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Newbie = prone to being scammed?
Thread poster: Beatriz Rodriguez

Beatriz Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Argentina
Member
English to Spanish
+ ...
May 26, 2016

Generally, the responses I get from agencies never go beyond offering me a rate of U$D0.04 per source word, at most. Reading forums and blog posts written by experienced translators, I keep getting the idea that this amount is less than half of what any translator should charge, and many would even consider it insulting.
Maybe it's because I'm relatively new as a remote freelancer, or because there are far too many competitors in my language pair (English-Spanish). I'm also afraid that an agency might say "sure, we agree to U$D0.08," and then they simply won't pay me at all, because it's not like they'd suffer any consequences or anything.

Now, to get into two particular cases, I got responses from two agencies in the last week, and both wanted me to sign an NDA right away. I used to do it before, but then they'd make me take those "tests" and say I wasn't capable, or that the quality of my translation wasn't good enough... so I don't sign them anymore, and ask questions first.

Note: I wrote about this topic a few days ago, but I made the mistake of mentioning the agencies by name (which got the post removed). I apologize and hope to comply with ProZ's policies with this one.

Agency 1: They wanted me to sign an NDA and provide "ID proof," so I asked them about the rates they're offering and they responded:

"Our rates are different for the clients and different for the freelancer. It would be better if you specify your expectation and then I would quote mine."

Is it normal that the sudden "then I would quote mine" sounds a bit odd (and even fishy) too me? Besides, that message didn't include the usual company signature that the previous ones had.

I responded by offering them rates that (I thought) would scare any low-paying agency, just in case, and they asked me again to sign the NDA. I replied with several questions, such as inquiries regarding the extension of "test translations," and they just responded:

"Yeah, the rates are fully fine. We have agreed to your rates and thus we have send you the NDA."

Again, I perceive an unprofessional tone that's ringing a few of bells, but I hope I'm wrong.

Agency 2: This one also asked me to sign an NDA without even discussing the project, rates, or anything at all. When I specifically asked them about it, they said they were offering €7 for translating 3-4 articles, and €2-3 for translating summaries. If the articles were only 100-175 words (in total) that'd be fine, I guess, but I don't think that will be the case. I gave them my rates per source word, and I haven't signed the NDA yet either, because it simply doesn't add up.

If find all this really disheartening and, most regrettably, a waste of time. Like I said, I'm relatively new to remote freelancing, but I have no idea of how to get the attention of decent-paying agencies or clients. It seems like everyone out there is trying to scam me or get me to sign things, send them my IDs, and do some work for them for free.

Is this normal or is it all in my head? Are NDAs, free tests, and low-payments the norm in the remote translation business?


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:36
Member
French to English
+ ...
Partly true... May 26, 2016

Beatriz Rodriguez wrote:
Is this normal or is it all in my head? Are NDAs, free tests, and low-payments the norm in the remote translation business?


I think some parts of it are "all in your head", and some parts are normal!

When starting out, I was scared of not getting any work, so I accepted anything and everything, and even at rock-bottom prices. But listening to my more experienced peers, I soon realized that was counter-productive! Not only does it contribute to pushing rates in the industry overall down, it also puts me under unnecessary pressure, in which circumstances I am unlikely to do my best work; and accepting anything and everything is extremely unwise, as I soon found I came a cropper on many subject areas, etc. — and of course, my lack of experience also meant I wasn't using my time efficiently either.

So now what I do is bill at my 'standard' rate, and if I feel the circumstances justify it, I can offer a discretionary, one-off discount — by way of an introductory special offer, for example. That way, I have made clear my standard rate that will normally apply henceforth, plus I have made a gesture to them in terms of the price — and, psychologically, they have the feeling of having 'got' something!

Wanting you to sign an NDA before releasing project details to you is indeed increasingly common these days — and I see no harm in it, PROVIDED you are happy with the restrictions they impose, some of which I refuse to adhere to! So if it matters to you, make sure you read the NDA carefully before signing.

However, I would NOT give out formal ID information, bank details, etc. before being given the job; at most, they might ask for your business registration number, which is obligatory in some countries, to prove you are a legitimate business.

I don't think it is unusual for agencies to play this "you show me yours first then I'll show you mine" game with rates; it is irksome, but it seems to be par for the course, at least for some of the 'bottom-of-the-barrel' low-class agencies. Now, when asked to submit a detailed quote for a complex job (say with multiple files that are not in doc format) that will take some time to prepare, I first write back to them with my 'basic rate' and ask if it is "in line with their budget expectations", BEFORE I waste time preparing the quote and BEFORE I even send them my CV; that is a good way of weeding out the time wasters!

As for free tests — I simply don't do them any more, though I used to when I first started. Like you, I found that 99% of tests led to nothing — and I don't believe my work is THAT bad! Reputable agencies either judge my suitability on my past work record (though it is difficult, as most documents I cannot release to them, as they are covered by NDAs!) or else they offer me a paid test.

That said, if you have had many replies to the effect that your translation was not good, you maybe need to sit up and take notice. Of all the tests I have done in the past, I have never, ever had one come back saying my work was no good — agencies usually just say "we didn't get the job" or "another translator was chosen"; of course, I can't tell if this is the truth or not, but at least they are trying to be nice and polite. So if you are getting rather more negative reactions, then maybe there is something in it after all... perhaps you should consider asking peers in your language pair for help, and get an objective outside opinion about the quality of your work?

I have had two people in recent times ask me to assess their work; one of them was a FR native speaker trying to translate into EN, and it was clear from the very first sentence that she wasn't good enough to be translating into EN, she betrayed herself in every sentence. I gave her a detailed analysis of her work and the problems with it — and despite having solicited my opinion, she was extremely rude and sought to imply that she knew better than I, a native speaker of EN!

Another lady from a far off-country in which she claimed to be a native speaker of EN asked for the same service; she too betrayed herself in every sentence, her work was frankly gibberish! Again, when I took the time and trouble to give her detailed analysis, she came back at me angrily with the fact that her EN was perfectly good enough for customers in her own country (presumably they all can't speak EN either, then!) — but lord help her if she ever does a translation destined for anywhere nearer to home!

Now, I don't bother any more; if someone sends me a text that is good, then I say so; otherwise, I just return it with "no comment".

So don't undersell yourself, be strong and be prepared to refuse insulting rates, even if it means you don't have any work at all that day. BUT, at the same time, DO make sure that your work IS indeed up to scratch! Know your worth — but make sure you are worth it!

Good luck! I've had such fun over the last 20 years as a translator, and I hope I'll be able to continue for a fair while yet.

[Modifié le 2016-05-26 15:24 GMT]


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Beatriz Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Argentina
Member
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! May 26, 2016

Hello Tony, thank you so much for sharing your valuable experience!

I feel a bit calmer regarding NDAs, in case they're so common when it comes to working for translation agencies. I didn't have to sign one for my last project (a website translation and localization), but maybe it was because I signed the contract directly with the clients, without any agencies in the middle.
I'm still unsure about sending any "ID proof".

I must admit the "unfortunately your work doesn't meet our standards" or "it doesn't match the tone we're looking for" responses are starting to take a heavy toll on my professional confidence, though. The biggest dilemma for me comes up when the source text has a questionable narrative quality, and I'm never 100% about translating it as it is, or if maybe I should edit it properly in each case.

Regarding free tests, I'm simply frustrated. Most of them consist of 500-600 words, so I keep having this uncomfortable feeling of giving my work away for free. That's exactly why I uploaded samples on my own website, so clients and agencies wouldn't keep asking me for tests. In an additional effort, I decided to fix it by offering up to 100 words for free, and any further ones at half of my regular rates. Curiously, this seems to have lead to a slight decline in testing requests.


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:36
Member
French to English
+ ...
Tests too long... May 26, 2016

Beatriz Rodriguez wrote:

I feel a bit calmer regarding NDAs, in case they're so common when it comes to working for translation agencies. I didn't have to sign one for my last project (a website translation and localization), but maybe it was because I signed the contract directly with the clients, without any agencies in the middle.


I think NDAs have become more and more common since agencies started going for ISO 9001 and other certifications, which I'm sure require this sort of traceability

I must admit the "unfortunately your work doesn't meet our standards" or "it doesn't match the tone we're looking for" responses are starting to take a heavy toll on my professional confidence, though.


Then it's doubly important you get some objective outside opinions!
If you are unhappy about source texts, then you maybe need to read projects through more thoroughly before accepting the assignment. Generally, we can only translate the text we are given, we can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and it is not within our remit to 'correct' source texts; the most we can do is point out possible errors, ambiguities, etc. to the agency, preferably before finishing the job, and ask what thy wish you to do about them.

However (and I am simply playing Devil's advocate here!), if you are regularly having trouble with the quality of source texts — which in my own experiences are rarely that bad — could there be a problem with your own grasp of the source language? Sorry to pose the question everyone would rather avoid, but you've said 2 things now that just made me wonder? If you wish to send me a private message with some example of source texts that have given you problems, I'd be happy to give you my opinion of them.


Regarding free tests, I'm simply frustrated. Most of them consist of 500-600 words, so I keep having this uncomfortable feeling of giving my work away for free.


500–600 words is much too long for a free test! 200 – 300 is not unreaosnable, anything more than that is seriously out of order!

The trouble with translation examples of your own is that generally, agencies will be submitting the test submissions to their customers, who want to see an example of the translation of their own material.

In the early days, I got very few jobs directly through applications in response to ProZ.com postings; most of my work came indirectly, through other translators intorducing me to agencies, or recommending me for jobs they were unable to handle for one reason or another.

More recently, since I became KudoZ points leader in my language pair, I have risen to the top of the list in a 'search for translator' directory search; this means i now get FAR more people contacting me than ever before — this was immediately visible the day after I got to the top! It's a mixed blessing of course, since I get masses and masses of time-wasters, bottom-end Third World agencies expecting the level of quality from the "best" (!) translator for the sort of derisory rates I don't even boot up my computer for. Still, it is flattering to be so sought after, and amongst the pebbles, there are just the occasional pearls.

I think your participation in and contribution to KudoZ in your language pair is very important. Certainly, in my own case, I have been contacted by other translators saying that they have seen my answers to KudoZ questions, and felt I would be better suited for a job than them. Of course, it works both ways: people who have a habit of providing foolishly quirky answers on KudoZ, or who behave badly, are also noted — as people to avoid! Don't forget translation agencies too are aware of KudoZ, so good answers there can help, but better to avoid daft ones


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Gabriele Demuth  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:36
Member (2014)
English to German
Agencies May 26, 2016

I think that after a while you get a feel for bottom level agencies and don't waste your time. However, there are some agencies who appear to always offer 2 pence or cents less than you offer. Which often pushes me just under my minimum, it happened this week and maybe I need to quote a bit higher.

I don't mind signing NDAs, but I am careful with contracts. I don't sign indemnity clauses, but if the contract sounds too agency centred then this puts me off. Also, some agencies ask addresses and contact details of clients, which I find odd, as I am not an employee and I don't give out details of clients, neither do I want to bother them with this. The agency I negotiated with this week was very particular about confidentiality in their contract and not passing on any client information, but then they ask me to do just that with my clients?!

Then they asked copies of ID, well I am not keen on that, but maybe they would have accepted it with crossed out numbers? Then they suggested a test of 500 words... too much is too much...

In the first couple of months after I started translating I had a project consisting of about 4000 words from a business consultancy whose UK and DE based director insisted that $0.03 was an appropriate rate. I spent a lot of time on the translation, but he came back and told me that the translation needed to be localised, he meant that it didn't sound natural enough (he was probably right, as I did get that feedback on another occasion). So I spend another 3 or 4 hours editing and improving it until he was happy. Later I found out that he charges GBP 150 per hour for his services. I still get annoyed when I think about how I let myself be used, but on the other hand it was a learning curve as well.



[Edited at 2016-05-26 16:57 GMT]


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Beatriz Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Argentina
Member
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! May 26, 2016

Gabriele Demuth wrote:

Later I found out that he charges GBP 150 per hour for his services. I still get annoyed when I think about how I let myself be used, but on the other hand it was a learning curve as well.


Hello Gabriele, thank you for sharing your experience as well!

Something like this happened to me too in one of my first remote projects. Someone needed a translation to be proofread (and it was terrible, honestly). I did it for around $0.01 per word, and then I found out this person was charging around $40 per hour for translation and proofreading services.

I can't help wondering how someone could keep up a career like that, and how many out there must do the same.


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Beatriz Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Argentina
Member
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good points! May 26, 2016

Tony M wrote:

Generally, we can only translate the text we are given, we can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and it is not within our remit to 'correct' source texts; the most we can do is point out possible errors, ambiguities, etc. to the agency, preferably before finishing the job, and ask what thy wish you to do about them.

(...)

However (and I am simply playing Devil's advocate here!), if you are regularly having trouble with the quality of source texts — which in my own experiences are rarely that bad — could there be a problem with your own grasp of the source language? Sorry to pose the question everyone would rather avoid, but you've said 2 things now that just made me wonder?


It's not precisely that I have "trouble" with the source texts, but more like sometimes they have an awful punctuation and a debatable narrative flow, so the translation ends up being even more clunky than the original. If it sounds unnatural in the source, it only gets even worse when it's translated.

In such cases, I usually send two different samples: "raw" (faithful to the original) and "proofread and edited" (to give the client/agency the possibility of choosing). From there, I continue working according to their own preferences, and they always tend to choose the latter.



Tony M wrote:

The trouble with translation examples of your own is that generally, agencies will be submitting the test submissions to their customers, who want to see an example of the translation of their own material.


This... is actually a bit comforting. I hope...


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 05:36
German to English
+ ...
on Agency 1 May 27, 2016

so I asked them about the rates they're offering and they responded:

"Our rates are different for the clients and different for the freelancer. It would be better if you specify your expectation and then I would quote mine."

It depends whom they were going to quote theirs to. I read it first in the context of how I usually do business.

- I tell the agency my rate
- The agency then knows what rate to quote to the end client (my rate plus their markup)

So that is how I understood it, especially since they explained about the difference of rates.

I don't ask clients what rates they are offering, since it is not the client's role to propose how much they expect to pay - it is up to the professional to state his or her fee.


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Katarzyna Slowikova  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:36
Polish to Czech
+ ...
Bad quality source texts May 27, 2016

Beatriz Rodriguez wrote:

It's not precisely that I have "trouble" with the source texts, but more like sometimes they have an awful punctuation and a debatable narrative flow, so the translation ends up being even more clunky than the original. If it sounds unnatural in the source, it only gets even worse when it's translated.

In such cases, I usually send two different samples: "raw" (faithful to the original) and "proofread and edited" (to give the client/agency the possibility of choosing). From there, I continue working according to their own preferences, and they always tend to choose the latter.


I was also struggling with this when I started translating, but I don't think yours is a good approach.
I do translations from EN, PL and CS, two latter being my mother tongues and I can tell you, a flawlessly written source text is an extreme rarity. In EN, they're often written by non-native speakers with poor EN skills. And if they're native, they're often semi-illiterate (concerns all 3 lang.). Often they look OK on the surface (punctuation, typos etc.) but when you start translating, you see there's wrong syntax everywhere, metaphors used in quite opposite meaning etc. (in short - marketing texts :/ written by people who want to look "creative" but apparently never opened a book, much less read one).
But it's not your task to transfer all those flaws into the target text. What would be the use if it? Ask yourself what's the purpose of the text and write it as if it was written by an educated, competent native speaker of the target language.
Though of course, if you're not sure of the meaning because of the flaws, put there some comment or something, so that you're covered if you didn't guess correctly. It's also good to let the client know of the dismal quality in general, for the same practical reasons.

And yes (Tony!), I even got test translation sources (those "general" ones, not for a specific client) with mistakes. I don't think the agencies do it on purpose, but it'd make sense if they did, after all it should be a sample of what you'll get as "real jobs" from them.


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Beatriz Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Argentina
Member
English to Spanish
+ ...
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Growing tired of $0.01 rates... May 27, 2016

Maxi Schwarz wrote:

I don't ask clients what rates they are offering, since it is not the client's role to propose how much they expect to pay - it is up to the professional to state his or her fee.


Hello Maxi,

In this particular case, it's the only time I've ever asked an agency for its rates before showing mine. Mostly because I've grown increasingly tired of always getting $0.01-$0.03 rates in response. If that was what they had to offer, I just wanted them to tell me right away so I wouldn't waste my time. =/

Now that I signed the NDA, they keep asking for "ID proof"... and I'm scared of private documents being used for frauds or something.


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Beatriz Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Argentina
Member
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
On point May 27, 2016

Katarzyna Slowikova wrote:

But it's not your task to transfer all those flaws into the target text. What would be the use if it? Ask yourself what's the purpose of the text and write it as if it was written by an educated, competent native speaker of the target language.


Hello Katarzyna,

Exactly! That's why I always offer them the possibility to choose. I prefer the improved versions, and so do they.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:36
Member (2007)
English
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Are you perhaps translating too literally? May 27, 2016

Beatriz Rodriguez wrote:
It's not precisely that I have "trouble" with the source texts, but more like sometimes they have an awful punctuation and a debatable narrative flow, so the translation ends up being even more clunky than the original. If it sounds unnatural in the source, it only gets even worse when it's translated.

Of course, woolly writing will have to be reproduced to some extent as it isn't our job to do a full rewrite before/during translation. But things like punctuation can and should be applied to the target text appropriately, rather than duplicating the source punctuation - good or bad. It's only on the odd occasion when incorrect punctuation creates ambiguities that we need worry about it. Maybe you need to take a step back and consider what the phrase/sentence/paragraph is trying to say, and then simply recreate that message with all its details in the target language, not necessarily using the same grammatical structures or word order. (But maybe you do that anyway - ignore me if so.)

In such cases, I usually send two different samples: "raw" (faithful to the original) and "proofread and edited" (to give the client/agency the possibility of choosing). From there, I continue working according to their own preferences, and they always tend to choose the latter.

I really can't imagine that would give the client any confidence at all. In fact, we should never expect our clients to be able to judge the quality of our texts. Of course, in reality, a PM might be able to do just that, but OTOH they might not, and I certainly wouldn't expect a direct client to be able to.

It's surely our responsibility to deliver a (single) translation that's at least adequate for the client's purposes, if not a masterpiece. We're the experts, after all. But it's only when we start acting confidently that we'll be accepted as professionals - and paid as such. Low-paying clients love any sign of weakness such as lack of confidence or neediness. They'll exploit every weakness, which is why we hear so many tragic stories of translators who accept low rates and then find themselves having to wait 90+ days for payment, or accept a discount, or simply not getting paid. That happens far less often to translators who insist on professional rates and professional conditions (in terms of payment terms, free samples of work, time spent form-filling etc.).


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Katarzyna Slowikova  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:36
Polish to Czech
+ ...
Don't send any "unimproved" versions May 27, 2016

Beatriz Rodriguez wrote:

Exactly! That's why I always offer them the possibility to choose. I prefer the improved versions, and so do they.


Then why lose your time for the "rough" version. I think it's really weird to send 2 different translations and it may even look unprofessional, if that's how they want to see you. Just as Sheila wrote. I would advice you not to do this.

And as to the "ID proof", I was never asked to send anything like this.
If you're a freelancer, I'd send them a document which confirms that, with all the business and tax IDs you were assigned. That's all they need to know and they can check it in the relevant databases, guess it must work similarly in Argentina...
But if you're signing the agreement as a private individual, I don't know.... maybe it does make sense...?
Of course both documents may be misused... but don't get too paranoid about it. Do some googling, check Translator-scammers... that's all you can do. Even if your identity is stolen (which is rather unlikely!), people have lived through this, it doesn't kill you.

[Edited at 2016-05-27 15:04 GMT]


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Katarzyna Slowikova  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:36
Polish to Czech
+ ...
Nice definition of translation! May 27, 2016

Sheila Wilson wrote:
Maybe you need to take a step back and consider what the phrase/sentence/paragraph is trying to say, and then simply recreate that message with all its details in the target language, not necessarily using the same grammatical structures or word order.


I like this passage, isn't it the very definition of translation? Just compare it to this quotation:
https://sites.google.com/site/translationwithflair1/home/translation
(If you're too lazy to click, here's an incentive: it's by Nabokov.)


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Beatriz Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Argentina
Member
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! May 27, 2016

I always had these doubts regarding how far I could go with narrative edition when translating. I just want to thank you all so much for helping me figure it out more clearly and for sharing your experience!

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