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Advice: Scientific translation project for novice translator
Thread poster: Laura Venables

Laura Venables
Local time: 07:09
French to English
+ ...
May 30, 2012

Hello everyone,

This is my first post so apologies if I am approaching this in the wrong way, but I really need some fast advice. I have just been offered a translation project . It consists of a 293 page book on Applied Mathematics. The deadline is July 15th and the rate of pay is £6/page (which will be paid 45 days from receipt of the invoice). I worked out that the document is approximately 89,000 words, which means the average rate/word would be less than 2p. I was concerned about the prospect of taking on such a huge task considering the following;

- I have only just completed my first year of a 2-year part-time MA in Translation.
- I have very little 'real-life' translation experience and what I have done has been entirely volunteer work where the text was either relatively short or allocated to more than one translator (thus providing opportunities for collaboration).
- I have no freelance translation experience and am therefore fairly unfamiliar with what I would need to have established before taking on such a translation (e.g acceptable rates which will not devalue the translation industry, taking out an insurance policy, declaring tax, invoicing etc . . .). I understand that getting to grips with such concepts can take months or even years, but are they as relevant for one off projects as for full-time freelance translating?
- I have a basic background in Mathematics (A Level), but feel that more research would be needed before undertaking the translation. Research, however, cuts into time that I would have thought should be designated for actual translating (considering the fact that the deadline is fairly close).
- I have never used any translation software, nor have access to any that I might be able to use to help speed up the process.

I realise that I have presented many concerns here, but by the same token, I was successful in the test translation that was sent to me. I feel slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on such a huge project and I was wondering if, given the circumstances, this was a normal scenario to be presented with as a novice to the industry.

I would be so grateful for any insight and advice at all that anyone might have, which may help me to reach a final decision before I lose the opportunity to work on the project at all.

Many thanks in advance (and sorry for the length of the post!)

Laura.

[Edited at 2012-05-30 20:17 GMT]


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 08:09
German to Swedish
+ ...
No! Run! May 30, 2012

Forget it. That's madness. I would warn you off that job in the strongest terms. Please don't do this to yourself. The money is a joke and there's no way you can read up on a year or so of additional math courses (if I understand your education level correctly) while meeting a six-week 89,000 word deadline.

Don't pressure yourself into this. In time you'll find other assignments.


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Laura Venables
Local time: 07:09
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! :) May 30, 2012

Hi Joakim,

Thanks so much for your advice. To be honest, it is something that I do not feel 100% comfortable with and, in my current position I do think it would be pretty unrealistic. What is making me less reluctant to let it go is the fact that the company did seem pretty reliable (I know of people who have done freelance work with them). I just wondered whether the fact that they may have been more experienced meant that the task became more profitable (i.e they could work faster, use CAT tools etc . . . .). The average speed of translators working for the company is apparently 5 pages/hour (approx 1,200-1,500 words). This seems like a lot to me even for a more experienced translator, though that may be because I am still fairly new to the industry and thinking about all the research that would be involved?


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Stefan Blommaert  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 07:09
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Agree... May 30, 2012

Joakim Braun wrote:

Forget it. That's madness. I would warn you off that job in the strongest terms. Please don't do this to yourself. The money is a joke and there's no way you can read up on a year or so of additional math courses (if I understand your education level correctly) while meeting a six-week 89,000 word deadline.

Don't pressure yourself into this. In time you'll find other assignments.


As to the word count: that is 3000 words per day on a 5 days per week basis, not counting checking at the end. Not really realistic; as you will probably for example run into formatting problems with these mathematical texts.

As to your background: why on earth did you accept that? Did you honestly think that you would be able to do a 3 week crash course (of course while translating) so that you would be able to grasp ideas that (probably) at least are at a somewhat higher level. I wonder why I bothered to spend 5 years to get my MSc in Mathematics. Three weeks should have done the trick! Probably chose the wrong university!

As to the rates you are being offered; that is just plain insulting. I didn't check your calculation, but 2p/word for such a highly specialized translation? The people offering the job probably think that mathematics cannot be that difficult. I beg to disagree...but hey, I am prejudiced in view of my background.

My advice: run, and run very fast!


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Kelly S
Ireland
Local time: 07:09
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Stay safe and sane May 30, 2012

Hi Laura,
I would advise you strongly not to take on that project for several reasons. Firstly, as a novice translator it is a gigantic task you are taking on. Having little knowledge of the software tools will only hinder you greatly and your level of knowledge of the specialist area is not strong enough to permit comfortable if correct translation of the subject matter. My brother writes applied maths books and you would need an equivalent degree of expertise to be able to translate them or alternatively a long experience translating maths books. In addition, the rate of pay sounds appalling low for the size of the task and expertise required. You would be essentially setting yourself up for failure and potentially damaging your future prospects as well as impacting on your health with the worry and complexity of the task before you. Stay safe and sane and say "no"
Best wishes,
Siobhan


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:09
English to German
+ ...
Time frame and rates are ridiculous May 31, 2012

Please stay clear of this "job". I agree with everything the previous posters have stated.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 14:09
Chinese to English
Wrong wrong wrong May 31, 2012

Dump the job, tell the outsourcer politely but firmly that they are being ridiculous, and name and shame them if you can find a decent forum. It's not allowed on Proz, but other forums exist.

Use the incident as a case study in your next practical translation class. Your fellow students should be grateful to learn about these kinds of, ahem, poor business practices.


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Laura Venables
Local time: 07:09
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Appreciation May 31, 2012

Thanks so much for all that feedback! It really helps in terms of me having the courage to go with my gut rection which was one of huge doubt. I have now emailed the company back to express my concerns and see what their response is. However, I imagine my final decision will be to turn down the project.

I know I need lots more time to develop my specialisms, but I guess I figured my dad, who does have a degree in Maths, might be able to support me on this occasion. I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone or undermine the value of years of education so I apologise Stefan if it came across that way.

I will definitely remember this case and use it to help others wherever I can.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:09
English to German
+ ...
On average 1,200-1,500 words per hour? What a nonsense. May 31, 2012

LauraVenables88 wrote:
I just wondered whether the fact that they may have been more experienced meant that the task became more profitable (i.e they could work faster, use CAT tools etc . . . .). The average speed of translators working for the company is apparently 5 pages/hour (approx 1,200-1,500 words). This seems like a lot to me even for a more experienced translator, though that may be because I am still fairly new to the industry and thinking about all the research that would be involved?


Serious and excellent translation agencies calculate 2,500 words / day (!) per preferred, seasoned and professional translator. For various reasons:

- They know that the good ones have more than one client to attend to and also have a business to run
- They know that good work requires research rather than typing speed
- They know that no professional can produce a consistent number of words per day because firstly, good translators are no machines and secondly, there MUST be buffer zones to allow proper time management
- They want QUALITY and they expect the product to be double-checked by the translator before delivery.

So, the argument that a seasoned and experienced translator will be able to translate a gazillion words more per hour or per day will remain an urban legend. And CAT tools don't do any thinking for you.


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 08:09
German to Swedish
+ ...
CAT = worse than useless in your case May 31, 2012

Indeed when working on a book I'd imagine CAT to slow you down considerably.

CAT is good for repeating or formulaic text in short snippets. It's pretty awful for writing readable prose. And since you're a newbie you don't have a bank of translation memories to leverage.

Writing math formulae that you only half understand with a new CAT tool that you don't understand at all? Good night!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:09
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Stop! May 31, 2012

LauraVenables88 wrote:
This is my first post so apologies if I am approaching this in the wrong way, but I really need some fast advice. I have just been offered a translation project . It consists of a 293 page book on Applied Mathematics. The deadline is July 15th and the rate of pay is £6/page (which will be paid 45 days from receipt of the invoice). I worked out that the document is approximately 89,000 words, which means the average rate/word would be less than 2p.

No need to keep reading... Forget about it. Ridiculous. And on the other hand I think it is best that this job is handled by someone with a bigger knowledge of mathematics, for instance an engineer who is now a translator, or someone with a similar background.

Despite the very low rate, you would soon see a very demanding customer: in low-rate jobs, slow payment and a very demanding attitude often come with the territory. All in all, this project is bound to cause big trouble to you. It is best to let it go!


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thanks, but no thanks May 31, 2012

Joakim Braun wrote:

Forget it. That's madness. I would warn you off that job in the strongest terms. Please don't do this to yourself. The money is a joke and there's no way you can read up on a year or so of additional math courses (if I understand your education level correctly) while meeting a six-week 89,000 word deadline.

Don't pressure yourself into this. In time you'll find other assignments.


Exactly. Even if you are really, really desperate for the work, I wouldn't even consider it.


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:09
Member
French to English
+ ...
"Reliable" agency May 31, 2012

LauraVenables88 wrote:

What is making me less reluctant to let it go is the fact that the company did seem pretty reliable (I know of people who have done freelance work with them).


The fact that other people have worked for the agency doesn't make it reliable, as I can think of plenty of awful agencies that lots of people have worked for! I have to wonder what kind of reliable agency would want to pay such a ridiculous rate for a job demanding a particularly high level of expertise (a book, no less) to someone who is just starting out. As others have said, what a reliable agency would do is to look for someone who has the right background and experience, set a realistic deadline and pay a decent rate. If it can't find anyone with the right background for the job, it should advise the end client to look elsewhere rather than risk delivering a poor translation. Your agency isn't doing any of those things, so I'd steer well clear of it.

LauraVenables88 wrote:
The average speed of translators working for the company is apparently 5 pages/hour (approx 1,200-1,500 words).


Is that what the agency told you? Let me give you a possible reason why an agency might say that. It may be trying to make you believe that you'll be able to get through huge amounts per day, making your daily earnings seem far more attractive than they will be in reality. To mislead someone in that way is precisely the kind of thing a very *unreliable* agency would do! Maybe it's unaware of how difficult a job like that really is, or maybe it's well aware and it's hoping that as you're inexperienced, you may not be knowledgeable enough about the profession to realize that. Either way, it spells trouble!

One thing I would advise all novice translators to remember is this: accepting a job merely on the strength of claims like that one can get you into hot water, because unfortunately, there are some dishonest and exploitative agencies out there. Stress, indecently low rates and the risk of turning in poor-quality work are things to be avoided at all costs. If your instincts tell you that taking on a particular job may not be a good idea, don't base your decision on what the agency tells you. You know your own capabilities better than any agency does. Listen to your instincts and seek advice if you're not sure (which is exactly what you've done - good on you for that!)


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Siegfried Armbruster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:09
Member (2004)
English to German
+ ...
Seems like a good project to me May 31, 2012

I actually consider this a good project.
It will help you to learn that there are projects you can't handle and to respect your limits.
It will teach the agency that it is wrong to give a complex project to an unexperienced translator.
It might teach the end client that they get what the pay for.

These are all positive aspects, I can really not see any negative aspect in this project.
Just go for it.


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Aisha Maniar  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:09
Member (2003)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Harsh May 31, 2012

Siegfried Armbruster wrote:

I actually consider this a good project.
It will help you to learn that there are projects you can't handle and to respect your limits.
It will teach the agency that it is wrong to give a complex project to an unexperienced translator.
It might teach the end client that they get what the pay for.

These are all positive aspects, I can really not see any negative aspect in this project.
Just go for it.


This is rather harsh on the original poster. She is right to ask her question here and raise her concerns. As Laura points out, she has limited practical experience and is still a student. Unfortunately, I'm sure most translation courses (I may be wrong) do not teach the business side of matters (negotiating contracts/dealing with clients, payments, etc.). Becoming and being a translator, as many have pointed out here and elsewhere on many occasions, is an ongoing learning process and especially at first, that curve can be very steep. I'm sure many of us have gotten into things (fields/deadlines/formats/payment terms, etc.) that are way over our heads through enthusiasm, eagerness and sometimes, maybe just through sheer desperation. It's not just beginners either. I'm sure there are plenty of experienced translators who from time to time find themselves out of their depth, in different ways.

As for unscrupulous agencies and end clients, some people will never learn...

Good luck, Laura, you've been given plenty of good advice above and I hope you can get out of this contract!


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