Learn a Language, Work for Free Part 3 With New Luddite Lite™!

by Translation Guy on January 30, 2012

Last couple of posts I’ve been ranting at the prince of crowd-sourcing, Luis Von Ahn, and raving about his plan to replace professional translators with language students.

By providing free language lessons, his new site Duolingo will lure unsuspecting second-language wannabes onto a fun and free language study site. He’ll slip paid translation into their homework where his eager students will do it for the price of a gold star. “The crazy thing about this method is that it works,” he says.

Since the site is now live and oversubscribed, it looks like it’s off to a popular start, although whether the translations are going to be any good remains to be seen. Not to visionary Von Ahn, who says that even language students can do as well as us pro translators. Snap. What a slap across the face.

Injury and insult. It’s not enough he’s trying to roll up my business category. He has to go and injure my self-esteem. Not nice.

It’s personal now. So I quit, Luis. I’m not going to do any more transcription work for you for free. I mean, language students? That’s cruel, dude.

By transcription, I mean reCAPTCHA, the pillar of Von Ahn’s macro-parasitical success. CAPTCHAS are those little typing assignments you see on web forms where you type a bit of difficult-to-read text to prove you aren’t some spam-bot, and submit the form, or whatever. The reCAPTCHA difference is to add an additional word, which you must then transcribe for free, allowing Von Ahn to earn a better margin for his transcription service.

So as a translator, why should I be working for this guy for nothing when he has his sights aimed square at my business? This is all I got for now…

Here’s what a reCAPTCHA looks like:

Two words are always displayed in a reCAPTCHA. In this case, “Paffion” is not distorted, (and also is pretty typical of all the goofy stuff Von Ahn makes us transcribe), so we can tell that it is the transcription assignment. The distorted one, “cojones,” I think it says, that’s the real password. Wait. Nope. It wasn’t “cojones”. OK, once more, and… no. Damn.  Here we go… another one… Nope, I’d better  pass on that one. Fourth try, about par for the course for me.

Anyway, the distorted word  is the one you have to get right. The other one, the transcription term doesn’t even have to be entered. Ignore it. You will get through regardless and you will have not contributed your free labor to the Von Ahn’s macro-parasiticalistic ambitions.

So remember, next time, don’t do your bit. You’ll feel the rush of resistance, all empowered and rightous, thanks to your little mini-sabot. Our little work action, call it, what? I don’t know, Luddite-lite™? Power to the paid translators!

Here are the links to Part 1, and Part 2 of this series.


  1. Sugardip says:

    I use Craigslist a lot and everytime I post something I have to figure out one of those CAPTCHA’s – it does nothing but slow me down and put in a bad mood when I don’t get it right the first time :-)

  2. I see how this can be a service for others. Whether or not it is a good service remains to be seen. I would hate to see others lose their jobs to this.

  3. M. Chung says:

    I can hear the late John Lennon singing it now. “Power to the Translators.” Beautiful, isn’t it? Honestly, not sure the little mini sabot is enough to shut him down, but if I only have to enter one word, then that’s all I will. Thanks

  4. Milton says:

    Yes, this is a slap to all translators faces. And were does it stop? We must unite and take him down. I suggest that we develop the anti-reCAPTCHA. It takes the inputed translation and then changes it to the opposite. Seriously think about it Ken. :)

    • Ken says:

      Already forwarded to the skunk-works, Milton.

  5. Jean says:

    How long does it take to translate if only one word gets done at a time? Is this really effective? I was under the impression that the students are doing the translation work. Will there be a part 4?

  6. Dr. Gibson says:

    Sounds like you should do some major marketing on this mini-sabot and get more people to in on it.

    • Ken says:

      I’d love to scorch that tick’s ass… I mean it would be an interesting social media exercise.

      • Kemal says:

        HAHAHA, amazing Ken!!!

        I don’t doubt that with simple translations students can do as well as a professional but there are certain texts that cannot be don’t correctly without the years of language training. I think this will be a marginal success but those who are aware of the quality of translation will still get theirs done by the pro’s…

        • Ken says:

          Well, if they translate like they right captchas, we got nothing to worry about. I just am sick of having my time sucked off by all those macro-parasites multiplying across the web. Deworm!

  7. Tomas Slavko says:

    Thanks for providing links to part 1 and part 2. I went back and read them and learned a bunchn. I had no idea this was happening and I certainly hope you keep us posted how this unfolds. After all, this is my livelyhood!

  8. Genius, yet a total sneak. He’s got the whole world doing his work for him.

  9. Barney says:

    I see how this can be a service for others. Whether or not it is a good service remains to be seen. I would hate to see others lose their jobs to this.

  10. Morrow says:

    Thanks for the secret, but now that it’s out, I am sure SuperLuis will do the ole swicheroo on us. We will only be inputting the translated word.

  11. mcolterm says:

    I’d like to compare his translation with Google’s and yours. Let the competition begin.

  12. Thanks, enjoyed all three parts immensely! Especially, this line:

    “This for reasons of security, to prove to the web page that you are human and not some auto-bot on a mission to spam all in its path.”

    I don’t think any kind of crowdsourcing will have any serious impact on professionals, but hobby-translators may really take a hit because some of them are capable of a literal translation only and this is where crowdsourcing and even MT can replace them easily.

    • Ken says:

      At the rates crowdsource pays translators, what is the difference between a hobby translator and a crowdsource translators?

      • By “hobby translators” I mean those translators who do translations on a part-time basis and make their living elsewhere. It is my experience that they charge about 30 to 50% of the pros’ rates. A crowdsource translator, as I understand this concept, should normally charge an even lower rate, say, 10% of the pros’ rates or even work free-of-charge.

        Therefore, if we assume that both have the same quality level, but a crowdsource translator charges much less, I think the chances are hobby translators could be eventually extinct.

        • Ken says:

          Translators are like Hmong dialects… lots of difference stripes. Thanks for your thoughts.

  13. Sabine says:

    And that’s how people think that translation is a monkey business. What about those jobs that not only are difficult, but also require confidentiality on the translator’s part, something that’s a matter of basic professional ethics?
    What about those products that have been carefully crafted and kept confidential, with marketing copy that must be translated before launch? What about contracts and agreements? What about movies that need to be subtitled or dubbed before their international release… The list could go on, really.

    • Ken says:

      And thankfully for those of us who translate for a living, it does. So far.

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