Volume 12, No. 2 
April 2008

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page

Select one of the previous 43 issues.

Index 1997-2008

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
In the Beginning Was the Alphabet
by Jan McLin Clayberg

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Working for Translation Agencies as a Freelancer: A Guide for Novice Translators
by Lucja Biel, Ph.D.

  In Memoriam
In Memoriam: Margareta Ugander: 1944 - 2008
by Gabe Bokor
In Memoriam: Donald T. ("Ted") Crump: 1939 - 2008
by William B. Cramer

  Translation Theory
The Bottom of the Iceberg: The Explicitation of the Implicit in English-Ukrainian-English Translation
by Oleksandra Liashchenko
Linguists and Culture Experts at a Crossroad: Limitations in Formulating an Experimental Translation Theory
by Salawu Adewuni, Ph.D.

  Translator Education
Documentación para la localización de software
Núria Vidal
Essential Activities in Translator-Interpreter Training
by Dr. Eduardo González
Derecho y traductología en la formación del traductor jurídico: una propuesta para el uso de herramientas de formación virtual
Esther Monzó, Ph.D.
Personality-Oriented Principles in Teaching Languages in Today's Russia
Karina Yu. Kolesina, Sergei G. Nikolaev

  Scientific and Technical Translation
Aspectos textuales de la patente
M. Blanca Mayor Serrano, Ph.D., Natividad Gallardo San Salvador, Ph.D., Josefa Gómez de Enterría Sánchez, Ph.D.

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Translating Culture-Bound Elements in Subtitling—An Example of Interlinguistic Analysis: a scene from Scent of a Woman
by Elisa Armellino

  Literary Translation
Images, Imagination and Image-Gestalt in English-Chinese Literary Translation
by Jinghua Zhang
Problems of Rendering Linguistic Devices in Rumi's poetry
by Mahmoud Ordudary

  Arts and Entertainment
Performatives in Ying Ruocheng's Translation of Teahouse
by Ren Xiaofei and Feng Qinghua

  Sports Translation
Football Is Coming Home to Die-Hard Translators
by Luciano Monteiro

Del discurso al cuerpo: La técnica Alexander en interpretación
Marta Renau-Michavila

  Translators' Tools
To Upgrade or not to Upgrade
by Jost Zetzsche
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Letters to the Editor

Translators' Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

Translation Journal
The Profession

The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

Practical tips for practicing translators.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Is it necessary to accept all job offers from direct clients, or can one occasionally say 'no'?



Dear Workaho,

Of course you can turn down work—unless you have managed to clone yourself, in which case we sincerely hope you have been farsighted enough to patent the process. Mind you, this is likely to pay far more than even premium translation.

In the meantime, since you need time to eat, sleep, enjoy your family, take vacations and otherwise recharge your batteries, the question is not whether you can say no but rather how to do so—how to best deal with queries and offers that come at inconvenient or downright impossible times.

We see three options:

  • Just Say No. Reply (regretfully of course) that you are fully booked and cannot take on any more work at this time. This confirms that there are other clients out there who value your services (good). At the same time it leaves your client in the lurch (bad). If they then make a terrible decision and the project blows up in their face, they will come back to you singed and reeling (good). But they may also find a white knight/perfect match, in which case they may never come back (bad).
  • Say No, but suggest an alternative. See our advice to Stuck in the Middle. Remember, here the aim is not to lay your own reputation on the line, since Gloria (or her clone) may screw up. Instead, you offer the client an option or two to follow up on—being helpful, but keeping your distance. Ideally there will be increased stress at their end, which will make them all the happier to come back home to you next time around.
  • Say No, and find an alternative. In this case you are taking on the stress and responsibility of finding a suitable supplier and reviser, and ensuring that the job goes smoothly. Should you think this is a piece of cake, ask any serious agency about the challenges involved. Don't even consider it unless you have a pool of tried and tested suppliers to draw from, and experience in project management. In which case, be sure build in a margin for yourself, of course.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am constantly amazed at how clueless translators can be when it comes to the business side of things. Here is one whose tagline advertises her as "fast, professional and cute"—maybe she's got the wrong profession?



Dear Wake,

By the time we reached this young colleague's page someone had clued her in and, as readers will see, the "cute" bit had evaporated... replaced, alas, by worse: "fast, professional and cheaper" [our emphasis]. Good grief.

May we take this opportunity to remind all readers that the arguments you use when pitching your services help define which clients end up on your doorstep? Anyone, young or old, who announces on a website or in other promotional materials that they charge "low rates" or even "reasonable rates" or, as this young woman does, "rates that are always lower than average" is warbling through a bull-horn "low-ballers, come to mama!"

This is important, so we'll say it again: do not advertise low prices unless you are fishing for bottom feeders.

Our advice? Keep the photo—it's good to put a face on people—but let visitors decide for themselves whether or not they think you are cute. Above all, leave prices out of it and sell your expertise, your writing skills, your passion, your added value. Unless you are looking for clients who want to pay very little, of course.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a freelance translator based in Germany, working from German to French. I was recently asked to quote for a job, but my offer was judged too expensive.

That said, the prices cited by the "Vendor Coordinator" who refused my bid were, for me, astounding. He/she/it states outright that "prices in France" are 0.08 for non-technical documents, 0.09 for technical documents, 0.04 for 75-84% matches, 0.03 for 85-99% matches and 0.02 for full matches. Revision is paid 0.025/word for "non-technical documents" and 0.03 for "technical documents", or 30 an hour.

"N'hésitez pas à revenir vers moi si ces tarifs vous conviennent." says Mr. Vendor Coordinator—"Get back to me if you are willing to work at these rates." The agency is SDL.

My question: can people survive at those prices?

I Want More


Dear More,

Translators who choose to work for this particular agency obviously can. In its defense, the company claims that it invests heavily up front to "prepare" texts for translators, providing translation memory modules that speed up the job.

Maybe, maybe not. Keep in mind that your eye should be on per-hour net earnings, not per-word gross.

But let's step back here: what tells you that this particular buyer is a carved-in-stone source of "prices in France"?

What they are referring to are their prices in France—prices which, incidentally, define very clearly where they lie on the quality spectrum. And hey, if their business is booming, ticking over or even limping at that price, there must be buyers out there for whatever it is they are selling.

But this in no way means that there are not other, better-heeled customers on the market with different priorities. If those are the ones you want, give SDL a miss and devise a marketing strategy to hook up with more attractive direct clients or more specialized agencies.

Your example is a reminder of just how vulnerable individual translators with little training in business practices are. All it takes is one buyer (who by definition will have a vested interest in lowering prices as far as they will go) announcing that X is "the price", sometimes with great assurance, even huffing and puffing. The rumor catches hold, as one horrified translator after another passes this tidbit on. If all are equally naive, everyone tugs their forelock and ratchets down their price: a self-fulfilling prophecy that needn't be but is.

The SFT did not publish its annual rates survey in 2007 but we're told a new version will be out in 2008 and look forward to it. In the meantime, even the 2006 data (available in extenso only to members: see why it is worth joining a professional association?) is well above SDL's numbers.

Our advice? Time to cut loose from the low-end agency scene and focus on specialized agencies or direct clients.

Onwards and upwards,



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I've just found a new client in Belgium and I'd like to know whether they're creditworthy. Where can I check this out?



Dear Solid,

Your reflex is excellent: it's always a good idea to verify the finances of a new customer before taking on work.

In addition to payment practices lists, the Belgian National Bank has just decided to make all (mandatory) annual accounts of Belgian companies available for free on the net.

Click on "free online consultation of annual accounts."

An esteemed colleague has looked up a few agencies on this site and the results are fascinating: some have a steady flow of profits and acceptable balance sheets. But one is on the verge of bankruptcy: 700,000 total assets for (-2K) in equity—yes, that's 2,000 negative capital. (Uh-oh).

Another translation group in the register has a complex web of companies, one of which reports equity of 687,000, down from an initial 30 million after accumulated losses of 29.3 million. "Somebody has deep pockets, but for how long ?...  " says our man.

Other countries also provide this type of information for free.

The big challenge for translators may be to acquire the skills needed to interpret financial statements: why not look for a crash course, if only to gear up for a pitch to clients in the financial services industry?



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Some of my agency clients pay me 8.5 cents a word for all types of translation, including legal texts. I've told them that others pay more, but they're not having any of it. To be sure, a direct client will pay more (I know that), but how high do you think I can go with a small agency ?

Pushing Hard


Dear Not Hard Enough,

See our answer to More. The key is not to simply refer to others who pay more, but to actually locate those others, lock them in as clients, and then cull customers whose rates are no longer in your ballpark.

In any case, equating "small" with low prices is a mistake. Some of the best-paying intermediaries we know are small, specialized outfits that have understood the importance of focusing on what you do best and selling on quality, not price