Posted by: patenttranslator | July 26, 2012

Translation Agencies Need To Start Hiring Smarter Coordinators

I received the following e-mail under the heading “Translation Offer” a few days ago:

“Dear Steve,

Could help us [sic] with a FR>EN test translation we currently have to prepare in the course of a tender published by the [name of the government office advertising the tender]? The parts of the attached document which have been highlighted with the help of red boxes (approx. 1,400 words) have to be translated by 8 am GMT tomorrow. Would that work for you?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

[name of the coordinator

Project Manager

I was pretty sure I never worked for this agency. I checked out the website of the agency and I had a vague memory of having been contacted by them at some point in the past because the website looked familiar. It was one of those websites of translation agencies that is filled with stupid marketing lingo that gives the reader no idea whatsoever what kind of translation the agency is specializing in – mainly because the agency specializes in everything, from translation and consultancy all the way to “transcreation” and “your total solution” (which to me sounds like Endlösung, or The Final Solution in German). But that’s me, it probably sounded good to the marketing geniuses who created the text on that website.

I never mention names of translation agencies and persons on my blog, except when I am praising them, which does not happen very often, so I will stick to my rule also in this case. I was kind of put off by the fact that they thought that I would translate 1,400 words for them for free although I don’t know them from Adam. Qui, moi? Jamais! But I did Google that particular tender and I found it. So had I wanted to do so, I could have just submitted my own proposal for that tender. I did not do that because the subject was not really my cup of tea. It was not technical and it had nothing to do with patents.

I went downstairs to brew another cup of coffee for myself and by the time I was back with the cup full of life saving liquid and a tiny blackberry/nectarine pastry in my greedy hands, I had another e-mail from them in my mailbox which said:

“Dear Steve,

Just a quick note that I’ve just been able to place this job.”

Man, that was quick, I thought to myself.

And then I thought, of course it was quick. Every day I have to delete from my e-mail dozens of résumés from people all over the world who are hungry for work. There are hundreds of e-mails with the heading “Perfect Translation Skills Available” there right now as this has been for some reason the most popular heading for spam from hungry translators for about the last two weeks. So I assume that some of these hungry translators must have ended up in the database of this translation agency and one lucky recipient of the same e-mail that I received from them will be translating 1,400 words from French to English ….. for free.

It is possible that the translation agency will snag the prize of this particular tender. But I think that it is not very likely. People who are eager to work for free and who have the time to fit in a job within a day are usually without work for a reason. I think that the chances are that this particular “first responder” will not do a very good job on that particular translation, although it did not seem very difficult.

I also think it is quite likely that  a translator with an entrepreneurial spirit has found the tender just like I did and then submitted an offer directly. Or that several translators did exactly that, depending on how many persons received the same e-mail.

If I had to submit a bid to a potentially important client and needed a translator for a language that I don’t translate myself, I would call in person the best translator known to me in that language and subject combination, explain the situation and ask her or him very nicely whether s(he) could do the translation for me at a somewhat lower rate than usual.

This is because I believe that asking people to work for me for free is not only extremely rude, but also immoral, especially if I don’t know them.

But that’s just me. I realize that The American Civil War did not really end the era of free labor in 1865. There is plenty of free labor around us. They just give it different names, like free tests, internships, “stiffing”, etc.



  1. You know what, Steve? When I saw your first video clip in this post, my first thought was the movie, “Point of No Return” of the year 1993. The protagonist, Maggie, is fond of Nina Simone.

    And my second thought was the song “Tómame o déjame” by Mercedades:

    But, then I clicked on “Nina Simone – Love Me or Leave Me,” I found myself listening to a piece of music with parts that could have been cut off from J.S. Bach and flow into a song that, well, I don’t know of whose style it could be.

    Thanks for that piece of Nina Simone!

    “I realize that The American Civil War did not really end the era of free labor in 1865. There is plenty of free labor around us. They just give it different names, like free tests, internships, “stiffing”, etc.”

    Indeed, there is plenty of free labor around us. We are made to captcha and to recaptcha. Then, some of us will be learning foreign languages by translating for free. Some are made to be submissive and subservient in order to be tagged scarlet and called “professional translators” and so on.

    Some people call these practices “random acts of kindness on the web.” So, some people pay to be introduced into the New Age of Slavery (the Age of Total Solution).

    Aren’t we lucky to be able to keep ourselves away from exploitation?


    • Talking about great movies in which Nina Simone is prominently mentioned, have you seen “Before Sunrise”?

      I loved that movie.


      • Ah, that nice movie I saw on flight from São Paulo to Paris back in the middle of 90s. Yes, I like it, too. It reminds me of my youth, the days when I got acquainted with my wife.

        I guess you mean the scene when Jesse and Céline were in a phonograph shop. The music is great. However, the most striking scene for me is when they walked along the Donaukanal and met a man who offered to write a poem for them with a word of their choice in it. That’s a nice way to “earn” some money, instead of begging.


  2. As an account manager at a localization agency, I don’t spend any time working on a tender unless I think I have at least a 70% chance of winning it. And then I spend 10, 20, maybe even 50 hours putting together my company’s response to the tender. Considering that I’m investing many hundreds of dollars worth of my own time in winning this, and probably a few hundred dollars worth of my colleagues’ time if I need help from them, which I usually do, I absolutely do not balk at paying full price to get the best translator I can find to translate any necessary “tests” for me. The test translator’s fee — even with rush charges — is usually only a small fraction of the full cost of putting together a typical, winning tender, and is money well spent in my view. So I agree with most of what you wrote above.

    But I have to ask, what made you believe that the coordinator who sent you that “Translation Offer” wasn’t willing to pay you for your work? To my eye, he/she might have been expecting to pay you for your excellent work, but neglected to mention this fact in the message.


  3. You could be right, maybe I jumped to the wrong conclusion.

    But I never worked for them and she never asked about my rate. She does not even know my rate and she never saw anything I translated. She probably just found my website …. and somehow missed that I specialize in patents, since this text was not technical at all.

    Based on my experience with agencies during the last 25 years, and the fact that she never mentioned anything about payment, I think that she was probably fishing for a freebee.

    And let’s also remember that she was not really interested in having me translate the text anyway – by the time I made myself a cup of coffee, she found herself a willing victim. So she must have sent the same message to a number of people. The priority for her was a fast response, not the quality of the work, which is very common these days.

    And I think that it was really dumb of her to identify the tender so that anybody could find out about it and submit a bid.

    As far as I am concerned, just about everything she did was wrong. That’s why I wrote the post. Writing it made me feel a little bit better.


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