ATA, Association of Translation Agencies

After the takeover by freelancers in 1980, once successful passage of a translation test became a requirement for the privilege of voting in association elections or running for office, the ATA de facto became the American Translators Association. Suffrage was also offered to translators of extremely rare languages for which no tests were available, on recommendation of two active members. The primary upshot was that actual translators of verified competence were put in charge of making ATA policy after earning the accreditation of their peers. The disadvantage was that owners of translation agencies could no longer make policy unless they first passed a translation test. Thus began the Golden Age of the American Translators Association, thanks to Ben Teague and Patricia Newman.(link)

Unhorsed translation agency owners made it clear they were discontented, and wanted their unquestioned authority restored. Individuals not competent to pass a written translation test were just as unhappy as people who drop out of college, and for the same reason. These two disgruntled classes were soon exploited by the American Society of Association Executives, which proceeded to retask the bylaws, install its own well-paid Executive to supervise ATA board meetings and make sure that our “elected” officers never receive so much as a penny for their efforts. Regular mail-in ballots used by similar associations were abolished by repeating unsubstantiated assertions, and a “proxy” system was installed so ALL votes are basically handed over to boardmembers. The ASAE also made sure that its own attorneys and soi disant “experts” were consulted on all policy matters. The new order’s big project sought to undermine our translator testing program and burden the ATA with its salaried hirelings. The ASAE itself advertises a staff of 47, not including attorneys–whose particulars are not easy to find.(link)

People unable to pass a simple translation test and too stuck-up to admit the fact, pestered the board members until “peer review” opened a loophole through which passed a flood of people unwilling to sit for a test–including some translation company owners. Agencies were thereby able to regain voting control over the Association as the ASAE tightened its own control over the the board of directors, orchestrating a series of single-candidate “elections.” Members who had earned the right to vote by passing a written test were shocked to discover that it suddenly cost over $350 a year to keep credentials they maintained for $50 during the 1980s. Younger members were pressured to buy tickets to conventions, etc., “or else” lose their credentials through added continuing “education” requirements which, to some of us, were not unlike extortion.

A so-called ASAE expert was paid 55 cents a word to produce an essay recommending that non-members be allowed to take the test. They could then qualify for exploitation by translation companies as certified translators. Almost nobody able to actually translate and vote thought this was a good idea and the motion failed. The extent of decay is such that of ATA members claiming the ability to translate Portuguese, only 1% have passed the tests from and into that language. Wannabees and beginners lacking ability yet inveigled into joining are clearly numerous enough to outvote actual translators who have clearly-demonstrated ability. A board appointed via single-candidate elections and run by a representative of a “Society” that staffs it with multiplying staffers it selects and puts on salary–is anything but a representative democracy.

The ASAE and the translation agencies it represents never let go of the idea of making translation tests serve their own purposes rather than those of translators. Instead of financing their own separate association with an independent testing program, they cling like brood parasites to the existing pool of tested-and-true translators. ASAE/agency plans to debauch the renamed certification testing program into a rubber-stamp handmaid service for agencies backed by an Orwellian managerial corporation is still at the top of a single-minded agenda that does NOT benefit professional translators.

Now they are back. As before, they are selling yet another ill-dissembled attempt to attain that purpose, papered over with insincere assurances and undisclosed “criteria” for packing the membership by adding pliable voters. And no wonder! The current germ lab viral epidemic has crippled the ASAE Executive’s ability to draw income by mandating attendance at conferences. It therefore comes as no surprise that a story was packaged-up with yet another attempt to “restructure” to favor volume and quantity at the expense of ability and quality. If you haven’t seen their pitch paper, write me.

If you believe colleges should hand diplomas to students who flunk exams, then put them on the Board of Regents, you’re what they want. If you believe that discrimination on the grounds of ability is baaad and that a goood rabble in ignorance is what the ASAE and translation companies need to help keep translators in their place, they have found their minion. **

But if you perceive that the ASAE resembles a vampire herding a large mob of potential translators into empowering a minority of middlemen to exert control over the tiny core of actual certified translators that make the association worth having, then reject the puppet board’s latest rewrite of the usual gambit. I will gladly sign a petition to be rid of ASAE control and management and hire and to pay actual tested translators suitable remuneration for their valuable service on the board–once they win a real election with at least two candidates in the running.
–J Henry Phillips, thrice-certified Life member, now in my 33rd year with what was, when I joined it, a genuine translators association worth keeping alive.

Footnote ** “All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another. All talk about democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all visions of Utopia, or ‘the classless society’, or ‘the Kingdom of Heaven on earth’, are humbug (not necessarily conscious humbug) covering the ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way into power. The English Puritans, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, were in each case simply power seekers using the hopes of the masses in order to win a privileged position for themselves. Power can sometimes be won or maintained without violence, but never without fraud, because it is necessary to make use of the masses, and the masses would not co-operate if they knew that they were simply serving the purposes of a minority. In each great revolutionary struggle the masses are led on by vague dreams of human brotherhood, and then, when the new ruling class is well established in power, they are thrust back into servitude. This is practically the whole of political history, as Burnham sees it.” —George Orwell, Second Thoughts on James Burnham (link)

Words you can dance to
Clarity isn’t oversimplification

Find out the juicy details behind the mother of all economic collapses. Prohibition and The Crash–Cause and Effect in 1929 is available in two languages on Amazon Kindle, each at the cost of a pint of craft beer.

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Brazilian Sci-fi from 1926 featuring the usual beautiful daughter of a scientist touting prohibition and racial collectivism in America’s Black President 2228 by Monteiro Lobato, translated by J Henry Phillips (link)

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American blog

Bad PDF Converter: ABBYY 14

Anyone thrilled with ABBYY 12 for converting pdf documents to Word processor format may wonder why Amazon does not sell version 14. Version 12 is all sold out, and you have to go to the company website to even order 14. For specific information be prepared to paw through some inelegantly translated descriptions.  It turns out that ABBYY 14 is to ABBYY 12 as Windows Vista is to Windows 2000. See for yourself.

Here is how a chunk of Brazilian legalese converted with ABBYY 12 loads into memoQ (a standard translation-assistant tool):

Here is how that same section imports after conversion with ABBYY 14:

The reason I converted again with ver. 12 was that it would take ten times longer to unmangle the ver. 14 output document and make it translatable. The mess of formatting codes you see was left over after I polished up the fonts for consistency, leaving no font stretching, shrinkage or mixing of sorts. ABBYY 14 produces conversions that are absolutely useless for translation and nearly impossible to clean up using the current version of Winword. Small wonder nobody but ABBYY wants to sell it! But there is hope.

While I was struggling to find a way to buy the program (after exhausting all possibilities of purchasing another ABBYY 12) I asked about the possibility of converting without MS Office installed. Nobody at ABBYY had a clue whether their new product would work with Apache Open Office. Omega-T, a free, open-source translation tool, works fine with Microsoft’s competitors. As soon as I installed ABBYY 14 on a clean machine, I tested it with Apache Open Office and no MS Office installed. The conversion worked! The resulting word processor file looked presentable, needing only the usual touch-ups

Once I get caught up I’ll reopen the ABBYY 14 file and save it using the Apache open source program to see if it makes any improvement. Some pdf converters litter the output with “text boxes” that move unpredictably and mess up translations. Opening and saving the resulting Word file with Microsoft’s simple Wordpad gets rid of those, and the resulting file is often salvageable for translation with professional warez. Stay tuned. In the meantime, Caveat Emptor! One sweet solution could be for ABBYY to rename ver. 12 as ver. 14 and forget all about the hideous v.14 miscarriage–kind of the way Microsoft did after releasing Windows Vista.

UPDATE: ABBYY techs suggested using the formatted text option to export converted files. That “solved” the most distressing problem. The interface, however remains user-hostile and even with that work-around all progress is much slower than in ver. 12


Orwellian quality translations

If in need of translations involving oil, dams, power plants or contracts, look us up.
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My book on the Crash and Depression is out in Portuguese and English on

Houston Translator Association Irregularities

The Houston Translators and Interpreters Association has in recent years been a model of competence in the industry. Yet the current bylaws amendment ballot looks more like a model of practices to avoid. The online bylaws dated April 14, 2010, define members as follows:

Article III – Membership…

Section B – Classes and Qualifications

The Association has three (3) membership classes: individual, corporate and institutional.

  • Individual: An individual who is engaged in translating, interpreting or related work (and may include students)

  • Corporate: A business with an interest in translation or interpretation

  • Institutional: An institution with an interest in translation or interpretation.

Directors elected in single-candidate elections now propose to change those member classes by creating a special class of students who at this time would not be allowed to vote to elect their teacher nor be listed in the online members directory (where the public expects to find professional linguists). To propose the change, voters were told that “new text is indicated by underlining, deleted text by strikeout.” But for the ballot proposal sent to members to change the bylaws, the board of directors approved the following:

Section B – Classes and Qualifications

The Association has four (4) membership classes: individual, corporate, institutional and student.

The above introductory sentence (followed by four, not three bullet items) appeared with no underlining for the new text nor strikeouts for deleted language. It gives the incorrect impression–instructions elsewhere to the contrary notwithstanding–that the student category already exists whether one likes it or not, and that there is mere quibbling to be decided on some trifling point of verbiage in the last of four preexisting bullet points.

In an association of quilt-makers, brewers, basket-weavers or kickboxers, the omission might be brushed aside as simple incompetence, the result voided and new ballots produced. Indeed, one such error in ballot translation into Spanish for the Texas State government had precisely that outcome and cost taxpayers about $100,000 to reprint.

The bad ballot language at issue, however, is presented as approved by the very people immigrants depend on for legal defense of their individual rights in courts that order execution by letal injection. Credible fear reviews can shield dissenters or whistleblowers from extrajudicial execution or torture by junta-style dictatorships, and HITA hosted a presentation on those. Professionals educated abroad want their syllabi competently translated with all legalities accurate so they may exercise a profession despite entrenched lobbyists erecting barriers to entry.  Our newsletter and web tips just now alerted linguists of at least a dozen different fraudulent scams. But more perfidious scams are perpetrated from within the profession. Must we circulate ballots that are an indictment of the board’s competence to frame and edit a simple bylaws amendment proposal?

For over a decade beginners were advised by prominent HITA and AATIA members not to bother to apply for municipal and county court interpreting in Texas. From a position of public trust they emphatically proclaimed that a license was required as a prerequisite. Nevermind that this was a law urged by three individuals claiming to represent the profession without their lobby efforts appearing in our trade publications. The persistent lie was finally exposed at a regulatory meeting at which a government regulatory attorney explained on the public record that the law meant nothing of the sort.

The old law merely formalized a procedure for showing an incompetent interpreter the door and ordering up a substitute, typically someone grandfathered in irrespective of real credentials or ability.  The dissembling was a sales platform for quickie diploma mill courses pushing test answers, podiums for grandfathered insiders to talk down to aspirants, and a loophole enabling agencies possessed of counsel to quietly and without fanfare exploit inexperienced youngsters at pauper rates. The law was only repealed after a libertarian interpreter put up a website playing a recording of the regulatory lawyer’s explanation in language too clear and simple to falsify.

If sidetracking students from earning a degree liable to make them employable is deemed a good idea, it ought to be passed by honest vote of fully-informed members using a ballot prepared in conformity with its own instructions and specifications.  Leaving out the underscores and strikethroughs is a demonstration of lack of competence or subterfuge that can only lead to the outcome being challenged. That is not the sort of attention the board needs to be focussing on the Houston Interpreters and Translators Association.

Any association of actual linguists can raise revenue and provide a public service by hosting interpreting contests. Winners selected by the attendees could thereby earn credible credentials by live testing. A similar competitive approach is used to select and rank athletes, speakers, dancers, writers–even tire-changers or jugglers performing at association events. An interpreting contest need be no more complicated than a live debate or a spelling bee, and its results would carry weight with the membership, judges, attorneys, doctors and honest regulators interested in an objective assessment of competence in performance.

If you are an interpreter or translator interested in the honest defense of individual rights, by all means do get in touch.

Find out the juicy details behind the mother of all economic collapses. Prohibition and The Crash–Cause and Effect in 1929 is available in two languages on Amazon Kindle, each at the cost of a pint of craft beer.

Brazilian blog


Certified Portuguese Translators

A statistical breakdown of ATA-certified Portuguese translators. These are translators who have passed a relatively simple test by translating some 700 to 800 words in three passages selected out of a total of five. Three major errors or 20 minor errors suffice to fail a passage, and one has to pass two to pass the test. From 1981 until 2004, passing at least one of these tests was a requirement for voting in the association. People who have passed the tests are usually listed on the ATA website and hence are verifiable.

More and more entities are exercising responsible stewardship by checking translator qualifications. So, what is an ATA-certified Portuguese translator? Of the 987 persons claiming the ability to translate to or from Portuguese with professional competence, only about 16% have passed either of the two separate and distinct tests. Four out of five alleged Portuguese into English translators have never passed that specific test and only 14% of those claiming the ability to translate from English into Portuguese have demonstrated that ability by passing the other specific test. Most of the people who pass either test are native speakers of the target language, meaning that is their dominant language.

If someone says “I am an ATA-certified Portuguese translator,” that doesn’t tell you very much unless they mean they have passed the tests in both directions. Only one percent of all of ATA members claiming some competence as Portuguese translators have passed the certification tests in both directions. That works out to exactly 12 listed translators at the time of writing (2 more are unlisted). Although certification in one direction is better than no certification at all, only one in about 18 certified translators can reliably work in both directions for Portuguese. Here is a breakdown of the numbers:

ATA members who Claim E-P Claim P-E Claim Bidirectional
Claim direction ability 441 546 643 (estimated)
Certified f/direction(s) 86 75 12 (or 14)
Unverified 355 471 359
% unverified 80 86 36
% Certified 20 14 1

Most certified translators only assert that they are certified in one particular direction. The ATA, for reasons of internal politics, goes to great lengths to suggest that certification tests have nothing to do with interpreting ability. I have observed many interpreters, and every one of the certified translators who has passed the test in both directions has turned out to be capable of interpreting with professional competence in both directions (without necessarily liking the work). Somewhere in between 284 and 643 of these interpreters claim competence in both directions. The data tell us nothing about overlap, but the ratios of certified to uncertified (as translators) appear to be in the same ballpark for interpreters as for translators. As you might expect, most (but by no means all) of the better bidirectional interpreters in the ATA have passed at least one of the tests as near as I can ascertain.

Looking at the ATA as a whole, one is struck by the tiny number of people are certified into three different languages. When total membership stood at 8000, there were three such members. It is probably a safe bet that there are approximately half a dozen translators certified into three target languages today.

Read pro-American compulsory racial-eugenics appeals touting prohibition and collectivism in America’s Black President 2228 by Monteiro Lobato, translated by J Henry Phillips (link)

Three dollars on Amazon Kindle

Find out the juicy details behind the mother of all economic collapses. Prohibition and The Crash–Cause and Effect in 1929 is available in two languages on Amazon Kindle, each at the cost of a pint of craft beer.

Brazilian blog