by Tim Gregory, CT (AR>EN) and NOTIS Board Member
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We’ve all heard and seen a great deal of hype about ChatGPT and the ways it may revolutionize how all kinds of business is conducted. A lot of different types of creators are feeling threatened: digital artists, computer programmers, writers, and, of course, translators like us. Using a large language model system, the tool can recreate some incredibly human-sounding texts and respond quickly to questions with some extremely confident-sounding answers.
I’ll first say that, in my testing, I found some amazing results, but I also found some abject failures. When I asked ChatGPT for quotes from one of my favorite books, it gave me six — but three of them did not come from the book I asked for. I could not find what book or author the spurious quotes came from.
This is the hazard of large language models: they are prone to “hallucinate.” As incredible as they appear, they cannot tell fact from error. It is the human user’s job to fact check and verify that any information ChatGPT provides is accurate.
The same kinds of issues hold sway when working with one of these tools as a translator. The more comparative bilingual data the model contains, the more accurate the translation will be, because it is more likely that the same terms or structures can be found in human-translated materials on the internet. That means some languages will have much better results than others, which is already the case with the many other machine translation tools that are out there.
For Arabic, ChatGPT seems neither better nor worse than most — with the one benefit that you can, in your prompt, provide a translation brief. You can, for example, tell the tool that the source is a poem and describe the kind of poem you want the translation to be. When I tried this, the translation was not great, but it did come with meter and rhyme!
Business Consultant: A better use?
Leaving translation itself aside, I’d like to address the idea of using ChatGPT as a business consultant. If you have ever searched the internet for business advice or to try to solve a problem you are having, I am certain you ended up with millions of search results. Thousands of articles, some relevant to you, but most designed for generic freelance businesses or sole proprietorships. Imagine a smart computer that can comb all those results and distill answers down to you in understandable human language. Then, stop imagining — because it already exists.
Getting Started with ChatGPT
Let us walk through the process of creating a prompt and navigating a simple conversation. I recommend you go to https://chat.openai.com and sign up for an account, and then, to get a feel for how it works, either copy the prompt work below or modify it to your needs.
General Advice for Interaction
The first thing you should do any time you work with ChatGPT is provide background information. If you are asking for translation help, this should be a translation brief describing the source, the intended audience, and the tone of the translation. For our consultant, we need to let the system know the role we want it to play. If you do not do this, the results will be less specific and relevant to you.
Keep in mind that ChatGPT is not Google; it is not doing a keyword search and bringing you results. It is trying to bring you an actual answer to your question. One side note: many people experimenting with ChatGPT say you get better results if you are polite, so you will see me using ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
Introducing Yourself and Your Topic
Let’s imagine that you are trying to transition from getting most of your freelance translation work from agencies to finding and working with direct clients. All the best advice suggests that this is the ideal way to earn higher pay and achieve a better work-life balance. Who better to ask than “someone” who has built their business in this way? So our first job is to establish the boundaries for our conversation. Here is an example of how to do so:
Taking the role of a successful freelance translator with more than twenty years’ experience working with translation agencies and gradually shifting to work solely with direct clients, please answer the following questions:
You’ll get a response letting you know the program has taken on the persona you asked for and is ready to answer your questions. Here is an example of a question I asked:
Is it worthwhile to specialize in a certain topic or field, or would I be limiting my income by doing this?
ChatGPT provided me with a very lengthy answer, but the first paragraph read:
Specializing in a certain topic or field can be highly beneficial as a freelance translator. While it may seem like you are narrowing your potential client base, in reality, becoming an expert in a specific area can open up numerous opportunities and boost your earning potential. Here are some reasons why specializing is worthwhile:
It then listed six advantages to specialization along with details for each.
Another question you might have would be about finding direct clients. Most translation consumers do not post job ads on LinkedIn, after all. Your next prompt might be something like this:
Thank you! I have decided to specialize in translating medical technology from German to English. Can you give me some advice for finding direct clients in my field?
The response I received gave me ten actionable pieces of advice from setting up a professional online presence, to cold email versus direct mail, to joining professional associations like ATA (or NOTIS). Finally, we can delve further into another answer to our question and ask for more help.
I have decided to try a direct mail campaign. Can you help me determine what I should include on a postcard mailer to advertise my translation services as described above and provide me with a few lines of marketing copy that I might adapt for my own use?
Along with the following general guidelines and suggested copy, ChatGPT gave a text-only plan for how to do the layout for the postcard.
A compelling headline.
A brief introduction.
As a seasoned freelance translator with over 20 years of experience, I specialize in providing precise and reliable translations for the medical technology industry. From software interfaces to technical manuals, I ensure your message remains clear and impactful in every language.
A value proposition.
Partner with me to unlock your global potential. Seamlessly communicate with international markets, comply with regulatory requirements, and empower your medical technology solutions to reach broader audiences.
A call to action.
Running a small business is a complicated affair, particularly for sole proprietors who really just want to do the work they love. ChatGPT’s access to vast amounts of business advice across many different fields makes it a very powerful potential partner in developing your business in ways you may not have considered before.
In ChatGPT’s own words, “By harnessing the power of AI-driven tools, we can focus on our expertise, specialize in niche areas, and deliver translations that exceed expectations. As we ride this wave of innovation, let us embrace these tools as valuable allies in our profession, propelling us towards even greater success in an ever-evolving global landscape.”