linguabase Friday, December 14, 2018

Search Linguabase:


Tips for Translators

Tips for Translators: the eBook is now available!

An expanded, in-depth version of this Tips page, this 111-page eBook includes:

  • essential practical business information for any translator
  • models of translation certifications, invoices, contracts and purchase orders
  • how and where to find translation work
  • answers to more than 75 questions selected from hundreds of emails received from readers of my Tips page

Visit for more information, sample pages and how to order!

You can buy the eBook for just US$29.95, however the tips provided on this site will continue to be free and I hope that you find them useful and informative.

Buy Now!

This Tips for Translators page started after I had spent a few years working as a freelance translator and thought it might be useful to some translators, especially those who are just beginning their freelance careers, to read about some of my experiences and what I have found useful. It can be very difficult to get advice or opinions when starting out in the translation business - I know, I was there once, which is why I didn't mind taking time to share my experience in the hope it would help whoever wanted to listen... I know I would have liked some of this information when I started! Of course, everything on this page reflects just my own personal opinions.

I'd love to hear your comments or suggestions! Please feel free to email me privately!



1. Do not accept a project which you know is not within your abilities. It is perfectly professional to turn down jobs translating highly technical product specifications or lengthy legalese if you have no experience in those fields. Turning down such work will not automatically disqualify you for other work in your language pairs for which you are qualified - if anything, in fact, just the opposite. It shows you know your own limitations and that's good. Alternatively, hire a good editor to review your work if you're developing a new area of specialization. What you learn from a good editor is worth much more in the long run than the sum of your initial expenses for editors.

2. Do not accept jobs with impossible deadlines. Dare to negotiate! You can take measures (such as charging higher rates) to discourage or compensate for jobs with extremely tight deadlines. You may often find that the job turns out to be not quite so urgent after all. Besides, the quality of your work may suffer under the pressure of an unreasonable deadline and that, in the end, only reflects poorly on you.

3. Do not hesitate to ask questions. When asked, agencies may be able to provide you with past translations or other documentation to use as reference material. Also, if I have done considerable research on a term to no avail, I point it out to the agency. I personally would not dare to simply guess and hope that no one notices. I feel better just being up front about the fact that I do not know everything and although I tried, I was unable to find the answer. So far, I've never had a negative experience when asking agencies such questions. Most translations contain at least one ambiguity. An important part of translation is to NOT guess what your client might mean, but to identify ambiguities and resolve them together with the client. A common beginner mistake is to try to be "good" and not ask questions.

4. Do not accept a job without seeing the text first. What someone might describe to you as a business text may turn out to be medical. I've been called for Dutch translations and actually received text in Danish. Someone might say the text is 1500 words, but then you find it's 1500 words of difficult to read handwriting - nightmare! It's always best to see the text before committing to it.

5. Do not accept work without knowing who your client is. Check out the person or company who is offering you work. Get full contact details, not just an email address. Get a purchase order in writing before you begin work on a project. You need to do these things to protect yourself - with so much business being done over the Internet, you need to know where you can find someone if for any reason you run into difficulties. Check the payment history of a new potential client through the TCR and Payment Practices Lists. A little research now could save you tremendous problems down the road.

6. Do not proceed with the job until you have agreed on the rate. No one likes surprises when it comes to the bill, so make sure you and your client are clear when it comes to the cost. You may charge different fees for different projects or you might have a couple of different fees for the same project (a per word rate for translation plus an hourly charge for formatting, for example). For small jobs, you may have a minimum fee rather than a per-word rate. You may have surcharges for handwritten texts or for weekend work. Some jobs require a great deal of formatting or might require you to work with different types of software. These are projects that can be charged by the hour rather than per word or per line. A general guideline is to have an hourly rate that reflects what you normally earn on average for an hour of translating. Be sure you're familiar with a particular program before accepting a job in, for example, Power Point.

7. Think about what you write in an email before sending it off to a mailing list. You never know who is reading your posts - your messages could quite possibly end up in the hands of your (agency) client, for example, so always be professional. If you're upset about something, write the email but be careful not to send it: wait until the next day and see if you still feel as strongly. This also goes for correspondence with your clients if you're upset with them for whatever reason. Sometimes, as difficult as it may be, it might be wiser to make a concession and keep the client. Then again, depending on the situation, it might be that you feel the client is not worth keeping. In any case, consider it carefully before you fire off an angry letter.

8. Do not sell yourself short. Emphasize the experience you do have, don't focus on what you don't know. Don't undersell yourself either - charge what you feel you are worth. Rates vary for different countries, language combinations and types of translation, so take all these factors into account when determining a fair market price for your services. Make sure you charge enough to make your business profitable, after all, that's the bottom line. If you start off with low prices, make sure you raise them gradually as you gain experience.

9. Keep all business records and correspondence for at least 12 months. In fact, I would recommend keeping them for at least three years. This includes every email sent to and received from your clients, every fax, invoice, contract, purchase order, translation file and any other correspondence. It's simply good business practice to keep good records.

10. Read every clause very carefully before you sign a contract. See below!


If you're working with agencies, they may have a contract they want you to sign. I have signed few such contracts, but it so happens that my biggest and most regular clients have never asked me to sign a contract. I have also refused to sign certain contracts because I felt they were far too biased. Sometimes the agency simply asks you to cross out those sections you do not feel comfortable signing, sometimes they refuse to work with you if you don't sign. The bottom line for me is: make sure you read and understand the contract, and never sign anything you don't feel comfortable with!

Below are some examples of terms and conditions found in actual contracts presented to freelance translators which I personally would never agree to sign. I can understand the desire for a contract, although I must say I have not entered into many contracts with clients and I have never had any problems with any clients so far. I am happy to provide agencies with samples of my work, letters of recommendation, copies of my qualifications and so on, but if our working together is contingent upon contracts which include clauses such as those listed below, then I'm afraid I simply won't agree to it.

- "Translator represents and warrants that he/she has the requisite education and technical knowledge to translate **any and all** business documents, including but not limited to documents which may require the translation of **scientific or mechanical** terminology." [emphasis added by me] I know my limits and although I consider myself to have a high level of competence in both Dutch and French, I am not familiar with specialized terminology in a number of fields, including mechanical and scientific areas, not even in English, my native language. I will not accept work which is beyond my capabilities, I have turned it down before and will continue to do so. It is simply not worth the stress to deal with subject matters with which I am not familiar.

- "Translator warrants that he/she will not keep a copy of any documents translated for [agency]" I keep all translations I have done on file so I can refer to them as it often happens that I do translations for the same client and I like to be consistent with terminology. Not only that, but I keep them just in case a problem arises so I can refer to the translation as I delivered it, prior to any changes made by anyone at a later date. It goes without saying that I do keep all client documents confidential and if I do get rid of hard copies, they do go through the paper shredder.

- "Translator shall not directly or indirectly request, cause, solicit, induce, or otherwise attempt to divert current, **future, or potential** customers of [agency], either directly or indirectly..." [emphasis added by me] Of course, anyone may become a potential client of any agency, signing this contract would therefore effectively kill my career as a freelancer. Of course, I would readily agree not to solicit any clients I know to be current clients of an agency I work for, but I can't agree to the future or potential client part. Besides, I sincerely doubt any agency would provide me with their full client list, so I fail to see how they can enforce such a clause.

- "If either [agency] or its client does not accept a translation, Translator will not be entitled to payment for his/her services." There would have to be reasons given for such non-acceptance and if I disagreed with those reasons, it would have to be presented to an independent third party for assessment and arbitration.

- "The Interpreter/Translator's fee shall not be paid until the client pays the [agency] for the assignment. After the client has made payment, the [agency] will pay Interpreter/Translator on the next date on which the [agency] regularly pays its vendor accounts payable." My business agreement is with the agency, not with the end client. I have nothing to do with determining the terms of payment which the agency and the end client agreed upon. I refuse to agree to have payment for services rendered by me be contingent upon whether the agency's client pays them. After all, I cannot tell the mortgage company that I will pay the mortgage just as soon as agency X pays me. That's ridiculous.

- "The [agency] shall have no liability to Interpreter/Translator for any fees billed to but not received from a client." Again, a similar clause. The role of an agency is precisely to be an intermediary and that involves accepting a certain risk factor. Non-payment is one of those risks, and it should not be passed on to the translator like this.

- Translations are to be "done solely by the Translator without any assistance, whether direct or indirect, from any other person or entity, unless consented to in writing by [agency]." When I come across terms I cannot find translations for, I turn to help from colleagues on lists such as Lantra, and if there is a sentence or paragraph I don't quite grasp or I find ambiguous, I consult a colleague I trust and it seems unnecessary and time-consuming for me to have to request written permission from [agency] each time I do so.

- "Translator shall indemnify [agency] and hold it harmless against all liability or loss, and against all claims or actions based upon or arising out of damage or injury to persons or property caused by or sustained in connection with the performance of the contract or by conditions created thereby, or based upon any violation of any statute, ordinance, and the defense of any such claims or actions. Specifically, Translator shall indemnify and hold [agency] harmless in any suit initiated against [agency] as a result of an inaccurate or unacceptable translation, and shall be liable for all costs, including, reasonable attorneys fees, expended by [agency] in defense of such suit." Oh my... why should I sign away my rights and accept full liability? What exactly is the role of the agency here? Do they not have a system of quality assurance in place?

- "Translator warrants that he/she will not directly or indirectly use any computer program or other type of automatic translation device in the translation of any documents translated pursuant to this agreement." I don't happen to use any translation memory software at this time, but I would still not agree to this clause because it is up to me to decide what tools I deem necessary to do my own job and to do it well. If I feel I can achieve greater consistency and speed through computer-assisted translation tools, then that is entirely up to me.

Have you seen other clauses in contracts offered to you by translation agencies which you find unacceptable? Contact me! Send me a copy of the contract and I will post the unacceptable clause here.

For more information on contracts, order the Tips for Translators eBook now!


I have to say I think I did do a few unpaid tests when I started freelancing, not many, but I don't think I ever got a client that way. I now respond to such requests by expressing an interest in working with them, offering to provide samples of work I've done in particular fields, and offering to provide references in addition to the letters of recommendation posted on my site, if they would like. Then I politely decline to do the test, saying I am currently too busy with paid work to be doing unpaid test translations.

I personally cannot think of another profession where someone is asked to do something for free, so I don't see why I should. I don't ask my dentist to give me a filling for free so I can see if he's qualified to do a root canal, I don't ask the carpet cleaners to clean the living room so I can see if I want to hire them to do the rest of the house and I don't ask agencies to make a test payment before deciding whether or not I want to work with them.

I personally feel my time would be better spent on my own business administration, advertising, updating my web site, reading a book or spending time with my family than doing work for free. That's not to say I haven't done pro bono work for a good cause - just not for an agency.

Having said all that, it can sometimes be worth your while to do a translation test, as one of my friends discovered: "About six months ago, I got contacted by a new client who wanted me to do a test, and a fairly big and technical one at that, and with a deadline! I had just decided that I was done forever with tests, that they were a pure waste of time and never lead to anything anyway. So I told the woman I couldn't agree to committing to a deadline for an unpaid test, as she had to understand that any paid work would necessarily take precedence over the test. A few weeks later, I had some slow time and thought I could maybe do the test after all (swearing it would be the last one). I did it and it turns out that this agency has been the most reliable, regular and wonderful client ever. They have given me a steady stream of work, they don't argue about rates, they are very respectful and supportive toward their translators, they give regular feedback, they pay early, and they even sent me a Christmas bonus check (now, how incredible is that!). So I am now a little more ambivalent about tests..."


I have now received hundreds of résumés, CVs and applications from translators and I am often astonished at what people send out. I am a freelancer and rarely subcontract work, and certainly not work that is not in one of my language pairs. That is the job of agencies and not something I am interested in pursuing. However, given all the solicitations for work that I have received, I thought it might be useful to add a section about this topic. The following reflects my personal opinions on what is (not) appropriate when soliciting work. Many of these points may seem blatantly obvious to you, but believe me, all these points are taken from actual applications by people purporting to be language professionals and addressing me in English.

  • If your very first sentence does not begin with a capital letter, then I am certainly not going to entrust you with my language work.
  • If you fail to mention your language pair, I cannot help you. Mention your languages at the beginning of your message, not the end.
  • Do not "subscribe" me to your list and place upon me the burden and inconvenience of having to unsubscribe from your list of potential work sources. That is one sure way to irritate and guarantee no work from me. Similarly, do not tell me what to put in the subject line when replying to you when YOU are the one requesting work from ME!
  • If you claim to translate into and out of four languages and have all of 26 specializations, I will not believe you.
  • Do not write your message in all capital letters. That's rude.
  • I am not interested in working with people who advertise themselves as "a cheap labor force" or "ready to slave for your comfort".
  • Remember to use decimals and commas appropriately when citing your rates, depending on which language you are using.
  • Do not boast about completing more than 10,000 words overnight, because I will assume the quality was abysmal.
  • Do not make it blatantly obvious that you have failed to do your homework properly by telling me (a freelancer!) that "It has occurred to me that a large and well-known organization as yours might be able to use my services" or that "The kind of work in which your company is engaged particularly interests me."

    For more information on marketing, order the Tips for Translators eBook now!


    However you try to find freelance work, be prepared that it may take some time before you can build up a sufficient client base. It may well take a year. Also, don't be too disappointed if you submit your information to an agency and don't hear back within a couple of weeks. It may be months before they have a project that matches your skills. In the meantime, focus on marketing your services, honing your skills and staying positive!

    I've received work from having a line in the yellow pages, from registering with free online translator databases and with translator associations (such as the NCTA and ATA), and from applying for jobs that come through the language-specific mailing lists or the translator job lists.

    I've also received work from registering at consulates as a translator and joining and advertising in expat associations' publications. I once did a mailing based on Glenn's Guide, but did not find it very productive. Surfing the web for a while can lead to a lot of potentially interesting and informative sites with great tips on how to get started.

    If you are looking for direct clients, I would, in addition to the yellow pages and translators' associations with online databases, suggest contacting your local embassy, consulate or chamber of commerce and request a list of companies in your area that are affiliated with a certain country and then contact those businesses. For example, I contacted the Dutch consulate and received a list of companies in California that are associated one way or another with the Netherlands. It depends on your location and language pair, but if you're specialized in a certain field, then even the (online) yellow pages might be a good source for potential clients. Or you can target places where local groups of people who share your field of specialization congregate: for example, if you specialize in legal texts, you may want to post your business card and/or brochure at the county courthouse law library and send it to local police stations and law offices. If you specialize in medical texts, you might prepare a brochure or newsletter to send to insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, support goups or medical libraries in your area.

    For more information on how to find work, order the Tips for Translators eBook now!


    "I don't have a clue how much to charge per word. Can you advise me?"

    That's a common question - and a tough one! It depends on your language combination, the subject and type of document, deadline, agency or direct client, how much you want to do a particular project, how much formatting is involved, what country your client is in... so many factors! And rates may vary widely between countries and even between companies in the same country. You'll probably find you adjust your rates accordingly and even negotiate different rates with the same client for different types of projects.

    I once saw someone on a mailing list mention an equation that went something like this:

    2500 words per day x $.12 per word x 5 days per week x 48 weeks per year = $72,000.

    The American Translators Association recently conducted a survey regarding income and published the results in the "2003 Translation and Interpreting Compensation Survey" publication. According to the ATA: "This survey presents the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date income data on the translation and interpreting professions." ATA members can purchase this for $45, non-members can purchase it for $60. Click here to order.

    A New York Times article by Claudia H. Deutsch published on May 30, 2001 titled "Workplace: Translators Thrive as the World Speaks" included the following two paragraphs:

    "Proficient translators and interpreters - most of whom are freelancers - can make a pretty good living. Salaries for the State Department's 20 staff interpreters range from $70,000 to $100,000 a year; freelancers get about $430 a day for conferences and up to $300 for classes. [...] A 1998 survey by the translators association showed that freelance translators made about $51,848 a year, while salaried translators averaged $44,939. But most experts say that efficient freelancers can make six figures, and that project managers - the salaried people who coordinate translation assignments - can hit $90,000.

    But for freelancers, it is an unpredictable life. "There are periods of intense work, but months when I sit on my hands," said Anna Saxon-Forti, an English-to-Italian interpreter. And competition can be fierce. As anyone who has invested in tech stocks knows, what technology giveth, it can taketh away. An American company can e-mail a Spanish translation job to a lower-wage translator in Mexico. And translators of less-common languages are suddenly in ample supply."

    For what it's worth, my rates generally fall within the following ranges:

    Dutch > English translationUS $0.14 - 0.16 per target word
    French > English translationUS $0.13 - 0.15 per target word
    Editing & ProofreadingUS $35 per hour
    Minimum fee for any one jobUS $35
    Notarization feeUS $15

    I've also done one project at $0.08 (literary translation with a very flexible deadline in exchange for low rate) and work at $.18 - it all depends on the project. In fact, some small projects that have been charged at my minimum rate or very urgent jobs work out to more than $1.00 per word. England and Belgium generally have lower rates than the US, for example, and Spain and Italy are lower still, so you need to adjust your rates to the market in your client's country. I believe 55-65 pounds per 1000 words is fairly average in Britain. When I was first approached by an agency for a translation, I had no idea what to charge. I asked a translation professor and she asked what I thought was reasonable. I said I thought $.10 might be a reasonable rate and she said that was "in the ball park". I decided to be daring and asked the client for $.12. Imagine my surprise when the client immediately said "We'll pay you $.14"!

    A number of translators are unwilling to mention their rates in public or even participate in a general discussion of translation rates for fear of the Federal Trade Commission which once investigated the ATA for providing rate guidelines. Of course, price fixing is illegal and each translator must determine for themselves what makes good business sense for their situation. But I believe some communication on the subject is important and even necessary. How else are we to advertise our services? How can clients know if they're paying a fair price... or not? How can newcomers to the profession have any idea of what a reasonable rate for translation is? Here is some of the history of the ATA, the FTC and rates.

    For answers to more than 30 readers' questions about money matters, order the Tips for Translators eBook now!


    You must have a checklist of things to do with each and every translation before you send it off to a client. At the very least, this should include the following:

  • 1. terminology research: when in doubt, look it up! (even when you're not in doubt, it's good to double-check!)
  • 2. edit: check the translation against the original sentence by sentence. Is the meaning reflected accurately?
  • 3. read the translation: Does it read well and sound natural? It's best to proofread a printout, not on-screen.
  • 4. formatting: is the layout consistent with the original? Have you recreated tables (etc) where appropriate?
  • 5. spell check: This is an absolute must! Theirs know reason knot too cheque you're spelling!
  • 6. double-check conversions of currencies, measurements, temperatures etc where appropriate.
  • 7. delivery: make sure the translation is in the required format and delivered on time!
  • 8. request confirmation of receipt from your client


    There are a number of translation memory tools available to assist translators in their work. These do not necessarily automatically or accurately translate text for you, rather they assist the translator by recognizing segments of text that have previously been translated and giving the translator the opportunity to accept, reject or adapt their previous translation. I do not use any translation memory tools (yet) but it is an issue of interest to many translators, so here are links for the main products available on the market today:

  • Déjà Vu
  • Trados
  • Cypresoft Trans Suite 2000
  • Wordfisher
  • Star Transit
  • IBM Translation Manager
  • SDLX
  • WordFast
  • Glossy
  • MetaTexis

    Translation memory tools vary greatly in terms of their features, compatability and capabilities, and they also range in price from US$30 to US$1,000, so you need to do some research before deciding which tool (if any) is right for you. Here are a few sources I would consider to be recommended reading for anyone looking to invest in such a program:

  • Exhaustive overview of computer aided translation tools Part 1 (by Michael Benis)
  • Exhaustive overview of computer aided translation tools Part 2 (by Michael Benis)
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Translation Memory: A Cost/Benefit Analysis (by Lynn E. Webb)
  • An Introduction to Computer Aided Translation (by Bernd Löffler)
  • More Translation Memory Tools (article by Suzanne Assénat-Falcone)
  • Features comparison for Cypresoft TransSuite 2000, Trados Freelance Edition and DéjàVu (by Filip Mourisso)


    There are many language-specific mailing lists, but I would really recommend joining Lantra. It's quite an eye-opener and you can learn so much just by reading what goes on there. I should warn you to expect a couple of hundred messages a day, so I would very highly recommend learning how to filter: make a Lantra folder in your email tool with separate filters for chat, term, issue, and other threads, as you can never read it all. Read more about Lantra.

    If you need help filtering messages and you use Outlook Express, click here or here. Or if you'd first like to sneak a peek at Lantra's history and members, you might want to wade through the Lantra archives or view the Lantra gallery.

    One thing you have to bear in mind is that there are hundreds of people on the list - people who often work from home and have little contact with colleagues - and so the mailing list is like the virtual water cooler - there may well be people you don't like or don't agree with! Don't let it scare you off though, there's a lot of valuable information that comes by on those lists, but as I said earlier - setting good filters is key! Otherwise it can be overwhelming...

    As with all mailing lists, it's best to lurk & learn before jumping into the deep end. Read the FAQs for each list.

    Also, join the Translation Client Review list and the Payment Practices List. These lists can be extremely valuable in finding out about potential clients, because it's easy to get burned in this business and this is one way to avoid that!

    I recommend filtering all messages from these lists into a single folder, that way you don't need to read them as they come in (except to skim through the subject lines to see if you can provide feedback to any of the queries), but you can easily search that folder for the name of a company if you're contacted by them. In fact, when I see an agency mentioned on other lists, I move those messages into the same file too - I've now got more than 30,000 messages since January 1999 - very useful if someone calls me out of the blue and I need information fast! These personal archives from various sources have saved me from at least two agencies who turned out either to have been notorious bad (non) payers or in multiple legal battles with other translators!


    Translators who wish to join the American Translators Association will find that membership has numerous benefits: a monthly magazine about issues facing this industry; an annual conference which provides an excellent opportunity to attend talks, meet colleagues, purchase resources, market your services and more; language-specific mailing lists; special offers on insurance programs, collection services, travel and more... One of the best reasons for membership, however, may be inclusion in their online searchable translators database, which has certainly pointed many clients my way, enough to pay my annual dues many times over. ATA members may also choose to take a translation exam which, if you pass, gives you the right to call yourself an ATA certified translator.

    "Do I have to be ATA certified before I can start translating for clients?"

    No, you do not have to have ATA certification (formerly called accreditation) to become an established translator. The translation profession is a unique one: virtually anyone with the slightest grasp of more than one language can claim to be a translator. Few universities or educational institutes offer degree programs in translation and interpreting. In the US, state certification is not available in all languages and ATA certification is available only in language combinations that involve English. It is therefore an unregulated profession with translators whose skills vary greatly and there are both many problems it faces and many people who work very hard to educate people about what translation really involves - that it is not merely a matter of "retyping" a text from one language to another. Be that as it may, one option translators have to distinguish themselves is to pass the 3-hour handwritten ATA certification exam.

    ATA certification is by no means a guarantee of quality. There are excellent translators who have failed the exam (or who simply don't feel the need to take it in the first place) and mediocre translators who have passed. The certification exam evaluates your performance in one 3-hour sitting, during which you are without many of the reference tools you would normally have at your disposal in the course of doing your work and with the requirement that the exam be handwritten. One downside of the ATA certification program is that once you stop paying your annual dues, for whatever reason, you lose the right to call yourself certified.

    In Canada, they apparently have something called "certification on dossier" where you're graded on a portfolio of translations over time, which seems much more realistic. I believe it has to be set up between the translators' association and your client and there are certain criteria for assembling the dossier. It is my hope that the ATA will consider adopting a similar scheme, as I think it more accurately reflects the true abilities of the translator. The Corporation of Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters of New Brunswick provides more detailed information regarding "certification on dossier".

    "How can I prepare for the ATA exam?"

    The ATA's certification exam webpage gives a good deal of information on the exam, including tips for candidates, exam guidelines and an opportunity to get a practice exam (for $40). I personally don't think you can really prepare for the material of the exam. I think you just need to come prepared with a good range of dictionaries and a supply of pens. And remember to be prepared to write for 3 hours in this exam - these days, that doesn't often happen anymore and you're sure to get writer's cramp! :-)


    Unfortunately, sometimes it can be difficult to get paid for the work you performed. If you agreed to payment terms of net 30 and it's day 31, I wouldn't panic. You should expect to leave a few days for the mail. If there is still no check on your doorstep after a week or so, then you can send a friendly email inquiry (include date, job number and amount). Most times, you'll get a quick response and have your check very soon.

    However, if your friendly inquiries are being ignored or you're being fed one excuse after the other, then it's time to be a bit more firm in your requests. Sometimes phone calls are more effective than reminders sent by email or fax. If possible, drop by their office in person. If you haven't already done so, post queries about the agency on the Payment Practices and TCR lists to see if others have experienced the same and what the outcome was. Finally, if all your attempts to collect payment have failed and you have kept good records of all those attempts (dates when you emailed them or called to enquire about payment, what you were told, etc), you can report the agency to the Better Business Bureau in their area. The BBB may be able to help you file a complaint or assist in dispute resolution. Generally, the options of last resort are either small claims court or a collection agency. The ATA has made arrangements with Dun & Bradstreet to enable US-based translators to use their collection services at a good rate. Most collection agencies work on a contigency basis, so they take a percentage of what they collect for you (and if they collect nothing, you owe nothing).

    Depending on the amount you are owed, you may feel that it is not worth the hassle to chase it up with the help of a collection agency. However, some feel that it would be better even to let the collection agency take the full amount than just to forget about it, as then the situation will never change and it can be demoralizing to let someone have money which you earned. It's up to you to decide what you feel most comfortable with.


    1. "How many words does the average translator translate per day?"

    This varies greatly, but I believe that most translators output between 2000-3500 words per day. This will depend on many factors such as familiarity with the subject, work environment, available resources and experience. Translators who work with translation memory tools and often have similar or repetitive texts may output more than 5000 words in a day.

    2. "I've been asked to give a quote for a "large translation" (i.e. about 40,000 words). Should I give some kind of volume discount?"

    Some translators do give discounts for texts of more than about 10,000 words, but then there are others who find that texts of that length are not unusual (they mainly seem to translate things like computer or technical manuals) and still others who feel that no discount should be given at all, given that the 33,437th word will require just as much effort on your part as the 5th word. I personally fall into the latter category, so I'm afraid I really don't know what type of percentage might be considered standard. Certainly no more than 5%, I would imagine.

    Other things to bear in mind if you're considering offering a discount: Will you be using translation memory tools? (if so, and depending on the document to be translated, how will that affect your work in terms of speed, repetition, recovering investment cost etc?) Will the client be flexible in terms of deadline so you don't have to risk repeatedly turning down all your other clients while you work on this project? Will the client agree to make payments in installments (and are you willing to give a discount for the convenience of having that cash in hand a bit faster?)? Do you think this could turn into a regular and interesting business relationship?

    3. "Do you translate into your non-native languages?"

    No. I'm an advocate of translating only into your native language (I've only ever met one person I would consider truly bilingual, and it isn't me!). I know some translators with an excellent near-native command of English, say, and they might well do an overall better job than some native English translators, but I would still always recommend that if you do decide to translate into your non-native language(s), you should always, without fail, hire a native speaker to proofread your work. I personally would certainly never accept work into Dutch or French myself.

    4. "I really underestimated what it would take to finish this job - can I charge the client more than what we initially agreed upon or do I make a loss?"

    This is for you to decide, but I personally would charge the client what we agreed upon and swallow the rest as a valuable lesson learned. I've made this mistake before when quoting a direct client a flat fee for a couple of diplomas he needed to have translated. I'm terrible at estimating word counts and it turned out to be almost double what I had thought. In this case, it wasn't major - I only underestimated by about $45, but it was still frustrating. However, I would not charge the client extra, it was my mistake after all. Just as I sometimes have an agency client who asks if I can proofread a text and says they can pay me for a maximum of 3 hours: I'm not going to stop proofreading if I've reached the 3 hours and have one page left, and I would still only charge for the 3 hours we agreed on. I think you have to be a bit flexible in this business.

    5. When should you get paid? Some agencies keep you waiting for 60 days. Do you have to go along with that? What is reasonable?"

    Only you can decide what you find acceptable or reasonable. If you agree to wait 60 days for payment, that is your choice. That appears to occur more often in Europe - in the US, most standard terms are 30 days net, in my experience. You need to take into account the standard practice of the country your client is in and feel comfortable with the terms you negotiate. Personally, I find anything more than 30 days net, 45 tops, unreasonable but others appear to be much more accepting of long payment terms. It boggles my mind when I read things like the following, which once appeared on a translators' mailing list and had to do with an agency well known for being late payers:

    "Most of the projects are very interesting, however, they take forever (up to 6 months) to pay. They do pay eventually but only after several reminders. PMs are very cooperative and nice to work with."

    ?!?!? Why would you put up with that? SIX months?! Having to waste your time chasing up payment with reminders?! So, to each his own - you have to determine for yourself what you are and are not willing to accept.

    6. "I don't belong to any translator association because not having any real work experience as a translator I am a bit reluctant to do so and I don't like the fact you have to pay for it."

    I've received a good number of jobs from people finding me on the Northern California Translators Association online database. The $45 annual fee is certainly worth it (to me). Many local organizations also plan events, such as talks by experts in the field or picnics, and it's a good way to get to know some colleagues and keep in touch with what's happening in our profession. Don't worry about experience - that's not a factor in whether you can join or participate. In fact, it may well be most beneficial to the "newbies".

    7. "When I look at your "library" I see a lot of translators' books. I'm sure they're not cheap and I couldn't afford ALL of them instantly. Is there THE book for beginners that you could recommend?"

    Books can be expensive but there's no need to get them all right away. With a limited budget, I would suggest spending your money on resources specific to your language combination first rather than on a general translation book. To read about translation as a profession, I would get those books from the library and maybe just take notes or make copies of the sections most pertinent for you. You'll probably read those books once, whereas you'll refer to language-specific resources countless times for years to come.

    Good dictionaries in your source and target languages are absolutely essential. Some resources, such as eurodicautom, are free on the web and very useful, but especially field-specific ones (legal, medical, technical etc) can cost up to several hundred dollars but are worth every penny when you can refer to it often and be confident that you are producing an accurate translation. I once had a teacher who said you should put at least 10% of your earnings right back into your business to invest in resources, marketing etc.

    For beginners, I wouldn't so much recommend THE book but rather THE source for up-to-date insight from working translators themselves: Lantra. As I've mentioned above, it's hundreds of emails each day, but if you know how to filter, you'll soon learn to pick and choose which messages you can glean a lot of insight from. Some issues discussed there include how to become a project manager, when to start a job, what to do when a client dies and so forth. Very interesting reading.... for free!

    For answers to more than 75 readers' questions, order the Tips for Translators eBook now!

  • Home | Services | Tips | Links | Contact

    © Copyright 1998 - 2009 Chantal Wilford