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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Getting Started in translation

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people who are interested in becoming translators or people freshly out of translation school who don’t really know how to go about getting started. If you visit any random translation forum or professional online group, you’ll find tons of threads asking more experienced translators how they got started. The truth is everyone gets started in a very different way. Some people studied for years to become translators and then moved on to work in-house before deciding to go freelance. Some try to build their own business right off the bat. Others, like myself, just sort of land in the industry by accident and have to work extra hard to learn the ropes and make a good name for themselves. Regardless of how or why you chose a career in translation, getting started is hard.

If you’re sensitive to your surroundings, the first thing you’ll notice about the industry is just how many great, qualified people you’re going to have to compete with. This is particularly scary when you’re new. When you get to know other linguists, you realize everyone else has a lot to offer and this can make you seriously doubt your own qualifications, but it shouldn’t. The good news is, you probably have a lot to offer as well and if you’re not sure what that is a good way of finding out is by studying other professionals. Visit their profiles, see how the best market themselves, see what courses they take, what interests they have, even what books they read and try to follow suit. When I first started I picked a handful of particularly successful translators who I knew personally, and for whom I felt a great deal of admiration and respect, and tried to learn as much as I could from them. I signed up to every class they taught and read every book they published until I was ready to start experimenting on my own. Honestly, the experimenting and learning never really ended. I still try to learn as much as I can from my colleagues, but it’s a give and take process and if you want others to help you, you have to be ready to help others in return.

In my attempt to help, here’s what I think every newbie should consider when starting out.

1. Specialize

It is intellectually dishonest to claim to be able to translate everything. No one can handle every single topic out there accurately and efficiently. If you think about it, there is not a single profession that does not require a certain degree of specialization, doctors specialize, lawyers specialize, engineers specialize, and there’s a reason for that. If you plan on becoming a quality oriented professional, specializing might be a good idea. How to choose your specialization is a whole other story!

2. Don’t sell yourself short

Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you have to be extra cheap or sell yourself short. The only thing you accomplish by doing that is lowering the bar for everyone else in the industry. The more professionals willing to work for peanuts and let clients treat them like doormats, the harder it is for self-respecting professionals to get the rates and respect they deserve. You’re new and maybe a little young and/or inexperienced, but you’re a professional and you deserve to be treated as such. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. Stick to your mother tongue

There is a great deal of debate on whether or not translators should stick to their mother tongues only. Personally, I believe that in an ideal world linguists would pair up, a native speaker of the source language would provide insight on the source text while a native speaker of the target language would translate. But this is my personal view; overall the best of the best translate into their mother tongue. Can you have more than one mother tongue? Again, this is largely questioned in our industry. I believe you can, others believe you can’t. If you do have more than one mother tongue, find ways to prove it. Marketing yourself as a fully bilingual person is not easy and doing it right requires a lot of research.

4. Team up when you can

Two eyes are better than one. Most clients demand flawless work, to provide that, you may want to consider teaming up someone who is willing to edit your work before final delivery. As someone who does a lot of Quality Management for translation companies, I can really tell the difference when I’m looking at work that was reviewed before delivery, especially when it was reviewed by an objective third party. When you put your heart and soul into a translation, you can sometimes lose perspective. It’s almost like climbing a mountain, when you’re actually on the mountain you can’t see the whole thing. Sometimes you need distance to see things for what they really are. Another pair of eyes can help broaden your perspective and render better quality work.

5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

I recently received an email from a linguist who spent years working as a freelancer for the same large translation company. The company is currently undergoing many internal changes and is not outsourcing as much as it used to, and these internal changes are now seriously affecting this person’s income. If you’re thinking of working as a freelancer, try to get as many good clients as you can. In my experience, great things always happen when I move out of my comfort zone and go in search of new horizons.

6. Get a support group

Freelancing is amazing, it gives you total freedom to work for whoever you want, whenever you want, from wherever you want. But this freedom comes with a price: isolation. Most freelancers work alone from home or offices and have very little interaction with other people, especially with other freelancers with whom they can vent after a long day’s work. When you start working on your own, there’s always a chance of getting sucked in by your work. To prevent that, don’t forget to interact with other people. Join groups, try to participate in forums, meet people who share the same interests as you. Handling the setbacks of the freelance translation life is a lot easier when you’re in contact with other people who really understand what you’re talking about. Not that your friends and family won’t, but they may not understand you as well as a fellow linguist.

I could probably keep writing about this all night, however, if I did, I seriously doubt that that anyone would keep reading. So, for now, I’m just going to close with this: There is no big secret to getting started, nothing experienced translators aren’t already sharing all over the internet, and nothing you probably can’t figure out on your own. So good luck getting started and thanks for reading!

To learn more about the author visit her professional profile on LinkedIn or Proz, and if you like what you read visit the author’s blog on Law and Language.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Update 2: changes and why I’m not celebrating!

After a much awaited announcement from regarding changes to the site, many translators yesterday felt we had won. Many people celebrated Henry’s changes and were ready to thank him for acknowledging our demands and taking the translator’s side in what the site now admits is a problem to which it contributed.

I have to admit, the phrasing behind these changes is great. I worked in sales for a while and I admire how Proz made their “efforts” look professional and serious. Henry’s heartfelt little video with his hair all undone as if he’d been working like a maniac and his facial expressions accompanying words of admiration and support for translator was lovely, really! Two thumbs up to Henry’s performance! I almost bought it myself. But then I decided to read, and I mean REALLY read the changes announced. Once I did that, I realized our only victory was to get the site to admit a rates decrease exists, and that Proz helped it happen. Everything else is like trying to close up an open heart wound with a band-aid. Here’s why:

Change number 1:

“1. The pricing field will be removed from the job posting form.

This change is consistent with the fact that the individual translator is in the best position to determine what he or she needs to charge to deliver the quality required on a particular job.”

This is exactly what we were asking for, in fact the phrasing is clearly inspired on Wendell’s proposal and if it were all true I’d be applauding Henry and sending him a thank you basket instead of writing this post… but then comes change number 2.

“2. When consistent with member preference, posters will be given an opportunity to specify a budget range (after having posted).

An option to enter budget information will appear, with a suitable explanation, when among those who meet the specified criteria there are one or more members who prefer to take budget information into consideration when deciding whether or not to quote.”

Which basically means outsourcers will still be able to set price ranges (for instance 0.01 to 0.015), but the only people that will be able to see that are the linguists who opted in to see pricing information, the rest will be blind to the abusive price range. Is it just me or is this starting to contradict change number 1? I’ll hand it to them, this one is ambiguous and could be interpreted differently, so just to make it clear that the site is not making any substantial changes, but simply adopting a “hear no evil, see no evil” policy change 3 tells us:

“ 3. Even when a client budget range has been specified, it will not be published by default.

Client budget ranges will be accessible only to members who (1) have expressed a preference to consider client budgets, and (2) meet the specified job criteria. (This eliminates the possibility for the job posting system to be used to "popularize" low rates.)”

The problem will still be there. Outsourcers will still be able to try to stick us with abusive, cut-throat rates; we can just choose not to see them! So the problem is not really solved, it’s just not visible anymore.

Then comes the really scary one, change number 4:

“4. More information -- supplied by the community -- will be made available concerning the price of professional translation.

In the void left by the decreased publication of poster positions on rates, guides entitled "Determining what service you need and what it will cost" and "Determining your rates and fees as a translator", will be introduced. These guides, linked to from the job posting and job quoting forms, are already being built by the community in the wiki. (Please consider contributing.)

Together with the guides, real-time data on rates charged by members will be made available for reference by job posters and those quoting. (This will be the topic of further notices in this site area.)”

I’m no economy expert, but I’m pretty sure COMPETETION is a determining factor in a market economy. Maybe I’m understanding this one wrong, but it seems to me Proz is somehow planning to gather information about rates from us, and give it to outsourcers to help guide them when SETTING RATES (change 2, see how they’re still able to set rates for us?). Needless, to say, the system relies on very sensitive information that could be used against translators in more ways than one.


A long time ago when Proz very questionably created Turn-Key translations and clearly offered agency-like services many of us shared our concerns with Henry. Back then, I pointed out several ethical/legal issues that Henry never replied to, but which in complete violation of the nulla poena sine lege principle lead to a brand new rule on the site banning us from raising legal questions in forums in order to give the Thought Police yet another rule with which to justify their abusive use of censorship. Back then, the question Henry never answered was whether he was missing our point to avoid having to do the right thing or if he was missing it because he’s just not capable of understanding what we, as paying customers, are really asking to do. I am once again left with the same question. Did Henry miss the point about NOT LETTING OUTSOURCERS DETERMINE RATES FOR US because it’s inconvenient for the site (on the count that they might possibly lose all those agencies as clients) or are they missing it because they just don’t get it? I’m inclined to the one where actually making a difference could affect’s interests, how about you?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Update 1: Proposal related to barring outsourcers from offering rate at outset of job discussions

As some of you know, is reviewing a proposal that was presented by several colleagues. The site opened a private forum to discuss the implementation of this proposal. I promised to give TEBP members regular updates of what’s being discussed. So this is my first update.

1) Background Information:
First came the petition.

As many of you know, a little while ago some of our colleagues in Italy posted a petition aimed at Although the petition has been closed and no new signatures are being accepted, you can read it here:

Then came the proposal.

You can read the proposal here: our group discussed it here:

Now, the forum.

As a result, Proz invited those of us who cosponsored the petition (please note, I cosponsored as an individual and not on behalf of our entire group since that is clearly a personal decision) to participate in a private forum to discuss the implementation of the petition.

Although my updates will eventually cover every issue, this one focuses on a thread Henry opened under the name “Proposal related to barring outsourcers from offering rate at outset of job discussions.” Before posting my update, please not I specifically asked Henry if I could post these updates in one of the threads and he wrote: “But you don't have to consider anything here confidential, at least not in my opinion. So go ahead and discuss elsewhere, if you want.” For the purpose of this discussion, I will quote some parts of the forum.

The part of the proposal being discussed reads:

1. Job-Posting Form

a) Outsourcers should no longer be permitted to indicate the price they are offering or intend to pay for a given translation or interpreting project, and that portion of the job-posting form should be eliminated.

b) Outsourcers should not include pricing or rate information anywhere else in the body of their job posting. To that end, job postings should be monitored and removed, if necessary.

c) Outsourcers should be advised clearly of the reason for such changes on the form they use to post a job.

d) Pursuant to c), above, we propose that feature the following statement prominently on its job-posting form: “ has removed pricing information from the job-posting form because we believe that translators, as professional service providers, are in the best position to determine their own rates, which vary according to type and format of the text involved, the subject matter, the level of urgency, and the technical expertise required, among other factors. is convinced that quality in translation is ensured not by seeking the lowest rate available but by choosing skilled, competent translators. In keeping with the years of commitment and training required to become qualified professionals, translators and interpreters deserve adequate compensation for their work.”

2. Emailing of job offers to individual translators/interpreters using ProZ mail

a) Because of the above policy—that outsourcers may not indicate pricing information or maximums in their offers to translators and interpreters—we propose that the same vigilance be extended to first-contact email messages initiated by outsourcers using the messaging systems. In initiating first contact with a translation professional via such messages for the sole purpose of soliciting candidates for a project, outsourcers may not indicate specific price ranges, limits, or maximums. already possesses the ability to monitor system messages for violations of policies (the profile message form itself states: “Messages may be subject to review or vetting by site staff”); thus, we propose that extend such monitoring to messages initiated by outsourcers for the sole purpose of soliciting services from one or more translation professionals.

b) In addition (or, if the above proposal is not accepted, in the alternative), we propose that ProZ modify the warning language (“Rules for sending profile messages”) that accompanies the email form to include: “Outsourcers initiating first contact with a translation professional for the purpose of soliciting services may not indicate specific pricing, price ranges, limits, or maximums in their messages.”

To this, in the very first page of the thread Henry:
1) Started by saying that he will not agree to implement the part about barring outsources from indicating any offering price.

2) He then quotes the parts of the petition that say "professional service providers are in the best position to determine their own rates,” etc. and agrees with the overall idea. He claims Proz isn’t happy with abusive offers either, but…

“Here is why we won't implement the proposal exactly as stated. The idea of barring outsourcers from indicating any offering price has been considered before, and was discarded, in part because the absence of information from the client related to payment (or "budgeting", if you will) is not necessarily considered to be in the best interest of translators. Among the scenarios that could be considered are the one in which the client has no intention (or ability) to pay a reasonable rate, in which case time will be saved in knowing that at the outset, and the one in which the client is prepared to offer more than some service providers might otherwise quote. (Though much less publicized than the other scenario, such postings are made on a daily basis. Related, one of the actions that has been planned coming out of the petition is that more data on rates be made available to the community.)

Those two scenarios are not the only reason not to ban offering prices, but other than mentioning's guiding principles, and in particular, point #9 at ("Member discretion is given precedence over administrator discretion"), I'll leave it at that.”

3) Instead he proposes a strategy he summarized as "recognize, contain and filter". Consisting of the following:

“rather than attempting to "ban" (or in truth, "delay") the broaching of rates negotiation by outsourcers, our plan is to provide a dedicated place for budgeting information to be entered, when the client wishes to enter it (with appropriate messaging, perhaps even messaging providing reasons not to enter rates information). With budgeting information having been identified, it would be confined to a dedicated field -- and that approach supported by a policy barring the mention of rates in the *text* of a posting or profile message -- it could then be "contained", with access to it "filtered", thereby eliminating the potential that would be used to propagandize on rates.

How would access be filtered? In a few ways. For one thing, a better job could be done of making sure that job postings below rates you work at do not appear to you, or get emailed to you. For those who do not specify rates in their profiles (or for those who are not logged in), the decision on whether or not to display a job on the home page could be based on the rates of the community. If the outsourcer's budget is lower than the rates charged by 2/3's of the community, for example, it would not appear by default on the home page.

Filtering would also be based on another preference: the option not to see budgeting information at all (even when it has been specified.) Those who prefer to review job postings, or receive profile messages with budgeting information displayed (when it has been supplied by the outsourcer), could set things up that way. Otherwise, by default, outsourcer budgeting information would not be displayed.

As for the messages -- that "professional service providers are in the best position to determine their own rates", "quality in translation is ensured not by seeking the lowest rate available but by choosing skilled, competent translators", "years of commitment and training are required to become qualified" and "translators and interpreters deserve adequate compensation for their work" -- I can imagine a site area dedicated to the topic of rates, linked to from the job posting and quoting forms, with the two "information sheets" proposed elsewhere (one for translators, one for clients, created in a wiki) made available, along with actual data on rates charged by professionals, as expressed in profiles / job posting filters. What such an approach could provide is very significant: a means by which translators can jointly determine (1) the message that goes out to outsourcers and quoters, and (2) the rate below which job postings will not appear by default. In other words, control over all of this would be in the hands of translators (where it is anyway.)”

Forum participants were not happy about this proposal, but despite many well-founded objections Henry said he was not going to budge on this. Since I do not have express permission from forum participants to discuss their posts elsewhere, I cannot provide a transcription of what was said throughout the thread. However, I think my reply to Henry on this may shed some light on what's being discussed:

[quote]The reason I accepted Jared’s invitation to participate in this thread is because I wanted to give Proz the benefit of the doubt. I must admit I was disappointed by Henry’s initial decision not to bar outsourcers from indicating any price offering, but I still read through the whole long thread hoping there was an acceptable, fact-based reason for this. Couldn’t find one yet. So based on the reasons expressed so far, I have some questions for Henry and I respectfully request that each of those questions is answered.


1) What would you say if I told you from now on I am only willing to pay $10 dollars a year for full membership?

2) As we all know, rates are dropping. That’s why we’re having this discussion in the first place. That in mind, what would you say if I told you the reason I’m only going to pay $10 dollars a year is because I really can’t afford to pay more on the count of that decrease? (Following your logic that there is “nothing inherently wrong” with letting people who don’t have the “ability” to pay reasonable rates post unreasonable offers.)

Henry, you wrote
Now, who would see this posting? Herein lies the big difference between what the working group proposed and what I have called a better solution: In the approach I outlined, by default, no one would see this job! Not on the home page and not on the job listing page. What is more, notifications would not go out. Why? Because the rate would be known, and display and notifications could be filtered accordingly. This job would not be displayed or go to anyone, because it is a commercial job that pays less than 1 cent, and there is no one in the database that accepts less than one cent per word for commercial work. (Fractions of a cent are not recognized.)

You claim this is useful because…

The only way that people would be able to find this job would be to click "also show jobs below my rates." This is not likely to happen frequently, and if it does, at least the viewer will know what he/she is dealing with.

3) Can you provide empirical evidence of how this could help?

4) How exactly will this work? Would all users have to provide Proz with their rates? If so, would that information be public or private? Has Proz assessed the risk of people lowering the rates they input just to be able to see these offers and, therefore, starting a new cycle of low rates?

the situation is not as bad as it appears, one thread focused on that lately

5) Is this based on empirical evidence? If so, can you please name your sources for reference and for the sake of a founded discussion?

Petitioners are so sure that something has changed in the industry, even if it has not (yet) changed for them, that they are deciding to "put their money where their mouth is", and do something that is not in their own best commercial interest.

5) How is what we’re doing not in our best commercial interest? What are you founding this statement on?

I have kicked off a survey to get more insight into the opinions and priorities of members as they pertain to this proposal.

6) What objective criteria are you using for this survey? Was this statement meant to be as condescending as it sounds?