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Other indices beyond rates and quality
Thread poster: Rod Walters

Rod Walters  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:58
Japanese to English
Feb 28, 2009

There seem to be a lot of threads on the issue of rates and quality. Indeed, it might appear that these are the only indices that should rightly interest a translator. But what about some other indices that we don't hear about so much? Some examples might be;

You're glad to provide for yourself and your dependants through translation, whatever you have to do.

Right living
You're able to live without doing harm, by rejecting work that shouldn't be done at any price.

Free time
Translation enables you to doss about as you like, when you like.

Social contribution
Pro bono or low-paid work allows you to make a contribution to society that you consider worthwhile

You can do boatloads for cheap payers and that pays the bills nicely.

You find translation inherently interesting and would do it even if you didn't get paid.

You feel solidarity with your clients and take pleasure in their success, annoying though they me be at times.

Who cares? It's just a job.

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Aniello Scognamiglio  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:58
English to German
+ ...
Business relationship Feb 28, 2009

Business relationship:
based on mutual trust and respect, with at least a human touch!

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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:58
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Answers Feb 28, 2009

At its basic level, survival is a fight for existence. If you have to fight to stay in business as a translator, offering low rates and long payment terms and allowing clients to treat you with disrespect, then perhaps the quality of your translations is too low.

You can provide for yourself and whomever you like without any trouble at all, by focusing on the quality of your translations.

Right living:
I am vegetarian. If I inadvertently take on an unethical translation (or simply have to, because it comes from the lawyers who provide my main business), then I donate the money for that particular translation, when it comes in, to an appropriate organisation that protects animals.

Free time:
Quite seriously, your free time is going to be limited for the first 10 years in business. However, if you spend your free time that you do have on two things, namely the accounting side of your business, including plans and projections concerning future business, and, secondly, building up terminology termbases, you may consider this a good investment and quite probably you will have more free time in the future as a result.

Social contribution:
Pro bono work can only be done for very carefully selected charities, i.e. the ones that you happen to support anyway, and not just for any organisation that claims to be a charity or short of a bob or two. You should always compare their requests, objectively, with what they deserve and also with what they have a right to expect (humanly speaking) and, on the other hand, with your own claims to your free time (even for building up your business) and the time and attention that your family and friends also rightly deserve and can expect from you.

Just as you cannot donate to every organisation that puts a leaflet in your letter box asking you to, you cannot translate for them either.

If you can seriously do boatloads for cheap payers, then the quality must be awful. Doing a translation - any translation, for anybody, and at any price - is a VERY HIGH RISK. You have to be reimbursed for that risk. You are fully responsible, in every way, for every single character that you write on that page.

Ideally, work should be interesting, and it should interest you sufficiently so that you are motivated to do it by your interest, and not by your earnings. Many lawyers are motivated by their jobs, but they also expect market value remuneration. You have to be reimbursed the market value of what you produce for the market. Anything else is incorrect.

Yes, certainly you can build up a good, friendly business relationship with your clients and want to see them succeed in business too. However, as Aniello says, that means that there is mutual respect on both sides. If your client respects you, your client will want to see you succeed, and if you do not charge the correct amount to keep your business healthy, then you will not succeed. The playing field needs to be level: you cannot build up someone else's business to the detriment of your own. There is no "co-prosperity" in that.

Personally, I am very sorry to have lost a fairly long-standing client towards the end of last year, due to that client's business not doing so well. It is not only sad for me to see a client's business fall into recession, but it also means that I have to find a new client too, when that happens, in order to fill the income gap and bring my accounts into line again. I have done so.

Just a job:
I think that anyone who regards it as "just a job" is not in a position to take the very high risk that doing and selling a translation involves, and at that on a daily basis, so that another job would be more appropriate and less stressful in this case.


[Edited at 2009-02-28 09:47 GMT]

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Christina Paiva  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:58
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Learning Feb 28, 2009

You learn new words, new techniques/technologies, different writing styles, meet interesting people, improve you writing skills, and most of all have a lot of fun

[Edited at 2009-02-28 09:48 GMT]

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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:58
Member (2003)
German to English
Astrid just wrote my list... Feb 28, 2009

... considering that there is nothing I would leave out and very little I would add. Maybe:

Right match
Is a career as a translator really the right thing for you at this time of your life, and if so - why? Do you love it enough for the long term, or is this just a stopgap, if fun, way to pay the bills? And are you good enough for the long haul or are you willing to become that good and work hard to keep pace with the changes?

Or would you be better off doing something else, maybe related, maybe not? Language services PM, editor, language teacher, bilingual gardener, whatever.

I know the answer for me, and my gut tells me it won't change, though I'm sure the industry will in ways I can't even guess. (Maybe later this will change, who knows?) Anyone with enough time on their hands to look at my CV (no copying please) will see that I have done a number of other things before that others would consider more serious "careers". I was good at most of these too, but at some point, they either became a bore, a nuisance or they simply didn't fit the more flexible lifestyle I wanted. But what suits me may be a long way from suiting another translator, who despite top quality and a super reputation might be far better off as a nurse, teacher or urban planner.

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Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:58
English to German
Happiness! Feb 28, 2009

I think almost all the things mentioned are also valid for other (freelancing) jobs - what is important is that you can make a living with it and do a job that gives you happiness at the same time. What do I need more?


[Edited at 2009-02-28 13:07 GMT]

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sarandor  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:58
English to Russian
+ ...
Flexibility Feb 28, 2009

Rod Walters wrote:

Free time
Translation enables you to doss about as you like, when you like.

Often, I barely find time to take a shower, so lots of free time is not what being a freelance translator gives to me. At least, not at this point of my career. But I appreciate the flexibility of freelancing. No more arguing (lovingly) with my husband whose turn it is to take a day off work when our daughter gets cold and can't go to school. It was a point of contention for us when I wasn't freelancing. I just couldn't take too many days off on my high-pressure previous job, same as my husband. What I am doing now helps to get closer to work-family balance.

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Edwal Rospigliosi  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:58
English to Spanish
+ ...
My kids Feb 28, 2009

Yes, sometimes it is a lonely job, hour after hour sitting in front of the computer. BUT, I have seen my 8-year old grow tall and proud, I am always there for tucking him at night and to wake him up the next day, he actually knows what I do for a living, and when he needs help with homework, I'm there for him.

And I will be there for my little baby daughter, who already recognizes me, and likes to stay there in her pram, looking at me while I work. Did I mention I am able to see her grow right before my eyes?

Would I earn more if working in a company? Probably, but I'd need to deal with traffic, commuting, office politics, bosses, etc.

Thanks but no, thanks. I know I chose the right path.

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:58
English to French
+ ...
My views Feb 28, 2009

On survival:
I think that translation is far from being the best option for survival, unless you live in a very remote location where there are just no other jobs available beside the one you would create yourself, and where the only contact with potential employers or clients would be an internet connection. I would also find it hard to survive with the help of translation if I was only starting out - translation is not just any job you can learn in a few days or weeks (most jobs used for survival often don't require much more than learning to use a cash register, learning to roll dough, etc.). Considering the responsibilities translators have, it can be a dangerous means of survival that can easily backfire. Not to mention that freelancers at large also have their reputations to worry about, which is not the case with a tour guide or a dry cleaner's clerk.

On right living:
This one is very important to me. I didn't start freelancing for this, but this is an amazing perk, I find. I am not driving a car to work, thereby not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions (my power consumption comes from hydroelectricity, so that doesn't contribute to it much either). I am close to a zero carbon gas emission lifestyle. I also don't take up room in public transit, and this leaves an open seat to others who have recently traded their car in for public transit (Montreal is having a genuine issue with this - the public transit system is overcrowded and, in many cases, there is no more room left for expansion). As for rejecting work - well, most of the translations I work on have some health and safety component, so I contribute to something all the while being paid for it. The best of both worlds. I seldom reject work because of my specializations, but if I was in Astrid's shoes, I would probably do it, too, once in a while. In any case, I have morals, and I know I would never translate get-rich-quick scheme webistes (that would be contributing to exploitation).

On free time:
I disagree that I have more time for certain things. The advantage to me is rather that I can change my schedule as needed. I went to the doctor's a few times recently, and I was glad that I could do that when the waiting room wasn't full. Most people don't have that privilege.

On social contribution
I find that pro bono translation work is increasingly shady. I would never offer to translate on a voluntary basis for companies, for one thing, yet there are for profit companies requesting pro bono translation work. That makes no sense to me. Another thing I have noticed also is that some pro bono opportunities come with a lot of headache. It is just too difficult to figure out which pro bono opportunity is right for me. I also prefer to contribute to causes that I personally care about. However, there just doesn't seem to be much pro bono work related to my causes. To me, it is best to donate some time to a local cause, and not through translation but through whatever they need. Women's shelters don't need translation services, but they do need people to accompany these women and their children to court, for example. I also don't mind helping to cook and serve lunch to the needy.

On volume:
In my case, I don't need to do that. I do boatloads without cheap payers being in the equation.

On stimulation:
I wouldn't say I would translate even if I didn't get paid, but I do find that I learn a lot through translation. If I translate in the environmental science field, it is not purely out of financial interest - I find it is an extremely interesting field, and there are days when translation doesn't feel like work but rather like a hobby. I sometimes feel privileged for that.

On co-prosperity:
I wholeheartedy agree with this. I feel involved in my clients' success and I do always try to do my job in a way that will help my clients achieve their goals. This often goes beyond translation. When I see that something is not right, I let the client know, even if it is not part of my job. Some clients have a hard time with this, but others really appreciate it, and that feels really good. I would find it unfair that a client helps me to prosper and I don't do the same for them. We're in this together.

There is more to translation than quality and rates. A whole lot more. But I also believe that quality and rates are not optional, whereas most of the other factors are. Maybe that's why translators are seemingly more interested in those. But if my work was all about money and quality and nothing more, I would be one sad translator.

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Arnaud HERVE  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:58
English to French
+ ...
Decathlon Mar 1, 2009

Christina Paiva wrote:
You learn new words, new techniques/technologies, different writing styles, meet interesting people, improve you writing skills, and most of all have a lot of fun

This has been my main pleasure in translation too.

In high school I was one of those rare guys who, although being excellent at nothing, were decent at everything. A kind of decathlon champion, if you see what I mean.

But France at that time was full of very strong and very stubborn prejudices : if you're good at arts you're not good at sciences, if you're good at drawing you don't like sports, etc. But I was a judo black belt and a member of the drawing club, I was good at lit and read philosophy of maths books in the library...

Finally I chose arts at the university, but beginning technical translation gave me an immense relief.

Also, arts in France at that time were no longer arts. It was rather an exercise of interlacing knowledge with center-left references. If you remained faithful to knowledge only, you could not go very far at the doctorate level. If you were too right-wing or too left-wing, you did not have much career expectations either.

I was so glad I joined a business and technical world where things that are true are true, things that are obvious are obvious. And no clients asked me to support or oppose the present government.

Today, I think I have reached a limit in my pursuit of knowledge. I have improved in technology, but:

1) The deadlines are too short for me to really study a subject as I wished too. It's not only knowledge by the way, I would like to be more accurate, more reliable, better in my job. I have only become good enough to be painfully conscious that I should learn more.

2) I feel a renewed desire for arts, now that, thanks to Internet, I can read and write what I want without this backwards French center-left censorship.

Probably what I will do is set up a new website with more literary translations.

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United Kingdom
Local time: 06:58
English to German
+ ...
free time Mar 2, 2009

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

Free time:
Quite seriously, your free time is going to be limited for the first 10 years in business. However, if you spend your free time that you do have on two things, namely the accounting side of your business, including plans and projections concerning future business, and, secondly, building up terminology termbases, you may consider this a good investment and quite probably you will have more free time in the future as a result.

[Edited at 2009-02-28 09:47 GMT]

Time spent accounting and working on terminology isn't free, it's just unpaid. Translators often forget the time spent doing unpaid work like accounting when setting their rates for paid work.

Personally I value the independence but I don't work fewer hours than an employee in a similar job with similar pay.

[Edited at 2009-03-03 04:06 GMT]

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