Posted by: patenttranslator | December 6, 2013

Top Seven Mistakes to Avoid If You Want to Make Any Money As a Translator

New and beginning unispired translators often ask on LinkedIn, Translation Journal (which is now for sale!), or blogs and in other venues where unemployed and severely underemployed translators waste on average between 2 to 5 hours a day this question: where can I find well paying work?

What these new translators don’t seem to realize is that a “digital water cooler” is the last place where one should look for this kind of advice. Most of the people who have the time to provide free advice obviously don’t have enough work for themselves either, otherwise they would not be wasting their time answering dumb questions online.

And since translators who actually know how to get well paying jobs don’t exactly need a lot of competition from cheap newbies, most of the advice that old timers so generously dispense online is really well disguised misdirection aimed at squashing potential future competitors before they have a chance to start unnecessarily crowding the market place.

So I am not about to start explaining to inexperienced translators how to go about finding well paying translation work either. I am basically a nice guy – but not that nice. If I know where to find a well paying gig – and I just might – why would I want to share this knowledge with other people and then lose the gig?

Obviously, this is the kind of secret that I will not disclose on my blog and instead I will take it with me to my grave.

But what I can do for inexperienced translators is tell these people about the absolutely worst ways to be looking work. All of the resources listed here have work for translators. The problem is, you can count on really lousy rates and very long payment terms from all of these resources, at least 60 days net.



1. Contacting agencies listed in the List of Top 100 Translation Agencies helpfully prepared for us by the Common Sense Advisory. How do you think these agencies got so big and their owners so rich? By paying translators good money and fast? Or by paying the people who do the actual work as little as possible, they way KFC, McDonalds and Burger King have been doing it for decades?

By the way, thanks so much, Nataly Kelley and Donald A. DePalma, for the list! It is so nice, thoughtful and generous of you guys to let us know which agencies are best to avoid!

2. Accepting work from translation agencies who post messages to recruit translators on translator discussion groups (such as Honyaku), especially if these postings include something like this: We are looking for a translator who can translate chemical patent materials from Japanese to English. The translator will be required to use our agency’s translation tool “CAT Revolution/Agency Paradise CAT”.

Why do you think they are so enamored of their silly CAT? Obviously, because their Translation Agency Paradise CATTM will reduce the word count in your translation from 5,987 thousand words to 2,956 words (the tool does not count numbers, repeated words and “small words”) so as to pay you about a half of what you thought you would be making.

3. Looking for work on “Portals for Translators” such as Proz, GoTranslators, TranslatorsCafe, etc. (a new one pops up online every few months). When you have hordes of underemployed translators, some of them living in third world countries, competing on these “portals” among each other who will offer the lowest bid for one (1!) lousy job, what do you think the result will be? It does not take a genius to figure it out.

4. Accepting work from translation agencies in India or China.

No additional explanation should be required here.

5. Accepting work from translation agencies that are based in poor countries on any continent, such as Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, especially if they prominently feature on their website the Manhattan skyline, the London Bridge, Sidney Harbor or the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame de Paris with multiple addresses in respective countries.

The address is a mail box, and the purpose of the pretty pictures, (they also often use pictures of sexy, happy, smiling, young people, presumably highly qualified translators, and recently they have been also using puppies on their websites), is to convince potential customers that the agency is a respected company that is based in a major Western city with a high cost of living and high translation costs.

The translators, however, will be obviously paid the equivalent of the minimum wage paid where the agency is in fact located, such as in Moldova.

6. Accepting work from translation agencies who are looking for “post-editors” of machine translation rather than for translators. Why do you think this new occupation of “post-editor” was created in the first place? To save money that would be otherwise paid to real translators for real translations. If we could only have a world where software translates for free, and post-editors post-edit for peanuts, what a wonderful world it would be for translation agencies!

7. Soliciting work by sending thousands of junk e-mails to lists of translation agencies compiled by people who sell useless lists on CDs for hundreds of Euros to newbie translators. Every agency (and every non-agency on the CD, including yours truly) receives dozens or hundreds of resumes from these poor people every day.

Since these CDs also helpfully include an idiotic cover letter that all of these would-be translators simply copy and include with their resume (either because their English is not very strong or their reasoning skills are not very well developed), these offensive e-mails will be promptly deleted within a split second.


At this point I have only 7 top worst ways to look for work, but translators reading my advice are encouraged to submit their own proposals for other or even worst possible ways to be looking for work in all the wrong places and if I like the proposals, I will try to incorporate them in my post.

Also, if you are a hardcore masochist who does not really need any money and who gets his or her jollies from indescribable suffering and pain that can last for years or decades, you can use my list as a recommendation for places to go to satisfy your S&M cravings.

Whatever floats your boat. But if you are not really into S&M, don’t say I did not warn you!


Mistake Number 8 (from

Buy a CAT tool from the agency that tells you that you can expect a “long-time relationship” with them if you use this tool, and to prove it send you a 1000-word job for which you require this tool, and then never contact you again. They’ve tried that scam on me at least half a dozen times!


  1. Bravo! I learned what not to do the hard way. . .by seeing, over a period of a year, how futile these 7 directions are. What surprises me is that many, many translators are aware of the hazards inherent in these 7 directions, but continue to try to militate to reverse the unstoppable trends that drive them. . .I still don’t have a formula for locating steady direct clients, but at least I can rest easy in the knowledge that by abandoning the 7 unhelpful strategies, I am losing nothing.


    • Aw, shucks, thank you, ma’am.

      Keep working on that formula.


  2. LOL – I just read your Toblerone article… great observation! My high school German teacher introduced us to Toblerone around Christmas time (suburban Chicago)… man, I miss those days.

    This is related to nothing, but for some reason I thought of it… Steve, did you enjoy these Saturday Night Live skits back in the day? This is all I could find on YouTube, and they’re very short and only give a taste of how funny most of them were, but they’ll bring back memories…


  3. […] New and beginning unispired translators often ask on LinkedIn, Translation Journal (which is now for sale!), or blogs and in other venues where unemployed and severely underemployed translators was…  […]


  4. @Alex

    No, I was not watching Saturday Night Live back in the day because I lived in Europe and in Japan back then.

    I started watching it basically when they were making fun of Sara Palin.

    But that was so good, wasn’t it?

    Talking about Czechoslovakia, when I was in Japan, a Japanese colleague of mine told me a joke about the literacy test for voters in the South.

    A white guy goes into a voting both and the registrar tells him that he has to take a literacy test first.

    “Ok, so how do you spell “car”?

    After a long period of deliberation, the guy answers “c-a-r” and goes into the voting booth.

    Next comes a black guy.

    “OK, so how do you spell “Czechoslovakia?”

    At this point, although there are no literacy tests, less then 50% of Americans bother to vote in a typical election. Here in Virginia it is often around 30%.

    Isn’t that funny?


  5. 1a. Contacting agencies
    If you cannot help working for agencies, at least try to avoid agencies with websites decorated by logos of GALA and other similar “industrial associations”.

    2b. Accepting work from translation agencies
    If you cannot help working for agencies, at least try to avoid agencies that address you as “vendor”.

    8 (?). Pricing
    Try to think twice (at least) before you mention something like “competitive prices”.


  6. What is GALA?

    Ich habe keine Ahnung.


  7. GALA = Globalization and Localization Association

    The list of members would largely coincide with the list mentioned in Punkt Eins.


  8. So true, Valerij 🙂
    If one has about 40 minutes to spare, the following is a discussion by GALA members, this time about MT implementation in the LSP level that pretty much “reveals” (not that there was evidence to the contrary) their stance on MT (PEMpT to be more accurate), how untrue is the claim that “clients ask for it and vigorously push for MT” and what is the true value the brokers see in MT (hint: it has something to do with their margins).

    And if we are already on the subject, here is another short TAUS presentation about Pricing MT Post- editing. Note the mention of discounts, how to convince translators to accept these discounts, the idea of piggybacking on the unethical “established” ‘CAT-discounts’ scheme for PEMpT discount purposes, and the absence of any mention of success collaboration case-studies, the mental hazards of PEMT, fair compensation for one’s work, etc.

    These two videos (they are just a representative example) should give newcomers and even more seasoned translators a good idea about why they should not join the “industry’, and instead start practicing their profession.


    • What these gurus of the machine translation industry need to do is to persuade translators that they will only be able to survive if they become low-paid MT post-processors.

      I am sure that some translators will accept this as something that is inevitable, especially if they are not very good either as translators or as business people.

      But most translators will probably give a wide berth to this new industry because they understand that being an MT post-processor is a horrible way to die.


      • They already doing that. FUD is a common practice with them, more than showing any reliable evidence to their various claims about improved quality, happy post-editors who find the technology a godsend, etc.

        I suspect that many, mostly the zombie-type of translators (and others who develop and maintain their view on the market through biased bidding platforms and social media group), will buy into that.

        I also suspect that the grand plan of the MT-lobby is simply social engineering (they are already doing so). Disturb the market from the bottom because this is were easy to manipulate newcomers are extruded in, train them on the pillars of a self-serving propaganda (join us or get eliminated professional), while at the same time create a strong enough message (and when you have their resources and reach, saying something a hundred times eventually makes it the truth) to convince clients that they also depend on them.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. You can find old Saturday Night Live (the ’80s) on Netflix, if you have it. I don’t remember what the “two brothers from Bratislava” skits were called (Steve Martin & Dan Aykroyd)… maybe “wild and crazy guys”? But “Hans & Franz” are easy to look up – they spoof body builders and talk with an “Ahhnold accent”… and then Arnold shows up on one of the skits (and Danny DeVito too) and it’s just hilarious.

    Funny joke about voting in the old South! Why don’t people vote today? I wonder if it’s really apathy or if most Americans today are smart enough to realize that their votes don’t count anymore, because the whole system (both parties) has been totally corrupted and hijacked by a small billionaire elite? If you get a chance, watch the Mathew Broderick / Reese Witherspoon movie “Election” – not only is it very funny, but it’s a critique of our whole “democracy”, and basically shows exactly what I realized when I was in high school, observing high school elections – I thought “this is a joke – these elected students will have no power to do anything – all the power is with the administration… oh, and I bet the national elections are the same thing – power is all in the bureaucracy… politicians have only a little power, and that is all bought up by the superrich who finance their multimillion dollar campaigns.” But maybe I’m wrong… who knows?


  10. Oh, just remembered something else “Czech related”… as you may know, there were many Central and Eastern European immigrants to the Chicago area back in the early 1900s, so in my suburban high school we had 3rd generation kids with all kinds of interesting names. But there was a Czechoslovakian kid whose name took the cake – something like Gyoralchzeck – so, in PE class, our Gym teacher just called him “alphabet”. 🙂
    He was a funny kid too (in a good way)… long hair, laid back, kind of a stoner, I think. One day in PE class we played flag football in co-ed teams. And Alphabet somehow screwed up a play, and some girl team mate just let him have it – she was furious, but it hardly phased him at all – he was so cool – without even looking at her, and while walking away from her, he just ever-so-nonchalantly said “aw go suck a d__k”. The girl’s jaw just dropped in shock and everybody was laughing and shaking their heads. :p


  11. This site is an explanation of those “wild and crazy” guys, and why they’re not as funny today as they were at the time:

    And THIS…. this you just have to see – also from late ’70s…


  12. It is a funny commercial. It really made me laugh.

    But you know, Alex, the problem with the tomatoes, at Wendy’s and elsewhere these days is that they are almost completely tasteless, probably because they are genetically modified.

    But we don’t know that for sure because a couple of big corporations paid enough money to a few hundred politicians to make sure that genetically modified food is not labeled as such in US (in EU the law says that GM food must be labeled, so maybe they still have a modicum of democracy there).

    And most young people probably don’t even know that their tomatoes and strawberries are tasteless because this junk is what they have been eating their whole life. Sounds very much like communism to me.

    I wrote a post about this (tasteless tomatoes and strawberries) a couple of years ago.


  13. Sadly, you make a very good point. I’ve heard many foreigners in the US complain about the tasteless food here, and I know the difference firsthand, having lived in Germany and Japan myself… I love my country, but I keep thinking I better get out of here and live in Europe or maybe somewhere in Asia…


    • Twenty years ago I worked with a Russian chemist from Moscow, and the fellow was utterly appalled at the low quality of the vegetables in the markets where he lived in Orange County in California. When I brought him bags of fresh-dug potatoes or other products from the garden on my farm in Oregon, he and his wife fed most of it to their baby son, who they feared would be damaged by the American non-food. Most people do not realize that the commercial garbage labeled food is engineered for stability in shipping and a uniform ripening schedule, with taste or nutrition playing little or no role in development. That goes for non-GM food too.


  14. I lived as a permanent resident in Germany and in Japan and I could have stayed in either of these countries had I wanted to.

    But I did not want to be a foreigner forever.

    As many problems as this country has, it still suits me better than any other country that I have been to because I don’t feel that I am a foreigner here, which was something that I felt every day when I lived in Germany and in Japan.


    • Steve, my experience in Germany was that even if you reach the point where your accent, manner of dress and other habits make people think you are a German, the frequent complaints you will hear about foreigners will remind you that in important ways, you are forever an outsider unless you join the party in prejudice. At least the silly “blood” laws on citizenship have changed, so perhaps in a generation or two it will be taken for granted that “ein deutscher Neger” is no contradiction.


      • That’s why I got out of there 32 years ago.

        But as you know, every country has its own problems – so far I lived in four (Czechoslovakia, Germany, Japan and US), so I know that it’s always a tradeoff of some kind.

        It does not really matter that much in which country you live, because “Wherever you go, you will carry yourself with you”. I’m pretty sure it was Marcus Aurelius who said that.

        So, it’s the people that you know in a country where you live who make that country your home.

        At our age, it is mostly our children, but it could be other people too.


  15. So true! I’d add the following one: Buy a CAT tool from the agency that tells you that you can expect a “long-time relationship” with them if you use this tool, and to prove it send you a 1000-word job for which you require this tool, and then never contact you again. They’ve tried that scam on me at least half a dozen times!


  16. I’m glad to hear that you feel at home here… you’re right – I know what you mean about that… auslander and gaijin are such ugly words – I’m pretty sure foreigner doesn’t have the same connotation, at least not in the US? Heck, in Germany my friend told me that someone there didn’t like me because he thought I “look like a Turk”. LOL Whatever.


  17. Just found something pretty neat…

    Of course, this overstates the effective tax rate of those super-rich who earn tens of millions of dollars per year, because this is the rate for “ordinary income”, i.e., income actually earned from hard work, as opposed to passive investment income (capital gains and/or interest), which are taxed at only ~15% or so, and which comprise most of the income of the super-rich. Then there is the “carried-interest” loophole, which is just a scam, and allows hedge fund and private equity guys to classify their earned income as “interest” and thus get the lower rate…


  18. In modern American newspeak, “taxes” does not usually mean taxes because Social Security taxes are separate, and so are state taxes, real estate taxes and other taxes.

    For example, somebody who makes 19 thousand dollars would pay about 15% in Social Security taxes, Mitt Romney, who made 19 million dollars and paid 12.9% in income taxes when as he himself put it “was not doing much of anything , paid about 0.00000015% in Social Security taxes because the idle rich pay these taxes only on about the first 100 thousand dollars.

    In France, Belgium or Germany, poor Mitt would have to pay Social Security taxes on his entire income just like 90% of most Americans. How many houses would he then be able to have? Maybe only 2 or 3. And how often would he be able to buy a new private jet? We can’t have that in the land of the free and home of the brave!

    Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats dare to ever talk about this subject because they need to keep raising money from the people who benefit the most from this tax structure. Voters don’t really matter to them, voters are just lemmings who need to be marched to the polls every two years. That only a third of them even bothers to do so these days in most elections is not really important either to Ds or Rs, they never talk about it either.

    The more closely you look at the system, the more you see how it is rigged for the rich and against the middle class.

    But let’s talk about languages and translation on this blog.

    These other subjects are too depressing.


  19. […] Translator scrie despre greșelile pe care vrei să le eviți dacă vrei să-ți câștigi o existență decentă ca traducător. Unde […]


  20. […] New and beginning unispired translators often ask on LinkedIn, Translation Journal (which is now for sale!), or blogs and in other venues where unemployed and severely underemployed translators was…  […]


  21. Man you are funny! jajaja I loved this article. I think this information is way important to know if you are a newbie (which I am). Thank you very much for the info. and I am going to follow all your posts in your blog.


    D. Serpas.

    Ps: mistake number killed me jajaja.


  22. […] New and beginning unispired translators often ask on LinkedIn, Translation Journal (which is now for sale!  […]


  23. I am a beginning freelance translator and so much familiar with all those mistakes you mentioned. Indeed there are crowds of hungry translators everywhere hunting for a piece of opportunity… Everyone wants to survive somehow.

    I am also “underemployed” so I have got time to read your blog and surf internet for something related to translation. And as you said you know Russian here I would like to show you some translation samples (if you are interested) that make laugh and cry at the same time.


  24. The last one (не вьеъитесь головой) is the best one.


  25. […] When you receive instructions for a project and your boss tells you to do the exact opposite Top Seven Mistakes to Avoid If You Want to Make Any Money As a Translator The travelling translator reporting from around the world: Martina Russo’s story Interpreters […]


  26. Many thanks for this information, I found it extremely valuable an encouraging. Thanks!


  27. Well, I’m no expert on this – obviously, but getting jobs on sites such as LinkedIn har worked fine for me. This could may be due to the very “exotic” language I’m working with, but still. I have more offers than I can accept, and I can therefore not agree with your article.

    Furthermore you’re kind of crushing every hope a fresh translator would have to get employed. It seems the world is one horrible place, which it is, but it’s not THAT horrible.

    I would utilize these advice with care, and be critical, ’cause it’s obviously working for a lot of people!


  28. Great article I can really relate to the principles. I had to make a lot of changes in my life to start doing what I am doing now. Thanks!


  29. Hi Steve, thank you for sharing your ideas. This post is so great I’ve decided to make it my first reblogged article ever. I hope you won’t mind it, as I believe these thoughts are worth sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Hi Tomas,

    Please feel free to reblog anything you like, and thank you for doing so.

    This post was dormant on my blog since December of last year until it was rediscovered again yesterday.


  31. Hello Steve,

    It is nice e-meeting you!

    I just read this post because a Brazilian colleague shared it with a Group on Facebook.

    “The address is a mail box…”
    – This is perfect for Brazilian Agencies that have NICE WEBSITE (“… pictures of sexy, happy, smiling, young people, presumably highly qualified translators, …”) and SO MANY OFFICES around the world, like NEW YORK Office. Address:

    Sorry, but I’m laughing here! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. I completely agree with you and if you don´t mind, I would like to share it. 🙂

    I would add:
    – STOP sending a generic CV and cover letter to hundreds of prospective clients!
    – STOP sending mass e-mail!
    I’ve seen several translators who send generic CVs to a bunch of companies/agencies/PMs (apparent from the to-field in the email). It is apparent that they’re doing the mass distribution approach of their CVs.
    – STOP sending private messages on FACEBOOK to prospective clients!

    Thanks again! Have a wonderful Friday!
    Muito obrigada! Uma linda sexta-feira para você!

    Liked by 2 people

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