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Trade-offs

From a user's "external" point of view, obviously, the ideal translation would be

utterly reliable, available immediately, and free. Like most ideals, this one is

impossible. Nothing is utterly reliable, everything takes time, and there ain't no such

thing as a free lunch.

Even in a less than ideal world, however, one can still hope for the best possible

realistic outcome: a translation that is reasonably reliable, delivered in good time

before the deadline, and relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, even these lowered

expectations are often unreasonable, and trade-offs have to be considered:

• The closer one attempts to come to perfect reliability, the more the translation will cost

and the longer it will take (two or three translators, each of whom checks the

others' work, will improve reliability and speed while adding cost and time).

• The shorter the time span allowed for the translation, the more it will cost and the harder

it will be to guarantee reliability (one translator who puts aside all other work to

do a job quickly will charge a rush fee, and in her rush and mounting exhaustion

may make — and fail to catch — stupid mistakes; a group of translators will cost

more, and may introduce terminological inconsistencies).

• The less one is willing to pay for a translation, the harder it will he to ensure reliability

and to protect against costly delays (the only translators willing to work at a cut

rate are non-professionals whose language, research, translation, and editing

skills may be wholly inadequate to the job; a non-professional working alone

may also take ill and not be able to tell another translator how to pick up where

s/he left off, or may lack the professional discipline needed to set and maintain

a pace that will ensure timely completion).

These real-world limitations on the user's dream of instant reliable translation

free of charge are the translator's professional salvation. If users could get exactly

what they wanted, they either would not need us or would be able to dictate the

nature and cost of our labor without the slightest consideration for our needs.

Because we need to get paid for doing work that we enjoy, we must be willing to

meet nontranslating users' expectations wherever possible; but because those

expectations can never be met perfectly, users must be willing to meet us halfway

I wonder if anyone on the list has had an experience

similar to mine. I work at a large company on a contract

basis. I've been with them, off and on, for over 2.5 years

now. At present, I work full-time, some part-time, and

often — overtime. The work load is steady, and they see

that the need in my services is constant. They refuse to

hire me permanently, though. Moreover, they often hire

people who are engineers, bilingual, but without linguistic

skills or translator credentials, or abilities. The

management doesn't seem to care about the quality of

translation, even though they have had a chance to find out

the difference between accurate translation and sloppy

language, because it has cost them time and money to

unravel some of the mistakes of those pseudo-translators.

I know that I will be extraordinarily lucky if they ever

decide to hire me on a permanent basis.

Ethically, I can't tell them that the work of other

people is ... hm . . . substandard. Most engineers with

whom I have been working closely know what care I take

to convey the material as accurately as possible, and how

much more efficient the communication becomes when they

have a good translator. I also know that it is supposed

to be a part of translator's job to educate his/her

clients. I tried that . . . . <sigh.>

Rina as well. Any user who wants a reliable translation will have to pay market rates for

it and allow a reasonable time period for its completion; anyone who wants a reliable

translation faster than that will have to pay above market rates. This is simple

economics; and users understand economics. We provide an essential service; the

products we create are crucial for the smooth functioning of the world economy,

politics, the law, medicine, and so on; much as users may dream of bypassing the

trade-offs of real-world translating, then, they remain dependent on what we do,

and must adjust to the realities of that situation.

This is not to say that we are in charge, that we are in a position to dictate terms,

or that we can ever afford to ignore users' dreams and expectations. If users want

to enhance reliability while increasing speed and decreasing cost, we had better be

aware of those longings and plan for them. This book doesn't necessarily offer such

a plan; such a plan may not even exist yet. What it offers instead is a translatororiented

approach to the field, one that begins with what translators actually do and

how they feel about doing it — without ever forgetting the realities of meeting users'

needs. In Chapter 2 I will be redefining from the translator's perspective the

territory we have been exploring here in Chapter 1: the importance of reliability,

income, and enjoyment, that last a subjective translator experience that is completely

irrelevant to users but may mean the difference between a productive career and

burnout.