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In which language should I contact agencies in countries whose national language(s) I do not speak?
Thread poster: Vivien Green

Vivien Green  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2013)
French to English
Jul 30, 2017

I speak English (native level), French (fluently) and Spanish (competently) but would like to target agencies in certain countries where none of these are officially spoken. I know many would recommend communicating with people you want to sell to in their own mother tongue but do people do this and find it practical? While I would be happy to translate my marketing materials into German, Dutch, Japanese etc, for the purposes of making first time contact, I can see it getting very costly if I were to end up working with these agencies on an ongoing basis and they expected to continue communicating in languages I don't speak. It also wouldn't work if information needed to be communicated urgently, during projects, as I would have to run everything through a translator.

Would it be seen as arrogant to write in English? Or should I initially write in the country's language (or one of their languages) and request that further communication be in English, French or Spanish?

How do other people handle this?


 

Vivien Green  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2013)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
part b) Jul 30, 2017

And which currency do you quote your rates in when approaching foreign agencies? I usually just give my lowest rate ("rates from £0.0X per source word etc) but should I give them my pound sterling rates and a converted rate or just stick with pounds?

 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 03:48
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
English Jul 30, 2017

I don't know why this is even a question.

For currencies you might want to have a USD figure available.

[Edited at 2017-07-30 04:26 GMT]


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:48
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
English Jul 30, 2017

There's no point having your marketing materials translated into a language you don't speak. The agency will be disappointed when they realise. Better to write in English, then they can at least see what your written English is like. It's the first test of your language skills after all.

Personally, I wouldn't bother at all though. The agencies are not very likely to have work in your pairs if they don't speak any of your languages, and chances are that they can find someone with your pairs among the translators already working for them.

I used to work for an agency in Paris. We very occasionally had SP-EN or PT-EN, and I had a couple of translators who did those pairs as well as the FR-EN I was sending them regularly. I wouldn't have wanted to try an unknown translator because I wouldn't have been able to judge whether the translation was sufficiently faithful to the source text. I deliberately chose translators with pairs like that: a pair we use often plus a more unusual one.

If ever I had to find a translator for a language pair I didn't work in, I would rather ask my trusty translators if they could recommend someone, than work with a complete stranger who sent me an e-mail. You get e-mails from all sorts of weirdoes after all.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:48
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
highest rate in euros Jul 30, 2017

I give my highest rate, given that agencies will only try to bump it down not up.

And I always cite euros. Then again I don't work with anyone outside the EU.


 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:48
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Why do you want to do that in the first place? Jul 30, 2017

I think it is reasonable to focus on countries in which at least one of your languages is spoken. Why do you want to target countries where none of your source and target languages are spoken?

 

EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:48
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
You would be surprised Jul 30, 2017

jyuan_us wrote:

I think it is reasonable to focus on countries in which at least one of your languages is spoken. Why do you want to target countries where none of your source and target languages are spoken?

I do plenty of business in countries where none of my languages are spoken, even in unexpected pairs like French to Czech - large companies tend to just give all their translation business to one agency, which may be anywhere. French to English is a pair that is sought after everywhere, although rates in most of the world may be disappointing to a British colleague. BUT, as the pair is foreign-to-foreign there, they may be less awful that for pairs involving the local language.
To answer the initial question - of course English. To a non-native it goes without saying, but I understand how you may feel about it. Don't worry!


 

Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:48
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Speaking for the Dutch Jul 30, 2017

We're completely used to receiving e-mails and marketing materials in English but prefer euros to pounds and dollars.

Cheers,
Gerard


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:48
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
It's good to consider these questions Jul 30, 2017

It's nice to hear an English native speaker wondering whether it's OK to just go ahead and use English. Translators are generally less arrogant about these things (I suppose we can afford to be) but there are always things you can do other then just assuming everyone speaks English.

I would certainly start by saying you speak other languages - obviously it's something you'd be doing anyway, but maybe it would be good to say a very few words to that effect in those languages. I often say (in French) that they're welcome to reply in French. And once I wrote in French to a former French colony and got a reply in English saying he hadn't understood a word. I remember that situation only too well from when I arrived here in Spain icon_frown.gif.

As for currency, someone is going to be inconvenienced, and if you aren't careful then one party will lose out badly over time, with currency fluctuations. So it's up to you to decide how flexible you want to be. I personally accept GBP or EUR from the UK (I have a GBP bank account there), insist on EUR from eurozone countries, and accept EUR or (reluctantly) USD from all other countries. However, non-EUR payments are often simply euro-equivalents; in other words, the invoice shows the total in EUR, that day's exchange rate, and the total due in GBP/USD. That keeps my Spanish accountant and myself happy. Of course, if I want a job badly enough then I'll be more flexible. But I do always say that rates in another currency are subject to change in line with major fluctuations in the exchange rate. That can apply in either direction.

The same question applies to payment method. I'm not happy when clients in the eurozone want to pay by PayPal. That seems an unnecessary expense. But it's perfectly logical for my client in Hong Kong, for example. And I keep a USD stream so I don't end up paying PayPal twice.


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 16:48
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Been there, it's an uphill battle Jul 30, 2017

I translate ENPT, speak (but don't translate) IT/FR/ES, and can can barely get communication going in PL.

The lingua franca among translation agencies is mostly English, albeit sometimes a broken variant of it.

Once I was contacted by a PLFR translator from Poland who needed my EN-PTBR services. She spoke NO other language (English included) at all! We began communicating in PL, I was using Poltran (EN-PL machine translation), and she wrote everything as simply as possible. I supplemented whatever didn't look right to me in PL with comments in FR (my L5, pretty lame). The process was getting tiresome, and I felt relieved when she found a suitable PTBR translator in Poland.

Suc incidents have tapered off, and I haven't had any for the past few years... I have two other fellow EN-PT translators here in Sao Paulo who also have DE-sounding surnames like mine. At least the other two have German ancestry, while mine is Polish (at most, Austro-Hungarian). Now and then we'd get a phone call from someone talking like spitfire in outright German, and all we could make of it involved "übersetzen". The three of us can't communicate in DE at all!

This clearly illustrates that there is no point in a translator sending out messages in a language s/he can't understand. The reply would only cause puzzlement.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 21:48
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
English, but if you can read their language, let them know. Jul 30, 2017

I have clients in many countries around the EU.
I write to Scandinavians in Danish, but Norwegian and Swedish clients write in their languages.

One or two German clients are really happier writing in German, and I can read their mails. I have told them so, but that I have never been good at writing German, and can they please make do with my English... I occasionally end with 'Mit schönen Grüßen' when it seems appropriate. It works very well.

I would love to do the same for the obliging Lithuanians, Czechs, Hungarians, Spanish and others I have worked with... but I can't read their languages!

In the EU most people from agencies can read English, and they often have to work with all the EU languages, or a large number of them. Like the Dutch, they are all used to English. (But as it is your target language, check an extra time that there are no silly typos or mistakes before you send the mail off!!)


 

Vivien Green  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2013)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Higher rates/less competition Jul 30, 2017

jyuan_us wrote:

I think it is reasonable to focus on countries in which at least one of your languages is spoken. Why do you want to target countries where none of your source and target languages are spoken?


I suppose because some countries pay higher rates than the ones where my languages are spoken quite possibly because they get fewer translators targeting them.


 

Vivien Green  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2013)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Jul 30, 2017

Thank you everyone for your helpful replies - I will write in English and not feel too guilty!

The only language I can read but not speak/write is Italian and I'm not planning to target any Italian agencies in the near future as there seem to be countries with far higher average rates (although there is obviously a lot of variation within countries). That said, I will make a point of saying that I am happy to receive emails in English, French or Spanish and apologise for being unable to speak the country's native language.

If anyone else feels like commenting feel free - I'm still curious as to how different people handle the exchange rate situation. Thank you Sheila in particular though for your detailed explanation of what works for you.


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 13:48
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
No exchange rate. Jul 30, 2017

I do pretty much the same as Sheila: I request payment in the client's currency, EUR, GBP, or USD, but I don't bother with the exchange rate because by the time the client pays me, 45 or 60 days later the exchange rate will have changed and it is impossible to predict whether that is going to be to my advantage or not. My accountant uses an average exchange rate over the year calculated by the Bank of Canada and that is fine with me. PayPal fees are a tax-deductable expense, so I keep track of them. Within Canada we have an e-payment system, whereby the fee automatically goes to the sender.

 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:48
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Can you continue the conversation? Jul 30, 2017

I think that it would look a bit odd if you politely emailed a Japanese company in Japanese, they replied back, and you were not capable of continuing the conversation in Japanese. By writing in languages you do not master, you might create an expectation that will not be fulfilled, and this would put you in an unhappy situation.

In my opinion, the solution is to write in English.


 
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