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Translators happy with very low rates?
Thread poster: Rob Grayson

Rob Grayson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:33
Member
French to English
Jan 18, 2008

Hi,

I've never posted a question about rates before, but I'm puzzled by something....

My language combination is FR => EN (UK), and virtually all my clients are agencies, mostly based in France and a few in the UK and elsewhere. Months ago I registered with an online agency which shall remain anonymous. When I filled in my rate details in their online database, their system told me that my rate was too high and I shouldn't be surprised if I don't get any/much work from them. Their recommended rate, which they claim is based on "statistical data on translators working in your subject area and language combination", is 0.035 euros per source word. I would never even consider working at near this rate - and I say this not as someone who charges an expensive rate myself - it's just not economically viable for a Western European translator to make a living at such rates.

Hence to what puzzles me. I looked at this ageny's blue board on proz, and there is a long list of absolutely glowing comments from freelancers about how they are professional, great to work with, always pay on time, "the best agency I've ever worked with", etc. Every single comment is rated a 5. Not a single person has commented on the rates they pay being low. It's hard to be sure, but many of the freelancers who have commented appear to be Western European translators. I find this really surprising.

I know translators in the "developing world" (that's not meant to sound condescending) typically charge much lower rates, but not in Wesetrn Europe. Am I missing something, or are my Western European colleagues really working at such unfeasibly low rates?

One other thing - I've just checked the average rates reported in the proz.com rate aggregator, and my rates are well in line with the norm. So why are people working for so much less and seemingly delighted to do so?

Rob


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Buck
Netherlands
Local time: 03:33
Dutch to English
A familiar question Jan 18, 2008

Hi. I, too, would never work for EUR 0.35. I often wonder, as well, what makes people accept such low rates, particularly in Western Europe.

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Elena Robles Sanjuan  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:33
English to Spanish
It´s not black and white, unfortunately... Jan 18, 2008

Hi Rob,

I understand your point of view completely. However, I am one of those who has worked for low (not VERY low, though) rates and praised the "offending" agency in the Blue Board.

Even if it sounds like I enjoy letting agencies walk all over me, this is part of a medidated plan of action.

I only started working as a freelance translator in 2005 in Spain, where, after having worked abroad, I had a shock when I was told about the rates.

I determined that, if I wanted to start my business here, I had to make some concessions, and rates was one of them. Yes, many colleagues argue that a translator in my position should look elsewhere (mainly Europe) for better rates.
I did so and succeeded, but not without patience and hope. It took a long time for me to set off.
On the other hand, I really value (and praise) good projects and professionalism in agencies. It´s very important to me that my job is creative and not mechanical.
And now that I have been working for them for long enough, I have asked for a rate increase and have succeeded again.

I truly believe many translators get what they want and deserve the first time, but it´s not the same for all...


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Amy Williams  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:33
Italian to English
+ ...
Translators happy with very low rates? Jan 18, 2008

Rob Grayson wrote:

I looked at this ageny's blue board on proz, and there is a long list of absolutely glowing comments from freelancers about how they are professional, great to work with, always pay on time, "the best agency I've ever worked with", etc. Every single comment is rated a 5. Not a single person has commented on the rates they pay being low. It's hard to be sure, but many of the freelancers who have commented appear to be Western European translators. I find this really surprising.


Hi Rob,
Short of e-mailing them all, there's no way you can be sure that all of the translators in this BB listing did actually work for EUR 0.035 per word or thereabouts.
I feel it's a great pity some translators undersell themselves, but that's really their concern. Let it pass under the radar.

Have a good weekend,
Amy


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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:33
Italian to English
Stick to your guns Jan 18, 2008

Hi Rob

From your description I think I know the agency you are referring to. I did not lower my rates (or only marginally, which is justified by their superb payment practices).
They still send me so much work I could work full time for them if I wished.
For a lot of routine work they use non-native speakers and (speaking as an occasional proofreader) the results don't justify higher rates than you quote!


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:33
Flemish to English
+ ...
Link BB with average rate offered by outsourcers. Jan 18, 2008

Just an idea: Wouldn't it be practical to show the average rates of outsourcers on the BB, even if they get a good comments and many fives.


[Edited at 2008-01-18 11:18]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:33
English to German
+ ...
(Sorry, little bit off-topic) Doesn't that contradict itself? Jan 18, 2008

Russell Jones wrote:

For a lot of routine work they use non-native speakers


The translators I know charge higher rates for their reversed language pair (so do I), simply because it takes so much longer to produce good results.

?


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Rob Grayson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:33
Member
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
No work, even with low rates....and non-native translators?! Jan 18, 2008

Russell Jones wrote:

I did not lower my rates (or only marginally, which is justified by their superb payment practices). They still send me so much work I could work full time for them if I wished.


The current rate I have set with them is only slightly higher than their recommended rate; I did this just to see if I would get any offers. I have not had a single contact from them, ever (in over a year since I registered with them). Maybe they just don't do much in my area (finance/business).

For a lot of routine work they use non-native speakers and (speaking as an occasional proofreader) the results don't justify higher rates than you quote!


I have serious doubts about any agency that uses non-native speakers, as I do about any freelancer who agrees to translate into a non-native language, however good their command of it.


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Ramon Inglada  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:33
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Maybe not true Jan 18, 2008

Hi there,

Well, I really don't know, I'm just venturing a bit here, but could it be that their claim (that the recommended rate is based on "statistical data on translators working in your subject area and language combination"), is simply not true?

In other words, could it be a trick up the sleeve for this agency to ensure their freelancers keep their rates down? I know it might sound a bit harsh, but I've seen all kinds of tricks from some agencies (of course, not all of them) to keep rates rock-bottom, and I'm not that experienced either.

In any case, it sounds just a bit weird that an agency offering such a low rate (0.035 is really unbelievable) has such great feedback from different translators on the BB. I don't know, maybe I'm being over-zealous, but my first though after seeing their claim was "this is not true".

Cheers & have a good weekend!

Ramon


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:33
English to German
+ ...
(Slightly off-topic) Non-native Jan 18, 2008

Rob Grayson wrote:

I have serious doubts about any agency that uses non-native speakers, as I do about any freelancer who agrees to translate into a non-native language, however good their command of it.


I am restricting my translations in my reversed language pair to birth certificates and such. Will this get your blessing?

Back to low rates:

There will always be newbies / individuals with low self-esteem / colleagues who consider their job a hobby and whose spouses are the bread-winners...


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 00:33
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Happy beginners or fly-by-niters Jan 18, 2008

Some beginners might be happy with these rates. They are better that pro-bono work to get started in the trade. Likewise, people who translate in their spare time - especially if they have lots of it - will welcome the extra cash.

You can't be a professional and compete with amateurs. I often equate translation work with photography. Previously, for a wedding, people hired a team of professional, well-equipped photographers. Now, an in-law's nephew can come with a state-of-the-art digital camera, and have great pictures online (and not the "proofs" a month later) before all the guests get fully recovered from hangover.

The problem is a supposedly, or purporting-to-be, professional translation agency depending on the work of amateurs and beginners. The end-client would be the last to know.

Quite honestly, if I were a translation client with a really big and important job, I'd check a prospective translation agency's recruitment procedures. If the translator application page on their web site says something like "Send your CV as an attachment to an e-mail with the language pair and rate [sic! - their emphasis] on the subject line", I'd drop them like a hot potato. I once saw an agency that, on that page, said something to the effect of "If your rate is above, or even close to US$ 0.05/word, don't even bother to contact us. Whatever your language pair is, we already have enough translators for it at much, much lower prices."


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:33
French to English
A haphazard collection of thoughts Jan 18, 2008

In no particular order:

- "Western Europe" is not a homogenised mass. In my limited experience, agencies in Italy and Spain both tend to offer pretty low rates. Note carefully - "offer". I have no idea what they actually pay, only that whenever I am contacted directly, the benchmark rate mentioned tends to be around 0.04 EUR. Whereas offers from France, Belgium, UK, etc. tend to be around the 0.07-0.08 mark. I'm not even going waste my breath negotiating with people who think they can pay me just 0.04.
However, there are clearly people in Spain prepared to work for that - I know for a fact, having outsourced an Eng-Spanish job on here last year.

- there are a lot of beginners on this site, and a common trap for beginners is to pitch low. Agencies know this, of course.

- over 50% of the translators on here are part timers. Draw your own conclusions about what proportion of these people are business aware, actually really need the money as their main source of income, particularly care about those of us who do.... and indeed, come to that, whether they are likely to produce work of a quality that warrants a higher rate.

- as has been said, concentrate on your own niche. I've stopped viewing myself as just a "translator". Specialist work = specialist rates. Not translating the opening times for some castle at 0.04 per word.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:33
Flemish to English
+ ...
The proof of the pudding Jan 18, 2008

I have serious doubts about any agency that uses non-native speakers, as I do about any freelancer who agrees to translate into a non-native language, however good their command of it.


Typical reaction of native speakers of English, who have been brought up in a unilingual language environment, did not go through language training, started translating overnight, sang this mantra over and over and disappeared from the translation scene after a couple of years. In the 8 years or so, I have been a member of this site, I've seen many come and go.

I am proud:) to be non-native, who translated from foreign (German) to foreign (English).
I have been using French, German, English, Spanish and Dutch for the past 30 years.
My translations were revised by natives working at my client's offices. They found it to be what they expected. Practise makes perfect and I for one, will not give up practise into whatever direction between those languages, certainly not if I get paid a decent rate for it (+0.10 eurocents p.w.).
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the prejudice. All other such remarks are complete and utterly nonsense. Perhaps, with some the pudding tasted sour.


[Edited at 2008-01-18 12:37]


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Rob Grayson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:33
Member
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Sorry if I hit a raw nerve.... Jan 18, 2008

Williamson wrote:

Typical reaction of native speakers of English, who have been brought up in a unilingual language environment, did not go through language training, started translating overnight, sang this mantra over and over and disappeared from the translation scene after a couple of years. In the 8 years or so, I have been a member of this site, I've seen many come and go.


I did go through language training, I did not start translating overnight, and this is not a "mantra that I sing". I am not some amateur who has no clue and is trigger-happy with their uninformed opinions.

I did not say that anyone who translates into a non-native language is a shark. What I am saying is that my starting point is to be very wary in such cases. This is based on experience - the fact is that very many people who translate into a non-native language produce poor quality results. I know because I've corrected them. And these are often people who have charged an agency 0.10 euros per source word for a "quality" translation.

My view is that most non-native speakers, even with years of practice, will struggle to produce the same quality and naturalness (if that's a word) as a good, professional native-tongue translator. Note: I said most, not all.


The proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the prejudice. All other such remarks are complete and utterly nonsense. Perhaps, with some the pudding tasted sour.


Yes indeed, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When I started out a couple of years ago, I was told by some established translators that I would be lucky to make half a decent income by year 3. I was able to pretty quickly build up a viable business and make more than a decent income within one year, mainly by focusing on quality and being prepared to turn away work because of this focus.

You made an assumption that my question was driven by prejudice. That was a false assumption. I might assume that you're prejudiced against anyone who doesn't happen to share your viewpoint.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:33
English to German
+ ...
Ah, the raw nerve Jan 18, 2008

Yes, it hits a raw nerve. Certainly not due to embarrassment or guilt, but fatigue as such comments appear to arise from one particular "language quarter" only. It is not our fault that school systems in particular countries take language education more seriously than others...



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