An Apology and Resignation

I’m not resigning from any position, of course, other than the overly optimistic position of thinking that any but a tiny number of translators will every break away from their bonds with agencies to become first-tier providers themselves. It’s simply not in the cards.

But I do sincerely apologize to the people who came to listen to my presentation at the IJET-30 Conference in Cairns and, of course, to people who have listened to my advice over the years. I misled you. In fact, I lied.

Most Japanese-to-English translators will continue to surrender their agency to brokers—willingly or begrudgingly—and will continue to work on tier two. And almost none of them will ever work with an entity that knows anything about translation or understands what they’re asking them to translate. That reality is as clear as the nose on your face. The outlook is bleak for almost all translators. And it is getting worse. This truth is more useful than a comfortable fiction.

I have deceived colleagues and potential colleagues into thinking that it is reasonable to aspire to something better. It is not, except for a very tiny number of translators and even then only with considerable good fortune.

I am sorry if I gave the impression that breaking out of tier two was possible. It is an unreasonable hope for almost all translators.

More specifically, only a very tiny number of Japanese-to-English translators will:

  • ever have any engagement with the users of their translations,
  • ever have any engagement with purchasers of their translations who know anything about translation or understand the subject matter they are asking them to translate, or
  • ever be able to get nearly the amount of money spent by the translation consumers who purchase their translations from translation brokers.

Accordingly, I hereby resign—not from translation, of course—but from efforts to tell translators that there is something else available. For almost no translators is that “something else” within reach. Most have already resigned themselves to that situation, and some rationalize their plight. And things are not going to improve for the vast majority of Japanese-to-English translators.

The Sad News: Japanese-to-English Translators put out of work almost 36 years ago.

Today marks the day, almost 36 years ago, when human Japanese-to-English translators were thrown out of work by the arrival of machine translation, in the form of an “automatic translation machine” as it was described in this Asahi Shimbun first-page article of May 18, 1984. The company selling this product was Bravice International, which was soon to go bankrupt and sell the rights to its technology to another outfit.

Machine Japanese-to-English translation developed by numerous companies has had a perfect record of not putting qualified human Japanese-to-English translators out of work all these years but it is now poised to achieve parity with incompetent Japanese-to-English translators in China and India. And it only took 36 years to do that. Actually it has taken longer, since the Bravice failure was certainly not the start of efforts to replace expensive translators with software.

A tip of the hat to all the people who poured their hearts (and misplaced hopes) into this effort.