise that would help translators advance to the premium and upper-tier bulk markets by hosting hands-on workshops, translation slams and collaborative training to actually help translators improve their TRANSLATION skills. ATA has been successful in pulling some terrific talent to train on this level, but typically on one day only (Saturday).

    The real market for such training are the "Translate in the…." series for French/English translators as well as the specialty financial training sessions sponsored by the SFT. These are the events that change translators’ professional lives because it opens translators’ eyes and they see three things, often for the very first time – better translations, better-prepared colleagues, better clients, and better rates, all at the same location.

    In the absence of such useful conference sessions, we are left with the kind of finger-wagging foolishness discussed here, which should never have been accepted as a conference session in the first place, if for no other reason than it involved stealing content from a closed forum and putting it smack into the public eye, e.g. engaging in the very crime the presenters are purportedly decrying.

    I’d go so far as to say our problem is not that translators are too critical of each other, it’s that they are too afraid of being perceive as being not "nice."

    "Nice" is dangerous when it flies solo. "Nice" is often indicative of a total lack of standards, which lets preposterous sessions like this to actually take place, complete with a stacked audience designed to support the speakers (don’t think this has not leaked out).

    I’m struck once again by how many conference attendees came up to Simon PRIVATELY to show support, but were unwilling to do so publicly – as doing so makes them appear less "nice." This is a persistent practice when the topic being discussed is idiotic, but nobody wants to stand up and say the emperor might want to, you know, get dressed.

    I’ve made this same argument for 25 years. If you don’t develop the pure translation skills by working in collaboration with your colleagues to hone your craft – and master the subject matter on the same level as the client for whom you are performing the work – you will always be limiting your options in terms of rates, income, and ultimately the lifestyle options available to you by moving upmarket, however you choose to define that process and its role in your own personal and professional life.

    Reply
    • Great comment, Kevin, thank you (and I promise I’m not just being nice). "Stacked" is perhaps unfair when referring to the audience for the presentation because it suggests some sort of deliberate effort by those giving the presentation to get their friends in. In fact it was a natural process, I think. A lot of people who thought the subject was rubbish or didn’t like one or other of the presenters simply chose other sessions, leaving the room full of acolytes and supporters. I made a point of going because I had the session marked out as something I wanted to stand up and challenge, but I could equally well have gone elsewhere. As for what you’re saying at the end, you’re absolutely right: the chances to really develop translation skills are too few and far between. As I’ve said elsewhere, in Europe I think the best chance to do this is at MET (Mediterranean Editors and Translators), whose annual conference always includes workshops on real translation and editing issues.

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    • Most welcome comment. Thank you for this!

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    • "I’m struck once again by how many conference attendees came up to Simon PRIVATELY to show support, but were unwilling to do so publicly – as doing so makes them appear less "nice." This is a persistent practice when the topic being discussed is idiotic, but nobody wants to stand up and say the emperor might want to, you know, get dressed."

      Hear, hear and thrice hear! I’ve lost count of the hundreds of hours of “private conversations” I’ve had on this subject with people uneasy about developments in our profession, yet apparently not quite concerned enough to speak out.

      It may have escaped some people’s attention that Lloyd wrote a two-page spread on the subject of this conference entitled “Think before you tweet”, which was published in the January/February issue of the ITI Bulletin. For those who may not know, the ITI also has corporate members (agencies and universities) – the very readership the speakers are concerned may catch wind that some translators aren’t behaving. I’d like to know why the ITI chose to give this a platform, particularly in light of the fact that I know of at least three letters/articles that were banned (one of them my own) because the subjects were not something we wanted to draw “potential clients’” attention to. In truth, I’m afraid the greatest enablers of emperors with no clothes at present are our professional associations themselves.

      Reply
      • The impression I was given by the representative of the ITI who got up to speak after me (I can’t remember her name, I’m afraid) in the questions section following Lloyd’s presentation is that the organisation is right behind him in what he’s doing. To an extent this is reasonable: they should discipline members who behave outrageously, but the intimidating way she spoke was remarked on by more than one person who came up to me privately afterwards. After that I am certainly not planning to join the ITI any time soon.

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        • It is worth remembering that the professional translators’ associations only can take action against their own members following their own code of conduct. Being a translator is not a protected profession like e.g. physician or lawyer, requiring specific licenses and etical standards. How many translators are members of the professional associations? I believe it is a significant minority, and probably not the same crowding the mentionend spaces on the web. A professional association should not spend time on this pseudoproblem thus supporting the idea that translators have an image issue.
          My impression is that it will be difficult to dress the emperor, and those who blush at the naked sight will just have to close their eyes or turn around. 🙂

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      • Hear, hear, Lisa!
        As you know, I was one of the signatories of that banned letter. I was astonished, disappointed and in fact distressed to see such a thing coming to pass: a polite letter written by a large number of highly professional, experienced translators on a topic of some importance to the profession, being banned on the pretext that it was not ‘nice’ (not the term used by the parties banning it, of course – they used corporate jargon). I think this is relevant here, because it seems to exhibit the same attitude of muzzling people who dare to express opinions contrary to some alleged ‘consensus’.
        I have been a member of at least one of the FB forums mentioned here, and didn’t like the atmosphere so I left. It would never have occurred to me to publish any private (and it is private in this context) material I saw there. This seems to me contrary to the most basic netiquette I learned when I first went online many years ago. It’s like publishing a private email correspondence without the agreement of all the parties, and frankly I am gobsmacked to see that it was done – or have I misunderstood?
        It would also not have occurred to me to demand that the forum be policed and censored by self-appointed gurus.
        Why did people express support for Simon in private but not in public? Because many translators are shy people who prefer to work on their own and not draw attention to themselves. That is partly the reason why it has taken so many years to raise the profile of book translators, for example, and get their names onto the title pages of their translations. We are not all such shy, beavering-away-in-the-dark creatures, of course, but many of us are.
        I agree with Chris Durban’s argument that in the scramble for official CPD Brownie points (my opinion of which is as poor as any on this page) and for the latest technological gizmo pushed by snake oil salesmen, translators’ associations inter alia seem to have forgotten all about the quality of the translations themselves and about respect for the translator’s craft.

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  19. Wow. A whopping 69 comments. Let’s make it 70, with a few observations of my own, listed and numbered for easy reference.

    1. I’m glad you keep telling us you’re a journalist, Simon, as there’s little in either your research skills that testifies to a skilled career in reporting. See below.

    2.You missed out the major part of my own talk, despite the fact I said it SEVERAL times. I set up Standing Out as an alternative space, not as part of some Star Wars battle in a bid to eliminate evil. You seem to have overlooked that part entirely. Perhaps because it didn’t fit your agenda.

    3.That picture you keep using of me has never been on public display. I find it ever so slightly creepy that you are going through my personal page on FB even though we are not friends, despite our two much-reported handshakes.

    4.Apart from that, I have no major beef with your main points. As you said, we agreed on some things, such as the fact that ranting is part of human nature. But in fact, if you remember clearly, I said exactly that in my talk. Verbatim. So in fact I was agreeing with you agreeing with me.

    5.To give you credit, when you say that “There is a final point too. The whole anti-ranting crusade could even prove to be counterproductive, because all it is likely to attract from the “bad” translators is a tirade of ranting and abuse.“ you set off a self-fulfilling prophecy, right here in the comments

    6.Rose, agencies ARE clients. They are not direct clients. We refer to the latter as ‘direct clients’.

    7.Simon, you seem to think Standing Out is about life-coaching. But you have never been a member. Those damned research skills again…

    8.Nigel, that numbers game is plain daft. More people eat at McDonalds than at Les Quat’ Saisons. So what? More people watch Big Brother than the TV broadcast of a live opera. So what?

    9. Simon again, members of SO are not ‘followers’ of me or anyone else. You do them a grave and patronising disservice.

    10. You refer to the ‘several people’ who cam up to you after the talk. You used exactly the same technique when you wrote about my session in Coimbra. I guess we’ll have to take your word for it.

    11.Nigel, facts, facts, facts. I know they’re pesky, but they’re important. I have been to a sum total of 5 conferences in my career. If that’s your definition of assiduous, then you need to buy yourself a dictionary.

    12.Nigel again, I have never propounded mere ‘positive thinking’ as a solution to anything. Not once. But to know that, you’d have to read what I said, or wrote in my book. And that’s such a bother, isn’t it. So much easier to take refuge in prejudice and slapdash half-thought-through slurs.

    13. Kevin oh Kevin. I note with pleasure that you refer to the ‘Translate In’ workshops as the place to be. I fully agree. I cut my summer holiday to 5 days in 2014 to fly out to Canada, at considerable expense, to join the course in the Laurentians. I also went to the one in Chantilly and will probably make it three this year in Cambridge. I also encouraged many SO members to go and I think there were at least 10 in Chantilly.

    So let’s all put our money where our mouths are. There are several FR>EN translators here, including Simon and the very loquacious Nigel. Have ANY of them been to these courses? I can tell you the answer: precisely no one. It’s one thing to blather on about professional standards, another thing altogether to maintain them and invest in them.

    14.Kevin (again) I have a reviser for all my direct client work. Can anyone else in this long list of commentators claim the same, apart from you and Chris? Really?

    15. And let’s make it three for Kevin, I’m quite happy with my lifestyle options thank you very much. Life in the South of France has never been better. I have a loving partner, a gorgeous office in a lovely old farmhouse, I drive a smart car, eat at fine restaurants and enjoy all the leisure and travel time I could possibly wish for.

    And also, before you pile in, I would say about 10% of my income these days comes from outsourcing. The rest is my work. So I must be doing something right.

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    • I won’t thank you, Andrew, for a comment that begins with such a gross (and poorly expressed) insult. You seem to misunderstand the purpose and ethics of a blog like this one. Had I been writing up the talk for some hypothetical translation journal I would, of course, have written a completely different kind of piece because my responsibilities would have been different. But a blog is personal and includes elements of opinion. That means all I needed to do was attend the session I wanted to write about, which, as you know, I did, and not misrepresent anything that was said there, which I didn’t (had I done so, you would doubtless have told me). Your insult to my journalism skills is therefore utterly unjustified and I should warn all commenters that I will not allow anyone else to get away with this kind of attack on anyone. I have only allowed it in this case because I felt, on balance, it was better to let Andrew to have his say against me in his own unedited words. No further insulting comments by anyone or against anyone will be approved.
      Let me deal with a couple of other comments and snide insinuations now to get them out the way. First of all, your picture. I’m sorry you didn’t like me using it. I didn’t think you’d mind because it was a rather good one, if I may say so, and because I captioned it simply with your name, not with any kind of insult or loaded phrase, but as you’re not happy I’ve removed it. I hope nothing more need be said about that.
      I have to say I’m not happy about your own loaded language in some of your comments. Casting doubt on my truthfulness concerning the people who approached me after the presentation and referring to the fact that I merely reported it as a "technique", is one example. It’s no technique, it happened. I didn’t name names because these were private conversations with people who presumably had their reasons for not having got up and spoken in public after the presentation, but I resent any suggestion that I might have made it all up. It’s the same as our "much-reported" handshakes. They happened. I reported them. Although not much.
      Now what about the suggestion that I have set off a new wave of ranting? Sorry? Who’s set it off? Not me. Or are you saying the two of you didn’t want anyone to blog about the presentation? Not you either, to be fair, because, as we’ve both said, you didn’t really go along with some of the things Lloyd was saying. No, I’m afraid that as soon as anyone starting talking about this presentation, particularly the tone of it on Lloyd’s side, there was going to be a reaction and neither you nor he could have expected it to make no impact whatesoever. In any case, I think the standard of the comments here, in general, has been high and the discussion has gone in a very positive direction, with the help of Chris Durban, towards improving translation standards.
      Ah yes, you also mention that, saying, quite rightly that I haven’t attended the particular training sessions you’ve attended (and all credit to you for doing so). True. I haven’t. But, encouraged by some of the comments here, I am definitely looking at ways to improve my translation skills and we may well coincide somewhere or other before too long, who knows?
      Now I come to my main points. First of all, I’ve got nothing personal against you and I’m not a serial Standing Out-basher. Look for online attacks and you won’t find any. I "liked" your original Facebook page and stayed with it for some months, but I eventually left because I was unhappy with certain aspects which I will go on to explain here. It does mean, though, that I do know what Standing Out is about, unless it has changed radically over the past couple of years. And one of the things that makes Standing Out stand out, as it were, is that it contains aspects of what most people would understand as life-coaching. It’s not the only element of Standing Out, I know, but I don’t think you can deny that it’s there. Some people like it, some people don’t, I happen to be one of the ones who doesn’t particularly and that’s one of the reasons I left.
      The other reason I left concerns your personal role. You say you don’t have "followers". I would argue that in these days when people and groups have followers (the very word is used) on Twitter and Facebook it isn’t a particularly loaded expression and, in fact, I considered and rejected much more provocative options like "disciples" and "acolytes" which would have fitted in well with some of the religious metaphors used in Lloyd’s part of the presentation. But, Andrew, please don’t be disingenuous: you DO have followers. How else can you explain the passionate defence of you made by one translator whose name I unfortunately don’t recall (she was standing in the same row as me) after I had spoken, despite the fact I’d made it very clear that my comments were aimed almost entirely at Lloyd and not at you? She simply couldn’t bear even the possibility that someone might have criticised you. I sincerely don’t know whether you deliberately cultivate this kind of devotion, but, like it or not, you are a person about whom people feel very strongly and I can’t think of a better or fairer way of describing the people who strongly like you than "followers".
      I left Standing Out on Facebook one day when (not for the first time) you wrote a post criticising something another translator had said in another forum about a client along the lines "Of course WE wouldn’t do anything like that…", provoking he predictable avalanche of supportive comments. It suddenly dawned on me that you were doing exactly what you kept telling us we shouldn’t do: using energy in negative online arguments, only this was one you’d deliberately provoked yourself. I began to wonder why you would do something like that and I had another revelation: you were using exactly the same psychological tactic as the football manager Jose Mourinho (a man I seem to remember you once saying you admired), defining and consolidating your group or team against another (the opponents or the enemy). And I no longer wanted any part of it.
      As I read it, your main complaint against my blog is not that I misrepresented you or insulted you (not least because I didn’t), it’s that I didn’t talk enough about you. There’s a simple reason for that. My interest was principally in what Lloyd was saying, because I strongly believe he’s acting in a very misguided way in this respect. That "interest" is what you would call my "agenda", although that’s another one of your unpleasantly loaded expressions. As you say, you simply talked about Standing Out and the reason I didn’t mention you very much was that I had nothing whatsoever to say about Standing Out. Ever since I left the Facebook page, I have followed what I’m sure would have been your advice and simply went to other areas of the Internet where I felt more at home. So I have no opinion on Standing Out: some people like it, some people don’t, and that’s an end to it. Perhaps you would prefer it if I did. But I’m sorry, Andrew, everything simply doesn’t revolve around you.

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    • I would have a lot of words for you, Mr Morris, since you have dubbed me Ms Insignificant. But no it’s actually funnier to watch you make yourself insignificant.

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    • Andrew, I’ll be selective in the points I reply to, as this comments section is already tl/dr.

      8. The numbers game would be pointless if you didn’t carry on about how many people are joining Standing Out®. The number of people you have in your main group is impressive, I’m not trying to take that away from you, but the point I was making is that it is much lower than the number of people in the groups you attack.
      I’ll detail your promotional tour in a moment, but do you really think you’d have been able to give the presentations you have done without a solid group of people to claim that your ideas are relevant?

      11. OK, I’m missing at least one conference presentation, which I’m sure you’ll tell me about, but let’s list them:
      – “The Translator’s Invisible Toolkit”, ITI Conference, Newcastle (UK), 25 April 2015
      – “The Translator’s Invisible Toolkit”, METM15, Coimbra (Portugal), 30 October 2015
      – “Mind the Gap” (with Lloyd Bingham), ELIA Together, Barcelona (Spain), 12 February 2016
      – “The Translator’s Invisible Toolkit”, ITA International Conference, Jerusalem (Israel), 15 February 2016
      It’s also been announced that you are going to give a presentation entitled – wait for it – “The Translator’s Invisible Toolkit” – at BP16 in Prague, 15–16 April 2016 and at APTRAD in Porto, 18–19 June 2016. By any count, you have presented at, or were planning to present at, at least five conferences in 12 months. I’d think that’s pretty assiduous by the definition of any dictionary you choose.
      I’d also note that five of those six recent or prospective presentations seem to concern a series of CPD videos that you did, and offered at a discount to students and other people (including me), but for which the “list price” was 300 euros or something like that (no idea how much you receive out of that, but I’m guessing about half). And that’s what makes your group and your conference presentations stand out from the others – they are essentially part of a commercial operation, promoting the services that you sell.

      12. I have never suggested that your message is simply “positive thinking”. What I have done is point out that you decry criticism in general (you wanted to make a “space”, if I remember correctly), but you are quick to criticise those who disagree with you, often in a very personal manner. You know that I have made that comment to you several times in private, so I make no apologies for making it in public now.
      But I have problems in understanding why “your” space is such a closed-off area. Myself, and at least two other people, have been thrown off that space for expressing mild criticism of it on other fora – in my case, I seem to remember that it was because I called <a href="http://anmerkungen-des-uebersetzers.com/2015/07/02/welcome-and-lets-go/" title="Valerej Tomerenko’s exquisite parody of Standing Out®" /> “an exquisite parody” – should I ask you to look up the word “parody” in a dictionary?
      Or is it that Standing Out® has to be closed off – and any dissidents have to be purged and then attacked – because you’re using in-group/out-group psychology to confirm and reinforce the loyalty of your followers? I mean, you certainly are using in-group/out-group psychology, but why? Why do you <b>need</b> your followers to be loyal to you? Is it so you can sell to them better? Or maybe it’s so you can have a docile set of translators to work for your agency: I mean, you certainly do recruit translators in Standing Out®, some of the more naïve members even pass the job offers on to me! But I’ll be charitable, and assume that is just because you have an enormous need to be loved.

      13. Oh, THAT’S where the other conference is! But maybe you’re trying to be ironic. No, I didn’t go to either of them. Did you make any money out of the Standingoutaganza in London? I don’t know the details obviously, but I’d guess you only broke even, given the number of tickets you sold. What would be your strategy to make a decent hourly rate off it next time? Cut the price and offer less, or up the price and offer more?
      It was still a bit disingenuous to announce to the participants that you didn’t know why I wasn’t there, given that it was you who withdrew me from the event page on Facebook: I’m not in the business of going to events where I’m obviously not welcome.

      Finally, I’d just like to echo Simon’s argument: “It suddenly dawned on me that you were doing exactly what you kept telling us we shouldn’t do: using energy in negative online arguments, only this was one you’d deliberately provoked yourself.”
      You have published a book and a series of CPD videos, organised in-person events to discuss your ideas and now run a subscription coaching service that you promote through the (now many) Standing Out® groups: as far as I’m aware, no other Facebook translator group has been associated so closely and so obviously with monetary gain for the founder. Is it any wonder that so many of us are sceptical about your message and your motives?

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    • Wow. I mean, wow. Talk about nasty, abusive rants on the Internet … this is a master class in the field.

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  20. Leaving aside the patronizing and pretty astonishingly obnoxious tone of your comments in response to the very intelligent and thoughtful contributions by several people in this section, Andrew, I find it more than a little hilarious that you think everybody’s comments here are directed exclusively at you personally.

    In my case, my only beef with you and Lloyd was that the conference session you put on addressed a non-existent and frankly imaginary issue of no importance at all, violated the rules of the forum from which you stole content, committed the crime you were objecting to in the first place, and should never have seen the light of day.

    And, above all, that such idiotic puffery was allowed to be presented INSTEAD of the kind of "Translate in the.." sessions that everybody seems to agree are essential.

    And yes, of course, I know dozens of colleagues who work in pairs and revise each other daily – mostly by colleagues with at least a decade of experience and formal training in a technical discipline (that latter part is crucial).

    You seem to have forgotten I owned a boutique, quality-focused translation company for 20 years that lived by that law, and grew from a 7-person company to a 185-person company in that same period.

    I recognize that you are still very new to the profession, so I understand how this may have slipped your mind.

    My other point — and I’ll be diplomatic here — is that I’ve devoted a considerable percentage of my professional career volunteering hundreds (possible over a thousand) hours of my time training other translators to become better translators. Meaning improving their actual translation skills. I’ve worked to help them with improving their skills in a very direct way, which has resulted in many moving upmarket and into entirely new positions and career paths.

    Note the "volunteering" part. I’ve never charged a single cent for any of these.

    I’ve directly placed dozens of translators into USD six-figure jobs.

    I’ve also held, sat on or chaired (by last count) 28 workshops, training sessions and hands-on presentations devoted specifically to helping people become better translators.

    In the late 1990s, several of us set the standard for how the newly emerging states of the former Soviet Union worked out financial and legal terminology, especially as it applied to disarmament treaties and how to help manage nuclear materials to keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

    My question to you is not how many training sessions you’ve attended (even the good ones), it’s why are you presenting "sessions" that deliver so little value to the actual translation skill set of your audience?

    So as you can see, my mission over the last 25+ years is really on a different playing field than trying to compare relative lifestyles with you (really?). I would have thought you were above that. I will not bore you with relative comparisons there, as I find them intensely tasteless and distasteful.

    What I will say is that I’ve been proud of playing a crucial role in the Nonproliferation Regime and the NPT over the last 20 years, especially as lead of the central team that made it possible for the two nuclear superpowers to communicate and wrestle through the issues involved in dismantling nuclear weapons and managing nuclear materials, initiatives that have prevented a nuclear weapon from having devastated a modern city – and trust me, that is the #1 goal of every terrorist group out there.

    In the course of this process, I’ve become one of the US government’s top SMEs (subject-matter experts) on the issue, so my contribution is both linguistic and technical.

    I wish you no ill-will, Andrew, but seriously, as much as it may seem so when surrounded by so many adoring acolytes, the galaxy does in fact not recognize you as the galactic center. Which is a good thing, actually, because who really wants to be a supermassive black hole, anyway? 🙂

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  21. Hi Simon, hi colleagues
    I read the blog post and basically agree to it. I haven’t attended the presentation but recently read a lot about this. I’m an absolute beginner in this field and on reading some of the things issued recently I am very irritated if not shocked.
    My personal point of view is that TTNS has been one of the most productive and helpful groups for me since I’ve connected with colleagues on Facebook who then invited me to several groups for translators.
    I absolutely don’t understand why extracts of the (closed, private) group are made public to wave fingers at unprofessional behavior while the act of presenting information people thought of being private is unprofessional itself.
    What really makes me wonder is that all of the comments under this blog post were written in a pretty respectful way (in my opinion at least) and then there comes an attack that makes me shiver – from one of the persons publicly waving fingers at others, pointing out how important an always-polite-always-nice-behavior is.
    To be honest, this whole thing is making me sad. I feel as if I had to decide between two "sides". I’m not in Star Wars, am I?

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  22. I’d like to re-iterate the actual content of the presentation to correct the misconceptions by those who were not in attendance and have chosen to cast aspersions, jump to conclusions and feed off misinformation disseminated by others.

    No content was stolen or trust was breached. I talked about extreme examples of unprofessional language used by translators (in the general sense of the word) towards their colleagues and clients online, comprising a couple of words only, such as "f***** client" or "incompetent f***tard". There were certainly no screenshots, no names of individuals or groups, because contrary to the picture that has been painted, the presentation was not an attack on any group or individual. It instead served to remind us of the professional conduct that I think we should fall back on in dealing with problems with clients and colleagues). It also served to remind translators that action trumps inaction when faced with a problem, and to remind them that they are their own boss and are therefore free to sack a client.

    Above all, it is not about is ‘positive thinking’ or paying to join a group of happy, clappy unicorns walking hand in hand under a rainbow. Let’s please stop with the cheap shots such as those.

    With regard to the idea that the talk should not have been held in the first place, which Kevin in particular put forward, clearly there is a significant number of professionals who disagree. Any translation professional has the right to submit a presentation proposal to a conference and present their ideas (so this answers the question of ‘who are YOU to say that’). This paper was accepted by a conference committee, the presentation was held in the largest room of the three, it was extremely well attended, with the majority of the audience expressing support for the premise of the talk during the Q&A as well as afterwards throughout the two days of the conference itself. I have now been asked by the Chair of Aptrad, the Portuguese translators’ and interpreters’ association, to present it at their conference (with some amendments based on feedback of course), and interest has been expressed by an organiser of another translators’ conference this year. Anyone is entitled to believe that this issue merits no debate, but the fact that many in our profession clearly disagree needs to be respected.

    Equally, programmes such as ‘Translate in…’ and other conferences are allowed to co-exist. I don’t doubt your points at all, Kevin, on the biggest issues that our profession faces. I have never said (despite the crowd’s opinion) that this is the most significant issue facing our industry and I would emphatically disagree with that anyway. But we have a host of conferences every year for our profession, so we are allowed to discuss multiple subjects at the same time.

    Another thing I would like to re-iterate is that this is not about imposing my standards on anyone. It is not about telling anyone off or finger-wagging, which I believe is how this has been interpreted and is responsible for a large part of the reaction. Instead, I was sharing my ideas on what professional conduct online is about and how it should be reflected in professional associations’ codes of conduct, which any member of our industry is entitled to challenge when backed up by sound arguments. I have indeed heard some sound arguments against the talk’s subject which I’m keen to discuss, but it is very unfortunate when comments express disapproval without actually saying why.

    I look forward to continuing this debate constructively.

    Reply
  23. Lloyd, I will be brief.

    1. If you want an example of the kind of diatribes you condemned in your session, you’d find a sensationally pristine version of one – the sole example on this entire blog – disparaging people by name right here in these comment sessions.

    It happens to have been written by your co-presenter.

    2. Whether there were screen-shots or not, or whether the venue from which the material was stolen was named or not ("stolen" because the forum owner posted that he objected vociferously to it being taken without his permission and without notifying him at all) it was a violation of the terms of use of his forum. You can’t do what you did. It’s as simple as that.

    3. These comments were originally invisible to everybody except translators (they were posted in an explicitly controlled translator-only closed group, which was created specifically as a safe haven for translators to vent).

    That was until the comments were stolen from that translator-only forum by you against those terms of service, and broadcast to the world for everybody else to see.

    So objecting to "how it makes translators look to the rest of the world" is a pretty hollow critique, I think you’d agree, since it became a problem the instant you took them outside that translator-only venue.

    4. Hiding behind the invisible fern of "not naming the forum" is a lot like "not naming the African-American gentleman currently residing in the White House." You are fooling nobody, and it’s a bit of an insult to the intelligence of your audience if you think the source was not transparently obvious.

    5. In an environment where many translators are abandoning the field, desperately clinging by their fingernails to collapsing rates in the bulk market, and being set against each other in bidding wars by agencies, all of which threaten the viability of their businesses and livelihoods, you bet I think your session took up valuable time and real-estate that could have been used more constructively.

    In fact, a few translators using dirty words in a translator-only venue is so far down on the list that I think it qualifies as subterranean.

    We live in serious times. Let’s behave in ways that address the critical issues that define those times.

    Reply
  24. <blockquote cite="In an environment where many translators are abandoning the field, desperately clinging by their fingernails to collapsing rates in the bulk market, and being set against each other in bidding wars by agencies, all of which threaten the viability of their businesses and livelihoods…">

    This is a good point I think deserves more discussion.

    Not all agencies are bad and not all clients are good. There are good and not-so-good in every category. Furthermore, most people are not evil and therefore it is not a question of good versus evil, and demonizing attempts (by either side) are not helpful.

    With these two common distracting false generalizations (hopefully) out of the way, I hope we (as a community) could start to speak about what is really at play here.

    When there is a good fit with a client, whether an agency or a direct one, things usually work out. Conversely, when there isn’t a good fit with a client things usually don’t work out. It all boils down to the business model and the derived approach.

    However, there are differences between the broker business model and working with clients, and this creates different dynamics. For the purpose of this comment I’m using the tern Broker business model and Client business model, although in theory (and somewhat in practice) there could be a broker that behaves more like a client and vice versa).

    The Broker business model is all about economies of scale: driving volumes at relatively low margins per "unit" (i.e. the designation bulk market that Kevin used above). That business model usually targets clients who need translation into dozen(s) of languages, otherwise the economies of scale approach doesn’t work. On the other hand, the independent translator business model cannot benefit from the economies of scale, because they will always translate just in one language combination each time (even if they can translate into another). There are more business model-related friction points, but this is probably the main one.

    The friction is created when the two business models collide*. You have those who are generally happy to work with this type of agencies and they are not complaining. There are those who like to work with they see as better client, and they are not complaining. The friction is created only when the two business models collide. Therefore, if anything, the level/amount of complaints/venting/ranting offers very little insight about the social make-up of the "translation community", and a lot more business insights suggesting that the two business models are drifting farther apart. No amount of dialog and conferencing** can reconcile those fundamental differences. The broker model needs heaps of disposable fodder to man their well-oiled-machine, while independent translators need to run a different kind of business, have different professional consideration and approach, and they need to maintain a career. It is really that simple.

    (Oh, and please let us not pretend there is really any attempt at a "dialog" as if the two parties are peers. These talks are more like re-education camps where agencies try to convince translators to subscribe to their business model, usually by spreading FUD and trying to get them to second guess their choices. Again, when there is an initial good fit a dialog could be successful for the purpose of further streamlining the process and making it more efficient to both sides, but this is not the common scenarios in this talks or the one in which friction is created.)

    So maybe we should change the discourse and start calling things what they are and differentiate between what the broker business model is designed to achieve and other types of services are designed to achieve — if not for anything else than at least for the purpose of better mapping the market for those trying to navigate it.

    But as Chris, Kevin, and others have pointed out, this involves changing the topic within the "translation community", do away with the fluff and start focusing on career building advice in the greater context of the market.

    *Industry – what is even the translation industry? Many seem to assume that it means the entire service industry that offers translation services to other business, but I want to suggest an alternative definition that in my opinion is more accurate to the way this term is used in practice. For most intents and purposes the term Industry refers to the big agencies (MLVs) and their supply chain (smaller agencies and independent translators). Why would anyone should limit themselves to the standards (or lack thereof) and scope set by the brokers? Unless one is translating internal documents of an agency, their size and turnover are anecdotal. The target market and economy that matter should be those of the end client, not he broker.

    ** The ELIA conference — I don’t even consider the ELIA conference as a real attempt at a dialog. It is yet another run-of-the-mill conference using the the "Together" theme just as an attempt to differentiate itself from the many other clones. Furthermore, a conference is not even remotely a place to have such a dialog. The brokers pretty much control the associations and most, if not all, common gateways to the profession. A dialog can occur at any given time without any conference-like-mediation. Brokers and translators are not separated in their daily lives and need a special occasion to talk to each other. I suggest not to fall for the superficial rhetoric and analyze things based on facts.

    Reply
  25. Wow, I am late to the party. Thank you, Simon, for an excellent post on the thought-policing tone of the presentation and for lighting the fuse for one of the most interesting comment explosions I’ve read in a while. I have to agree with Kevin et alia that concerns regarding the effect of private gripes in a closed forum are not of particularly high priority for anyone with a grasp of current realities. I take these no more seriously than I do comments from a bogster agency owner of my acquaintance who affectionately refers to all translators with whom he has dealt for 20+ years as "the autistic ones" ("die Autisten"). You’ll find jerks on both sides, but blowing off steam in private hardly qualifies for that label in the cases I have seen of TTNS. As for Standing Out, I have only a little acquaintance with the cult – I remember tasteless personal attacks on a colleague, with jokes about her gravestone, and there was some silly, prissy discussionin which Mr. Morris seemed to imply that it was immoral to charge more than his bog rates for copywriting or somesuch, and he had a few acolytes chime in to say how happy they were not to charge extra for particularly demanding marketing texts. The details are fuzzy in my mind now, because, like others, I moved on to climates that suit me better. Each to his own (wenn nicht "jedem das Seine" 😉 )

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kevin. I thought everyone had forgotten about this one. I’m pleased to report that this issue seems to have died down since the time of this post and all the previous comments. And I absolutely agree with you, we should all choose the climates that suit us best and ignore people who behave unpleasantly.

      Reply

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