What happened to the translation industry?

Back in 2010s I could get translation work in collaboration with others to do large documents with over 100,000 words (meaning I would do anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words over the period of a month or so). Didn’t happen all the time but when it did happen it secured me for several months. But even short documents was about 10-20,000 words.

But today it seems the longest document I have ever gotten is about 10,000 words, and that’s once in a blue moon. If I got anything it’s 100 words or less. And quality requirements seem to have gotten stricter and stricter while pay has stagnated or went down. Back then I could at least make a living translating if I were frugal but now you can’t even do it as a hobby. This is despite every translation agency promising long term cooperation and high volumes.

What happened? Is google translate so good that you no longer need a translator?

People don’t have the attention span to read 10,000 words anymore. They now read top 10 lists.


many agencies do google translate and then human editing . this makes time and effort easier.
the big projects with complicated terminology require skilled professionals.
if a company wants to translate a novel, a prospectus for a mutual fund or the technical manual of an MRI machine they will go for professional translators, not freelancers.

also, what’s your language pair, CN to EN or EN to CN?

Unless google translate has gotten really good it’s often more work to edit a machine translated document than it is to translate it right in the first place. Then the editor has no idea if the translation is even a good one in the first place.

I can work in both pairs, but I do CN to EN faster because I don’t have to fumble with chinese input methods.

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I dunno…I’ve been helping a professor friend with translation of some mind-numbingly boring research and I’ve found that I can get a main idea of each paragraph quickly (and relatively accurately) from google translate. I think for CN - En it wouldn’t be unreadable if I plugged each sentence into google translate and called it done. It wouldn’t sound natural, and some things would be lost/incorrect, but I’ve read some crap human translations of research that was originally presented in Chinese. Google translate certainly does a better job than that.

Tbh, google translate often makes more sense to me than what I see in 95% of “professionally” (one hopes) translated anythings here. At least it spells words correctly. It’s not at the level of human translation yet, but, considering it’s free, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the route people are taking. Twenty years from now I imagine computer translation will be able to fully take over. Probably sooner. Sorry dude.


Well considering that the big earners are hiring far less people per dollar earned than the big earners of the past, pretty soon unemployment is going to be the majority of the population.

Either they will have to redefine money or there’s going to be big problems in the future.

I mean automation kills more jobs than it creates for sure.


People watch videos. And many more ‘cousins’ came of age that studied abroad.


I hate the video thing. They’re a lot of work to make if you want them to be something people will want to watch. If for example I want to figure out how to wire something I rather see a diagram than watch a 10 minute video to get an idiot’s version of how to wire something.

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I’ve no idea what agencies are doing, but as a (mostly scientific) editor my experience is that machine translations are almost always abysmal if the goal is a decent translation that sounds natural in the target language. I’ve turned down work quite a few times on the basis that it seemed machine translated and editing it would take too much time and effort and require too many author queries to be worthwhile.

There’s just too many nuances that get lost during machine translation (at least at the moment, using the free machine translation tools that the authors inclined to do this tend to use). That’s especially the case with technical stuff like scientific articles, but I’ve also noticed it with news articles and similar stuff that I edit sometimes - the result tends to be something that needs to be extensively rewritten rather than “edited”.

That said, I could see why a translator competent in both languages might use machine translation as a rough first step before going through and carefully rewriting everything based on the original. I sometimes use Google Translate myself when I’m editing something that’s been translated by a human and I suspect there’s an issue with the translation.


I edited an English textbook (not textbooks in English, but textbooks that are meant to teach someone English), and I have a feeling it was first written in Chinese then machine translated. The grammar is not only terrible, but the entire wording is extremely awkward, and actually writing styles seems to change as you go from unit to unit. I basically had to rewrite the whole book.

With textbooks like this supposedly designed to teach English, no wonder people speak it poorly.


Sounds plausible - one of the worst assignments I had in this respect was editing a ~20k word article on coal seam analysis in Xinjiang or something, outsourced by an editing company to an external translator and then to me. I got a couple of thousand words in before realizing it had almost certainly been machine translated - quite a lot of the sentences were essentially identical to the Google-translated versions and many of the technical words related to mining equipment etc. were just completely wrong and non-existent in the literature. It wouldn’t really have been editable without needing a lot of clarification.

I complained to the editing company in that case and they assigned it to a new translator (and hopefully didn’t pay the first translator), who did an excellent job.

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I always got the impression they were written by Taiwanese people who decided that their version of English was just superior to the English spoken anywhere else in the world (such as English-speaking countries)

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I only got paid 3000nt for rewriting a 50 page textbook, with worksheet that also had to be edited since it was written poorly as well. I complained to the guy who gave me the work and all he did was shrug his shoulder.

As I keep saying, gotta send letters to the president and send documented cases of bs to the press. It might not change anything but I think it’s more satisfying knowing that people who deserve to lose face will lose face

Do you mean president of Taiwan, or president of the company publishing the stuff?

I wouldn’t even know how to send letters to the president.

The reason people are paying peanuts for stuff like this is because customers aren’t demanding quality. There’s no excuse an English textbook be so poorly written. A 3rd grader could write better than that.

I suspect big part of it is money. If you wanted quality translation and is willing to pay for it, you will get it.

I am not sure anything President vegetable bad english is going to be able to do about it.

Me too.

Maybe video is so popular simply because of people’s different learning styles. I know very literate, educated people who prefer video instruction over printed matter. They love to watch a how-to video instead of reading some text. This seems to be a trend.

I can’t stand watching an instuctional video. But I’m a fast reader. I can scan great big blocks of text and quickly extract the information I need. If I have to watch a five minute video that explains the same thing, I will die of boredom or give up.


It depends.

If I need to see exactly how it’s done, then videos are good. It also shows me that it works.

But stuff where I just need to know what each input on a device does, I hate watching video to find out. Better to just have a picture showing what each input does and an example (with schematics) showing how to wire it. I can find out what I need to know in 2 seconds. Or something like how to machine some object. Just give me a blueprint, don’t make me watch a 10 minute video on the machining.

That’s because they don’t go to the point directly, too much other crap they fill in.

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Most big agencies now require you to use Trados. All big projects are done with translation software utilizing translation memories since it’s so much more efficient in that terminology only needs to be confirmed once and Trados will tell you whenever text appears that is already translated in previous documents. Note this is not the same as machine translation or Google translate. Project managers can now do pre-translation of a lot of text by auto propagation of text fields. I know this because I’ve done a lot of translation this way in previous jobs.