Human response to a changing industry: Part 2

Part one of this report was posted at


Human response

How are the puny humans faring in all of this? How are they adapting? There are three main camps:

Group one: welcoming our new robot overlords

The first group is “embracing the machine.”


These are professionals who are leveraging advances in machine translation and post-editing in order to do more, and earn more. Some are positioning themselves as experts in post-editing, or raising it in the ranks of the services they offer. They are making investments in order to be able to better address the demand for post-editing services.


An update on machine translation (MT):

In 2012, 54% of translators were using some form of machine translation at some point in their work. In 2019, this has increased to 72% of translators using MT for some parts of their work, on their own. Only about 10% of translators do not use any CAT tool at all. It is likely that these translators also fall into the segment of those who say they don't touch MT for any work-related use. Around 36% of translators will tell you they started utilizing MT in some way before their clients started asking about the use of machine translation.

Some are even quick to point out the benefits of MT beyond how it helps them actually do their work. One translator related that publicly available MT has led to an increase in their work as a professional translator, since it has now allowed potential clients to understand at least the gist of a text, motivating them to have it, and related documents, professionally translated.



“I get work translating Proposals and Contracts where the company would not have even known the existence of the opportunity without MT, but they are certainly not going to entrust a potentially multi-million dollar negotiation to machine translation!”




Machine translation post editing (MTPE), or post editing machine translation (PEMT): is it one, or the other, or both? The fact that we cannot decide exactly what to call it may be indicative of some of the confusion and conflict there has been among freelancers in this area. One translator even pointed out that the use of the term "post-editing" by his clients was an indicator of how behind the times they might be, since it should really be termed "on-the-fly" translation using machine translation.

Please don't make that an acronym, though. Please. "OTFTMT"? "MTOTF"?


“I plan to position myself as a foremost post-editor.”



In a survey, 84% of translators said that they have either done some kind of post-editing work before, or offer it as one of their services. Fifty-five percent say that they do at least some post-editing work now. Only 6% say they have never been approached for any kind of post-editing work.

Among translators doing post-editing work, post-editing represents an average of 27% of their work volume, and that is on the rise, as roughly 53% report they are doing more post-editing now than in the past two to three years.


There are three main obstacles influencing translator reaction and performance in this area, and all three are interrelated:

  1. Clarity on what post-editing is, and on the level of quality desired

  2. Poor implementation due to lack of knowledge, and expectations of results

  3. Lack of communication from the client-to-translator



“Post-editing saves time and eliminates monotony.”


A common frustration for translators with post-editing work is the effective communication from clients about the level of quality desired. Translators accustomed to delivering the highest quality possible are now in some cases being asked to deliver other levels of quality, without necessarily being given the guidelines and structure that will ensure the right outcome. Sometimes the quality needs to be "just good enough", but the translator is left exerting more time and energy in producing a high-quality result. In some cases, this seems to be further complicated when the only source material provided has already undergone machine translation. Add more frustration when the time, energy, and results do not match the expected outcome and pay.


As we said, most translators are using MT at some point in at least some of their translation work. And nearly 50% of them are occasionally performing post-editing on their own, regardless of whether it is requested by the client. Combine this with the fact that roughly 68% of translators feel that they are generally more knowledgeable about machine translation and post-editing than their clients are, and 65% would say their clients are not generally well-informed about MT and PEMT. If you represent a translation company that has implemented a PEMT solution and find that statistic questionable, bear in mind that it may either be based on fact or perception-- if it is merely perception, the effect can still be the same, and it might be in everyone’s best interest to attempt to change that perception.


“The impact that machine translation and post-editing work has had on what I do is that I can handle several projects at the same time ... I make more money and my clients are happy that generally I am always available no matter what.”



Translators report that many of their agency clients have experimented with post-editing, often, in their opinion, without having properly prepared themselves or their translators for the work. This can lead to a disconnect between the expected results and the time and work involved. The result in these cases is often a translator who swears off post-editing as a disastrous, time-and-patience-consuming experience when their regular translation process would have been faster. When translators experimented with MT in earlier years, negative experiences with machine translation output might lead to the translator not checking back in on MT results for years. Similarly, it could be a while before these translators consider attempting post-editing again, if they consider it at all.

Another instance commonly reported is where the translator receives work which has already been passed through some sort of MT solution by someone in the chain, often the end client, sometimes without the knowledge of the agency, and is expected to "proofread" the text, without the benefit of the source.



“Some clients just want fast turnarounds of understandable documents, they don’t really want literary masterpieces.”



Who knows best when PEMT is the right solution for the translation need? Is it the end client, the LSP, the translator? Arguments could be made for each, or for all three together. A large number of translators do not have any inherent problem with PEMT-- they are using it themselves! The problem often arises from the terms under which PEMT is used or introduced. It may be reasonable to contemplate scenarios where the translator is made more of a partner in the process, and where a clearer structure for the quality of the output desired by the client would allow the translator to more effectively employ the right solution, rather than having it "forced" on them, and lead to equal or better results.



“I also work as a PM and am the only employee who is also a freelance translator. There are many misconceptions on the agency side about MT.”



Adapting to leverage MT and PEMT is a type of diversification. The second and third groups responding to technological advances in the industry are also diversifying, but in different ways.




Part 3 of this report can be found at


In parts 3 and 4 of this report we will continue to look at the human response: how translators and interpreters are adapting, and what the outlook for the future is.



This report was originally published in its entirety as a state of the industry report. members can see this and previous reports at



Topics: translation industry

Jared Tabor

Written by Jared Tabor

Jared oversees Member services at An ex-language teacher, he has lived and worked in Argentina since 1996. He has been with through the La Plata office since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter, @taboredinc .

Subscribe to Email Updates

    Lists by Topic

    see all

    Posts by Topic

    see all

    Listen to the Podcast


    Recent Posts