Post-Editing – The Gloomy Future of the Translation Industry?

Not everyone may have heard of the term “Post Editing”. Good old Wikipedia defines it as “(…) the process of improving a machine-generated translation with a minimum of manual labour”.

Sounds simple, and harmless, does it not?

Over the past year, I have received an increasing number of job offers for Post Editing. Machine-generated text in need of “spicing up” (or dramatically corrected) by a human being. The quality of those machine translation varies greatly – from surprising accuracy to eye-watering nonsense (especially with a tricky language such as German, where the verb is always at the end of a sentence).

I must admit, Post Editing does have its funny moments, where sentences like “Das Dokument ist im Büro zu übergeben” is machine-translated into “The document will be vomited into the office“, and not, as it should be, “The document shall be submitted in the office”. :)

But jokes aside – What are the consequences for us translators of Post Editing jobs? It is an undeniable reality that we, us translators, get paid a lot less: Post Editing jobs do not even come close to the pay of translation jobs (around 60% less). And while you play an important role in ensuring the overall quality of the final translation, I mostly find that those jobs have a sour aftertaste. Are we not accomplices to this development on the market whenever we take a PE job on board? Will this not mean that eventually, all those highly educated, qualified translators around the world will end up having to put the finishing touches on machine-generated translations, or are there any areas where Machine Translation will never achieve what a human translator could?

What are your thoughts and experiences with Post Editing? How do you feel about it?

Have a great week, all of you!


” Conscious Coupling “

In four months, I am going to be Maid of Honour at my friends’ wedding – both of whom I love dearly. During my research for a suitable poem, quote or saying for my speech on the day, however, I couldn’t help but think about the latest events in Hollywood that made headlines in every paper across the globe (with the exception of North Korea, perhaps.). While I’m not a fan of celebs, gossip and tabloid papers (I am proud to say I’ve never had an OK! magazine in my possession), the – oh so! – eloquent and euphemistic phrase of “Conscious Uncoupling” really hit a nerve with me.

It made me think: how many couples in my social circles would have used the same phrase to describe their break ups, had they had the means to pay some brainy PR guru to come up with it in the first place? And just how many people did I actually know who said “We still love each other very much, but…”? The answer is: more than I could shake a stick at.

I had to digest this for quite a while to finally be able to pin point my irritation. It stirred anger and frustration within me – what greater gift is there to love and be loved? And why this need to strive for more than LOVE in a relationship? If love is the basis of everything – mutual respect, kindness, loyalty, adoration – why want for anything else if you have everything (financial means, self-fulfillment, a career and everything else included)?

What could I possibly say to my friends on their wedding day that wouldn’t sound a) cheesy, b) cynical, c) unworldly? A cynical pessimist might argue that, given the statistics of today’s divorce rates and the increasing amount of couple therapies on offer in the Western World, seemingly making marriage a fashion statement rather than a life-time decision, there is not much left to say at all.

Luckily, I am neither a cynic nor a pessimist – especially with regard to a topic this close to my heart as the bond between two people in love. I write these lines as a true positivist, yes, even a romantic, when I say to you, my friends: as long as you have love, you have everything. The truth is, there is no guarantee, no recipe, no potion, no universal instruction to marriage. It is so much more than picking a wedding dress, finding the right shaped wedding cake or the best colour scheme for the wedding day – it is, as I am sure you know – a life-long journey.

Always uphold the respect and adoration you both share for each other. Always invest, always care and nurture your marriage. If there is one thing I can be sure about, it’s that you have made the decision of becoming husband and wife with open eyes and open hearts, and I know that you will consciously couple to share the rest of your lives together. For any marriage that fails for various reasons, it is such a relief to know that there is couples like you in the world, who will enter this promise – not necessarily before God, but certainly towards each other – with utmost commitment and respect.

Happy New Year = Happy New Pricing?

Happy New Year = Happy New Pricing?

Finding the right timing for a price increase is a tricky business for any entrepreneur. Naturally, the New Year virtually lends itself to changing existing price structures – isn’t it a nice fresh start for everything?

However, increasing one’s prices as a translator is not an easy chapter. Having spoken to several old-timers in the translation industry, the results were often quite eye-opening. One translator lamented the fact that she hadn’t been able to increase her price per source word with her agency in 10 (TEN!) years. Several other colleagues of mine stated that they were simply reluctant to change their pricing policies for fear of being dropped by their clients for cheaper competitors.

This has presented me with several questions. 1) Is it not justified for a sole-trader to adjust prices at least according to the national inflation rate? 2) Is it fair to say that agencies “drop you” once you’ve raised your prices after working with them for a considerable amount of time? 3) Is new pricing bound to have a negative impact on your workload (i.e. higher fees = less clients?) And last but not least: 4) If these assumptions are true, are translators too shy when it comes to efficient price negotiations?

I refuse to believe that there is “no way”, as some colleagues in the translating industry have put it, to be running an increasingly profitable translation business and have happy long-term clients (or agencies) at the same time. Working for clients for several years implies that a relationship of trust, reliability and mutual understanding has been formed. If these ingredients aren’t the perfect basis for price negotiations, what more could you wish for?

In my experience, clients have been very open in terms of increasing my prices after set periods and once they could convince themselves of my reliability and translation quality. If agencies replace you right after you’ve increased your prices by some percent, it most probably wasn’t a very trustworthy work relationship to begin with.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate with your clients – it’s your right as a service provider to do so. Don’t be greedy, either. Price jumps of 200% very rarely receive a cheerful standing ovation by your clients. Never forget what your work is worth, and keep a watchful eye on competitors if you need guidance for the right pricing guidance.

7 more weeks till 2014 – plenty of time for a good re-think of dusty fees from years ago that might be in desperate need for some polishing up.

“Let’s Talk Business, Shall Vee?” – Small Talk vs. The Germans

With my main clients in the UK and Germany, I am on the phone a lot. As you have probably figured by now, I prefer the phone over long and convoluted e-mail ping-pong – not only to get a feeling for the person on the other end, but also to establish an emotional link from a sales perspective and to avoid miscommunication. 

It fascinates me how different Germans and Brits are when it comes to talking over the phone! 

What a Brit would say…

What a German would think…

“Hello, this is [first name] calling. Am I speaking to [first name]?”

“Have a little respect here. Does he know who I am? Last time I checked, I was Herr Dr. [Surname]…”

“Hello! How are you doing?”

“What are we now, buddies? It’s my private business how I am.”

“What’s the weather like where you are? It’s a bit chilly at the moment, but it’s supposed to clear up…”

“Who cares what the weather is like where you are! We haven’t even met! Why would I care about your weather?”

“I’m no expert when it comes to XYZ, but…”

“Why would he make himself look stupid in front of a stranger?”

“It’s finally Friday! Any plans for the weekend?”

“He must clearly hate his job if he’s so desperate for a weekend. Plans? Again, private business!”


Dear Reader: Ironically, small-talk is written with a capital “S” in German, as are all nouns. Der Smalltalk has been adopted by the German language and roughly translates into gossipy, unnerving, unnecessary and time-consuming chit-chat.

I have found that German customers tend to get rather nervous when I approach them with a British angle – i.e. using first names instead of surnames (awkward!) , asking how they are ( very awkward, the usual response is a confused “errr.. gut” if they don’t brush over the question and get back in their comfy zone – business talk), volunteering some personal information to lighten up the conversation (non-existent for Germans!), moaning about the weather (Why are we not talking business here?)… It’s great fun to push the boundaries a bit, you should try it out some time!

The cultural confusion works the other way around as well. Brits find Germans very direct, often inaccessible and people who rather over-state than under-state. The fear of losing face is far greater than anything else, which means that Germans never talk about their weaknesses in public, hardly ever apologise for their mistakes in front of strangers and never want to be thought of as taking their jobs lightly. While Brits will quite overtly talk about their lack of motivation or fantastic weekend plans over the phone, a German would never (I say “never” generously of course, but as with all generalisations, I acknowledge that there are exceptions to the rule.) admit his low commitment to his job, no matter how dull it may be. Based on the to-and-fro between German and British clients, sometimes even as their intermediary, the general concern among Germans is that the British seem so wishy-washy and almost reluctant to talk business and numbers without the little dance with catch phrases and ice-breakers, chit-chat and anecdotes…



I Just Called, To Say…


No! Wait! Actually, I just e-mailed you to say XYZ. Because I don’t like telephoning people.


My fellow colleagues, friends and followers – this is a very sensitive issue for me. I would like to warn you that the following lines might contain a ‘good old rant’.

What is it with people these days, why do they never call? Why does everyone seemingly prefer sending e-mails? I am not just talking about the translation industry as such, this phenomenon has spread like a disease and contaminated numerous areas, whether in business or private.

This is a classic example:


E-mail No. 1:

“Dear Kathrin,

We have a very urgent project for you, due on … . Could you please let me know asap if you are available?”

In case I don’t respond within 2 mins, here goes

E-Mail No. 2:


I haven’t heard back from you re urgent translation! Are you available?”

And finally, if I still haven’t responded after 5 minutes (how dare I!), a rather snappy

E-Mail No. 3:



For those who know me, I am an adament opponent of 1) shouty capital letters and 2) the repeated use of exclamation and question marks. It makes me cringe every time.

And why, oh why, don’t people just phone up to clarify a matter, especially if it is that urgent? Instead of getting snappier with each e-mail, why not just dial my number and deal with me directly? What is it in the translation industry that everyone seems to go for e-mails? I appreciate translators are prone to using the written word rather than speech, but does that mean you’d want to risk missing out on great business opportunities by being a passive-aggressive mail-sender rather than a proactive, friendly voice on the telephone?

I do wonder whether I’ll have to explain Stevie’s 1984’s hit to my grandchildren 40 years down the road… “Grandma, what does ‘calling’ mean?”


 P.S.: Ironically, me phoning instead of e-mailing uncovered a huge scam this morning. Never underestimate the importance of the good old telephone.

Taking Breaks is So Good.

Taking Breaks is So Good.

I have been asked how I structure my days with a little one at home and a busy schedule.
My girl’s room has a safety door which basically converts her bedroom into a huge playpen. This is a big advantage for both of us. She is very good on her own, too. For both our sake’s, I take a small break every 45 minutes. We always sit down and have all three meals together, which is an important part of her day and forces me to take care of myself, too. I used to forget to eat and drink, or even go to the loo, being completely absorbed by my translation job. I used to power through 7 or 8 consecutive hours back then.

Translating long hours can be tough. I’m not complaining – I love my job. Even short nights or early mornings do not bother me too much. Today I had a particularly early one fighting with my translation programme (starting with a capital “T”) and constantly watching the clock to meet my deadline.

I then decided to make some play-dough for my girl and to get messy for a bit between translation jobs – she loved it! Not only was it great entertainment for her, it also allowed my mind to take a well-deserved break from staring at tiny letters on my screen for hours.

The quality of your breaks is as important as your job in between. It is the decisive factor for a focused mind and boosted energy. I know my husband would laugh at the notion of me enjoying a break from a hard translation – but here I am, advocating the forced five-minute feet-up!

Tell me how you spend your breaks! I’m always on the lookout for a good tip…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.