Social Media: Making Honesty Seem so 1980

If you spend the amount of time required to create a Facebook persona that securely posits you as the best thing in your field since sliced bread, it’s unlikely that you will have the time to actually live that persona by walking that walk.

I sometimes wonder whether people who post over 50 times each day (sometimes at great length) ever step back for a moment and think about whether people will believe that they are actually walking that walk. Some of these personas are at best harmless fantasies, but some could also indicate a serious addiction to social media and an obsessive need to be liked and looked up to by other social media believers and addicts.

I’ve not got the time for such silliness. My leaving Facebook (the only social media account I have ever had) on October 1 will entail no withdrawal symptoms, since the account is not mission critical to satisfying some need for self-fulfillment.

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My Personalized Plan to Distance Myself from Social Media

In my program at least to distance myself from social media (and trash my Facebook account on October 1), I have identified a number of things I should do. These are not necessarily presented here in the sequence in which they are going to be executed, particularly because some are predicated on others happening first. Some of these are currently underway or have already been achieved.

Because I have set the date for trashing my Facebook account as October 1, this original list has become extremely short.

  • Never post anything to my Facebook timeline except links to blog articles until October 1.
  • Start selecting websites of creditable news outlets to use as news sources replacing the stuff that FB currently throws at me.
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Jaron Lanier’s Reasons for Our Leaving Social Media

I have just finished reading Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Nowand find that Lanier’s revelations about what social media platforms are doing pretty much match my apprehensions about social media. In fact, in some areas, particularly regarding the automatic fine tuning of and learning by algorithms, Lanier reveals ways that opaque social media algorithms operate that I had not imagined.

Lanier refers to what social media platforms do as BUMMER (Behaviors of Users Modified and Made into an Empire for Rent), although he appropriately replaces modified with manipulated where appropriate, and it is clear that the term manipulation is often appropriate.

He lists the components of BUMMER as:

  • Attention acquisition
  • Butting into everyone’s lives
  • Cramming content down people’s throats
  • Directing people’s behaviors in the sneakiest way possible
  • Earning money from letting the worst assholes secretly screw with everybody else, and
  • Fake mobs and faker society.

Essentially, although he himself is a Silicon Valley insider and works for Microsoft and LinedIn, Lanier lays out ten arguments for immediately deleting your social media accounts. He posits that social media accounts cause you to lose your free will and that quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times. Lanier says that social media turns us into assholes and undermines truth, devaluing what we say and destroying our capacity for empathy. Social media makes us unhappy, doesn’t want us to have economic dignity, makes politics impossible, and hates our souls.

I have been a severe critic of social media, but even social media addicts (and Lanier makes a strong case that addiction is an important element in the BUMMER business model) and deniers (the “it doesn’t affect me because I am smart and ignore it” crowd) should be able to pick up on what is happening, albeit perhaps with a bit of regret about having to do so.

In the summary of this short work, Lanier likens submission to BUMMER to the abandonment of a belief system for a new belief system that can itself be characterized as a religion.

The entire thrust of the book is that we should give up our social media accounts (Lanier himself has none), and the author does offer a few sketchy suggestions near the close of the work. They involve commonsense approaches such as interacting will friends via email and accessing news from carefully selected websites rather than what social media feeds us.

In attempting to break away from BUMMER social media, individuals will surely encounter other specific obstacles. One is how to contact people who do not have email. Another, and one that faces me, is how to replace Facebook groups and the Facebook event function that I have been using to organize face-to-face gatherings of friends.

But I believe those obstacles are not insurmountable, and in a post coming shortly I will lay out several steps I will take (I have already started taking some of them) in distancing myself from social media (in my case, Facebook only).

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Tendaikai Members Performing at a Nearby Shinto Shrine

The other day we visited a local shrine (Himonya Hachimangu) to see the Tendaikai people perform. The group is headed by Fukui Tendai, who is the teacher of the wakaokami at Oiwake in Asakusa, a place I have been visiting for decades.

先日、近くの碑文谷八幡宮の演芸会開演直前の福居典大先生。小生の行き付けの店、浅草追分の若女将(Akiyo Hattori)の師匠です。

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The Ugly Underbelly of the Translation Industry and the Value of ISO Certification

Ok, it starts again from these Chinese cretins.

This sleazy Chinese translation broker, CCJK, must actually be operated by people who have escaped from a home for the terminally stupid. And they claim to have ISO 9001 certification. That very statement is powerful, since, taken together with the laughable content of this email, it demonstrates the meaningless of the ISO certification.

I get about one of these ridiculous offers of translation service from CCJK per week. They arrive from people using various names and are almost all (including this one) sent from a gmail address.

The last four times they vomited this shit at me they received a newly created generic autoreply that is sent to everyone accessing our inquiry address but that names CCJK specifically as a repeating offender. As I have said in the past, I would entertain the opportunity to have a positive business encounter with a Chinese entity or Chinese person. The sobering reality, however, is that every single encounter I can recall is with shitstains like this person purporting to be Joan Pang. This is the translation “industry.”

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Effective immediately, I will no longer suggest to Japanese-to-English translators who have posed questions on various fora that they ask the author. The reason is simple: almost no translators have access to the author, either directly or via an agent/broker.

Suggestions to contact the author not only are not useful but also annoy translators by reminding them of their position on the food chain. It is clear that the desirable situation is one in which, faced with a problem in understanding what the author meant, the translator can ask the author. Almost no translators are in that situation, hence this decision to stop the annoying comments.

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Harsh Realities for Beginning Translators

I have on numerous occasions had that warm feeling of being thanked by new translators for advice I purported to give. But it is always accompanied by the stark reality, mostly unspoken by me, that the person who is thanking me is very unlikely to be able take away anything from my advice beyond the extreme difficulty of succeeding in a translation market in which there is nowhere to go but down for most translators.

Today, however, I will speak of that reality.

Unless you:

  • are highly skilled in a number of areas (including, but certainly not limited to, source-language comprehension, target-language writing, and subject-specific expertise) and
  • are willing to abandon the idea that everything is free in the age of connectivity,

your chances of breaking out from the low-paid bulk translation market and into the high-paid premium translation market are extremely small.

For NES (native English-speaking) Japanese-to-English translators, one of the ways to do that is to live in Japan and acquire Japanese direct clients, but that is a feat which is nearly impossible for almost all such translators. The spoken language barrier alone rules out the vast majority of translators, but the persistent belief that there is a free lunch to be had also holds many back. There are other ways of making it; you will need to discover them yourself.

The very few translators who can break out of the bulk market can do that without any advice from me. Those who think it useful to listen to anything I could tell them, except perhaps the particular story of how I happened to do it (and that is a writing project on my list, by the way) are simply delusional. They need to do it for themselves. But very few are willing to try, even fewer are capable, and almost all will need to resign themselves to that harsh reality that almost all translators will continue to serve the relatively low-paid bulk translation market.

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Supply-side Tiers: A Different Way of Looking at the Translation Business

Translators often classify clients as agency clients and direct clients. Regarding the supply side of the translation business, Neil Langdon Inglis many years ago posited that there was a de facto caste system among translators. Another approach is to discuss the translation supply side in terms of tiers, employing terminology that is commonly used in fields such as the auto industry, which might be useful in looking at the differences between translation and other businesses.

Tier One.  In the translation supply chain, tier one (T1) is populated by translation providers (including agencies and some individuals) selling translations to translation consumers (as opposed to other translation sellers).

Tier Two.  Translation providers that sell translations to T1 translation providers are tier-two (T2) providers. Most T2 providers, but certainly not all, are individual translators.

There can be more than two tiers. A translation provider selling translations to a T2 translation provider as a sub-subcontractor would be a tier-three (T3) translation provider.

For much of the translation sold by T1 providers, the value added by a T1 provider is often purchased from yet another T2 provider, in the form of rescue work to repair badly done translations from the first T2 provider.

In terms of who is selling to whom, the translation business tier structure is similar to the auto industry. Beyond that, however, there are some radical differences. The most serious difference is that, in the auto industry, the end-user (OEMs, the auto makers) most often know the identity of the T2 parts supplier that their T1 supplier is purchasing parts from. In the translation business, because most of the translation sold is sold by  T1 translation providers having little value to add, the T1 providers perhaps rightfully fear losing their business to T2 translation providers if they disclosed the identity of their T2 suppliers. The result is that the identity of a T2 provider is rarely revealed by the T1 translation provider to the end-user (translation consumer), and the identity of the end-user is, when possible, kept hidden from the T2 provider.

All evidence I have seen indicates that only a tiny portion of the people working as and calling themselves translators will ever become T1 providers. This view is supported by long years of experience and interaction with translators. The reasons are various, some attributable to decisions made by the translators themselves, including the choice of the place to live and the choice of source languages from which to translate. Others reasons relate to the ability of individual T2 providers to grow to the point of taking on the role of a T1 provider. For my language direction (Japanese-to-English) I would estimate the proportion of translation practitioners who reach the T1 ranks to be significantly less than 5%.

Given the above, I sometimes wonder about the value of even attempting to suggest to translators strategies for taking on the T1 translation provider role. Very few will ever achieve that, and the ones who will get there will most likely get there without suggestions from me.

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Taking More Money for Your Translations

(Adopted with minor changes from comments I made in a panel discussion at the IJET-9 Conference, held in Yokohama way back in 1998. Nothing much has changed to invalidate these comments.)

I would like to present a few ideas on how you can take more money for your translation, focusing on the act of taking. My comments are basically directed at non-Japanese translators trying to make more money translating in Japan, but they should have value to translators in other situations as well.

The suggestions given below for making more money include some generalities. Naturally, there are exceptions that can be pointed out. Remember, however, that what we call wisdom is often just a collection of generalities.

First, take control. Taking control of the translator-client relationship might seem a bit too aggressive a stance, especially in Japan. Remember, however, that in Japan (as elsewhere, but perhaps more here) as a service provider you are coming from behind. By taking control of the relationship, you can raise yourself to the position of an equal. I will say more about control in a moment.

Take no for an answer. When you have presented your story and your rates, and have been refused, sometimes you need to accept no for an answer and just walk away. Additional sales efforts are often a waste of time–spelled a loss of money–and it won’t be the prospective client who is wasting your time; it will be you. In some cases, especially when a translator who usually works for direct clients is approached by an agency, the translator makes the most money (that is, loses the least money) by being honest with the agency and simply telling them that they probably couldn’t afford the price.

Take nothing for granted. For a number of years I had two manufacturer clients which consistently gave me a total of more than 2 million yen monthly. Then 1990 happened, and these companies started bleeding red ink so badly that they virtually lost their translation budgets. Lots of people thought this kind of thing could never happen. Hit with a drastically reduced work inflow, I started putting more effort into increasing the proportion of patent translation I was doing. Patent translation, at least the kind I started doing, turned out to be largely immune to recession. I also went out and found some other manufacturer clients. The lesson to be learned is that flexibility and client diversity are important in riding out the storm.

One of the above two clients, before they went heavily into the red, was paying me so much for translations per month that someone there got the idea to try to hire me as an in-house translator. They never imagined that the offer they made me, a salary amounting to about 70% of my previous billings, when bonuses and fringe benefits were included was not nearly going to cover the lost income from other clients, probably because they fell into the common trap of thinking that they were the only client I had. They too were taking something for granted. The fact that they offered much less money, however, points to another rule for taking more money.

Take the work home. Most freelance translators already know that they can make more money as a freelance translator than as an in-house translator. The pain threshold for in-house translator salary is generally around the department manager level, above which the emotional stress placed on the employer and the accompanying animosity that occurs can be unbearable. Salaries of a special employees such as in-house translators (especially if they are foreigners) inevitably become known to the “regular” employees, and hearing that a translator is getting, for example, 900,000 yen per month (a highly unlikely amount, but easily earned as a freelancer) would destroy the harmony in even the most peaceful companies.

In situations in which an employee is seen to be working at a desk or otherwise in the presence of other salaried employees, there is an effective “market salary limit,” above which earnings probably cannot be pushed.

This limit also operates to put a ceiling on the amount of money that can be charged for interpreting, and for doing such tasks as on-site discovery document examination and translation, all situations in which the service provider must work in the presence of the client. It isn’t difficult for an experienced industrial translator to earn more per hour as a freelancer than a client could bear to see the translator earn while sitting at the next desk. When you take work home–i.e., work as an outside translator–you make it a lot easier for clients to deceive themselves into thinking you are not really earning that high an income per unit of time.

Take prisoners. Clients who think they can drop you might drop you. Those who realize they need you–and I mean you, not some other translator and not me–are more likely to give you more of the stuff that you pay your rent with. Your mission then is to find clients to whom your work is not only valuable, but essential.

Take your spoken Japanese ability seriously. The seldom-broached topic of spoken Japanese ability is sometimes a sensitive one. My experience tells me that, other factors being equal, a non-Japanese translator who cannot operate effectively in spoken Japanese in dealing with clients is at a serious disadvantage in negotiating for high rates and maintaining the necessary control over the client-provider relationship. Some translators might have success in selling their services to Japanese with considerably less than acceptable spoken Japanese. Imagine, if you will, however, the level of success that could be expected of a Japanese translator in the US trying to sell his or her services to a client using very poor English, or even so poor that it would encourage a Japanese-capable client to speak Japanese with the translator. There are clients here in Japan who will flip a conversation with a translator from Japanese to English out of desperation and discomfort. Having allowed that to occur, it becomes considerably more difficult to gain control and take high rates.

Take stock of what your translations are worth to your clients. It matters little what you think your translations are worth. Your rates will be largely governed by their value to your clients. One way to get more money, therefore, is to seek out clients to whom your work is more valuable. This should point translators toward writer-driven translation as opposed to reader-driven translation.

Take a good look at your client list, with a view to replacing low-paying clients with higher-paying clients. When I am asked by a colleague how to get a client to pay more money, my answer is often “you can’t.” It is very difficult to raise your rates significantly with your existing clients. You generally need to find new, higher-paying clients. This inevitably means leaving your older, lower-paying clients behind. The willingness to take that step is important in achieving a significant increase in income.

So where do you get these new higher-paying clients?

Take to the streets. It’s simple. Get out and sell. Because I have covered ways of selling in a number of articles in various fora and will revisit that topic sometime shortly here, I won’t go into details at this point. Suffice it to say that a translator with a high desire for more money might think about selling to direct clients. For me, this means stalking the streets and participating in events attended by prospective clients. Old Japan hands might tell you that they get their work through introductions and connections, and that applies to me as well. Connections, however, are not conferred on translators at birth, nor are they issued to foreigners as they pass through immigration when they arrive in Japan. Connections are made. Once made, connections can be worked, but it is certainly possible for a translator with no connections or introductions to make connections and find clients. Not everything the old Japan hands say is necessarily true. And on your way home from selling, you might think about:

Taking a taxi. Even if you are not getting all the money you want for translation yet, many taxi rides will save a translator more money, in terms of time not taken away from translating, than the cost of the taxi. This might sound like a trivial point, but it is just one example of spending money wisely as opposed to accepting inherited wisdom regarding frugality.

There is more that can be said above some of the above points, and that will be coming in future articles.

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Some Thoughts on Japanese Reading and Comprehension

Just how well do you need to read Japanese to be a JA-to-EN translator? I have heard this question from beginners, and thought I would make a few comments, which could perhaps be of some interest even to experienced translators. Naturally, I am directing my comments to NES (native English speaker) translators, the group that has the highest potential of achieving professional-level translation ability in JA-to-EN translation.

Starting Out

Many translators, and particularly the vast majority of translators working in the bulk market, are fortunate in that most translation situations allow them to hide from their clients, translating in the seclusion of their workplace, without the danger of being discovered scampering through a pile of dictionaries or running to the Internet, in utter confusion and distress. This fortunate situation is made possible in most cases by the intervention of an agency in the translation business food chain. Yes, the very same agencies that are decried as an evil in the translation world. The presence of the agency saves the translator from embarrassment and saves the client from worrying about whether the translator is really up to the job. Unfortunately, in addition to greatly lowering the income-earning potential of translators, it essentially prevents interaction between the translator and the only entity who can help the translation process–the translation consumer or author.

For the beginning translator, therefore, the answer to my original question is often “not that good at all,” if the definition of success at translation is the receipt of repeated jobs. The tolerance for plodding along at a slow pace, with heavy reliance on dictionary work and other time-consuming research, is governed in this sector of the market by tolerance on the part of the translator for low income. The question of quality remains, however, and my experience tells me that a translation done with lots of dictionary work and research at a very low speed is more likely to have serious problems than one done at a more commercially practical speed by someone capable of working essentially free of the dictionary lookup process.

Breaking Out and Away From Dictionaries

While translators are often assumed to work surrounded by piles of dictionaries and with heavy online lookup work, some beginners might be surprised to discover how little dictionary work accomplished professionals do during an average workday. Once you get to a level at which J-E translation is no longer painful, you will not that often be using dictionaries to look up Japanese words and characters. One key to this is working in your field of specialization, which will be the topic of another article.

But for the non-Japanese translator from Japanese, just what metrics would be useful indicators of whether you have achieved a level that enables a breakaway from dictionaries and a breakout from the bulk market? I would like to propose the following as a set of things that a seasoned translator might want to have as Japanese capabilities and that beginning translators should aim for. Some of these sound irrelevant, but are included for the specific reasons cited.

  • Read aloud an article from a Japanese newspaper, without faltering. This is a measure of your general comprehension. We often hear comments such as “I know what it means, but I can’t remember the reading.” I submit that many times these comments are not supported by fact and are merely demonstrations of a lack of reading comprehension. Such comments appear to more commonly come from JA-to-EN translators living outside Japan or living in Japan but with limited active use of Japanese outside of translation work.
  • Work through a typical translation text with no more than one dictionary lookup per 1000 characters. Why, you might ask, is such a level of independence from dictionaries required? It is not, I suppose, if you are not interested in achieving a healthy income, regardless of whether you work with direct clients or agencies. But there are other reasons; read on, please.
  • Discuss a job with a Japanese client over the phone, including reading off passages from their manuscript. Perhaps the above two items come into more focus now? There are not that many direct Japanese clients who are comfortable giving translation work to a non-Japanese who would falter in reading a manuscript aloud. This again points up one of the values of an intervening agency, which shields the translator (and the client) from such distressing situations.
  • Develop Japanese as an active tool for communication on a day-to-day basis. For those living outside Japan, this might be difficult, and to some translators this might seem unnecessary, regardless of where they live. Think again, however, of the times you have been stumped by elements in a manuscript simply because they are not things that you would use, for no other reason than that you simply don’t use Japanese to communicate. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent with slang expressions, expressions needing cultural context, and (last but not least) sloppily handwritten documents, which sometimes can be saved only if the translator can figure out what could have been written in a particular situation. Other problems involve field-specific jargon and abbreviations.

Are these comments starting to come into better focus?

Having Japanese language as an active and usable tool is not a matter of showing off how well you have learned the language, but rather a matter of developing the ability to rise to (or fall to?) the level of the manuscript because it is written in an idiom and context with which you have an active capability.

How Do You Get There?

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are translators or prospective translators.

Receiving a formal education in Japanese can be helpful but is seldom sufficient to reach the level of ability that I have cited above. We probably all know people with advanced degrees in Japanese who could perform few of the feats I cited. Here are a few suggestions on getting there, hopefully without that much pain on the way.

Get a Japanese Life. That’s neither an insult nor a typo. If you have any interests outside of translation, language learning and Japanese culture, why not pursue those interests through the medium of Japanese? This is a bit difficult outside of Japan, I must admit, but for people who have the chance to interact with Japanese, I strongly recommend this approach. Are you interested in cycling, art, music, or whatever? Find Japanese people with the same interests, join their groups, and interact, preferably in person. Some good stuff might rub off.

Use Japanese With Your Japanese Clients. Admittedly this can be difficult at the beginning, and is often virtually impossible in many cases if you have started out the relationship using English. However, any translator with aspirations of breaking out of the agency-served bulk market and acquiring direct clients in Japan is usually going to have to get past this hurdle.

Acquire an Informant With the Correct Work Context and Experience. Fairly early (about 40 years ago) in my exposure to Japanese, I was thrown into a situation in which I needed to sell products (my US company’s) in Japanese. Luckily I had a Japanese salesman working for me who I could use as a model for “sales Japanese.” He had years of experience selling, making him a good model to copy. You might not get so lucky, but it might pay to try to interact with someone who can provide a role model in speaking sales-ready Japanese, which is absolutely necessary in dealing with clients in Japanese. What you learned in school will not suffice.

Read Japanese Other Than the Manuscripts You Translate. As unbelievable as it might seem, there are translators who do no reading of Japanese unless they are translating. Reading outside of your manuscripts, either in your field or outside your field of specialty can give you the depth and breadth of experience necessary to pull you out of tight spots. I highly recommend it.

Almost all translators have a life outside of translation, and reading about those non-translation interests is a good way to improve your command of real Japanese, while acquiring information about a subject in which you are really interested.

For example, one of my interests is the Imperial Japanese Navy (and its reincarnation as the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force). Another is collecting slide rules (no laughter, please). I read about both topics in Japanese. I read books in Japanese that are about other things as well, and hardly ever travel on a train or plane without something to read in Japanese.

Is Thoroughly Understanding the Source Text Enough?

This is, of course, a rhetorical question. Target-language writing ability and subject-matter knowledge are also essential, and will be topics of discussion in the near future.

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