Poll: Would you advise beginning translators to accept pro bono work?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 05:54
SITE STAFF
Feb 19, 2015

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Would you advise beginning translators to accept pro bono work?".

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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:54
Member
English to French
No Feb 19, 2015

To accept pro bono work? Never.
To offer pro bono work? Why not.

Philippe


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564354352  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 14:54
Danish to English
+ ...
NO Feb 19, 2015

Pro bono work should not be used as a rehearsal for real work.

If you undertake pro bono work, you should be sure that you deliver top quality work, especially as it is quite possible that your work won't be proofread by another translator.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:54
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
It depends Feb 19, 2015

If it's going to be reviewed, and edited if necessary, by more experienced translators, then fine. But few NGOs proofread our work. They're looking for autonomous translators who can work accurately. Most ask for a minimum of a few years' experience. Some, such as TWB, will also test you.

Cloud sites such as Wikis and the TED videos are appropriate for relative beginners. Though we should make a distinction between translators who are trained and skilled but inexperienced on the one hand, and people who speak more than one language and think they might make a living translating on the other. Your target language writing skills must be impeccable, for a start.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 13:54
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
No! Feb 19, 2015

For starters, I’m not the advising type, but if asked I would say: don’t do it! If you start by doing it for free, when someone offers you a rock-bottom rate it will seem a fortune…

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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Feb 19, 2015

If they have the time to spare, can afford to do it and hope to benefit from the experience, then okay, as long as it doesn't take up all their time and prevent them accepting paid work.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 14:54
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
If it expands your network and draws the attention of paying clients Feb 19, 2015

It depends on the type of work and where it leads. If you can clock up experience in a field you later want to work in, then fine, especially if it brings you into contact with potential paying clients.

I have done some pro-bono work for a local non-profit organisation, firstly because I really wanted to support them, and that should always be your primary reason for taking on work for free.

However, I had two reasons for translating for them rather than just helping out with other practical work on the spot. Firstly, most of their other supporters were less qualified to translate into English, so I was asked, and secondly, my name appeared on their publications in English, so it gave me a little publicity.

It has in fact led to one or two paid jobs.

Not all pro-bono work will lead to paid work, and you do have to arrange terms that will let you take on paying clients, especially at the beginning, when you need to grasp every oportunity that comes.

I am not sure that I would advise looking for pro-bono work in general, but it depends what you expect to get out of it. I would not recommend it as a means of finding paid work later, but there are plenty of other good reasons for doing it.


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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:54
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I said "yes" ... Feb 19, 2015

I taught translation for 14 years at Georgetown University. My students paid the school for the opportunity to translate (and get critiqued). As long as they're aware of regular rates, I see no harm in their getting their feet wet with some more practice pro bono.

People have to start somewhere. I got my start (several decades ago) translating for friends and translating for my Argentine boss when I was his secretary. I was working as a secretary when I passed a test for an editorial position. The editor who supervised me discovered that I could translate, and the rest is history.

From the recipient's perspective, they deserve what they get if they expect to get it for free.


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:54
French to English
For and against Feb 19, 2015

I would generally say no. If you are trying to establish a stand in the market place and thus aiming to gain income from selling your skills, then I would say no. You might think that it gets your skills known, which may be true, but there is little or no guarantee that paying clients will rush to your door as a result. It may even have the opposite effect : the word gets out that you do pro bono work. Obtaining a professional fee worthy of a professional service is not that easy in the early days as it is. Offering pro bono work will hardly go viral and those who do talk about it are likely to refer others looking for freebies.

However...

Once you are up and running, you might simply be interested in a charitable field, have friends working
in associative functions who need the odd piece doing and where funds are genuinely lacking. If you are already gaining income, then you may be in a position to afford supply your services pro bono.

What generally happens is when you are waiting for work to come in, a pro bono occasion comes along and you accept. If an urgent paying job comes along and you have to refuse it because you are working on a freebie, think how you may feel about that.

[Edited at 2015-02-19 11:41 GMT]


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
No Feb 19, 2015

I'd advise them to spend their time drumming up paid work instead, because sooner or later they'll need to eat.

Well actually if they wanted my honest advice I'd tell them to get a proper job.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:54
French to English
Poor question phrasing Feb 19, 2015

Philippe Etienne wrote:

To accept pro bono work?

I think the use of "beginning" translators alerts us to the fact the question was not written by someone with a gift for English expression. I therefore think we need to expand the scope of interpretation away from the strictest possible understanding of "accept" as a response to another's proposal.

Like Chris, though, my actual advice to a "beginning" translator would be to do something else, anything else, for a living. If they insisted, doubtless by flinging obscenities such as "passion for languages" in my face, I would advise them to make sure the "bono" bit was genuine, and offer general life guidance that if you know a man by the company he keeps, likewise a charity might be known by the companies it keeps, so always check the sponsors.


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:54
French to English
On "beginning" translator Feb 19, 2015

Charlie Bavington wrote:

Philippe Etienne wrote:

To accept pro bono work?

I think the use of "beginning" translators alerts us to the fact the question was not written by someone with a gift for English expression. I therefore think we need to expand the scope of interpretation away from the strictest possible understanding of "accept" as a response to another's proposal.

Like Chris, though, my actual advice to a "beginning" translator would be to do something else, anything else, for a living. If they insisted, doubtless by flinging obscenities such as "passion for languages" in my face, I would advise them to make sure the "bono" bit was genuine, and offer general life guidance that if you know a man by the company he keeps, likewise a charity might be known by the companies it keeps, so always check the sponsors.


Charlie,

Always worth a quick check for what seems like unusual terminology or grammar. You'll find out that although this strikes an educated British ear as wrong, this is standard American usage.

http://www.amazon.fr/The-Beginning-Translators-Workbook-Translation-ebook/dp/B00J59WKLY

[Edited at 2015-02-19 15:37 GMT]


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:54
French to English
Blimey Feb 19, 2015

Nikki Scott-Despaigne wrote:


Always worth a quick check for what seems like unusual terminology or grammar. You'll find out that although this strikes an educated British ear as wrong, this is standard American usage.


Well, you live and learn

I am also reassured that my decision to decline all translations into US English is clearly one that has a sound basis, in my case at least.

Nonetheless, I have to say, if I checked every unusual English usage I found even just on this website, let alone generally, I'd have no time for any actual work, so I'm just gonna have to accept that every now and again, I'll act like a proper smarty pants and end up being wrong.


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 07:54
German to English
+ ...
No Feb 19, 2015

If you are at the stage where you are translating, then you should be at a level where you can produce decent work, even if it takes you ten times as long, and you have to hire a proofreader. A bad translation is no translation at all. It's like building a house where the roof will collapse and the walls fall in - useless. The pro bono market also sets up exploitation and a bad precedent for the translator in the future when he/she wants to sit regular rates.

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dianaft  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:54
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Where is the learning experience? Feb 20, 2015

I also think that things like Wikis, TED talks or Coursera are a good place to get some practice without a huge burden of responsibility. Beyond the quality aspect, it is also a matter of self-worth.

Students don't pay to translate things at college, they pay for the support system, feedback and evaluation. Just the same as I may pay a proofreader. I pay for the improvement.
Similarly, one usually receives no or little payment for an internship, yet paid staff members divert some of their time to provide support and feedback. The learning curve is the reward for the own effort invested.

What is really to be gained from providing a free translation without such feedback?

There is no learning curve. At least no more than if one was to simply sit down and translate texts of real interest for the pure joy of it.
I have translated pro-bono for two small charities that really touched a nerve with me - both had offered me paid work and I simply included a note commending their work instead of an invoice with the delivery. In effect, this was my heartfelt donation.
However, had they approached me asking for a free translation, I would likely not even have opened the file. Just as I don't open charity mailshots or respond to street fundraisers.
Pro-bono work advertised as such quite frequently makes my blood boil. UK charities only have to spend 20% of their income on the actual cause. The remainder covers administration expenses. If a charity can afford to pay the project manager to send out assignments and desktop publishers to present the translation in a pretty layout, then they can also pay me for my services.

When I did a Coursera course in the past, it just kind of felt right to also throw in the odd translation of a transcript or similar. I gained something from attending a free course, so it felt natural to contribute. Now Coursera has set up a volunteer translator network (that didn't yet exist at the time I did my little bit) and it also includes volunteer proofreaders, so at least some feedback may be had.


[Edited at 2015-02-20 07:30 GMT]


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