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How can an Asian translator survive in the West?
Thread poster: Zhuoqi Mills
Zhuoqi Mills  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:22
English to Chinese
+ ...
Jul 4, 2006

Hello Everyone,

I am a native Chinese translator living and working in the UK. I am university educated, very experienced, have the latest technology and software and, if I say so myself, I am very good at what I do...
So why do I find myself having to translate for $0.02 USD and even $0.015 USD per word?
The reason: Because I won't get any work if I don't!
Even at these low rates I am constantly being undercut by translators working from the Peoples Republic.
Over there they will think nothing of charging one or even half a cent per word because it will still provide them with a good standard of living.
I really envy those translators out there with European language pairs!
My question is this: Do other translators who translate into and from Asian or African languages yet live in the West have similar problems? I would love to know, but most of all I would love to know WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Zhuoqi Mills


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Denyce Seow  Identity Verified
Singapore
Local time: 17:22
Member (2004)
Chinese to English
Rates in Europe Jul 4, 2006

Hi Zhouqi,

I can understand your frustration. Personally I don't have a problem with my current rates, but I know what you mean by facing tough price competition from mainland China.

In your situation, I would suggest that you specialise in a field, gather experience in it and set up an impressive portfolio. With that, your rates can go as high as EUR 0.12 per English word. Trust me. There are stingy clients out there, but there are also clients who are willing to pay for things they think are worth the $$.

Good luck!

Denyce





[Edited at 2006-07-04 10:08]


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Stefanie Sendelbach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:22
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Local clients Jul 4, 2006

Hi Zhuoqi,

Here is an idea: why don't you try to find local clients? If you work on international platforms, you will always have comptetitors, who can afford to work for less because they live in countries with cheaper prices. How about advertising in your area? Many companies do not want to find translators through the internet, but through their yellow pages. Maybe this will work for you.

Good luck!

Stefanie


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bohy  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:22
English to French
+ ...
find work which can't be done remotely Jul 4, 2006

I feel really sorry for you, but this is probably not going to improve. At least, not as long as China maintains somewhat artificial exchange rates. This is the same problem almost any industry producing consumer goods is experiencing now.
Several things you can do :
- interpreting or teaching, where you have to be physically present (there is certainly a growing demand for Chinese lessons!)
- look for customers who care for quality. Getting certified (like ATA) may help too, as some customers consider it as a good sign of quality, and will approach you directly, once you are.
- get specialised if you can (although many people claim to be specialized anyway
- avoid getting all your business from the Web; from my experience, it is where you get the lowest rates... and often the lowest quality as well.


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:22
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
By hanging in there Jul 4, 2006

Zhuoqi Mills wrote:

So why do I find myself having to translate for $0.02 USD and even $0.015 USD per word?
The reason: Because I won't get any work if I don't!
Even at these low rates I am constantly being undercut by translators working from the Peoples Republic.


First of all, brace yourself for a long haul. As you have rightly guessed, undercutting is a short-term fallback. You don't exactly get a reliable computer cheaper because you live in a cheaper part of the world, although the second-hand components market might seem to give competitors an advantage. My experience of this is that undercutting competitors are rarely in the business long enough. They somehow manage to erode the business to levels that even they find untenable over the long term. Just don't fall into the trap, because the fact that you've been around for years turns into an asset with the passing of the years, when clients no longer have the time to be looking for new translators everytime a cheap one drops out of the market because he's making more money in another activity.

I really envy those translators out there with European language pairs!


So you've seen it -- get another language pair while you have the time, preferrably one in which you have no competition. I find your situation admirable in the sense that XXXX (other than English) > Chinese can command the rates that it sets, which are sometimes two or even three times more than standard European combinations. (I can tell you the recommended rates for Spanish into Chinese are two and a half times more than Spanish into English -- and Spanish combinations are on a heavily underpriced market). In a word, where this is concerned, diversify. That way, one branch of the business stands a chance of supporting you at those times when the other fails.

My question is this: Do other translators who translate into and from Asian or African languages yet live in the West have similar problems?


Less problems than if they stay where there is a limited movement in terms of translation activity. Limited business + many suppliers easily transforms itself into undercutting. So far, Europe has the biggest translation market in the world, so you're in the right place.

Perhaps in the beginning you can get a head start by going for direct clients. But first of all, you will have to identify those who have a specific need you can serve (have large businesses in China, need your regional variant, etc.).

Then -- after what I've said about diversification -- specialise. In the beginning it may seem counter-productive: people who find you and like you may want you to do EVERYTHING (but hey, that's not so bad. It's experience). Later on, when you can afford it because you have clients on a queue, you can start saying "no" and recommending other specialists. It's a far better way of helping other translators get clients and specialise than bargaining on the downside, principally because referring clients means you have to do it on acceptable terms -- how many of your experienced colleagues would set aside what they were doing for a job at 2 cents?

Hope it helps!


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LuciaC
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:22
English to Italian
+ ...
more suggestions Jul 4, 2006

Join the local Chamber of commerce and try to contact companies directly. Maybe you could also offer broader services, like language consultancy, to companies who want to trade with China.

Also, you could join a professional organization like ITI or IOL. They have an online directory. British companies (at least those who know how to do business) like to contact qualified and certified translators. And you could teach Chinese, thus getting to know more people and 'networking' in your local community.

The local councils etc also need translators.

You can contact good British trans. agencies. And, yes, do drop those other agencies asap!


Good luck
Lucia


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Asghar Bhatti  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:22
English to Urdu
+ ...
suggestion Jul 4, 2006

Team up with other language pairs in demand and help each other. It will give you an edge on others.

[Edited at 2006-07-04 14:42]


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Beth Dennison  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:22
Chinese to English
+ ...
UK agencies Jul 4, 2006

Zhuoqi,

I live in the UK and have no complaints about the rates I get for Chinese>English translation.

That said, agencies in the Far East have offered me really low rates which I have just refused. I find that UK and other European agencies offer a good rate. (Up to 0.1 Euros per source character).

I would suggest contacting a lot of UK agencies and seeing what happens. I found the Blue Board and Yellow Pages useful in that respect.

I know it's easier said than done, but don't sell yourself cheap - persevere and I'm sure you will find agencies (and direct clients) willing to pay the rates you deserve.

Beth


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Courtney McConnel  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:22
French to English
+ ...
Money builds over time Jul 4, 2006

Hey!
I started out making $3000 my first year, then I got an in-house job which paid 14K FRF a month (about 2300 EUR?), then I married and went back to freelance at $7000 a year (but my then-husband contributed, and I wrote fiction on the side). Now I'm up to about 35K EUR a year from translation, and I still do side businesses. I personally know other colleagues in FINANCIAL translation who make BIG BUCKS (100K EUR/yr + profit share, vacation, the works). They typically work in brokerage firms, accountancy firms, or they freelance for financial fields.
I agree with the others that you would make a fabulous interpreter, and that is the most profitable part of my business, as well as my favorite.
Hope this example of my translation finance history can help in some way.
Yours,
Courtney aka Ecstasy


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Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 14:52
English to Hindi
+ ...
That's too low!!! Jul 4, 2006

Zhuoqi Mills wrote:

Hello Everyone,

I am a native Chinese translator living and working in the UK. I am university educated, very experienced, have the latest technology and software and, if I say so myself, I am very good at what I do...
So why do I find myself having to translate for $0.02 USD and even $0.015 USD per word?
The reason: Because I won't get any work if I don't!
Even at these low rates I am constantly being undercut by translators working from the Peoples Republic.
Over there they will think nothing of charging one or even half a cent per word because it will still provide them with a good standard of living.
I really envy those translators out there with European language pairs!
My question is this: Do other translators who translate into and from Asian or African languages yet live in the West have similar problems? I would love to know, but most of all I would love to know WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Zhuoqi Mills



Dear Zhuoqi

I live in India and even if my neighbour offered me those rates and offered to pay me in cash [and save me income tax], I would still not work for those rates. I am simply shocked to hear your tale....Thank God, I have been lucky enough to get agencies in UK pay me much higher than what you are being paid.

Roomy


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:22
English to French
+ ...
Sorry to read you have trouble Jul 5, 2006

I will say it in plain English - it sucks! I truly sympathize...

I read recentrly that out of nearly 20,000 translators in China who did the certification exam, only 3,000 passed it with success. I am not an expert on the question and only have general knowledge of what's going on in the East, but I would get certified as much as possible.

It seems that there are only a few translators in China who are certified, so this would probably be a great bet for you. What others are saying about advertizing your services in the West also is logical. Try to find clients that don't necessarily want to give work to people who live in China. There are clients who don't care about the rate as much as they care about quality, and this goes for all client categories. There are agencies in the US willing to pay as much for language pairs involving Chinese as they do for European languages.

I say don't necessarily advertize in your area, but rather in your country of residence and even continent-wide. A website is always a good idea. I don't know about phonebooks, but there are many agencies in the States where the rates are much better than the ones you are talking about.

Also, if you translate INTO Chinese, you may want to find sources of work where they are documenting products that will be exported to China.

In any case, I think it's best that you stay away from the Asian market - they will probably keep paying very low rates for a long time.

All the best!


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sandhya  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:52
German to English
+ ...
Translation is a business Jul 5, 2006

Hi Zhuoqi,

I fully understand what you are experiencing. Some of us in India are faced with the same situation.
My suggestions, at the risk of sounding repetitive:

1) Join an international association (ATA, ITI or others). It really helps!
2) Put up a professional, well-designed website. I get loads of work from professional clients thru my site.
3) Find companies/agencies in the west and write to them directly. Send out CVs at regular intervals.
4) Unless you have no money to buy food, pay rent, DO NOT accept work from your home country

I never work for translation agencies in India who pay very less, as compared to what I earn from the West.

In short, approach translation as a business. And like any other business you establish, apply the same parameters for growth: quality-control, constant improvements, marketing, professionalism, handling competition etc.

Hey, take a look at Proz. That is the best example of a small portal started by one man, which has now grown rapidly into a force to reckon with in the translator world!!

And like another member said - Hang in there, work at it and you will be among the best (paid)

cheers
sandhya


Zhuoqi Mills wrote:

Hello Everyone,

I am a native Chinese translator living and working in the UK. I am university educated, very experienced, have the latest technology and software and, if I say so myself, I am very good at what I do...
So why do I find myself having to translate for $0.02 USD and even $0.015 USD per word?
The reason: Because I won't get any work if I don't!
Even at these low rates I am constantly being undercut by translators working from the Peoples Republic.
but most of all I would love to know WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Zhuoqi Mills



[Edited at 2006-07-05 03:16]


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 20:22
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Just to pick up on a point.... Jul 5, 2006

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:
Try to find clients that don't necessarily want to give work to people who live in China. There are clients who don't care about the rate as much as they care about quality, and this goes for all client categories.


I would just like to stress the point for others who read this thread that there are alot of excellent translators living in China who do place quality of work as the top priority and don't necessarily accept any old rate just to obtain work and put food on the table.

Hi Zhouqi,

I sympathise along with others but in my experience you do not have to put up with this situation at all. We live in China and we simply refuse to accept these low rates offered by mainland China and other neighbouring developing countries.

We market ourselves specifically to western countries and accept no lesser rates than if we lived in the UK, Europe or the US.

We now have an international base (excluding most of Asia but including Taiwan) of regular clients who pay us excellent rates because they know we deliver quality translations and where we're based geographically doesn't come into the equation at all.

We know ourselves that there are alot of translators based in China who accept USD 0.0125 (per Chinese character) as a standard rate and we use them to outsource, call us hypocritical but we are running a business after all, so who wouldn't:)

So I say hang in there. Just do a directory search for English to Chinese language pairs and vice versa and see how many platinum members there are compared to european language pairs and you will see what an edge you have already and this is just one website.

Create your own website, register with all of the major translation sites and market yourself. The offers will flood in and then you will be in the enviable position of picking and choosing. Above all, from now on, do not accept anything less than USD 0.12 per word because with this language pair and your obvious excellent command of the English language, you are worth every cent:)

Good luck and best wishes,
Mark


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Zhuoqi Mills  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:22
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you everyone! Jul 7, 2006

Hello All,

I must say that I am deeply touched by the concern and support shown to me by all of you. Thank you all SO much for your time and trouble, your good ideas and your praise!
I will be using many of the ideas suggested but I am a bit busy translating at the moment and yes, it is for more than 2 cents!
I would like to point out, in case anyone got a wrong idea, that I am not not not a new translator, just new to the West and the trials of freelancing. Also, many of those agencies I mentioned are from Europe and the US, not necessarily Asia.
Thank you all once again for your help and kindness.

Zhuoqi Mills


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