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Frustration at being undercut by non-native target language linguists
Thread poster: DJHartmann

DJHartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Oct 7, 2014

A client responded to me with what I thought was a cheeky response to my reasonable (reduced) quote of $0.10 per word for a market survey response translation job from Thai-English.


"In any case, your rate is above other quotes I got so far. The rates range between 4-5 cents per word and the translators I found are Thai natives, sometimes living in other countries. I know this is lower than your expectations, but doesn’t mean we can’t work out something.... If you are willing to bring your rate down to 7 cents per word, then I would consider your proposal. I am interested in seeing the differences in translations we will get from our translators having multiple backgrounds and experiences."


I clearly assured him what the difference in translations will be!

1. Language fluency
2. Flow and readably
3. Accuracy
4. Less need for an additional proofreader

It would be understandable to have to concede and hire a non-native translator when there is a complete lack of natives available. Even Corrine McKay on the first page of her book 'How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator' mentioned how, "it's often easier to find a native Thai speaker who has English as a second language"(pg 15). However, when presented with a more appropriate option why not take it! Is it not one of the industry standards that we translate into our native languages?

Finally, in response to price undercutting..... if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

This is all quite frustrating and I appreciate your opinions on the topic!


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Hugo De Zela
Peru
Local time: 09:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
Some people think translation is a mechanical process. Oct 7, 2014

The problem is some people seem to think that translation is a mechanical process that doesn't require thinking or interpreting the source and destination phrases and terminologies. I've actually had people tell me "but it's all the same, you guys just use your translation program and it spits out the final result; you really don't do much!".

I have a PDF of a well-known English song by the Beatles that most people are familiar with that I machine translated to Spanish with a few different programs on my phone for just these occasions. While they won't be able to spot all errors, the majority of people know the lyrics well enough to see that the translation is a jumble of words instead of properly-translated phrases. That usually convinces them.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 22:17
Chinese to English
I used to argue... Oct 7, 2014

...now I don't bother. Clients either get it or they don't; they either know what a decent professional costs or they don't. It's too draining to keep explaining the basics over and over, so just hunt among the agencies that are already speaking your language.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:17
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Classic cheekiness Oct 7, 2014

DJHartmann wrote:

"In any case, your rate is above other quotes I got so far. The rates range between 4-5 cents per word and the translators I found are Thai natives, sometimes living in other countries. I know this is lower than your expectations, but doesn’t mean we can’t work out something.... If you are willing to bring your rate down to 7 cents per word, then I would consider your proposal. I am interested in seeing the differences in translations we will get from our translators having multiple backgrounds and experiences."


This is just an example of classic cheekiness and clumsy negotiation. This person wants to work with you, and tries to undermine your confidence by comparing your rate with that of the people he does not really want to work with. Unless your children are starving, which would be the first consideration, let them have their wonderful non-native translators.... and come back to you in three months!


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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:17
French to German
+ ...
Agree Oct 7, 2014

I agree with Tomás. Sounds like if they want to work with YOU and trie to negotiate the rate.

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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 23:17
Japanese to English
Just advocate what you feel is right and move on. Oct 7, 2014

This has happened to me, as the Japanese to English translation market is experiencing a very similar phenomenon.

Ultimately, all translators can do is market their services at honest prices and value the clients who are on the same page. Whether the client in question is an agency or an end client, they're ultimately shooting themselves in the foot by offering services to translators with a tenuous grasp of the target language. It'll fulfill their task in the short-term--just like eating McDonald's for every meal would fill you up and seem fine in the short-term--but somewhere down the line, they should be prepared to accept the consequences it'll bring.

I am increasingly approached to proofread documents translated by non-native speakers, and in severe cases, I make a point of informing my clients that the language is not natural or accurate and will need to be retranslated. I'm very polite, of course, about offering to retranslate at my usual translation rate, but at the very least, the client gets the message that in the opinion of at least one professional, they have wasted the money they spent on the original translation. What should have been a cheap solution ended up being much more expensive and time-consuming.

Agencies and end clients are, of course, businesses, so it's inevitable that they'll try to take the path they find to be the most advantageous to their operations. Sometimes it can take a while for a client to realize what really happens when they opt for translators with low target language skills, and unfortunately, we translators aren't their financial advisers--we can't make them realize, nor should we. I just offer my polite, professional opinion when I have the chance and focus on what's best for my own business.


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Matthias Brombach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:17
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
Beware of Chinese students! Oct 7, 2014

...so I once was threatened by one of my earlier (dutch) agency clients: They, so she told me, were expecting that in the future my language combinations will be taken over more and more by Chinese students...so better be humble and cut your prices!

[Bearbeitet am 2014-10-07 08:18 GMT]


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Peoplesartist  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 19:47
Member (2007)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Agree with you Oct 7, 2014

Prices differ according to economies and cost of living and clever agencies know this from agency-friendly rate type offerings.

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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:17
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Translation is similar to most other markets Oct 7, 2014

DJHartmann wrote:
Finally, in response to price undercutting..... if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
This is all quite frustrating and I appreciate your opinions on the topic!

I understand your frustration, but in almost every market there is a segment that is sensitive to price but not to quality - and usually it's a significant segment. If you assume the market is roughly pyramidal, with the highest value work at the apex, the price-sensitive work will constitute the largest portion and the base of the pyramid.

If somebody is on his way to buy his habitual burger and fries at the nearest fast food joint there's not much point in trying to persuade him to spend twice or three times as much at the local restaurant. You might succeed occasionally, but the better option is to seek out the quality-conscious diners.

Dan


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not always a bad thing Oct 7, 2014

A non-native translator highly specialised in a subject matter field (law, IT, technical manuals, etc.) may well achieve better results than a native non-specialist.

Rather than talking about “nativity”, I guess it makes more sense to look into two parameters;

1. The time of exposure of the person to the target language.
2. The quality of exposure of the person to the target language.

I also think that this has to happen at relatively early age. Otherwise, the “window” is missed.

I may not be a good example, but I was exposed to the Russian language at very early age (lived in the country). I am reported to have “native” accent. However, I have not studied at a Russian school, nor did I do my university studies in that language (read extensively, though). Therefore, I translate FROM Russian, not INTO Russian.

Since I moved to Spain at an early age, did my studies there, worked there and have been exposed to the Spanish language at all times and in all aspects of my life, this is the language I feel comfortable and “natural” to translate into.

As for my English, you might have already realised from my write up that it is not “native” level and I do not claim that at all. However, I can produce (and have produced) decent ES > EN translations of highly specialised legel texts (DG Competition decisions on mergers, IP cases, legislation, etc.). It goes without saying my translations were extensively proofread, but they were not, by far, a “monkey work”.

I have to make very clear; I translate into Spanish and only accept “into English” translations exceptionally and very occasionally, and in the legal field only (since I am a qualified Spanish lawyer with LLM from UK university). If I attempted translating a creative text into English, that would mean I was starving (which fortunately is not the case). There really is a lot of “into Spanish” work out there. No reason to be an “intruder”, unless rightly justified from the subject matter expertise point of view.


[Editado a las 2014-10-07 09:01 GMT]


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Peter Zhuang  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:17
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Ideals and reality Oct 7, 2014

If I were to be frustrated at every potential customer who tells me that they have found a cheaper service provider, I wouldn't have much hair left on my head.

Think about it, if a luxury brand is losing money, it is definitely not because of other companies providing cheaper goods or services. Complaining about cheaper competition (not taking quality into account) is like Ferrari sulking because everyone is driving a Ford or VW. It doesn't make sense.

It is most likely more productive to think about how we, as service providers, can distinguish our services (and ourselves) from other translators. At the end of the day, worrying about how agencies conduct their business is not my task.


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Khwansuree DEROLLEPOT  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:17
Member (2012)
English to Thai
+ ...
The natives and non-natives are not comparable Oct 7, 2014

I believe the native speakers and non-native speakers do not deliver the same work at all. I would not try to explain how and why, this has become like a fact to me. Having your work done by a native professional has a price, and if this native professional is also specialized in the subject, the price will be even higher. That's just a common sense.

Of courses, the clients always compare the rates between you and your peers, but they also compare your qualifications and values, otherwise everyone would have gone with the cheapest. The only reason they bring up the negotiation is because they know you are the most suitable service provider but they hope you could be cheaper.

I remembered a few clients of mine who used to say I was too expensive, went to assign the work to someone else who claimed to be a "native" translator but who delivered, 3 days later, an unusable rubbish. The clients ended up paying me much more than what they expected for the proofreading. Obviously, after that the clients contact me directly and never complain about my rates again.

There are monkeys even among native speakers, so finding a non-native who could give the same standard of work and values as the native is like finding a rare pearl in the Ocean. In my humble opinion.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:17
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, absolutely--you cannot get undercut if you are good Oct 7, 2014

Phil Hand wrote:

...now I don't bother. Clients either get it or they don't; they either know what a decent professional costs or they don't. It's too draining to keep explaining the basics over and over, so just hunt among the agencies that are already speaking your language.


As to the "native' part--it depends what you mean by it--what level. "Native" starts from the illiterate to language professors, so it is really the wrong term to use for translation purposes--we use source and target. I have no idea who first started using this term in the translation field--it was originally invented for the study of language acquisition--and it still makes a lot of sense in that field but not in any other.

As to top fluency in both languages--absolutely--you have to be fully fluent in both. I do not know who gave people the totally wrong idea that it is enough to know the source language to some extent to become a translator. Most really professional translators do not even use dictionaries that often, perhaps for their own interest and pleasure only.

Some would just go through the dictionaries and read them like books at their leisure. I do it sometimes.

And talking about some languages from totally different language groups, not to mention rare languages, it is more important to know the target language really well, because how can you translate anything even into your perfect target language, if you do not understand the source correctly? The style of the translation can always be edited, but if you do not understand the source, what use would there be of your translation at all? It is not enough to know the words, or check the words in a dictionary, to understand complex texts correctly.

I think translations from such languages as Chinese or Arabic should be mostly done by the people who have either grown up in China, or a country where the languages are spoken, or have lived there most of their lives. There are exceptions, of course, but not that many, which is the nature of exceptions.

[Edited at 2014-10-07 10:47 GMT]


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:17
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Hear, hear! Oct 7, 2014

Merab Dekano wrote:

A non-native translator highly specialised in a subject matter field (law, IT, technical manuals, etc.) may well achieve better results than a native non-specialist.

Rather than talking about “nativity”, I guess it makes more sense to look into two parameters;

1. The time of exposure of the person to the target language.
2. The quality of exposure of the person to the target language.

I also think that this has to happen at relatively early age. Otherwise, the “window” is missed.

I may not be a good example, but I was exposed to the Russian language at very early age (lived in the country). I am reported to have “native” accent. However, I have not studied at a Russian school, nor did I do my university studies in that language (read extensively, though). Therefore, I translate FROM Russian, not INTO Russian.

Since I moved to Spain at an early age, did my studies there, worked there and have been exposed to the Spanish language at all times and in all aspects of my life, this is the language I feel comfortable and “natural” to translate into.

As for my English, you might have already realised from my write up that it is not “native” level and I do not claim that at all. However, I can produce (and have produced) decent ES > EN translations of highly specialised legel texts (DG Competition decisions on mergers, IP cases, legislation, etc.). It goes without saying my translations were extensively proofread, but they were not, by far, a “monkey work”.

I have to make very clear; I translate into Spanish and only accept “into English” translations exceptionally and very occasionally, and in the legal field only (since I am a qualified Spanish lawyer with LLM from UK university). If I attempted translating a creative text into English, that would mean I was starving (which fortunately is not the case). There really is a lot of “into Spanish” work out there. No reason to be an “intruder”, unless rightly justified from the subject matter expertise point of view.


[Editado a las 2014-10-07 09:01 GMT]


There are a few EN natives here on ProZ who translate Romanian into English. But while their translation will ''flow'', it will not necessarily be correct if you go by their rather basic KudoZ questions... When will people learn to let go of nativeness as the holy grail in this profession?

I would ask the client to send a short test to all his potential suppliers and wait for the results to come in One hundred words should be enough for you to prove your point.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:17
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, you are absolutely right. Oct 7, 2014

There are very few people who have grown up almost entirely in the English speaking countries who know rare languages, or not as popular--like the Eastern European languages well enough to translate from them.

Yes, and the concept of "nativeness" for the purposes of translation, or any work-related issues is first of all totally nonsensical and biased, plus it allows unqualified people to apply for the jobs they are not capable of doing, and people who could do them are often prevented from doing them.

I have heard that they teach things like that at translation courses in Europe (Not in the United States). A Total nonsense based on misconceptions, and a source of segregation.

How many people raise in England or the United States, who have never lived abroad for more than a few months, know Hungarian well enough to translate from it--just an example--two, there perhaps? Maybe no one.



[Edited at 2014-10-07 11:12 GMT]


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