A Translatours Catechisme: The New Model Translator

by Translation Guy on February 10, 2010

Written for the encouragement and instruction of all who have taken up the profession of translation, especially the common translator.

In 1644, Oliver Cromwell wrote the “Souldiers Catcechisme” for the New Model Army, a new military organization (and the first modern professional army) that, through conviction and consistent regulation, was finally able to sweep the King’s men from the field and restore the rights of the Parliament in the English Civil War.

Now the profession of translation faces its own version of the King’s men. Powerful institutions in search of something for nothing are eager to follow the path of Facebook in obtaining their translations for free. They have mobilized the enthusiasm of bilingual speakers for their products, enabling technologies that allow multiglots to provide their labor for nothing, or for a bit of virtual ribbon next to their virtual name. There’s been some debate about what to call this phenomenon, whether it be “community translation,” “crowd-sourced,” or “swarm translation.” I prefer “hobby translators.” That it tells in their work is a different story, and a different post.

And that’s just great. Really. I don’t mean to question the motives of those who sell their services for nothing, since I know it is of high and noble purpose (in contrast to my own ink-stained-wretch-put-my-kid-thru-college attitude). And I don’t question the motives of the large entities that corral these would-be translators, since the desire for profit is one I am intimately acquainted with. Much of the stuff translated by hobby translators would not be translated by professionals at all, nor as fast, nor as inexpensively. Such is the way of the translation world.

What is left to professional translators after the machines and hobbyists are done is the heavy lifting ― the unglamorous work that no one wants to do, the work that’s too hard for the machines, the work that must be of the highest quality, which neither hobbyist nor machine can provide. I assure you that the volume of work provided by professional translation is a drop in a bucket compared to the translations enabled by machines and crowd-sourcing technologies, even as these new translation forms lead the translation charge and create more business for the pros.

But is professional translation worth paying for? Much of the so-called professional translation work done today is inferior to the work of the hobbyists because of the way in which our professional clings to the old way of doing things. Hobby translation has been empowered by the application of large-scale translation systems that effectively mobilize the passions of their participants. The professional translator must contribute greater conviction and discipline with new professionalism:  New Model Translator.

This is what we’ve done here at 1-800-Translate, without all the drum-beating, I should add. It’s just that I did a paper on the English Civil War back in HS and really got into the language they used back then. So, I beg your indulgence, gentle reader, and remain your obedient servant.

Forsooth, regulations to be promulgated for the New Model Translator.


  1. Margaret says:

    When it comes to translations, I truly believe that clients gets what they pay for. I have had many regular clients “disappear” only to return a month or two later crying about the horrendous results they got from someone else (generally a non-native speaker) who returned poorly and literally translated text and expected payment for it. They ask me to fix it and often I have to ask for the original because the so-called translation is either incomprehensible or so literal (Spanglish) that it is too painful to read
    New Model or Old, dabbling in translation may be a fun exercise, but doing it well and making a living at it is hard work that takes much patience, practice, and experience!

    • Ken says:

      Thanks, Margaret. I’ll be posting more on this soon.

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