Disruptive changes

Another of TAUS‘s papers, titled What options do translators really have?, has an interesting mediation on the turmoil facing the industry at the moment. Unsurprisingly, using TAUS is an excellent solution to some of the problems they note, but there is a greater wisdom in the whole post. I think that it summarises the current state of play very well and highly recommend it if you want a good review of the bigger picture as it stands:

So you are a translator. You have a loving, intimate relationship with words. You thrive on the challenging, mind-wrestling quest for equivalence and yes – you know the difference between a participle and a gerund. You care – not just about style, register and cultural nuances, but most of all, about the quality of your work. You are a linguist, a writer, a cultural expert and a field expert on many subjects, a researcher, an IT expert, a graphic designer… a one-man orchestra. You work autonomously and are driven by mastery.

Yes, you are a translator. You work long hours on texts that are becoming increasingly boring – be it lengthy automotive manuals that no-one ever reads or help files that no-one ever wants. You are forced to recycle words although climate change is not high on you agenda. And yes – you see the rates dropping with the speed of light and wonder when will they ask you to work for free?

The obvious candidates get a look in – open collaboration, the web as a tool and the current economic climate, but some interesting examples of how to move forward are also presented:

There is also a great potential to move up the value chain. Just like vast numbers of accountants have taken on management consultancy roles, professional translators could offer value-added consultancy services, advising on cultural, technical or authoring issues or providing controlled language services. Your role could become much more important, varied and fun – the scope for development is there, without the need to sacrifice things you love the most.

The solutions offered mirror what I’ve been saying these last 18 months – they don’t pull punches, but it’s not all doom and gloom. I was impressed to see that they’d even quoted Ignacio Garcia, who has been a great help to me over the last year or so as we fumble toward a future for translators in which they keep control, and their livelihoods.

Disruptive change always causes resistance and leaves victims in its wake. But it also brings great opportunities for those who are willing and able to embrace it and utilise the resources it brings. Forget the dodgy opportunists who thrive out there – there will always be someone trying to take advantage. In a professional world translators are not being asked to work for free nor are they likely to be reduced to the low-paid call-centre conditions that Garcia predicts. I would go with Bateman , who argues that the new tools and processes open up new roles and opportunities for variety and growth.

In Darwin’s words, it is not the strongest one that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change – and if you can’t change something, change the way you think about it. After all, it all starts with an attitude. ‘Open’ is the word for the future and if you can just imagine the potential that an open mind + open resources (linguistic and human) could have, then you have already seen the light. The changes will not happen overnight and you might be lucky to maintain a status quo for some time. However, deep structural changes in the translation industry are happening and it would be wise to keep your finger on the pulse and stay open.