Our next guest blog post was written by Christelle Maignan, who will be presenting a course on the subject of future-proofing your career as a translator. It starts in December. Christelle is an English-French translator and personal performance coach. Her aim is to help other translators adapt to changing times.
Some months ago, on May 10th, I published a post entitled “What does the future hold for translators?” It was based on a talk about the future of our profession that had made a considerable impact on me at the 2015 ITI Conference in Newcastle, UK. A couple of years earlier, my refusal to switch to machine translation post-editing (PEMT) had resulted in the loss of one of my biggest clients, which in turn had led me to diversify and become a coach.
The night after the talk, I couldn’t sleep. I had been thinking for a while about my new role as a coach in the translation industry and that role had suddenly crystallised. I felt compelled to share the message that the speaker had intended (and perhaps not entirely succeeded) to convey to his audience in a style that translators could really relate to. When I finally published my post two weeks later, it received over 600 views in just four days. Since then, it has been viewed on average a couple of times a day.
Three typical responses
My readers’ responses fell into three main categories: some expressed a degree of resistance or anger, a few reacted with fear, while the majority didn’t seem to be bothered or feel concerned by the big changes highlighted in the post. As a coach, I could recognise the three typical responses to stress which we have all inherited from our prehistoric ancestors. When faced with danger, whether perceived or real, most of us choose from three instinct behaviours: either attack the source of danger (fight), run away from it (flight) or play dead/do nothing (freeze) in the hope that it will soon lose interest and disappear. All these responses are perfectly natural, but not always helpful or suitable in the 21st century.
Choosing not to react is very common. As change expert John Kotter puts it in his best-seller Leading Change, this type of behaviour is “supported by the very human tendency to deny that which we don’t want to hear. Life is usually more pleasurable without problems, and more difficult with them. Most of us, most of the time, think we have enough challenges to keep us busy. We’re not looking for more work, so when evidence of a big problem appears, if we can get away with ignoring the information, we often will.”
Another reason why people don’t react to change is because they don’t actually feel the need to. If we feel confident about the state of our business, we often don’t perceive the changes that are taking place around us as threats. The main risk with this sort of attitude is that it can lead to what is known in markets as inertia or complacency. This is particularly common amongst successful business owners. To quote social philosopher Charles Handy, author of The Second Curve, “success can blind one to the possibilities of a new technology or a new market, allowing others to seize the initiative”.
We shouldn’t ignore machine translation – it’s not going to go away
While it is true that machine translation has not yet reached a standard that professional translators would deem acceptable, I believe ignoring its progress would be a mistake. Google recently created the Google Translate Community to improve the quality of its service through crowdsourcing, while Tilde’s goal for the next few years is to make it “easier for everyone to plug in and access good translation for free through a common open platform facilitated by the European Commission”.
Those who specialise in fields that are considered more complex than general or commercial translation, such as law, finance or medicine, may not think that these changes will impact their work practices, but they will at the very least influence the general public’s perception of translation and consequently the price people will be prepared to pay for it. Moreover, many are now betting on MT making good progress in highly specialised fields too, as evidenced by recent investments in Irish translation software company Iconic Translation.
Upset, fear, anger
It would be perfectly natural at this stage to start feeling upset, fearful or angry, if you weren’t feeling so before. However, the aim of this article is not to spread fear or anger across the translation community. It is simply to raise awareness about the changes that are taking place in our industry, however uncomfortable this might be, and inspire us to push our profession forward and take proactive steps towards securing its future.
Since the publication of my post in May, I have been doing a lot of research on the latest technologies and practices, and I have developed a course for eCPD Webinars entitled The Future-Proof Translator. My aim is to present these technologies and practices in clear and simple terms to translators, and to explain to them the process of change itself, its impact on our performance levels and the strategies that can help us thrive on a dynamic, ever-evolving market.
Change is nothing new
Change is nothing new. The only thing that is new is the speed at which it is happening today. In a world where information is now expected to circulate in an instant, I believe that the translation industry is uniquely placed, by its very nature, to share new business models and practices simultaneously across cultures and languages. Our job is now to decide together what these new business models and practices are going to be.