Freelance Translation Means Working For Free

And Other Misconceptions About Translation and Translators
I Need A Fast, Cheap, and High Quality Translation

Translation implies rendering the text from one language (source text) into a different language (target text).
Translation is hopefully carried out by a professional translator. Which brings me to what is in my opinion the first misconception: any bilingual person can do translations. This is absolutely wrong on so many levels. A translator is a language specialist, and attention to detail, critical thinking skills, cross-cultural sensitivity, a good memory and precision are essential qualities in this profession. A good translator always uses specialized tools, from CAT tools to dictionaries.

Another misconception about translators is that we know all the words in our languages. How many times did you hear “You’re a translator, how come you don’t know how to translate this word?” Here’s my answer, “I’m a translator, and not a walking dictionary” (please feel free to print this on T-shirts and hand them out to people)!

Another misconception is that our work is so easy that we can work for free or next to nothing. There are too issues here: translation is not easy and translation is expensive (there are costs incurred, i.e. CAT tools, dictionaries, office space, computers, Internet connection, etc.). When a translator calculates his/her rates, all these costs have to be taken into account, including their experience. When getting offered a rate which is next to nothing, i.e. $0.01/translatable word, it is frankly insulting.

Translation means translating words. Yes and no, because even when translating glossaries and terminological lists, where we do translate only words, rendering the same meaning in a different language involves several processes.

And last, but not least, my favorite one, freelance translators are available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. Translators do not work in a different time zone where a work week is Sunday till Monday and the work day lasts 24 hours. We do take nights, weekends, and, yes, days off work!

6 thoughts on “Freelance Translation Means Working For Free

  1. blogstranslationtime Post author

    Hajnalka’s idea about writing a book about the challenges we face as translators and interpreters seems better and better. Maybe by doing this we can shed some light on translation and interpreting and promote a bit our profession.

  2. blogstranslationtime Post author

    Hi Hajnalka,
    Exactly, it happened to me as well. An interpretation about something technical.
    You shouldn’t feel bad, it’s their job as well to give you all the PPTs/information available. I think it’s their fault.
    After 10 years as a translator, in such a situation, I learned the best way to deal with this is to just nod and smile, and try to get over them telling us we should know every single word in our language(s).

  3. Anthony Davis

    Re: your point « Any bilingual person can do translations »

    We, as translators, know that that is not so!

    However, many people think that this is so – from small businesses to some conglomerates with company branches worldwide!

    They just want to save money at all costs – no matter how the translation comes out, and how it sounds to the native speakers!

  4. Corinna

    I agree with the cheap and in no-time.
    There are frequently offers from companies in India, and other off-the-wall places, seeking translators for my language pairs (German-English/English-German).
    They don’t seem to have a sense of the time sense, or what is a living wage for me. Maybe doing a machine translation in India, with a quick proofread can be done for $0.01 or $0.02, but that doesn’t work for me. I would make more money working at McDonald’s.
    Another problem I encountered is, that if you balk (even if it’s an unreasonable complaint), you can get it for less. It happened to me once, with an Eastern European company, and once several months after a book translation (which I attempted to translate, and the translator in charge kept changing it back to bad grammar).
    And last, but not least – the way to get paid, and delays: Too many times I have accepted last-minute jobs, and then waited 6 weeks to get paid. One time the Maryland-based company was admittedly low on cash, so it took even longer until the check was in the mail. I am vary leery about non-bank electronic payments, because I have had problems with Paypal, which ended up costing me a lot of money, because protection by Paypal is non-existent. Instead they blamed me for giving my password to somebody else. If my account gets hacked without being frequented by people in a country which is located in a part of the world which is less than trustworthy, I am leery about giving it out.
    There is the occasional fraud « overpaying » with their fake money orders.
    All these experiences have made me very cautious about translating all together, and currently I only work for a local translation company, and I do all their work for my language pairs. Sometimes there are big jobs, but usually it’s just small stuff. But at least I know that they treat me fairly, pay well, and the check is in the mail immediately on the 1st or 15th after the job completion (often times within 2 or 3 days).
    Love the relationship and the only things I would change is getting more jobs, so I will be looking for more jobs in my local area.

    1. blogstranslationtime Post author

      Great points, Corrina. I agree. And aside from the Indian market, the Eastern European market is not that great either.
      I was a bit leery about including these points in my post, but when we, experienced translators, do not accept ludicrous offers, these projects will go to students/bilinguals. There is no revision or proofing (the companies are trying to cut custs) and the market translation value decreases.


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