Archive for August, 2010

BeWords is being launched

Mathieu Maréchal from Trad Online is launching a new platform for translators, BeWords, which could potentially become like ProZ, only better. It is currently in beta, and much of the website is still under construction, but grab a user name if you want one: more than two thousand translators have already signed up.

Judging by the initial communications, BeWords will focus on direct clients, make some effort to rule out dumping (no more than five or six bids per project will be accepted), offer escrow service (possibly only for a portion of each payment) and a mechanism for testing translators (preliminary copy suggested there would be a flat rate per test, further details were unclear; as of this writing the page is empty), validate profiles at a cost and provide a bunch of communication tools (probably not focusing much on this part, since everybody already has a ton of communication tools of all sorts elsewhere).

The official launch is scheduled for September 1. Premium membership will be available starting from that date, but it has not yet been specified exactly what the money will buy.

Mathieu is requesting input from LSPs, so if you have any suggestions, go ahead and submit them: since pretty much everything there is work in progress, it must be relatively easy to get them implemented, or at least considered, at this point.

To sum up, the site creators’ attitude looks promising, and we are hoping things will get more interesting soon.

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Katja Grace over at Meteuphoric argues that being a native speaker of a rare language is akin to being deaf: you get to partake in a special culture, but can’t (comfortably) communicate with much larger groups, so on balance you lose. She lists the typical arguments in favor of language revitalization and explains why, in her opinion, none of them is valid.

It remains unclear whether the author is, or will be, raising her kids in Chinese since English is far less popular. The post is worth a read regardless, if only for an insight into how (some) outsiders of the language industry regard language. Hint: who cares about some obscure cultural heritage if protecting it means you’ll have trouble being understood by, you know, me.

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“If you are a successful professional, that is probably in part because of your unjustified arrogance,” says Robin Hanson, citing studies in corporate management, medicine, law and software development to prove his point. We once again don’t have the stats, but anecdotal evidence suggests translators fit the pattern (why would we not?).

People choose many types of suppliers, including LSPs, on the basis of incomplete information: for obvious reasons, clients in need of a translation typically find it hard to evaluate somebody else’s translation skills. So they look for signals, the more reliable, the better. Talk is cheap and, as the data illustrates, confidence does not necessarily imply competence. However, lack thereof can reasonably safely be interpreted as a sign of inadequacy. You, after all, have an incentive to present yourself in a favorable light; if you readily admit limitations, it must be for a reason.

Depending on your perspective, this may sound disturbing. Those of us who flourish in the market are likely too optimistic too often. You may indeed be a terrific translator loved by clients, or you may get positive feedback when you’ve done a particularly good job, then regress toward the mean and never realize that on average, you are not that great after all.

That is worth keeping in mind; but notice, too, that it’s not knowledgeable failures vs ignorant successes. What the data shows is that confidence is rewarded regardless of the level of expertise. If tomorrow everybody gets an accurate idea of their respective capabilities, nothing indicates that resulting quality of services will get better overall.

Food for thought.

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A trio of researchers recruited a group of college students for an experiment and told them they would be paid between three and ten dollars for playing a game. After four rounds, an experimenter handed each subject three dollars and asked if that was OK. If a participant asked for more money, he or she was given ten dollars. Those who, instead of asking directly, merely complained about the compensation, were not offered a larger amount.

The goal of the study was to look at sex differences in negotiation behaviour. In the experiment, almost nine times as many male as female subjects asked for more money.

The story comes from Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, which contains quite a few impressive figures that are not intuitively obvious. The most interesting part is not even the XX vs XY stuff, but how much leeway is often available and how the difference adds up over time. We suggest you read at least the free excerpt available on Amazon, it is enlightening.

Still, we are now wondering whether the translation market is indeed dominated by women. It seems to be the case, but we have no hard data. Findings in the book sound too familiar: people accept whatever they are offered, are unhappy with outcomes, yet never attempt to do anything about it.

In our industry, that behavior is displayed by male and female translators alike. It does matter who sets the trend though: “if I don’t accept this, somebody else will” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it makes everybody worse-off. Therefore it may be useful to get a clearer idea of who initiates this domino fall.

So far, the usual suspects have been students, residents of countries with a low cost of living and, more generally, unspecified bottom-feeders. They are assumed to provide low quality, thus operating in a separate market in which self-respecting translators are not interested anyway.

If women’s aversion to negotiation is real, it can’t be interpreted the same way: there’s clearly nothing inferior, on average, about their translations. So we end up with normal-quality services available more cheaply for cultural rather than demand-driven reasons. Good for buyers, not so good for suppliers, and a solution would involve drawing attention to the issue rather than discarding the non-negotiators as a separate breed living on a different planet and working for greedy clients that wouldn’t recognize quality if it hit them in the face.


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The Awl has a fascinating piece on freelancing. Excellent prose, some lessons to learn, a few debatable points and, most gratifying of all, an approach refreshingly different from the stuff you typically get from sources covering freelancing.

[I]n order to be a freelancer for very long, you have to think of yourself in certain ways. You know what they say about beautiful people? That every pretty girl or gorgeous man is someone’s ex, was too much hassle for someone. That’s definitely true of freelancing. You show up to the party with the Times or Playboy on your arm and people always, always, always think that you are the half of that relationship that is the lucky one. There are a lot of squinty glances. Really? What do they see in you?

Highly recommended.

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