May 20, 2023

Taking the trash out of trashlation in translation

Let’s be real, people. We need to start using the word trashlation to describe what too often passes for professional activity in the language services sector these days.

I’m looking at all of you DeepL fans among others. 🧐  And especially the LSPs who try to sell that garbage or other post-edited spew as translation. Such nonsense is seldom fit for purpose, and when I am not bent over the Porcelain God in “prayer”, I am always reminded of Mark Twain’s comment that the difference between something “close” to the right word and the right word itself is akin to the difference between a lightning bug and lightning. I would suggest that in some cases the consequential difference could be compared to being strapped to the electric chair for execution as opposed to watching the Natural magnificence of a lightning storm.
Recently, a German publisher sent me a very interesting file containing a table with the original German text in the first column, a post-edited DeepL result by a German who has lived abroad for some decades in the second column, in a third the post-edited result from an American living in Germany, and in the fourth column the results of some beta program called DeepL Write, yet another iteration of all of this AI trash the fanboys and -girls all declare will replace human writing efforts. Although I prefer to be left out of any discussions whatsoever involving the linguistic quality of MT output, the submitter seemed pleased by what he saw and insisted on having my opinion. So I gave it to him. Unfiltered. 😃  I suggested leaving me alone with that nonsense, and said I considered all of it to be hopeless trash. Actually, I might have been harsher than that, as I don't consider that sort of “writing“ acceptable or in any way fit for purpose, any purpose with which I'll be associated. It is physically painful for me to look at verbal garbage like that. I would rather stick my nose in a garbage can full of rotting meat and inhale deeply. The original German text was not bad, and it deserved real translation like someone I recommended could provide for that subject matter.

In a long consulting gig in the second half of 2022, which ended only in April of this year, I had a very close look at how badly the commercial models of translation service offered by most agencies are broken, badly, badly broken. Years of social engineering propaganda by unscrupulous promotors of machine translation and artificial "intelligence" have skewed expectations badly so that if the buyer is lucky the "best" service might be "good enough", though barely.

Project managers at agencies tell me of their soul-crushing duty to force ever lower rates on those external providers of translation services who typically do the real work sold as the agency's deceptive product. All the while, charts and graphs and other "quality metrics" tell the fairy story of superior delivery.

It's time for individuals providing independent services to take a different approach. Let the linguistic sausage providers (aka LSPs) eat their own product. Take the trash out of trashlation.

Of course there has been a lot of talk for years about the need to find more direct clients. Most conferences for translators have at least one presentation on this topic. But many of the recommended practices are dated or have become less effective as LSPs providing trashlation have increasingly gamed the search algorithms to make their pages appear to be those of independent individual providers, and then once there the buyer is treated to lies and distortions suggesting that they may be better off with the superior "full service" of the agency. Very few of the claims on such pages reflect actual practice, something I know very well as an insider providing technical assistance to companies for a very long time.

I have also read suggestions recently that search engine optimization (SEO) strategies may soon be a dead letter. Why? Companies developing search engines are rushing to implement large language model (LLM) functionality, such as that found in ChatGPT, any many expect that to blow the algorithm gaming strategy to Hell, negating much of the investments companies and individuals have made to increase the visibility of their web sites and the services offered there.

I don't know, really, what disintermediation strategies might be most effective these days, but at the very least individual traders should examine alternative representation strategies. I saw an interesting one recently on Fiverr, a platform I remembered only for the idiotic idea that every service should cost $5. Well, that has apparently changed.

Although their presentations were often far from a perfect, translators offering services on those platforms are able to structure the "gigs" in such a way that buyers can easily specify relevant conditions, such as project scope, urgency, etc. And service providers can avoid overbooking by applying various kinds of throttles based on order volume. Extra services, such as multiple revisions, project glossaries and many other extras I have marketing over the years are a snap to set up.

In fact, I was so impressed by what I saw that I am considering to create special services for some of the routine technical services I provide for translation workflow training videos, custom import filters, regex tools to translation and text QA, etc. Frequently, more of my time is spent gathering information on a client's requirements than I actually spend providing the implementable result. The flexible FAQ functions, intake questionnaire, portfolio and communication tools look like they can be a huge time-saver.

Compared to what I saw on Fiverr and a few similar, huge volume platforms, the structure of platforms like ProZ-dot-com and Translator's Café definitely look "last century". The times they are a-changin' and maybe we should be too in the platforms we use to promote services that our potential clients need.