Why machine translation creates so much anger and how to deal with it


Earlier this week, I came across a number of posts and comments on social media in which the authors expressed anger towards changes that have been happening in the translation industry. While the authors had valid reasons to feel angry, I couldn’t help but feel disturbed by the intensity of their emotions and by the tunnel vision and barrier to dialog that it momentarily created.

I read these posts and comments while I was preparing slides for a presentation I am going to give in London on Saturday for the Interpreting Division of the Chartered Institute of Linguists: “Reinventing Yourself: How understanding the change process can help you take the leap”. I would like to share one of the slides with you, as I think it will help you understand what many of us are going through at the moment.

The model that I would like to share with you was developed in the 1960s by a psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Dr Kübler-Ross specialised in the study of grief. She identified the five stages of emotions which are experienced by people who are approaching death or dealing with the death of a loved one. Her model was widely accepted and it was found to be valid for other forms of losses, as well as situations relating to change (for instance, the loss of a job or of a familiar way of doing things). Her model has been used as a change management tool by businesses across the world.

The five stages identified by Kübler-Ross are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s important to note here that people don’t go through these stages in an identical, linear manner but often move back and forth between the stages, and sometimes skip some of them.

The first stage is denial. This stage of shock is a natural defence mechanism which helps us deal with disturbing news. It is usually quite short, from a few seconds to a few days, depending on the situation. Any longer than this, and you may find yourself clinging to the past and out of touch with reality.

The second stage is anger. This can be experienced as irritability, frustration and short temper. This is the stage where we look for someone or something to blame.

Then comes the bargaining stage, where you might start thinking about ways to postpone the inevitable. For instance, when people pray, they will often say things like “I promise I will do this or that if you save my son/daughter/family/business.”

The next stage is depression, which can be experienced as sadness, fear, loss of motivation, low energy, etc. This is the lowest point in the process and, as with all the other stages, the amount of time spent here varies from person to person.

Some people can get stuck in a particular stage. When this happens, they cannot see a way forward. For example, if you are stuck in anger, you are likely to go round and round in circles complaining about your situation, and you won’t be able to see a constructive way out. Talking to someone, in some cases a professional, will help.

The final stage, once the previous stages have been processed, is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you agree with the change that has happened. For instance, you may still believe that machine translation is a bad thing for our industry. However, you accept that it is here to stay and that it will continue to develop. You are prepared to reinvent yourself to adapt to the new situation – which doesn’t necessarily mean that you will embrace MT or any other form of technology. Successful businesses continuously reinvent themselves to adapt to new market needs and demands. As businesspeople, we need to do this too and it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds.

Understanding the Kübler-Ross five stage model helps to manage change both in our personal and in our professional lives. It helps us to understand that the emotions we are feeling are perfectly natural, while enabling us to determine whether we are stuck in a particular stage.

I will discuss this model as part of wider change-management model in module 2 of the Future-Proof Translator, which I will be presenting with eCPD Webinars on December 1st, 8th and 15th. In module 1, I will give you an overview of the technological changes that are happening in our industry, while in module 3 we will discuss our options (not all of them involve technology) and the best time to reinvent oneself.

You may also like:

The Translator’s Change Management Wheel

What Does The Future Hold For Translators

Future-Proofing Your Career As A Translator

Riding The Wave Of Technological Change As A Translator



4 Comments on “Why machine translation creates so much anger and how to deal with it”

  1. A really interesting take on change management and how it can be constructively applied to the world of translation Christelle. I had never thought of things in this respect before, despite being quite familiar with the model concerned. I think we can all identify with being at different stages when it comes to changes of different types within our own careers and our industry as a whole.


  2. This is all very nice, but there’s a flaw in the reasoning. You can’t avoid death. You can avoid change – or at least some forms of unwanted change. Ignoring change *as imposed by translation agencies”, resisting it, refusing inane jobs, thinking out of the box. Finding direct clients who don’t play the game of the giant internet-based translation agencies. Going for higher quality. Investing more time in training and client education. Etc. Because there ARE clients out there who are so, so tired of the low quality this change entails, and screaming for quality translation.


    • Thank you for your comment, Dominique. Yes, you are right, and what you are describing is what I’m talking about in my post. “Going for higher quality” is a way of adapting to a changing market. You accept that some providers are now offering PEMT (a change on the market) and you find your own way of dealing with it.

      If one of your clients suddenly switches to PEMT (the change) and you don’t want to do PEMT (you don’t accept the change), you can still accept that there has been a change and that you have lost that client (and probably some income at first). That situation happened to me. It’s only one example. Change can happen in all sorts of ways, and can have all sorts of losses and outcomes.

      Acceptance means that you accept that things are different and that you have to move on.


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