Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Digitalization Of Translation: A Blessing Or A Curse?

First off, the digitalization with the first computers, and then the uncontrollable spread of the Internet are, in my opinion, the two factors that have most deeply affected the translator’s job and the way we work with translations since the time the profession was born.

The question here is: Did the digitalization affect this ancient profession in positive way? Or has it had negative consequences?
First of all, let’s talk about the tool, the medium between the translator and his/her text: the computer. Before the introduction and the spread of it we had the typewriter, and before it, handwriting. There was an abyss between these three stages. Before the advent of digital media, what we had was:

1. Necessity of physical backup (paper) and a tool (pen, ink, etc.).
2. Degradability and risk of loss of the backup (and our job!)
3. Impossibility to make changes to previously translated parts without affecting the general layout.
4. Necessity of much more time.
5. No automatic spelling error detection and/or correction tools.
And much more…
Apart from the risk of data loss (as every translator knows from experience, electronic devices can sometimes be diabolical!), all of the above problems have been solved by the advent of computers, and without a doubt the “modern” translator’s life has become much easier than before. One point for digitalization.
The Internet, the other aspect that has deeply affected our job, is the most controversial.

The most important contribution that the Internet has brought to the translator’s job is, I think, the possibility for us to do research on the material we’re working on, without moving from our seat. We have virtually all the information we need, available at any moment. I personally use Wikipedia intensively, switching from language to language, when I’m looking for reference material on the subject of my translation. In the same way, we can contact agencies, get jobs, deliver translations, ask for other translators’ help, and much more.

But not all that glitters is gold. The relatively recent spread of the Internet brings two of the biggest problems that affect translators: the proliferation of scum translation agencies and what seems to be a rush to lower the price.

Translation agencies or wannabe agencies are born and die without any control. You can work for one month on a big project, deliver it, and not be paid because the agency has disappeared. And having control over this phenomenon is quite hard, if not impossible. There are many cases of translators that haven’t been paid and may never be paid for their work. Who can assure us that a particular agency is reliable? (We’re trying to change this situation by creating a database of non-trustworthy agencies, but we need the collaboration of other translators, and even if these scum agencies live only a few years or even a few months, we’re sure it will give a contribution to the war on these subjects!)

On the other hand, translation fees are getting lower and lower as time goes by. If you think the fee that the agency is offering you is not enough, you can ask for a higher rate, but should be aware that in 90% of these cases the client will find someone else who can do the same job at half of the price you’re asking for. And he doesn’t even need to spend so much time… The Internet is full of pretend-translators: people that can speak one or two language - no matter what level of skill - start doing translations to get some more cash, without caring much about the fee (after all, it’s just extra money). Moreover, recently I get the impression that what concerns the client is good pricing only, rather than the experience of the translator or a quality job.
These two aspects are very dangerous for us professionals since we live off of translations. Will working for few cents or not being paid at all put an end to the profession of the translator? If digitalization has changed this profession for the better, making it easier, it has also made this work accessible to so many people that now it seems that we are in a constant bidding war, and our spoils gained after this war are not always certain.