Beware bad advice
All of us come across awful nonsense written about translation from time to time. I very much doubt, though, that there is as much nonsense gathered in one place as in the LinkedIn writings of a translator called Matt Stanton. Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t go in for personal attacks. In fact, I have nothing personal against Mr Stanton, a Japanese-English translator, and I’ve never met or interacted with him. Ignoring his unpleasant replies to colleagues who have challenged him, and the rather offensive and sexist nature of some of his posts, all I will take issue with here are ideas that he promotes, which, in my view, would be dangerous and damaging if followed by less experienced colleagues. This is a serious point because Mr Stanton, a Japanese-English translator, has written (and puts in a great deal of effort plugging) a book about translation. He also claims to run training seminars and coaching services for translators. All that takes his misguided ideas out of the sphere where everyone is entitled to their own opinion, because he is not only pushing his opinions at other people, he is persuading them to pay for the privilege. He is, in short, what has become known in the profession as an instaguru. It is on behalf of colleagues, then, and particularly on behalf of anyone easily influenced enough to be tempted to give credence to some of the utter rot I have seen written by Mr Stanton that I discuss it here.
So what does he say that is so reprehensible? My attention was initially drawn to an article about blogging in which he scoffs at the idea that a translator might need to take a whole day to write a blog post. This is a symptom, he claimed, of perfectionism that means the translator in question also takes too long over their work and “IS NOT GOING TO MAKE IT” (his shouty capitals). Well, I’ve got news for you, Mr Stanton. I know who that translator is and that translator is, in fact, one of the most successful I know. Personally, I don’t take a whole day to write a blog post. In fact, my posts are written in the rapid-fire manner Mr Stanton would actually approve of, usually sitting with the laptop while my family watch TV. They are newspaper comment columns, not deep analysis. But I have only admiration for someone who researches an informative post and fills it with relevant evidence, statistics, painstakingly researched links and thoughtful writing. There are not enough of these posts around, probably because of the time they take to write, and they should be treasured, not derided.
Had it only been for him making a fool of himself with his assumptions over the professional prospects of a person who needs all day for a blog post I perhaps wouldn’t be writing this article now. But Mr Stanton has written a whole lot more. Take, for example, a post of his entitled “Just Say Yes”. In this, he boasts of accepting jobs immediately, without even checking his schedule because “If the jobs aren’t that big, we can handle them. We can get up earlier, or work till later. We can put off non-urgent tasks. We need that can-do attitude.” He scorns translators who take time to have a cup of tea, mull things over or worry about burnout.
Well, I’m all for responding promptly to work inquiries too. But those few minutes’ thinking time about whether taking this or that job is really a good idea can be vital in not overloading yourself, or not accepting a job for which you’re really not suited, or remembering that it’s probably not a good idea to work for a particular client who took four months to pay for their last job. It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that accepting too much work isn’t only bad for the translator concerned, it’s bad for their clients too. In my case, mulling over a situation can sometimes also actually persuade me to say yes rather than no, so firing off an immediate response might even be counterproductive in Mr Stanton’s own terms. Nor does thinking time even have to be time wasted – I don’t know about him, but I can actually think and translate at the same time.
Then there’s another article, called “Translating Faster Produces Better Quality” (yes, you did read that right). In this one, Mr Stanton actually goes as far as to argue that rushing through a translation and not looking anything up results in better work. This is the case, he claims “because you don’t have time to think”. Now, I’m quite a quick translator, but the idea that “faster is better” is simply crazy, particularly as, in yet another wrongheaded article, Mr Stanton is also utterly dismissive of time spent checking and revising our work.
Perhaps Mr Stanton has superhuman powers. If he does, and if he can churn out word perfect translations in sufficient quantities to fill his pockets, accept all the jobs thrown at him and still find ten minutes to write beautifully crafted blog posts without getting burned out, well good luck to him. But I can assure you that any of us mere mortals who followed this approach would quickly fall by the wayside, rejected by clients sick of our slapdash work and laughed at by colleagues for our ill-considered opinions.
More importantly, Mr Stanton is not unique in the “don’t think about it, churn it out” approach he advocates. This is exactly what machines do too. If clients want fast, cheap, low-quality translations, computers can already provide it for them. As I’ve said before on this blog, our only hope of outdoing them is to work in areas they are going to find difficult, and that means high-quality translations requiring specialist knowledge. No-one can compete with IKEA by producing cheap flat-pack furniture, but they can by producing hand-crafted pieces the Swedish chain can’t hope and doesn’t want to make. And, to extend the metaphor, if IKEA rushed the production of their flat-packs to the extent advocated by Mr Stanton, they would be unlikely even to contain the right number of screws and fixings.
That’s why Mr Stanton’s articles and his book, ironically titled “88 Ways to be Successful as a Freelance Translator”, are so dangerous. I’ve recently heard news that several truly successful freelance translators are withdrawing, or considering withdrawing, from giving other translators advice, discouraged by the way so many appear to follow instagurus like Mr Stanton. Sadly, they seem to feel responsible for people failing to heed their words and depressed by the idea that many translators aren’t going to succeed. I would urge them to shrug off this misplaced sense of responsibility. If people don’t or won’t listen it simply isn’t anyone else’s fault, and the fact that many translators and other business people will fail is mere statistical inevitability. On the other hand, it is surprising how and where words of wisdom and inspiration do manage to get through, even indirectly. I, for one, don’t want to leave the floor open to those giving unwise, unsound and unsafe advice and I plan to continue sounding the alarm about it wherever and whenever I find it, particularly when such dubious advice is being peddled for money. There, I just did it again.
Please note, I have deliberately not linked to Mr Stanton’s articles here because I don’t want to boost visits to his pages. Perhaps merely by writing this piece I have done just that, but I still feel his advice is so dangerously wrongheaded that I am duty-bound to speak up. Look him up and read him for yourself if you must but, if you do, you should know that promoting his page was not my intention. You can find the opinions of some colleagues here.
Thank you so much Simon for articulating my thoughts better than I could have done (would it have taken me a whole day to write? We’ll never know)!
I went as far as to download the free sample of this person’s ebook and the content is even more depressing than the posts.
Just like you, I think this kind of misguided advice is especially dangerous if preached to colleagues who are new to the profession or struggling in their career.
Thanks for your comment, Nelia. It’s good to see that so many colleagues feel the same about the advice being given by Mr Stanton – I’ve had several supportive comments on Facebook too.
I challenged him quite few times and he is such a snowflake. Thank you for writing the truth
I was delighted to do it, Radovan. I challenged him for a while, but after writing this blog post I’ve stopped engaging with him because it’s just a waste of time. I certainly haven’t changed my mind, though – his advice is appalling!
Well said, Simon! I feel sorry for his clients to be honest. And even sorrier for any translators that follow his advice, which seems extremely dubious. Being able to simply fit a job in here or there or work late may be ok for some people or some of the time, but most of us have families and limited amounts of energy.
Simply following basic common sense practices seems to be a problem for a lot of translators.
Thanks for writing this blog!
Thanks for your comment, Heather. Yes, I have some sympathy with his clients, particularly those who are paying for a better service than they’re getting. Mind you, he makes no secret of his working methods so anyone who wants to know how he operates can easily find out.
Thank you for writing this Simon! I only noticed Matt because he blipped into my Linkedin when he commented on my book reviews saying I should add his book. Actually he was more demanding I add it… (His attitude made me not even want to consider his book.)
I had a quick look at his interactions on LinkedIn and am honestly shocked at how impolite and disrespectful he is. Especially towards those in the localization industry! A lot of "all these trolls and haters are great, they’re getting me more views!" when ironically he is the only troll/hater in the discussions.
As a Japanese-English translator I’m surprised because Japanese language and culture demands so much humility and I almost never meet an arrogant person within the Japanese speaking community.
Needless to say it is ironic that her shared your article, which shed light on his rudeness and poor advice and made me remove him as a connection.
Thank you for your comment, Jen. He’s sharing my post? Now that IS strange!
It looks to me like this guy is applying the Mark Manson/Chuck Wendig approach (lots of swearing, somewhat non-traditional) to writing about translation. I get that completely – it drives controversy and therefore page views. However, the difference comes in the comments. As far as I’m aware, Manson and Wendig never resort to personal insults in reply, regardless of how rude the original commenter might have been.
Personally, I don’t much care how colleagues approach their translation work. I sometimes translate very quickly myself, but unless a fellow translator happens to be on the other side of the Brexit debate (and being crass about it) it’s most unlikely I’ll resort to name calling.
Thanks, Jane. I don’t much care how colleagues work either. But I do care when they try to influence others with bad advice. There’s nothing wrong with translating quickly if you then revise the translation well, which I’m sure you do, but Mr Stanton doesn’t approve of revision, and he actually claims working quickly leads to better work. Now, he might be able to get away with it, but I think most people taking that advice would produce shocking work, and that’s the basis for my post. It’s not what Mr Stanton does, it’s the ideas he spreads that bother me.
"It drives controversy and therefore page views"… That’s the key to it all!
You may be right, Macarena. But surely the point of that is to make him more visible to clients and what any prospective clients think of some of his advice doesn’t bear thinking about.
Thanks very much for this article. I am an experienced translator, but I’m looking for inspiration to rekindle my career. I’ve just noticed this e-book today. Thanks for the warning. It’s good to know that there are still some serious professionals like you left in this rapidly-changing industry.
Thanks for your kind words, Paul. When looking for inspiration, it’s always a good idea to avoid the instagurus out there. There are plenty of normal translators only too happy to give advice for nothing or for very little reward, not trying to sell dubious ideas in various packages.
I enjoyed reading this post, kind of like when you watch a particularly depressing documentary that leaves you feeling in despair at the world, so you go and watch a couple of episodes of Blue Planet because David Attenborough’s voice restores balance in your universe, and you need that before you go to bed.
Thanks for being the David Attenborough to one of the most annoying people on LinkedIn. Extra-annoying as they fall under the category of people for which any attention is good attention.
The majority of level-headed translators appreciate the struggles posed by earning the salaries we deserve, but know that pushing ourselves to get faster and more machine-like with each passing day (insert all the other odd-attention seeking-reaction garnering statements spouted here) is not the answer.
Thank you for your kind words, Laura. I’m glad to have helped you sleep peacefully! As you say, trying to turn into machines is not going to help us compete with machines.
I recently had a confrontation via LinkedIn with this empathy-lacking, disrespectful clown. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks that way.
I had a few lively discussions with him on there at about the time of this blog post, but it seemed to me he was just using conflict with people as additional self-promotion so I decided to withdraw. My views haven’t changed a bit, though.
I’m wondering where this “professional” is located. I’m simply baffled by his vision of our work. His activities are certainly not as regulated as they are where I am.
He’s in Japan, Nathalie. I think that’s largely how he gets away with his approach to translation – the machines haven’t really got to grips with Japanese-English yet. When they do, he’ll have to take his slapdash methods elsewhere.
Thank you, Simon, for being the voice of reason against Stanton’s misguided advice. There is still hope left for the industry !
Thank you! I do my best.
(Sorry, new version)
Lao Tseu a dit:
Celui qui sait faire, fait
Celui qui ne sait pas faire, enseigne comment faire
Et celui qui ne sait pas enseigner… écrit un blog !
I hope you don’t mean me!
I had mixed feelings about both books by M. Stanton, although I tested some of his practical advice in my translation practice. His chutzpa aside, it’s been effective in making me aware of my self-indulgence and encouraging me to revisit some of my overstiff translation routines. That said, I do agree that the ‘instaguru’ approach is not the best way to win people over. Cheers from Ukraine.
Thanks for your comment, Denis. I can imagine some of Stanton’s methods working up to a point. The problem is always going to be, though, that, for him, the aim is to work like a computer – quickly, efficiently and to low quality standards. This is not going to help anyone compete with machine translation. If we want to beat the machines we have to offer things they can’t do.
Exactly my thoughts! However, my rationale for testing his method was more of Kaizen-type, which AFAIK has not been meant to sacrifice quality for speed. Here’s a quick example of how his books urged me to see if I could translate both faster AND better. I ran some usability tests on my CAT tools and discovered there was much room for improvement in their configuration, layout, etc. I’d considered myself a solid expert of CAT technology, so I was pretty much amazed to watch my hourly output going up by almost 50% thanks to those simple tweaks. I’m a technical translator logging effective hours of work, so in my case speed has always mattered!
If you can translate faster without losing quality, that’s got to be good. Mind you, I don’t think Stanton approves of CAT tools…
His newest post on LinkedIn:
"My January stats:
Translation hours: 52.5
Marketing hours: 0"
Many people fall for that (me included at first sight) and ask themselves: Why don’t I make such good money in these few hours…? By the way, that’s 162 Dollars per hour.
I remember him working a few years ago for gengo as a resources manager, i.e. being responsible for the relations with the translators on this platform.
I don’t think he makes this kind of money with translations, he is too busy posting on LinkedIn and Insta to promote his books.
His figures may be true, but there are a lot of things they don’t tell you. For example, is this a regular month or a freakishly good one? Are the hours he claims to work correct, or is he doing work-related things outside them that he doesn’t account for? And are his clients happy with his rushed, unrevised work? If I could see his figures for a whole year and speak to his clients about him, then I might start to believe him.
I am glad that I found your blog (while looking for Matt Stanton, by the way) and with it a person who says things about translations that really make sense. I have been translating now for 12 years into German and I never ever found out that my translations get any better when I rush through them. It is just pure nonsense. The money aspect sounds enticing, though, to beginners in this profession or people who have difficulties to make ends meet. Thanks for your blog!
Thank you, BW. I’m glad you like the blog. Not everything Matt Stanton says is rubbish, particularly when he talks about knowing your specialist areas, but he always spoils the sensible stuff with his nonsense about working quickly and not checking anything. Then he deflects criticism by calling anyone who dares to call him out old-fashioned. I said what I wanted to say in that post and I don’t engage with him, although I know he’s still spouting rubbish on LinkedIn and selling books to the gullible. However much I’d like to help other translators there are limits to what I can achieve.
I am a newcomer in translation industry, and I have been following this person for the past few years. I must say that his views about work principles in translation got me shocked. I started asking myself, "Is translation right for me? I cannot work as quickly as he does, and some of the qualities I have are what he calls as the qualities of ‘unsuccessful freelance translators’", one of which is taking the time to think whether or not I take a job from a client (which, I think, after reading this post, is obviously nonsense!). I used to view him as the standard of a successful translator, but I naturally disagree with many of his views, and I thought I must not be the only one. So, I found this writing, and I am glad that I did! Thank you!
I’m glad you’ve "seen the light", Mohammad. It’s hard enough starting off as a translator without being led astray by bad advice. I wish you luck for the future.
I thankful that I found this article, even though its a couple of years old. It is good to know that my suspicions are not unfounded. This person is constantly popping up in my notifications and I find his arrogance extremely irritating. I find him the P.T. Barnum of the translation world.
That’s a pretty good description, Roy!
I’m late to the party, but thanks for this, Simon. I wish everyone saw through his rubbish (how does anyone not?). Are there any samples of his work available anywhere? I can’t find any (not even a website?) and I would LOVE to see what he actually produces.
I’ve never seen examples of his work. He makes all kinds of claims about his expertise, which may well be true for all I know, but from the working methods he describes I’d be worried about the quality of his work.
I have never met Mr. Stanton but I have interacted with him more than a few times online (having had him as a friend on my Facebook, which I stopped using last yeat) and I have seen what he’s written in both languages including some samples of his work. What I can tell from his translations is that, although his Japanese writing skill might not be good enough to make him a successful "English to Japanese" translator, he does understand both languages very well having lived in both the UK and Japan for almost an equal amount of time (I believe), which probably allows him to take a more creative approach to J to E translation. That is probably why, I assume, he believes that he can produce better work by working faster (overthinking and being bound by too many rules can stop some of us from being creative. I should also mention that translating between a European and an Asian lauguages can require a lot more creativity due to the both liguistic and cultural gap).
However, I agree with you that his approach doesn’t apply to everyone and those who are new to this business should probably be warned. At the same time, I do understand where he’s coming from and what he’s frustrated about – There is nothing more frustrating than having your work edited by someone who’s much less qualified/experienced than you are. He did master Japanese very well for which I respect him.
About his being arrogant and patronizing, I believe it is probably due to all the years that he’s spent in Japan, which continues to be a male-dominated society and in which white people in particular can live in the delusion of being priviledged…I do not find him pleasant but I don’t think he’s completely wrong, either. I don’t agree to all what he says but he’s very consistent with what he argues and I understand where he’s coming from, which can be useful to know as one of many perspectives of successful translators (assuming readers are intelligent enough not to follow ANY advice blindly). In conclusion, there are many so-called "professional" translators that I don’t respect at all but he’s not one of them (he can do the job), although that doesn’t give him the right to pester others.