Disequilibrium of demand between the directions of a single language combination
Thread poster: RowanF

RowanF
United States
Local time: 05:18
French to English
May 28, 2014

I am a very new translator who is currently looking at jobs on different generic freelance websites to try to gain a little experience as a translator. My combination is French into English. To my slight dismay it would appear that there is a lot more work for the exact opposite of my combination, that is to say English into French, than there is for French into English. I was curious if any of you might know why this is? Or am I just looking in the wrong places?

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:18
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
So what? May 28, 2014

RowanF wrote:
there is a lot more work for the exact opposite of my combination, that is to say English into French, than there is for French into English

Sorry, I don't mean that in a rude way at all. I think you may be right that there's quite a lot of EN>FR work per translator - I know that TWB/TSF has been crying out for them lately to volunteer their services. But I don't know why it is, except that maybe most French natives are preferring to cash in on the amazing volumes of FR>EN translations needed.

But the fact of the matter is that if you're an English native speaker, and you aren't totally and utterly bilingual (i.e. from an early age), then this really has no more significance for you than a shortage of Swahili to English translators would have.

Believe me, there is a lot of work in our pair; there are also many thousands of translators in our pair. So, to make any headway in the profession you need to find a way to stand out. That can only be by a combination of excellence in everything you do, and by specialising. The pool of FR>EN translators in, say, antique furniture, will be relatively small, so you'll be a relatively larger fish. Nowadays, visibility also plays a very important role in landing jobs. Agencies get too many CVs and quotes, so many prefer to contact those they like the look of, using directories.

Frankly, my own experience of generic freelancer sites has always been dismal. You're competing against thousands who "know 2 languages and need some money". The rates on those sites are not the rates a professional translator should be charging. At least here you've got some serious translators and some serious clients (along with the amateur translators and bottom-feeding agencies paying peanuts).


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Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:18
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Because French is a major language of West Africa; recommend against general freelance sites May 28, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Sorry, I don't mean that in a rude way at all. I think you may be right that there's quite a lot of EN>FR work per translator - I know that TWB/TSF has been crying out for them lately to volunteer their services.


I think the reason is that some documents relating to aid and international development get written in English and then translated to French for the various French-speaking West African countries. I personally have heard of a decent amount of work in that niche.

Frankly, my own experience of generic freelancer sites has always been dismal. You're competing against thousands who "know 2 languages and need some money". The rates on those sites are not the rates a professional translator should be charging. At least here you've got some serious translators and some serious clients (along with the amateur translators and bottom-feeding agencies paying peanuts).


I've had a few well-meaning friends and family members suggest some of those freelance sites, to which I respond that I would be better off doing marketing, brushing up on my foreign languages, or just taking a break than working a long day for maybe $50 of take home pay. No thank you!


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RowanF
United States
Local time: 05:18
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Have to start somewhere May 28, 2014

Tim Friese wrote:
I've had a few well-meaning friends and family members suggest some of those freelance sites, to which I respond that I would be better off doing marketing, brushing up on my foreign languages, or just taking a break than working a long day for maybe $50 of take home pay. No thank you!

I understand that these sites are not ideal, but when you are just starting out everyone wants experience and to get experience you have to start somewhere.
Tim Friese wrote:
I think the reason is that some documents relating to aid and international development get written in English and then translated to French for the various French-speaking West African countries. I personally have heard of a decent amount of work in that niche.

I see, thanks.

[Edited at 2014-05-29 23:25 GMT]


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Diana Obermeyer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:18
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Where do you think the demand will come from? May 29, 2014

I don't totally agree with the remarks about freelance sites - while 90% of the jobs certainly belong in this category, and they are jam packed with bottom feeder agencies, there are many small businesses and private individuals who are willing and happy to pay properly. I only really scaled back on them, because once you achieve a certain ranking, you are targeted by extremeeeeme-not-just-bottom-but-below-the-ground agencies, who bombard you with countless "job" offers for no other reason, but to waste your time and it's impossible to block them. I couldn't even justify spending the time to reject these "offers". You were talking about 2-3 hours a day. So I gave them back their playground.

What you need to remember though, is that those platforms are US-heavy, at least in terms of direct clients. Now a client based in the US is far more likely to require a EN-FR translation. The greater part for FR-EN work will come from France and French-speaking countries. This is probably the real source of the "disequilibrium" you observe.

If you like platforms in general, it's worth looking around for one based in France. However, bear in mind that your specialisations are really unlikely to appear on these platforms. In my experience there's a lot of T&Cs, brochures and websites from small companies, technical and medical translations from bottom feeder agencies with deadlines set at yesterday, people's CVs and letters and self-help books. I have a business focus, so that suited me fine. Government/Politics/History? I don't think I came across that even once. I'm afraid that's a bit like looking for rabbits in the sea. There's plenty of rabbits about in general. The sea is just not where they hang around.

So really, you need to find out, what sort of places your target clients frequent. Signing up here may well be good step forward. Now find out which agencies focus on your subject areas and language combination and address them. Thoughtfully. Individually.

Many potential clients in your subject areas may well be out of reach until you have a few years' experience and/or qualifications under your belt and a solid reputation. But you might get indirect access through the mentoring scheme. What is your focus? Short-term cash flow or a long-term career?

What type of organisation might have a translation need? Can you identify it? I stumbled across very poorly translated websites that really made me want to cry a few times. When I didn't have jobs waiting, I wrote to some of those businesses and a couple of them subsequently ordered a translation. It's a big time investment, as the messages really need to be individual and get the point across very smoothly, but it certainly has potential. My conversion rate was about 1 in 10, but I was very careful about who to target.

Another group of people with translation needs in your subject areas might be students. Have you got excellent academic writing skills with flawless understanding of the various reference systems and style guides? Have you studied those subjects, maybe even on post-graduate level?

So really, define your focus, define your target group, find your target group and target them.

[Edited at 2014-05-29 07:17 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-05-29 07:23 GMT]


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:18
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
It is normal for any language combination. May 29, 2014

That's all.

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RowanF
United States
Local time: 05:18
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the advice May 29, 2014

dianaft wrote:

I don't totally agree with the remarks about freelance sites - while 90% of the jobs certainly belong in this category, and they are jam packed with bottom feeder agencies, there are many small businesses and private individuals who are willing and happy to pay properly. I only really scaled back on them, because once you achieve a certain ranking, you are targeted by extremeeeeme-not-just-bottom-but-below-the-ground agencies, who bombard you with countless "job" offers for no other reason, but to waste your time and it's impossible to block them. I couldn't even justify spending the time to reject these "offers". You were talking about 2-3 hours a day. So I gave them back their playground.

Thanks dianaft for this helpful post. I am currently just barely starting out and I'm still only halfway through college. I still haven't gotten a single job even on one of these freelance sites. How long did it take you to get your first one? No one really wants to hire you it would seem if you don't already have some feedback.
dianaft wrote:
What you need to remember though, is that those platforms are US-heavy, at least in terms of direct clients. Now a client based in the US is far more likely to require a EN-FR translation. The greater part for FR-EN work will come from France and French-speaking countries. This is probably the real source of the "disequilibrium" you observe.

Yeah, that is a possibility, although I feel like I have encountered this difference elsewhere as well.
dianaft wrote:
If you like platforms in general, it's worth looking around for one based in France. However, bear in mind that your specialisations are really unlikely to appear on these platforms. In my experience there's a lot of T&Cs, brochures and websites from small companies, technical and medical translations from bottom feeder agencies with deadlines set at yesterday, people's CVs and letters and self-help books. I have a business focus, so that suited me fine. Government/Politics/History? I don't think I came across that even once. I'm afraid that's a bit like looking for rabbits in the sea. There's plenty of rabbits about in general. The sea is just not where they hang around.

Yeah, I don't really have a specialisation yet, I just put those in for now because those are my interests. I'm definitely 100% new at this, hah. Like, I'm at the point where I don't even really know what to put on my resumé because I don't have any experience to cite anyway. But no one will hire me until I have experience.


[Edited at 2014-05-29 23:57 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-05-31 03:03 GMT]


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Diana Obermeyer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:18
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
This is why... May 30, 2014

RowanF wrote:

I am currently just barely starting out and I'm still only halfway through college. I still haven't gotten a single job even on one of these freelance sites. How long did it take you to get your first one? No one really wants to hire you it would seem if you don't already have some feedback.

Yeah, I don't really have a specialisation yet, I just put those in for now because those are my interests. I'm definitely 100% new at this, hah. Like, I'm at the point where I don't even really know what to put on my resumé because I don't have any experience to cite anyway. But no one will hire me until I have experience.


Well, if you are offering a service, people expect some sort of proof that you are able to provide that service. I had a different starting point, so comparison is really difficult. Say you want to get some plumbing done. Do you hire someone who "wants to gain experience" and is a little cheaper or do you hire someone who knows what to do? I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't take the risk. In the old days you used to pay for an apprenticeship, not get paid for it.

Freelancing on an open platform with no knowledge of the industry and the industry standards is very tricky. There are agencies who take advantage of this - when you are desperate to get the much needed experience, you are more likely to accept the rates they offer and somehow come to think of them as normal. I don't know about the situation in the US, but here in the UK, you are certainly better off signing on and collecting unemployment benefits than agreeing to those terms. This is the reason my colleagues hold such a strong opinion about freelance sites. Due to the strong presence of bottom feeder agencies, many of which even pose as private individuals or businesses, the average rate is roughly a third of what it is in the "real translation market". To access the proper clients - which do exist - you need to stand out. Without experience that is difficult.

The trouble is that no matter how tempting it is to accept the bottom-feeder offers, because they give you an entry on your platform-specific job history, they don't provide you with actual experience. Under the terms offered, not even the the most experienced translator with all the state-of-the-art software and set-up would be able to provide a translation of a reasonable standard. This means that you get locked into this bottom market, always racing, trying to keep up.

Because these agencies have such a strong presence and some of these freelance sites have also noticed this trend and are now offering project management for larger clients as well (i.e. they act as an agency), people like yourself are fooled into thinking that this is normal.

The freelance market is not the right place to gain experience.

This is why I asked where your priorities are. Are you just trying to get a bit of cash on the side, or are you aiming for a career? For quick cash you a better off getting a job flipping burgers. It pays better than what those bottom-feeder agencies pay. Seriously. It just doesn't feel as good telling your classmates that you are working in a greasy spoon than saying you are "a freelance translator", but it pays the bills and you're still able to get on with your studies.

If you are looking for a career, try to find an environment that allows you to actually learn. Try to find a mentor, do an internship at a proper agency, maybe contact a few small charities. Do some translations for your friends. Some of the big companies have translation departments and also offer internships. Check for that on LinkedIn. It is better to work a few weeks without monetary consideration and walk away with some valuable experience, than to work months over months for a third or less of normal rates, running yourself into the ground trying to comply with impossible deadlines and still be none the wiser.

Sit down and prepare a few sample translations. Challenge yourself and try out different types of documents and different subject areas. That way you also get a feeling for how long it takes to produce a quality translation, which is the basis for your pricing. If you can afford to, hire a proofreader to point out, where you can improve.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:18
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
The place to start is not where you're looking May 30, 2014

RowanF wrote:
I understand that these sites are not ideal, but when you are just starting out everyone wants experience and to get experience you have to start somewhere.

There is something that has to come before experience: training and other forms of study. You need to learn how to do it before you can charge for it. If you've been around the adult world for many years in other jobs, using your second language regularly, then maybe you can start freelancing without too much training, but if you're still in full-time education then you really do need it.

The real value of early experience is the feedback, which enables you to improve. You are unlikely to get any useful feedback from these low-paid jobs: the best you could hope for is repeat work from a client, and if that client doesn't speak the language then it isn't really a testimonial to your quality but to your price and availability. A more likely outcome when the rate is very low is either silence (so you'll have gained a few euros and precious little else) or, all too often I'm afraid, you'll find the client complains of "quality issues" without giving details and demands a discount or even refuses to pay. Then you'll be demoralised and even worse off.

If you are really desperate for experience (rather than money) then I suggest you give your time for free. NOT for commercial purposes - that simply leads clients to believe that translations aren't worth paying for. I also wouldn't encourage you to offer to translate pro bono for the countless numbers of NGOs who need translations. It may be a good cause but they don't have the resources to proofread your work or give feedback so they really need experienced translators who can work with no supervision. BUT, there are a few crowd-sourced opportunities, such as the TED.com site and Wikipedia which could be useful experience. You may find your translations edited for the worse in the short-term but hopefully, in your pair at least, the end result will be OK. Or you could contact someone who has a personal blog in your source language which you believe would interest target language readers; or the same may apply to an association, who may have a complete website, newsletters, etc for translation by a volunteer. Again, feedback may be very limited, although you could ask them to pass on reader feedback, or even send a questionnaire with newsletters etc. Even if you get little feedback, at least it won't have been a useless experience as you'll feel good about it and you can put it on your CV.

But I have to agree with Dianaft that a part-time unskilled job is the way to go if your main aim at present is to earn money. Whatever work they do, a freelancer needs time to build a solid client base: as a freelancer you're running a business (however small), not just running errands.


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RowanF
United States
Local time: 05:18
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the advice + more beginner questions May 31, 2014

dianaft wrote:
This is why I asked where your priorities are. Are you just trying to get a bit of cash on the side, or are you aiming for a career? For quick cash you a better off getting a job flipping burgers. It pays better than what those bottom-feeder agencies pay. Seriously. It just doesn't feel as good telling your classmates that you are working in a greasy spoon than saying you are "a freelance translator", but it pays the bills and you're still able to get on with your studies.

I definitely am not just in this for a little cash, I want to be a translator and later on an interpreter if possible. Thanks so much for all the advice, it's really helping me to orient myself. Hope my incredibly basic questions aren't too cringe worthy.
dianaft wrote:
If you are looking for a career, try to find an environment that allows you to actually learn. Try to find a mentor, do an internship at a proper agency, maybe contact a few small charities. Do some translations for your friends. Some of the big companies have translation departments and also offer internships. Check for that on LinkedIn. It is better to work a few weeks without monetary consideration and walk away with some valuable experience, than to work months over months for a third or less of normal rates, running yourself into the ground trying to comply with impossible deadlines and still be none the wiser.

Okay, so I should find an internship. Is it difficult to get an internship? I can get letters of reference to vouch for my language skills. Is there anything else I will need as a prerequisite? I have already tried applying to charity organisations, so I will continue to do that for sure.
dianaft wrote:
Sit down and prepare a few sample translations. Challenge yourself and try out different types of documents and different subject areas. That way you also get a feeling for how long it takes to produce a quality translation, which is the basis for your pricing. If you can afford to, hire a proofreader to point out, where you can improve.

Okay. I've already done a few translation samples. Does it look lame to put your own samples on your CV?

Sheila Wilson wrote:

If you are really desperate for experience (rather than money) then I suggest you give your time for free. NOT for commercial purposes - that simply leads clients to believe that translations aren't worth paying for. I also wouldn't encourage you to offer to translate pro bono for the countless numbers of NGOs who need translations. It may be a good cause but they don't have the resources to proofread your work or give feedback so they really need experienced translators who can work with no supervision. BUT, there are a few crowd-sourced opportunities, such as the TED.com site and Wikipedia which could be useful experience. You may find your translations edited for the worse in the short-term but hopefully, in your pair at least, the end result will be OK. Or you could contact someone who has a personal blog in your source language which you believe would interest target language readers; or the same may apply to an association, who may have a complete website, newsletters, etc for translation by a volunteer. Again, feedback may be very limited, although you could ask them to pass on reader feedback, or even send a questionnaire with newsletters etc. Even if you get little feedback, at least it won't have been a useless experience as you'll feel good about it and you can put it on your CV.

But I have to agree with Dianaft that a part-time unskilled job is the way to go if your main aim at present is to earn money. Whatever work they do, a freelancer needs time to build a solid client base: as a freelancer you're running a business (however small), not just running errands.

Thanks Sheila for the advice. I'll definitely follow up on some of these, the blog sounds like a particularly interesting idea.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 14:18
English to Polish
+ ...
... Jun 1, 2014

Don't worry about the equilibrium too much, Rowan, you only need enough work to fill one pair of hands and one brain, and that you are quite likely to find.

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Disequilibrium of demand between the directions of a single language combination

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