Posted by: patenttranslator | February 26, 2013

Does It Makes Sense To Charge For Translations By The Word?


Responses

  1. I think the system generally used here in Austria (and in other German-speaking countries, I believe) makes sense. Price per line of the target language.
    I can recomment a wonderful tool: http://www.amtrad.it/feewizardol.php

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    • Yes, price per line makes sense for German.

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      • But it is used in both directions. Still makes sense to me!

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  2. My answer to your question is DEFINITELY NOT, but for different reasons than those you have discussed. Quoting rates, particularly to agencies and middlemen, places an automatic cap on what we can charge, regardless of the nature and size of a project, exchange rates, etc., and only serves the interests of the translation ‘industry’ and their control over the profession. We should ask for the files to be inspected, and use whatever method suits us best internally to calculate our fees/charges, but only quote a total fee for the project, together with our terms and conditions for accepting any instructions.

    We must differentiate the ‘profession’ from the ‘industry’ by how we act and charge for our services. For example: (e-mail from agency) “We have a project of 7,000 words that needs to be completed in 2 days and we offer €0.07 per source word”. Answer: (ignore details provided) Thank you for your enquiry. Please send the file(s) and we will be happy to provide an estimate of a our fee and a possible completion date (subject to the timing of your final instructions to proceed), together with our terms and conditions for accepting your instructions, including payment options.

    Very different from what most of us do, isn’t it? If most of us start to act as professionals (together with a number of other strategies we can use), things will start to change, but until then, things will only get worse I fear.

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  3. “Quoting rates, particularly to agencies and middlemen, places an automatic cap on what we can charge”

    I think that the opposite is true.

    If somebody wants me to translate three patents, a total of 50 pages, I can tell him that I need to see the documents first so that then I quote based on the price per word if the client does not know the number of words, which is usually the case.

    The client can then compare my quote to other quotes, of course, and the word unit is a convenient yardstick both for the client and for me.

    It is true that I am at this point perhaps too expensive to many agencies, but that is a separate matter.

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  4. […] This is how I have been charging for my translations, with few exceptions, since I hung out I my shingle as a freelance translator in San Francisco in 1987. But is it the best way to determine how much a translation should cost?  […]

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  5. […] Methods for arriving at the cost of a translation.  […]

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  6. Funny, I just ran into a (ridiculously low) quote per symbol (meaning character I suppose):

    “1.English – Portugese
    2.English – Danish
    3.English – Dutch

    Please bid only if you can take 1800 symbols at a fee less than 5 EUR. The project has approximatly 90.000 symbols and is going to be continuous.”
    (on TranslatorsCafe.com)

    Let’s not go into that discussion….

    I quote per word (mostly English-Dutch). Some clients prefer the source and some the target document for the word count. I tend not to make a big issue of it. You win some and you lose some (just like on the exchange rate, or everything else in life). Especially on chemical names EN->NL (or ->GE for that matter) you lose some (-:

    Bu then, it is not really the amount of words that determines how much you earn, but the amount of time you spend on the translation. Sometimes 3 words can take more time than 100 words. Since we have to use something to measure by, I think per word is fine. Like Steve said, a convenient yardstick. But a responsible translator will always look at the source first before agreeing on the rate. Haven’t we all had our surprises sometimes?

    I keep an Excel sheet with the time I spend on each translation and recalculate the word rate to an hourly rate. Depending on the difficulty of the translation that number may vary with a factor 2. But don’t misunderstand me, I am not for an hourly rate. I rather like the variation. I have a good day when I have a chemical synthesis patent, because if the introduction is not too long and the description comes right down to the chemical stuff, I can translate it pretty fast. So the day is good because of the fast work and hence high hourly rate. On the other hand, a lower hourly rate often means that the translation was more of a challenge, which is rewarding in another way, and I end up having a good day again…

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    • “Haven’t we all had our surprises sometimes?”

      Oh yes, less experienced translators have more surprises more often. I had many more surprises in the days when I was streetwalking at the proZtitution site 5 years ago than nowadays after I have built up my own more or less direct clientele.

      Direct clients or reasonable agencies know how to adjust the payments to keep their reliable translators. With such clients, I don’t mind if they pay by hours, words, lines or characters at all. They know fairness is not just a word.

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    • I get offers to work for next to nothing occasionally.

      I ignore them, or something they inspire me to a post.

      I am not sure where they get my e-mail.

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    • “On the other hand, a lower hourly rate often means that the translation was more of a challenge, which is rewarding in another way, and I end up having a good day again…”

      Confucius says: “在低利率,無法獲得翻譯的高” (“One can not attain translator’s high at low rates”).

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    • Hmm, Steve, I guess it was a quote of Confusius again.

      Molière is quoted, “L’écriture est comme la prostitution. D’abord, vous le faire pour l’amour, et puis pour quelques amis proches quelques années, puis de l’argent.” (Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.)

      I like the quote. It’s almost the same with translation. Ending up having a good day with a low rate is like having done it either with the “amor de mis amores” (love of my loves) or with one of “mis amores.” But I usually do it “de l’argent”.

      In fact, there are high and low rates, like what Moustaki sings, “Viens, je suis là, je n’attends que toi. Tout est possible, tout est permis.” (Come on, I’m here, I’m waiting for you. Everything is possible, everything is permitted.)

      Someone wrote, “There are clients with low-quality needs, clients with top-quality needs, and the gamut in between. There are translators to accommodate all those markets. Over time, the choice is ours.”

      I don’t mind that there is always someone who makes a different choice. Chairman Mao chided once, “What, there are people who prostitute around and yet expect portas de castidas being erected for them?!” I am glad that I have made my choice – “de l’argent et rien de plus.” Never would I expect a “porta de castidas” erected for me.

      “Man zahlt und du musst tanzen.” (They pay and you must dance.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wenjer:

        You are aware that this is a totally bogus Confucius quote, correct?

        I made it up and then I translated it into traditional Chinese with Google Translate.

        I can see that all the proper characters are in there but I am not sure whether it makes sense in Chinese.

        (Steve, humming “man zahlt und du musst tanzen” to himself, translating yet another patent application).

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  7. Nice post! I usually charge by the source word. Charging by the target word makes no sense to me, for the exact same reasons that you discuss. What’s to stop me from fluffing up the target text? But, similar to Barbra, I always estimate how much time a project will take in terms of hours, then decide on an hourly rate that I’m happy with (perhaps depending on difficulty or on how deep my client’s pockets are), and then convert that hourly rate back into the per-word rate. I know we as translators can’t/don’t really charge by the hour, but to me (and to see how effective my business runs) it all comes down to how much money I make per hour/week/month/year. After all, I pay my rent per month and not per number of hours actually spent inside my home.

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    • It makes a lot of sense to charge by the target word count if you translate from Japanese or German.

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  8. Interesting to hear how you charge when working with language combinations different from my own. I work from English, Italian, Norwegian and Danish to Swedish and charge by source word. It makes sense to me and I have never even thought about doing it in any other way. I guess it also comes down to what yo’re used to.

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  9. It works fine either way if you know what you are doing.

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    • “Fine either way” — well, yeah. Maybe. On condition you know what you are earning per hour *net*.
      Some comments here strike me as an odd (for me) mix of happy-go-lucky (“whatever!”) and yes-I’m-countin’-the-words-and-nobody’s-going-to-put-one-over-on-me.
      Can we agree that earning money is a good thing? And that charging a hefty amount improves your working conditions? (if only because clients take you more seriously).
      I work from Fr to Eng and charge per source word or per hour; my clients don’t have a problem with that as long as they understand the system — which is only natural.
      I sometimes think hourly fees get translators nervous because they are charging far too low to start. Go too low and there is a credibility issue right away.
      (Steve, I just checked and see that that angry person on Corinne’s blog works for $10/hour; no wonder he was so prickly).

      Liked by 1 person

      • “On condition you know what you are earning per hour *net*.”

        Trust me, I am acutely aware of this little detail. As I am getting older, I follow this number carefully, leaving behind former customers of many years, mostly translation agencies.

        The downward pressure on rates is in fact present in certain sectors of the translation industry. But there is also a trend toward “upward mobility” of rates for people like me who are working in US for customers in Europe. If your remember, after the Euro was introduced in 2001, it was about 80 Euro cents to 1 dollar, now it is about 1.3 dollars to 1 Euro. Things could change, but this exchange rate has been in place for about the last 10 years.

        I learned one thing from my last post: I thought that most people charge by the target language, but this is probably my misperception due to the fact that for a long time I was translating mostly Japanese to English for customers in US, in which case charging by the target language is the norm because customers would otherwise not know how to count words or determine the quantity of Japanese text.

        The angry person on Corrine’s blog is mean, especially to women, and dangerous.

        I figured him out early on and after my first, somewhat misguided advice (misguided because I thought that he would be able to listen to reason), I completely ignored him.

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      • Is this an insight comment about the nasty person making 10 USD/hour? I am missing the reference, but that may be because I tend to ignore nasty comments. And if that makes me (amongst others) one of the happy-go-lucky-persons Christine was referring to, I am glad (or should I say happy) to oblige (-;

        I have been enjoying myself while doing a good job in translating for ten years and am continuing to make good money in it. And yes, the reason I do not like an hourly rate is beause I think clients are not comfortable with a rate of 75 or more USD/hour (oops, I actually mentioned a number there).

        In the end it is all up to every individual him/herself to accept a job or not and to decide how much money you think your efforts are worth. And that is exactly what is so good about being a self employed worker; you can in fact decide this for yourself.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Methods for arriving at the cost of a translation.  […]

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  11. When would one place a semicolon — aka semi-colon — inside quotation marks? The entire sentence would be needed in order to discern whether it would be done, if ever. In addition, current practice places commas inside quotation marks (the ‘,” controversy lives). Finally, one would generally write 3,000 and 6,000 rather than 3 thousand and 6 thousand.

    As for lawyers running the world, I thought that the oil companies did that!

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    • What you just said is total nonsense.

      Don’t you see that?

      If you don’t understand why I placed the semicolon inside quotation marks …. What can I say?

      It must be a confusing world for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, I don’t understand why you put the semicolon inside the quotation marks, so what you could say would be precisely an explanation, if you have one. [Hint:the semicolon counts as 2 words in French].

        As for taking stuff to calm my nerves, are you taking anything to calm your sizable ego? [No].

        I will try to ignore you from now on.

        It is too bad because you used to have interesting comments, but I should try not to stoop to your level anymore, and this is probably the only way to do it.

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  12. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE3qtEZdUNU This is how I have been charging for my translations, with some exceptions, since I hung out I my shingle as a freelance translator in San Francisco in 19…  […]

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  13. @Barbra

    “Is this an insight comment about the nasty person making 10 USD/hour? I am missing the reference …”

    There was a post last year called How Much Do Translators Make, Is It Too Much?” on Corinne McKay’s blog Thoughts on Translation last year, which got a zillion comments, and more of them were dribbling in until last week when Corinne had to close off the comments because one guy turned out to be a nasty troll, calling a female commenter the b-word, etc.

    It’s not aimed at you.

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    • Watch out, Steve! Your blog is becoming a translators’ forum, i.e., a kind of deep bucket with crabs crawling upwards and dropping back into the bottom.

      There are a lot of problems in the industry. However, they won’t affect our freelancing when we find our ways in the right places for intellectual and financial satisfaction.

      The poor lion there at Corinne’s will never understand that his misery originates from his misbelief in cyberstreetwalking sites, not from the “arrogant, empty words” of translation colleagues.

      It’s really funny to read him asking for “hard data” and a list of well paying companies. It reminds me of someone asking me to recommend her to a French agency which is specialized in a certain field, because she heard that the company has a good name of paying well and because she heard that I work for the company since years. Well, I asked her to introduce herself to the agency and told her that I have no influence on the agency at all, knowing that her qualifications do not fit in that specific field at all. She was politely rejected, too. And she started complaining about my not helping her.

      It isn’t much easier to work with direct clients, either. One has to do a lot of homework getting in touch with them and getting prepared for the launch of each specific project. I just finished a discussion over the phone with a client who wants to introduce a certain product into the market of Taiwan. The discussion is about setting up a glossary for their specific terms and the subsequent translation of the user guides and technical manuals.

      The discussion wasn’t only with the client, but also with their agent for the local market. I wonder how many translators who stick to online portals would invest time and energy in this kind of work with their clients. Isn’t it easier to take on a job through bidding low at those online portals? That’s what some people are used to and it is inertia that prevents them from changing their attitudes toward the profession.

      I guess that’s the problem with the poor lion and his like. And that’s why they keep on running the hamsterwheel and complaining all along, because they are mistaking the steps of the hamsterwheel for the ladder leading to the Heaven of translators.

      Poor lions. They would jump out of the bridge into the abyss or drop dead treading the hamsterwheel with ten bucks an hour.

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  14. 1. “Watch out, Steve! Your blog is becoming a translators’ forum, i.e., a kind of deep bucket with crabs crawling upwards and dropping back into the bottom.”

    The more the merrier.

    2. “The discussion wasn’t only with the client, but also with their agent for the local market. I wonder how many translators who stick to online portals would invest time and energy in this kind of work with their clients. Isn’t it easier to take on a job through bidding low at those online portals? That’s what some people are used to and it is inertia that prevents them from changing their attitudes toward the profession.”

    Inertia and lack of long-term (there is that word again) strategy is a big problem.

    Most people seem to just buy a database of translation agencies and e-mail their resume to them, which will be instantly deleted and not read at all.

    That is the entire strategy on the part of many translators.

    I plan to write a post about it when I have some time.

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    • “The more the merrier.”

      The more the merrier? Well, I hope that you won’t be forced to do what Corinne had to do – closing discussions when the crabs start to fight against each other when they fall back to the bottom of the bucket.

      “I plan to write a post about it (long-term strategy) when I have some time.”

      That would be great. You see, I have no understanding for the poor lion and his like at all. It is not because of naiety that they expect other colleagues, as some colleagues at those cyberstreetwalking sites are doing, providing free advice (even better, “hard data”) and names of companies who pay well. It is greed that they ask colleagues names of such companies. Instead of working hard on their own clienteles, they choose to be parasites.

      For instance, the one I mentioned above, who asked me to introduce her to the French agency, is in my opinion definitely not fit for the subject matter the agency is specialized. Yet, she expected to be engaged by the agency. I would avoid recommend to any of my clients. The first question is always “Do I know this one well enough to recommend him/her to this specific client?” I do recommend some translation colleagues to clients or ask them to integrate into our workforces, but it happens only when I know both those colleagues and my clients well enough to handle eventualities.

      In a public forum or in comments to blog posts, we don’t talk about specific clients or collaborating colleauges with names. We figure out who is capable of doing whatever jobs and we would turn to them when there is an opportunity. But we would not expect unknown or unqualified people coming to us and ask for professional services without paying a decent fee.

      People who get used to cyberstreetwalkiing sites have a misbelief in getting everything for free, although they are unaware that they are paying in some other ways for the right to streetwalk there (paying with the loss of speech liberty, providing free services to the pimps, contributing to the popularity of the streetwalking sites or the loss of better perspectives of acquiring decent clients). That’s why they sit in the deep shit and become cranky, like the poor lion or the crabs in a deep bucket, and start attacking others without reasons.

      As you well recognized, Steve, there are indeed right places and wrong places as well as right methods and wrong methods to find and work on the right clients. Chris’ The Prosperous Translator provides plenty of insights, especially insights in the development of professional and marketing skills. However, the attitude of a translator determines the roughness or the smoothness of his/her career. This is why I participate translator discussions, I want to learn their DNAs, i.e., their attitudes in order to work on my own DNA for better perspectives.

      I am looking forward to your post about long-term strategy.

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  15. Thanks for sharing this, it makes a lot of sense. Of course when you switch over – or attempt to – from a per-word translation rate to a per-line or per-page rate, you are assuming a standard font type and size, average number of words per line/page, etc. This is something that would have to be very well defined prior to any agreement between client and service provider, as this may prove to be confusing later on.

    Regardless, I see your point of how a per line/page translation rate might be a viable alternative to a per-word rate. Definitely something to think about. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. “Of course when you switch over – or attempt to – from a per-word translation rate to a per-line or per-page rate, you are assuming a standard font type and size, average number of words per line/page, etc.”

    Good point. I think that as a result of Deutsche Gründlichkeit (typical German thoroughness), this is taken care of in German-speaking countries. I think they define “a standard number of strikes per line”, which would go into even more detail than the count using number of words, but I am not sure how precisely this works.

    This made me think of the differences between identification of addresses in Japan and in Europe or US. In Japan, the address is given as a series of smaller and smaller sections or squares, so that you will find the address only once you are in the smallest section.

    This it is very different from the Western system of cross-streets. Once I asked my Japanese colleague in Tokyo which system made more sense to him and he responded without a moment’s hesitation: “The Japanese system makes more sense!”.

    Once you get used to a certain type of system, it makes much more sense than any other system.

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  17. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE3qtEZdUNU This is how I have been charging for my translations, with some exceptions, since I hung out I my shingle as a freelance translator in San Francisco in 19…  […]

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  18. […] This is how I have been charging for my translations, with some exceptions, since I hung out I my shingle as a freelance translator in San Francisco in 1987. But is it the best way to determine how much a translation should …  […]

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  19. The euro was introduced in non-physical form (traveller’s cheques, electronic transfers, banking, etc.) at midnight on 1 January 1999. The euro notes and coins were introduced on 1 January 2002, at .85 euro for 1 dollar.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euro

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  20. So I am off by 1day and 5 cents, right?

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  21. More than that, actually. You did not say Dec 31, and a diffence of 5 cents is 6,25%. It’s not a minor mistake,

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  22. I remember distinctly that when I was reading my local paper, Virginian Pilot, sometime in 2001, 80 Euro cents was used for conversion to 1 US dollar in this paper.

    I did use the word “about” in my response and I believe 6.25% falls within the range allowed for the mathematical term “about”.

    But since Virginian Pilot is a poor excuse for a newspaper, I stopped reading it years ago.

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  23. Hi, Steve,

    My remark about your sizable ego was made in response to your nasty question about whether I was taking anything to calm my nerves. Further, my question about semi-colons and quotation marks was just that; I had failed to realize that you were after the far weightier matter of whether one would then count one word or two, enough to keep one up nights.

    Now then, I find that insults and sarcasm (from a man) in place of an answer, however silly it may seem, are often a true and direct gauge of ego size. That said, I will now leave you to your obsession with translation agencies, how much they and you should charge, and your superiority complex, as reflected in your putdown of even the “Virginian Pilot,” not just up to snuff in your opinion.

    To think that you once asked me to contribute to your blog! I had even toyed with the idea of offering to proofread your own blogs, given your random ideas about punctuation and such. Thank God I won’t have to “stoop to your level,” as you so elegantly put it.

    Ricky Lacina

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  24. […] links and Swedish writing course Faking it in foreign languages: How far can you get with Google? Does It Makes Sense To Charge For Translations By The Word? Update on the Court Interpreter Chaos in the United Kingdom Why speaking English can make you poor […]

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  25. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE3qtEZdUNU This is how I have been charging for my translations, with some exceptions, since I hung out I my shingle as a freelance translator in San Francisco in 19…  […]

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