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Reasonability of wages for UK-based in-house translators
Thread poster: Mark Smith

Mark Smith  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:28
German to English
+ ...
Feb 15, 2006

Dear all,

I just wanted to see what the general consensus on this topic. I am currently applying to many different translation firms, and I am seeing emerge a quite jolting pattern of appallingly low remuneration, not only for trainees, coming straight from a Masters degree in translation (like myself), but even for higher grades with industry experience.

I will give an example. In one company they are offering £14k for graduates such as myself with no industry experience, £16k-£20k for those with 1-2 years experience, then £20k-£24k for those with 4-6 years experience.

At this point I have to be perfectly honest – I could earn the same amount as the pay band that I am eligible for doing a temporary clerical job with one hand tied behind my back! I strongly believe that my skills are worth more than £14k per annum, despite my beginner status. If I only had a languages degree, I could see their point, but I have learnt a great deal on my Masters about the industry, project management and CAT software, as well as having a far better grasp of the art of translation than someone untrained, who can merely speak the language.

Furthermore, I find it disgusting than the highest pay band for translators in this particular company (and I daresay it’s similar elsewhere) only peaks at £24k. Had I quit education after my undergraduate course, I could now easily be earning that much on any number of graduate recruitment schemes. Why should it be the case that translators, who possess such a relatively rare and valuable skill, are not reasonably compensated for this? Since we are always hearing about the collapse in numbers studying languages in Britain, how can graduates be so undervalued?

I do not regret taking my MA at Leeds, as I feel in a far stronger position now, vis-à-vis having the necessary skills to work in the industry. Nonetheless, I have incurred another large slice of debt to be in this position, and now I expect my remuneration to reflect this sacrifice and compensate me accordingly. Am I being unreasonable in this? Furthermore, it is preposterous that many Project Manager positions in our industry pay more at entry level than trainee translator ones. I have to be honest, this is one of the hardest decisions of my entire life, as I’m just not sure I can afford to be in the translation industry. I find this a very sad reflection.

If you have any thoughts on the points I raise in the above then I’d like to hear from you. Also, if anyone knows of the names of any firms who pay more reasonably, then I would appreciate the information.

Thanks,
Mark Smith


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Sara Freitas
France
Local time: 11:28
French to English
Same is true in France Feb 15, 2006

Hi Mark,

The same is true for in-house jobs in France. In-house translator positions seem to be about on par with secretarial positions. The few people I know who actually work in-house are making extremely low wages but insist on hanging on to the "stability" an in-house position offers.

I started out as a trainer in France making 1100 euros net per month for an 80% (four days per week) schedule (I am embarrassed to even type that figure, but it is true!!). The in-house translator at the company did marginally better than that. As a 30-year-old person with a Master's degree, various other certificates and ten years' experience, I found this appalling. This was back in 2001. At those wages, I decided I had nothing to lose by going out on my own. My husband stood behind me 100%. Although I had saved up a bit of money to cover start-up costs, his support through the first six months was essential (both morally and financially).

In my third year of full-time freelance work, my take-home pay tripled as compared to what I had been earning in-house. I am actually earning on a par with other people my age with similar levels of education. In France, this would not be possible in-house.

The way I see it, there are three ways to go about it. One way is to look for a full-time position in a non-translation field that interests you, learn the business and then go freelance when you get a bit older (you will then have earned lots of business sense, contacts, and industry knowledge, which will boost your freelance earning potential significantly). Or you can pay your dues for a year or two in an in-house position and then go freelance. Finally, you can go freelance right away, and find a second job (at night or weekends, waiting tables, etc...I've been there!) to float you as you build up your business.

I think the most important thing is to do a little soul searching and work out your short and long-term goals. Once you are clear about what you really want out of your career and life, the way to get there will seem obvious.

Good luck and don't be too discouraged! I am sure you will get there in the end.

Sara

[Edited at 2006-02-15 09:54]


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Yvette Neisser Moreno  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
I've had similar issues as a freelancer in the US Feb 15, 2006

Mark, thanks so much for bringing this up. I'm also just starting out in the translation business after working as a professional writer/editor (in English) for several years. I decided to seek out translation work because my true love is language. While I have not looked for in-house positions, as I prefer freelance work, I have found that freelance translation work seems to pay less--sometimes substantially less--than English-only editing. The American companies that I've worked for seem very comfortable paying me $35-$40/hour for editing or proofreading. However, the hourly rate I've made on translation jobs so far--for American translation agencies--has been fairly appalling. For example, I did a large editing job (of Arabic-English translations) for one company for $.03/word--when I tried to negotiate for a higher rate, they told me this was their standard rate for editing. I took the job anyway, and this resulted in about $20-25/hour, since the "editing" involved some re-translation as well. After completing this project, I asked the company for a slightly higher rate for future editing (maybe $.04/word), and they never contacted me again. Later, another translation agency asked me to translate a poem for $20! I explained that translating a poem is much more time-consuming than translating prose, but the best I was able to negotiate was $40, which did not nearly compensate me for the time I spent on it.

I have basically accepted that if I want to do translation work, I have to take a significant reduction in pay, at least for the time being. However, I'd be very interested in hearing other people's experiences. It seems that translation rates vary widely from one company to another.

Thanks,
Yvette


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Orla Ryan  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 10:28
that's why most of us go freelance... Feb 15, 2006

I was on a glorious salary of €17000 a year as an in-house translator and project assistant for a translation agency in Dublin. That's about £12K, I think.

By the way, at the time I took that job I was about 24 years old, had an honours translation degree and 3 years industry experience in IT. I was definitely used to earning more money that that!
However, it had been a tough year career-wise as I had been temping for about 8 months and at the time I thought this could really lead to something good, so I took the job.

I only stayed in that position a couple of months because my bosses were untrustworthy and I could not possibly live on so little money for all the hassle & stress that came with the job.

I don't regret it though because it meant I got my translation brain flexed and working again. I made loads of contacts with freelancers. I learned how the cycle of translation project management goes. I learned how to proofread. I was sent to visit the company branches in Germany & Switzerland. It looks good on the CV. However, you're nothing more than a word-crunching machine. It's a step on the ladder, but you should not stay on that rung for too long.

Suffice to say that as a freelancer, I'm earning WAY more than €17K p.a. now

[Edited at 2006-02-15 11:05]


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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:28
German to English
+ ...
Agree with Sara Feb 15, 2006



One way is to look for a full-time position in a non-translation field that interests you, learn the business and then go freelance when you get a bit older (you will then have earned lots of business sense, contacts, and industry knowledge, which will boost your freelance earning potential significantly).


In my experience, having worked for an outsourcer, I can confirm that your figures reflect the situation.

Recently, I was sent a questionnaire by a university, which was to do with what graduates should know/do etc. in terms of entering/advancing their career. In the course of this, I made Sara's above point emphatically, because it certainly worked for me and for others that I know.

But Sara's other points are also valid IMO. I think you'll definitely find that the best/only way to go freelance is to start while you are doing something else as a 'day job'. That means odd hours, evenings, weekends etc. until it falls into place. It's an investment.

Good luck and HTH
Chris


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:28
German to English
Compensation depends on many factors Feb 15, 2006

Mark,

I think a lot depends on the company and where it's located. I can't say much about UK pay, except that based on job ads I've seen (e.g. in the Guardian), salaries are lower than in Germany (discounting London rates, of course, but 15k in the Midlands is probably equal to 25k in London).

A good, talented translator with 6 years' experience should be able to command a basic salary here in Germany in excess of EUR 40k (around GBP 29k) at a service provider, possibly more at a large corporation.

Much depends, though, on the ability of the individual translator. I hate to say this, but - as an employer of UK graduate translators - having a UK translation MA is not worth very much today. For example, 40 hours of classroom translation (from B to A language) over an academic year is not exactly a great advertisement for translator training. And the fact that so many UK translation courses today place such an emphasis on translation tools etc. doesn't make the graduates any better translators: there's little point teaching people to use translation tools if they can't translate in the first place.

To be perfectly honest, if somebody has a talent for translation, they'd be far better off going and working in industry or finance for a few years (not translating) and then looking at moving into translation.

I can also see a certain justification in paying entry-level PMs more than trainee translators. Put quite bluntly, even entry-level PMs could well be more productive in the first couple of years than trainee translators.

As somebody who's been in the business for almost 17 years now, I think it's worth emphasizing (again) that irrespective of background and education, it takes somewhere between 4 and 6 years for a talented translator to get past the trainee stage (and of course untalented translators never even manage that).

A question to you: weren't you aware of pay rates in the industry before you decided to do your MA course? If not, why not?

Robin


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
same in Spain Feb 15, 2006

Going rate for someone with your qualifications and maybe 2 years work experience is around 900-1100 euros take home pay a month, in fact translators fall into that notorious category of poorly paid highly qualified young people, the 'mileuristas', i.e. the '1000-euros-a-month' phenomenon.


WHY so poorly paid????

If there were a few genuine barriers to entry, the supply of translators would be lower and consequently pay would be better. As it stands, for most people, languages at university level = translation skill. As long as this is the perception of translation, then translation will be undervalued.

And if translation is undervalued, it shows. It's SO INCREDIBLY rare to see a decently translated website or official documment in my part of the world. Match this subjective observation of mine with another observation, that teh reason for this is that too many people who are 'native' and who 'know' two languages assume they can tranlate. Anyone that asks me about 'getting into translating', I tell them go off and get trained (even minimally), but the fact is, most of them don't, don't want to, don't care to.


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Mary Lalevee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:28
French to English
Time as trainee translator Feb 15, 2006

[quote]RobinB wrote:


As somebody who's been in the business for almost 17 years now, I think it's worth emphasizing (again) that irrespective of background and education, it takes somewhere between 4 and 6 years for a talented translator to get past the trainee stage

I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I have also been in the business for some years now and was involved in recruiting in-house translators for one of the - then - big six. Even people with MAs in translation (including from Leeds!)really had little idea of what they were doing. They had to learn EVERYTHING.

Basically you need to be trained in translation in the business world. Doing a few years at relatively low wages will give you some of the training you need as a new translator.

Good luck!


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:28
German to English
Economics of entry-level translators Feb 15, 2006

Mary,

Thanks for your comments - I didn't want to end up as a lone voice crying in the wilderness

I think something that all entry-level translators have to bear in mind is that being hired is very much a leap of faith by the employer. Yes, you'll probably have been through an interview or two, and probably have done some test pieces, but you're still very much an unknown quantity.

It's rare for a newbie translator to be productive in the first year of employment, meaning that the employer will actually make a profit on that translator. Rather, the quantity and quality of your work will be such that the cost of employing you (and training you and correcting your work) will probably equal, or even exceed, the revenue you generate. This situation is exacerbated by the sharp overall fall in standards at many, perhaps most, UK postgraduate courses - accompanied, in my experience, unfortunately by a similarly sharp rise in those postgraduates' inability to rate their own abilities objectively.

The translator learning curve is very steep, so it's hardly surprising that only a relatively small proportion of new translators actually make the grade and embark on a career as specialist translators (which is where the money's to be made, of course).

Robin

[Edited at 2006-02-15 14:14]


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Mary Lalevee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:28
French to English
Training Feb 15, 2006

Again, I agree. We used to consider that it took two years to train a translator, and that's someone working full-time, and we only hired people who either already had experience or a Master's in translation.

That meant one of us more senior translators had to reread and correct every single one of the newbie's translations, and explain things again and again, often simple things about business about which they had no idea as they came straight from university. A huge investment for the employer in other words.

I think it's a good idea to get a job in industry or commerce for a few years and have some experience of life "out there" ie not at university before launching into translation as a career.

Just my point of view of course.


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Ingo Dierkschnieder  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:28
Member (2004)
English to German
+ ...
Agree with Mary Feb 15, 2006

I absolutely agree with Mary: having learned everything about the tools to follow your profession doesn't mean that you can also use them in the best possible way. There is more to the translation business than any education can teach you.
Of course this doesn't justify the low salaries for translators which only show the acceptance (or rather the lack of) of foreign languages in the British society. Another problem is also that often it is not linguists that the translation companies are after but people with experience in the respective work fields which will be their source of work (of course, they are even more on the lookout for experts who are linguists as well).
I myself had to start as a proofreader in a translation agency, for a salary of £15,000, with the possibility of working as a translator after a year (which turned out to be a blatant lie) because I didn't have the experience in the business and no one else wanted to employ me. I stayed there for two years to take up a translator job (which was better paid with £20,000, although still a very low salary if you are living near or in London) and went freelance a year later.

You might have to do the same: just work in the business for a few years to learn the tricks of the trade, the things that your MA didn't teach you and then go the freelance way. It surely will be no fun to work for a low salary but it will all be worth it in the end and it would be a shame if all your abilities learned in your studies would not be of any use to you and you would miss out on the chance to work in this great profession.

Good luck.

Ingo


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Paul Appleyard  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:28
Member (2004)
French to English
I agree with everything here, but we often shoot ourselves in the foot too... Feb 15, 2006

I agree with everything that has been said here
In-house translation is very badly paid, at least in part because of the perception of just what being a translator actually entails. Many people outside the translation bubble cannot see any point in paying a translator who, after all, is not much more than a copy typist (i.e. they sit at a desk and type), when they can employ a bilingual secretary who can also copy type in two languages AND make the coffee - most of the time nobody will even notice that what the secretary is translating is goobledeegook.

Moves by bodies such as the ITI, ATA and IoL to raise the status of translators (promoting "chartered" status, etc.) are excellent ways of increasing translators' status (after all, who would employ somebody who can "do maths" to prepare their accounts), but translators need to help themselves too (by restricting the number/combination of languages in which they claim to be able to work, specialising in selected fields, preferably with experience to back up such specialisations, and so on).

Stick with it, and you will hopefully one day realise that there is no better job on the planet!


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Orla Ryan  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 10:28
How about... Feb 15, 2006

Would you consider applying for a PM job in a translation/localisation company? Or similar jobs (assistant PM etc). It is a foot in the door, (hopefully) you will still be using your languages and you will learn plenty of other business skills. You can always go freelance further down the line.

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eva75
English
+ ...
Don't despair Feb 16, 2006

Hi Mark,

I can understand that you are quite frustrated at the salaries in the industry. But Robin B. is right about the time needed to really become a good translator. You think once you have your diploma, that's it, you should be able to get a job. Translation is like any artistic career, you really have to find your niche and be very very good at what you do. Much patience and hard work (yes, I know even harder) is required.

If you are interested in some tips on where to find well-paid positions, please send me a private message, I'd be glad to help, as I was quite impressed with your CV.


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Mark Smith  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:28
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
That could be a possibility Feb 16, 2006

Orla Ryan wrote:

Would you consider applying for a PM job in a translation/localisation company?


Orla,

I would and I am considering it, though the downsides are that it doesn't allow me to move to and work in France (one of my major goals), and also I've heard from various sources that this doesn't give you any advantage over beginners in applying for a trainee post later on. Perhaps in such a case it would just be best to forget the working in-house step altogether.

Thanks for your constructive advice, and confirmation on the woeful state of remuneration in our industry. Most have simply chosen to tell me how useless my education is and left it at that. I have to tell you my mood has gone through the floor since I started this thread.

I would never stupidly claim that a degree is some kind of panacea, nor that at this stage I have the kind of experience that is required from a successful professional translator. Nonetheless, I will not accept the fairness of such a valuation from the industry. Few people start a new career with all the knowledge they require in their head, and yet I see no parity of pay with a significant majority of graduate positions.

Mark


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