Posted by: patenttranslator | January 13, 2012

Offers of Translation Work That I Usually Ignore Even If I Don’t Have Much Else To Do

The second week of 2012 was a very slow week for me. I had only two jobs this week:

1.         I proofread and edited a translation of a fairly long Chinese patent, which took me about 4 hours. This translator is very good, but a lot of editing is still required. Incidentally, although I make pretty good money when I translate, I make at least as twice as much as when I translate per hour when I proofread the work of other translators before I send it to the client.

2.         I have been and still am translating a medical report: the case history (about 5 thousand words) of an 85-year old man who did not seem to have much luck in life. Both of his parents died when they were still quite young and he had no siblings or children, although he is still married. What he did and does have is a lot of diseases (diabetes, glaucoma, chronic venous insufficiency, heart disease, several heart surgeries).

In the interest of keeping all of his his information confidential, I am not going to identify the language, which means that he could be Japanese or European. It is almost as if God was punishing him by keeping him alive so that he could go through a lot of suffering for as long as possible. Maybe he did some really bad things in his previous incarnation. I became so curious about him that I had to use Google Earth to take a look at his house (the report also has his address although this kind of information is supposed to be blacked out). I do things like that sometime. It helps the translating process, I think.

But even on slow weeks like this, I usually ignore offers of potential or real work, as I did this week. After 25 years of freelance translating I don’t try nearly as hard to please everybody as I used to.

This week I ignored for instance a request for a price quote for a short translation of an excerpt from a Japanese contract that had to be done THE SAME DAY! I would have to charge a low flat fee, like 30 or 40 dollars, certify it, put my signature on stationary that was e-mailed to me in digital form, and then prepare an invoice and wait a month or more to receive all this money. I would probably have to work for more than an hour to do all this …. for measly 30 or 40 dollars. And I would probably still have done it if I were interested in the agency (I am not going to call an agency an LSP, I’ll call them what they are) that sent me the job. But the e-mail looked like it was sent to several people so that whoever answered first with the lowest bid would get the job. They even have a name for it: “first responders”.

So I ignored the e-mail. As far as I know, translators are not supposed to be “first responders”. That would be firefighters, or the dudes who come running with a stretcher to a scene of an accident, and who know how to drive really fast in crazy traffic with the siren at full blast and how to administer CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) and things like that, not translators like me. Firefighters and paramedics have a similar skill set, which is why they are called first responders. But translators are not supposed to be first responders. Or slaves.

Translators like me like to finish the book they are reading first before starting a new translation. We don’t like to be rushed for a measly 30 or 40 bucks! We treasure our comfort zone and intensely dislike people who want to mess up our quiet, peaceful and blessedly uneventful lives.

I also ignored several requests to go to a website and fill out forms so that I could be considered for potential translation work in the future.

Here is an excerpt from one of the e-mails: The Language Geniuses (not their real name) are looking for the best and brightest to contract as translators. Being that you are an ATA member, we know you would be a great asset to our team. We best form partnerships with individuals who have a customer-oriented mindset and who try to stay on the cutting edge of the language industry.

I am an ATA member, but that does not mean that I would be a great asset to their team. Don’t The Language Geniuses know that all you have to do to be an ATA member is pay the ATA a yearly membership fee of 160 dollars? They must know that. They just don’t seem to be smart enough to come up with a better pick-up line.

I must say, filling out forms of generic translation agencies is not exactly my concept of “trying to stay on the cutting edge of the language industry”. I now usually only send in response without any further comment a link to one of my posts from last year to geniuses who are exhorting me to join their team, namely this link.

I also ignored a request to quote a price for translating a patent into Japanese, Chinese and four European languages, which was sent to me by a patent law firm in Israel. It would be a huge job, I don’t remember the exact number of words, but it was more than 5 thousand words per language.

I occasionally (actually, quite often these days) translate patents from English into other languages, but only for clients that I know and trust to pay me on time. I specialize in translating into English, because that means that I can do most of the work myself. But I can only translate into English. What if something goes wrong and the law firm in Israel does not pay me? I would still have to pay the translators.

I quoted on several projects to patent law firms in Israel last year for translations of long Japanese and Chinese patents, but never got any response from them. They must be casting a wide net and looking for rock bottom prices over there.

I will still quote for translation into English if I get a translation price quote request, regardless of in which country the customer is located, but not on a risky project like this. I don’t want to be left holding the bag.

So these were some examples of offers of work that I ignored this week.

I probably could have made a little bit more money had I been more industrious and less capricious this week, maybe quite a bit more money if the stars were properly aligned, with the Moon and Venus in the seventh house.

And I could use the money – April 15th (when taxes are due in US) is just around the corner.

But who needs the aggravation?


  1. Ha — I also got the e-mail from The Language Geniuses, but the message to me actually mentioned one of my language pairs. I wasn’t taken by the pick-up line (nicely put), but their Payment Practices rating was pretty good, so I filled out the online form. And, as is my practice these days, I responded with an e-mail and asked my own questions — what kind of work do you get in my languages, what kind of volume, that sort of thing.

    And you know what I got in response? Another initial e-mail — the exact same one as the first one — from a different staff member. Sheesh.

    Thanks for the perspective,


  2. They mentioned one of my languages too (Czech).

    I consider unsolicited e-mails of this type spam because that is what they are.

    It is clear from the formulation of these e-mails that they are phony and fake and designed to deceive with a stupid pick-up line. Unless your rates are very, very “competitive”, you will not get any work from outfits like these even if they do get some work at some point in your language combination, which may or may not happen.

    That’s why they need to cram their database with translators in various language combination in advance when they have no work for you.


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