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Don't feel guilty
Thread poster: Arnaud HERVE

Arnaud HERVE  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:04
English to French
+ ...
Jul 11, 2003

This is a message for beginners, but I am waiting for the input of advanced translators as well.

I am out of the translation business now, and I feel free to talk about it. Translation for me was never an intended career, just a period of my life, and I believe many translators are in that case.

To be more precise, I was part of a category which is common in Fr, that of thesis students who didn't get a job at the University. I know there are other categories in other countries, but, you just name it, the important thing is that there are so many people in the world of translation who are just making sufficient money to survive, while looking for another job.

My subject is this: sooner or later, you will receive a letter from a client, saying that you made a mess of the translation, etc. etc. The message can be more or less polite, sometimes understating that you are a person who should not exist. It is necessary for you to be prepared to such an event. There are financial, professional, sometimes judiciary considerations to take into account, but what I am talking about in this message is only your FEELINGS, that is, should you feel guilty, should you allow yourself to get exhausted with anguish and sorrow?

My answer is NO, don't feel guilty, you are a person worth existing anyway, and you can smile in the open air after a full day on the computer.

Sometimes it is the agency that should feel guilty. This is particularly true when the agency has passed your work to the final client without having it reviewed. You should be certain of one thing: ALL translators make small mistakes, even the most advanced ones. They ALL need to be proofread.

Another subject is the price offered for your translations. If the price offered is too low to maintain a decent standard of living for you and your household, or if it compells you to have a second job, or if it compells you to accept too many jobs, or if it compells you to work too many hours, then you should not feel guilty about small mistakes. No good price, no good quality, that's only fair. Not only it is fair, but you should feel virtuous about making a poor job for poor money, because paying people well is good for the overall economy, it is a progress factor far beyond your own life, it is a fact of civilization that we should all respect.

Then there is another category where it is not the agency that should feel guilty, but the final client. Final clients externalize their translation works, because they don't want to pay translators when they have no translation job going on. But when they hire translators, they expect them to be as proficient as engineers working in their company for decades. That is a contradiction in itself, and you have no responsibility in that.

It is not a question of intelligence, or intentness, you should not think you are a moron or a lazy translator because someone who has been in that particular trade for twenty years tells you your work is awful. On the contrary, it is likely that after having spent one year on that subject you would achieve better results than your present judge. That is not a matter of technical proficiency, it is just like Tokyo inhabitants knowing Tokyo better than you, you are excusable for that, you just need time to do as well.

Another subject I would like to mention is the "Burnt-over" syndrom. Spending too much time alone and very busy on the computer and on Internet creates a professional disease, a sort of nervous breakdown. That happens to all of us when work is too intense. You should not feel particularly weak about that, it is only normal: you just need holidays. As for myself I feel much better now, working only half a day on average on the computer, the rest of the time walking, meeting people, etc.

Well, that's all I come to think about today, and maybe the message is already long enough, so I'll just let other "advanced" colleagues or beginners add their point of view.


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Karin Adamczyk  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:04
Member
French to English
This blows me away Jul 11, 2003

Arnaud HERVE wrote:

I am out of the translation business now, and I feel free to talk about it. Translation for me was never an intended career, just a period of my life, and I believe many translators are in that case.



This, I believe, is the source of the problem. I’m sorry, but there are just too many people in this profession who should not be calling themselves professional translators. If it is not your intended career and you do not *make it* your career, you are simply translating to earn money until you do find or start working in your intended career. When you translate as a sideline or hobby, and don’t take it more seriously than that, it is not surprising that you would receive such a letter from a client (see below).

*To be more precise, I was part of a category *which is common in Fr, that of thesis *students who didn't get a job at the *University. I know there are other categories *in other countries, but, you just name it, *the important thing is that there are so many *people in the world of translation who are *just making sufficient money to survive, *while looking for another job.

These are the very people who ruin it for true professionals, those who care about their profession, do what it takes to provide quality work consistently and invest in their careers by constantly learning and improving their skills.

*My subject is this: sooner or later, you will *receive a letter from a client, saying that *you made a mess of the translation, etc. etc. *The message can be more or less polite, *sometimes understating that you are a person *who should not exist. It is necessary for you *to be prepared to such an event. There are *financial, professional, sometimes judiciary *considerations to take into account, but what *I am talking about in this message is only *your FEELINGS, that is, should you feel *guilty, should you allow yourself to get *exhausted with anguish and sorrow?

Sorry again, but when you make a mess of a translation you should accept responsibility for your share of the situation. Leave feelings out of it. Translation is a professional service that is provided to business people by business people. If a problem is discovered, as the service provider, you MUST look into the problem and the reasons for the problem. You MUST then determine how the problem can be corrected. If you are only partially responsible for the problem, you are still aware of the other factors that caused the problem. It is your responsibility to identify these factors and suggest solutions.

*Sometimes it is the agency that should feel *guilty. This is particularly true when the *agency has passed your work to the final *client without having it reviewed. You should *be certain of one thing: ALL translators make *small mistakes, even the most advanced ones. *They ALL need to be proofread.

Did you have your own work reviewed before you submitted it to your client, whether the client is an agency or a direct client?

*Another subject is the price offered for your *translations. If the price offered is too low *to maintain a decent standard of living for *you and your household, or if it compells you *to have a second job, or if it compells you *to accept too many jobs, or if it compells *you to work too many hours, then you should *not feel guilty about small mistakes. No good *price, no good quality, that's only fair. Not *only it is fair, but you should feel virtuous *about making a poor job for poor money, *because paying people well is good for the *overall economy, it is a progress factor far *beyond your own life, it is a fact of *civilization that we should all respect.

Again, the person accepting the work at a given price is responsible. If the price is too low for you to provide quality work, for whatever reason, it is your responsibility to educate, negotiate and then accept or refuse the conditions.

*Then there is another category where it is *not the agency that should feel guilty, but *the final client. Final clients externalize *their translation works, because they don't *want to pay translators when they have no *translation job going on. But when they hire *translators, they expect them to be as *proficient as engineers working in their *company for decades. That is a contradiction *in itself, and you have no responsibility in *that.

It is not always that simple. Many final clients do not have enough translation work to justify hiring a full-time translator. Here your responsibility is to ask for names of individuals who have the information you need and to ask questions.

Good luck in your new profession,
Karin Adamczyk


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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 05:04
SITE FOUNDER
You have made a good decision Jul 11, 2003

Arnaud,

Though I have not known it personally, the translation world that you talked about does seem to exist. You describe it well. What is striking is that you never discovered the other one, where translators charge, and in turn agencies charge, the rates that they require not only to live, but to be happy. When you charge enough, you get to be an artist, and it is fun.

The existence of this world seems to be outside your mental realm. Odd.

In my estimation, your mistake was feeling "I am only a student, I have to live like this." You should have given yourself more credit. If the fees you needed to charge to be a healthy, happy, *skilled* artist were too high for the clients, you should have tried other clients, or another line of work, something else that you love.

Please do so in your new profession. Don't tell yourself "I am new to this, I have to take what the world will give me." Do what you love and charge what gives you both bread and holidays. Then you will be sure that you are not only serving yourself well, but also your clients and the people around you.

I feel much better now, working only half a day on average on the computer, the rest of the time walking, meeting people, etc.


Now that sounds pretty good. You have probably taken a big step in the right direction for you.


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Karin Adamczyk  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:04
Member
French to English
Excellent positive comments Jul 11, 2003

Henry wrote:

Though I have not known it personally, the translation world that you talked about does seem to exist. You describe it well. What is striking is that you never discovered the other one, where translators charge, and in turn agencies charge, the rates that they require not only to live, but to be happy. When you charge enough, you get to be an artist, and it is fun.



I should have said everything I was thinking in my comments.

I agree with Henry that you did the right thing. My negative comments were really intended for others who are still in the profession, but who are feeling the way you did.

When something is not the right fit for you, it will make you unhappy and it will show in every part of your life, and particularly in the work you produce.

People need to recognize whether or not translation is the right career for them. If it makes you feel more negative than positive, you are definitely in the wrong field.

Take care,
Karin


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Arnaud HERVE  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:04
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Oh, come on Jul 11, 2003

I see what you mean, but you are trying to make a personnal decision out of the general conditions I describe.

You will not convince me that work conditions have not been deteriorating this year.


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Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:04
Member (2004)
German to English
Maybe we can't convince you ... Jul 11, 2003

but I earned more over the past year than either of my first two years so it's not all bad. I must be doing something right! Gradually working my up to the agencies that pay better and more quickly.

Do I make mistakes? Of course I do. But if I mess up I take the responsiblity for it and learn from the experience.


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asil
Local time: 05:04
English to Spanish
+ ...
You should have never got into this business Jul 11, 2003

Arnaud,
you should ahve never got into this business, first of all. Working as a professional translators if you are not one discredtis the other ones who do believe in this carreer. I can understand that you needed money to pay for your bills, but I cannot accept that you never cared about whay you were doing. Fortunately, I will not have to hire your services for myself.


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xxxIanW
Local time: 11:04
German to English
+ ...
In support of Karin Jul 11, 2003

Like Karin, I was quite “blown away” by what I have just read. Rather than advice for eager, fresh-faced beginners, it sounds like therapy for former sweatshop workers. Take a look around ProZ and you will see professional translators who approach their work with energy, enthusiasm and love of language. These are the people who should be giving advice to beginners.

Call me arrogant, but I don’t agree that “sooner or sooner or later, you will receive a letter from a client, saying that you made a mess of the translation”. We all make mistakes, but strive to ensure that these are little ones and that we learn from them. In any case, one aspect of a true professional is the ability to avoid scenarios where you are liable to fall on your face.

Let me turn the ever-popular baker analogy (“would you expect your baker to give you a discount if you bought two loaves of bread a week? etc., etc.)” on its head to illustrate another point. If I asked my baker to bake a loaf of bread, and it came back burnt on the outside and wet on the inside, I’d send it back and refuse to pay for it. The same goes for services such as translation. As Karin says, feelings simply do not come into it.


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Arnaud HERVE  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:04
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I am surprised Jul 11, 2003

I don't understand why today everybody is reacting as if I had said someting else than what is written.

I am just saying that it is likely that beginner translators will receive a few messages of insatisfaction from their clients, and that they should not worry about it too much, but on the contrary move on to the better side of translation.

That is a type of encouragement that is often seen in other forms on Proz forums.

Why you react as if I was accusing the whole profession, that is beyond me for the moment.

I would have preferred to talk about the practical conditions that make it excusable for a translator to deliver an imperfect job, or at least not to feel guilty about delivering an imperfect job, and those conditions are clearly objectively observable every now and then in the translation business.

Translation agencies and final clients are micro-economic entities, and as such they have the classical interests of micro-economic entities, that is they want to earn the most income with the least expenses. I don't know who can contradict me on that point, and I am not talking politics here, but if you deny the fact that agencies and final clients have accountancies, we can't talk very far.

Their ideal translator is a specialized engineer that happens not to be busy as a specialized engineer, who is available immediately for 24/24 work, who has enough personnal wealth to work for free, and who can physiologically stand years of sitting in front of the computer all days long. That is the interest of agencies and final clients on an abstract basis.

Consequently agencies and final clients will NEVER be fully satisfied about real life translators.

It is up to us to discuss and to define the demands we must legitimately satisfy or not. It is just a market situation, that's all, and there is no reason why we should not talk about our own interests.

To give an example, in some technical jobs I was given, I had to work in conditions that I think would have been deemed insufficient by a technician working on a monolingual publication, which is in fact that I worked without a draft of the involved machine, or I was not informed of the kind of machine that the piece I was working on would fit into.

I can quote a host of other examples. A very frequent case is when the final client asks for the new version of a yearly publication, and the agency doesn't give the translator the examples of the last years.

Of course the fact that some agencies try to make more money by avoiding proof-reading is also welll-known.

Well, ok, it's long enough I think. I stop for today.


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Thomas Magnuson
Canada
Local time: 02:04
English to Japanese
+ ...
Maybe it all just depends on perspective Jul 11, 2003

First off I just want say how great a read this thread is; I think it gives beginners a real idea of not just the success stories but also the not-so successful stories.

Having said that, though, I have say that I can relate to some of what Arnaud said - specifically about work load and prices. I think your workload is what you make it, and knowing when not to take those jobs priced rediculously cheaply; that only perpetuates one's burnout. In the end, though, I think Arnaud figured this out.

Henry's made some great points too. That is, pricing can make the job fun. The job is fun, afterall - just like going to college for free!

I realize I'm blathering here, but having lurked around this site for a few months now, I've noticed a lot of talk about what a "professional" is. I think this is a dangerous notion - I mean, languages cannot be learnt perfectly and absolutely, so can anyone really call themselves a professional? Hell, after I've been doing this for a million years, I'd hope to think my greatest achievement will have been to still consider myself as a beginner.

One of the most satisfying things, aside from purely learning more about a language you love and being able to use it, is that you are able to connect with people on a very basic level. A professor that entrusts his paper to you is handing over his left lung, and we give him back a piece of ourselves - our language.

Going beyond labels like professional and beginner entails having legroom, though - in terms of time, money, and mental state. If you're in a position where you can work comfortably, work ceases to be work - and just something that you "do."

Anyways, that was my rant (lol). Just to sum up, though, when the going gets rough my best advice to new translators would be to go to a park, crack a beer, light a smoke, and look at things in terms of the big picture. Well, best of luck to all!


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sandhya  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:34
German to English
+ ...
keep courage! Jul 11, 2003

Hi,

Just to add a few thoughts. I am a FULL time translator since 10 years! I have NEVER worked anywhere else, I started with making verrrryyy little money. But, even then I often did small jobs for free - sometimes to learn, sometimes out of generosity, sometimes because it was a personal medical report (I did not think it ethical to charge a client to tell him he might pop off in the next 2 months!)
Today, after 10 years, I survive - more than survive - I live a veryy good life, just by translating and am very happy - why? because I LOVE my work, it is tough, it has problems, but the bottom line is - I love it!

Both Karin and Henry are right. No job (whether as freelance or permanent) comes without problems. But the right way to handle it lies in your basic attitude - if you hate your work, you will always face problems, love it - and even the problems will smell like sweet roses

keep courage!
sandhya


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Stephen Lang  Identity Verified
French to English
A beginner with some comments Jul 12, 2003

I appreciate this discussion quite a bit since I am just starting out in this field and trying to find work. I think the poster should be proud first of all that he was able to find what seemed to be a lot of work in a competitive field, not everyone is going to do that. I have already made the decision that I will not accept work for too little money because I believe doing this well requires a lot of effort and I will not do it for pay that makes it not worth it. I do have the luxury of a decent paying job as a programmer, and want to translate in that field, among others. I don't think the poster needs to feel ashamed, it is just life. I recently had a friend who quit the corporate world and her dream job because her mental and physical health were at stake and is much happier now. It all depends on what you value and what you decide is important.

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xxxIanW
Local time: 11:04
German to English
+ ...
Re Arnaud's last comment Jul 12, 2003

"I don't understand why today everybody is reacting as if I had said someting else than what is written."

If you had said translators starting off can expect to make mistakes and "learn the hard way", I would have agreed wholeheartedly with you. However, what you said was that such mistakes are either the agency's fault or the customer's fault so there's no need for translators to worry about it.

Taking responsibility for his/her work is part and parcel of a translator's work, and there are few things worse than an irresponsible translator. This might be why "everyone" is reacting so strangely.


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Ursula Peter-Czichi  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:04
German to English
+ ...
I agree with Ian Jul 12, 2003

Ian Winick wrote:

If you had said translators starting off can expect to make mistakes and "learn the hard way", I would have agreed wholeheartedly with you. However, what you said was that such mistakes are either the agency's fault or the customer's fault so there's no need for translators to worry about it.

Taking responsibility for his/her work is part and parcel of a translator's work, and there are few things worse than an irresponsible translator. This might be why "everyone" is reacting so strangely.


I agree with Ian. The problem is with the presentation. Here is another aspect that in all probability did not come out the way it was (might have been) intended:

Only recently a science job was posted. The poster (like so often) needed a rush job and was determined to "parcel out" that project.

Splitting projects into many different parts is a concept that should never be applied to translation jobs. Many translation agencies mislead their clients to believe that they can get excellent professional results this way. They cannot. Even if there are no serious mistakes the final result will be miserable to mediocre, at best. The client will be dissatisfied. For this, a translator should not bear the responsibility.

It is unfortunate, but many project managers have become file and translator resource managers. They cause a lot of problems with end clients. Agencies are definitely responsible for that part.

However, my answer to that condition is different.
Have a good look at the project and the general conditions for the transaction. Then make an informed decision. After terms and conditions have been accepted, the translator must be responsible for a translation, no matter how cheap.

I think it is about "signing responsible for services advertised and rendered", not "feeling guilty".


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Arnaud HERVE  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:04
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Well, no problem Jul 13, 2003

I didn't write that a translator is never responsible. Some people must have had other things on their minds when answering to me.

I only mean that when the fault is clearly on the side of the agency or the end client, they will ALWAYS charge the translator for that.

Just think of the examples I already mentionned. Here are a few others:

In 2002 I was given a medical job of several hundred thousand words. I was inexperienced at Trados quantities and clearly expressed that. One month before the deadline I gave many signs of not keeping in pace. Two weeks before the deadline I had to assume I was to take the role of the project manager and clearly announced him I couldn't do it in time. The project manager explicitly refused to call for other translators, and I ended up delivering late, with of course a rebate demanded.

In 2002 too an agency gave me a legal job about a huge case of litigation between an important Italian company and one of the major global legal companies. I had clearly announced that I was not certified. So I delivered a correct job with the legalese phrases to improve. They passed the translation directly to that huge legal client, who was of course dissatisfied because it was not a lawyer's text. The agency then refused to pay me and threatened of going to court.

On another occasion I was given Trados files that made it impossible for me to use the TM properly.

On another occasion I was not told the glossary had been changed from the previous version, and was accused of not keeping in terms with the new glossary.

On another occasion the translation director of a major international institution accused me of not being a native French, and refused to pay quite a few files. He himself was British and not a native Francophone.

Well, I suspect if we made a special Proz topic about project manager mistakes we would find thousands of other cases. Some of them laughable, some of them tragic.

But on the whole I still entirely approve the fact that translators can make bad jobs on their own, of course.

In that case, I think the translator is technically guilty. But is he morally guilty too?

That depends on the price and the deadlines in my opinion. If the prices are too low to make a living, or the deadlines a shameful exploitation of people who desperately need a job, then I think the translator is not morally guilty, even if he is technically speaking.

If the project manager work is good and the work conditions are correct, then the translator is technically and morally responsible.

But beginners will tend to think they are guilty for anything, because the project manager will tell them so and they assume he knows his job, and that is why I wanted to write this message of encouragement here.


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