A reasonable Korean -> English academic translation rate per source character?
Thread poster: Cononut
Cononut
Canada
Oct 11

Hello fellow translators,

I am a Korean->English freelance translator who recently started working for a major academic translation company. I am still new to the industry, and I would like to ask for advice from experienced freelance translators.

When I first took the translation test and got the contract, I was offered a rate of USD0.025 per source character. Back then I didn't have a clue about what is an reasonable rate, so I just accepted the offer. Having worked on my first six to seven assignments, I am now starting to think might be quite low for the quality of my output. I am translating academic papers in archaeology, history, and economics, and I have authored academic publications in these fields myself in respected English-langauge journals. I have been getting very high ratings in my first few assignments and was quickly moved to a "crosscheck" level where my translations are no longer thoroughly reviewed by internal reviewers and are sent pretty much directly to the client after a cursory check for major errors.

Recently, the company started to send me big jobs with tight deadlines. I am beginning to think that I cannot continue working at this kind of rate. But if I were to negotiate with the company for a raise, what would be a reasonable rate I could demand for my work? Any advice or information would be highly appreciated!

Thank you,
Cononut

[Edited at 2017-10-11 02:52 GMT]


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:24
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Sounds disastrous to me Oct 11

Cononut wrote:
When I first took the translation test and got the contract, I was offered a rate of USD0.025 per source character. Back then I didn't have a clue about what is an reasonable rate, so I just accepted the offer.
Recently, the company started to send me big jobs with tight deadlines. I am beginning to think that I cannot continue working at this kind of rate. But if I were to negotiate with the company for a raise, what would be a reasonable rate I could demand for my work?

I do not work in your pair, so ideally I would like a feel for how many English words 1,000 hangul converts to, more or less. In the case of Japanese, which I covered here, 1,000 characters converts to about 450 English words.

Even without this information, the point is to work out how many characters you can reasonably translate in a day without exhausting yourself, and convert that to an hourly rate. If you can do 3,000 characters a day, then at the rate you mention that would be $75, for presumably 8 hours work. So let's round it up and call it $10 an hour.

That is very, very low. Indeed, that is minimum wage in many places. You could probably get that working casually as a waitress or waiter. I would consider this an exploitative rate for translation work. I would want to see that rate at least tripled and preferably quadrupled, certainly in my pair and my specialty.

Given that the rates are low I am not be surprised that your client is trying to give you lots of extra work. If your quality is good, they would probably like to give you as much as you could translate at those levels. They must be making money hand over fist! This kind of situation can easily become a trap. If you take on all the work they give, you will not have any time left to search for better clients.

You must start approaching other clients. There are dozens of threads here on how to do so, with advice on writing a good profile and so on. Start thinking about this as a business. Currently you are not getting a decent return on your investment. You either need to raise that return, or look for another business. Or starve.

Regards,
Dan


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Cononut
Canada
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your reply! Oct 11

Thank you for the reply Dan! I also had a feeling that it was something close to a "disastrously low" level. I was just hesitant to ask for an increase immediately after starting my work especially since I did not have a good estimate of the 'market rate'

The number of Hangul characters is slightly fewer than the number of Japanese characters for the same content, so I guess that makes it even worse for me. Maybe I should ask for a fourfold increase (which would normally sound ridiculous), but after reading your comment I really feel like I totally getting ripped off here. I'm just doing this for a part-time job (I'm a graduate student) and learned a lot in my first few assignments from the detailed reviews I received, but now that nobody is carefully reviewing my translations anymore anyway I guess there is no point in remaining at this pay level.


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Laura Kingdon  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:24
Member (2015)
French to English
+ ...
At least double Oct 11

If the company is passing your finished translations directly to the client, that means you're not only responsible for translating but also for polishing up the paper and making it suitable for publication, including possibly following some very specific rules depending on which journal it's going into. Your description of the company matches that of a company I know of (are the initials CC, by any chance?) and if so, they will not likely be very amenable to your asking for a rate increase; beyond that, they also have been known to come back months later with a lengthy list of revision requests by the client, meaning lots of added (and unpaid) work for you. They were also fairly indiscriminate in trying to assign me work in fields I had no knowledge of, even when accuracy of the content was quite important.

In any case, whoever you're working for, you are doing very specialized work and it sounds like you're doing it well, so I would be asking for at least 0.05 per character. 0.025 would be on the low end for even very basic translation, much less for the work you're doing. Dan's advice to find better clients is wise.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:24
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Start high Oct 11

Laura Kingdon wrote:
In any case, whoever you're working for, you are doing very specialized work and it sounds like you're doing it well, so I would be asking for at least 0.05 per character. 0.025 would be on the low end for even very basic translation, much less for the work you're doing.

I defer to Laura's experience in this pair, and I would make two additional points.

First, as you have probably already found, agencies that pay poorly do not have lower expectations than agencies that pay well. So it really is simply a question of being paid more for the same work. My experience so far has been that the agencies that pay more have been more professional and easier to work with.

Second, once set, it is very hard to raise rates. So, if you are already fairly busy, you should generally charge higher rates to new/prospective clients than you are charging existing clients, otherwise there is little point in searching for new clients.

Dan


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Cononut
Canada
TOPIC STARTER
Yes! I am working for a company whose initials are CC! Oct 11

Laura Kingdon wrote:

Your description of the company matches that of a company I know of (are the initials CC, by any chance?) and if so, they will not likely be very amenable to your asking for a rate increase; beyond that, they also have been known to come back months later with a lengthy list of revision requests by the client, meaning lots of added (and unpaid) work for you. They were also fairly indiscriminate in trying to assign me work in fields I had no knowledge of, even when accuracy of the content was quite important.


Dear Laura,

I had no idea, but it seems like this company (CC) does not have a very good reputation in the field. Forgive my ignorance, but could you please recommend any other clients I might consider working for? If you don't feel like giving a specific name, I would appreciate even a hint (like "CC").


Thank you,
Cheers,
Coconut

[Edited at 2017-10-11 19:54 GMT]


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Cononut
Canada
TOPIC STARTER
Changing to another client Oct 11

Dan Lucas wrote:

My experience so far has been that the agencies that pay more have been more professional and easier to work with.

Dan



Could you give me any advice, even like... rough hints or suggestions on where to look for? (I am assuming agencies that service Japanese translation might also tend to offer Korean, and I also can do Japanese -> English translation just as well as Korean -> English). I have been browsing this forum for a while but can't find a good answer... From what you just told me, there seems to be nothing like a 'market rate' based on the translator's actual skills, which appears as somewhat... weird to me.

Thank you,
Regards,
Coconut

[Edited at 2017-10-11 19:53 GMT]


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:24
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Invest some money/time Oct 12

Cononut wrote:
Could you give me any advice, even like... rough hints or suggestions on where to look for? (I am assuming agencies that service Japanese translation might also tend to offer Korean, and I also can do Japanese -> English translation just as well as Korean -> English). I have been browsing this forum for a while but can't find a good answer...

The answer is that you must look for them yourself - it is most unlikely that others will just give you the names of their clients. You are, after all, a competitor.

Search the Blue Board here on proz.com, or join paymentpractices.net (very cheap) and search for good agencies in South Korea and Japan, for example. Then sign up with those agencies. That's one approach. Another would be to contact branches of Korean companies in your country.

For me, what worked was building an open and detailed profile here on ProZ that includes my real name. I have had several agencies approach me based on this, most of whom have subsequently gone on to become excellent clients. Clients must be able to find your profile, and it must make an impact when it does. Differentiation and specialization is key.

Dan


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:24
French to English
Depends Oct 12

It will depend where you are based, and, from the client's point of view, where he is based too. It will also depend on the complexity, the speciality, the deadline and a number of other things. However, there is something rather contradictory which may come into play and which you probably need to be aware of. Academic work often requires specific skills and knowledge - for which we expect to be paid correctly, if not, more, yet if the client is a public educational establishment, there is a strong chance their budget will be tight and their payment terms lousy. So don't be surprised, in spite of what I pointed out to start with, that you may find it extremely difficult to obtain an honorable rate.

[Edited at 2017-10-12 12:05 GMT]


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Laura Kingdon  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:24
Member (2015)
French to English
+ ...
Dan's right again... Oct 12

Dan Lucas wrote:

Cononut wrote:
Could you give me any advice, even like... rough hints or suggestions on where to look for? (I am assuming agencies that service Japanese translation might also tend to offer Korean, and I also can do Japanese -> English translation just as well as Korean -> English). I have been browsing this forum for a while but can't find a good answer...

The answer is that you must look for them yourself - it is most unlikely that others will just give you the names of their clients. You are, after all, a competitor.

Search the Blue Board here on proz.com, or join paymentpractices.net (very cheap) and search for good agencies in South Korea and Japan, for example. Then sign up with those agencies. That's one approach. Another would be to contact branches of Korean companies in your country.

For me, what worked was building an open and detailed profile here on ProZ that includes my real name. I have had several agencies approach me based on this, most of whom have subsequently gone on to become excellent clients. Clients must be able to find your profile, and it must make an impact when it does. Differentiation and specialization is key.

Dan


I can't really recommend specific companies, and I actually don't do much academic work as it's not really my forte - most of what I do in that field is either abstracts or proofreading for people who know their own field's terminology in English and just need their grammar polished. You might look for Korean companies that do business internationally in the fields in which are you an expert or Korean agencies that specialize in academic work, although my experience has been that Korean agencies are all over the place in terms of what they're willing to pay, so you may have to negotiate a bit and go through several to find the ones that are worth working for.

I should note as well that although I said 0.05 per character for your specialized work, my own per-word rate probably works out to about 0.035-0.04 per character, but most of what I do is fairly general and I am not usually responsible for formatting and so on. As Dan said earlier, you have to think about how long the project will take you and what would be appropriate compensation for your time rather than strictly following the same per-character or per-word rate for every job.

Finally, and again as Dan said, I can tell you from my own experience that I've gained far more clients who saw my profile here and contacted me than via any other method.


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