Posted by: patenttranslator | September 9, 2014

We Can’t Tell You How Much We Will Pay You Unless You First Sign Four Agreements


Translators who have websites or who are listed in different databases receive e-mails (sometime mass e-mails) from translation agencies who are inquiring about our availability for a given project. I generally receive several of them a week.

For example, I received two e-mails from two tiny translation agencies in the last few weeks. They asked me whether I would be available for a small translation, I told them I might be and asked to see the file, they sent me the file, I told them how much it would be and when they said OK, go ahead, I did the job.

Nothing could be simpler when you deal with a small translation agency. But it is a different story when you deal with the modern type of corporate agency.

I usually read only e-mails from people who address me by my name (it’s usually “Dear Steve, they are very informal), and delete those in which I am called “Dear Linguist” or “Dear Translator” without reading them. Several of these “Language Service Providers”, or “LSPs” as they like to be called, are located in countries where, based on the rates mentioned in these e-mails, translators are expected to work for what would be considered in most countries starvation rates, countries like Moldova, Egypt, China, or India (now often referred to collectively as “Chindia”).

Some of these cut-rate agencies who keep sending me their missives, although I never respond, are located right here in United States. One of them, based in Southern California, has been sending me offers to work for them for about half a year. I never respond to their e-mails because once they mentioned a rate and I think it was 6 cents a word. I wonder whether they will ever take me off their list of “Dear Linguists” if I don’t ask them to do so. So far I did not tell them to take me off their list because I want to know what kind of work people like that can get.

Cut-rate translation agencies and rock bottom rate translators have collectively managed to create in our wonderful 21st century a cut-throat market in a vast, dog-eat-dog kind of segment of the market for translation services resembling either the 8th or the 9th Circle of Hell of Dante’s Inferno.

In Dante’s epic poem, the hero is guided by the poet Virgil through nine circles of Hell, which are arranged as follows in order of severity of punishment:

1. Limbo,
(this relatively quiet but extremely boring corner of Hell is reserved for non-Christians, including, inexplicably to me, non-Christians from times before Christ),
2. Lust,
3. Gluttony,
4. Greed,
5. Anger,
(the sins committed by all of the sinners accommodated in these special facilities of the Hell Hotel are self explanatory, so I probably don’t need to explain them),
6. Heresy,
(this, at this point undoubtedly very crowded corner of Hell, is reserved for people who don’t believe in organized religion or established political dogmas, like the one-party system or the two-party system – I am pretty sure that’s where I will be assigned since I am definitely not going to make it to Heaven),
7. Violence,
8. Fraud, and
9. Treachery.

The people belonging to all creeds and nationalities who are running the hellish kind of translation agencies in this world – hellish when one considers the pitiful rates that they want to pay to people who do the actual work, called translators – will probably be assigned in the afterlife to the 8th and/or 9th Circle of Hell, although those paying from at least 7 cents a word and up might get lucky and spend eternity in the 3rd or 4th Circle of Hell where the punishment is less severe.

To make up for the fact that most of the translators who work for these doomed translation agency operators (I mean doomed in afterlife) are quite unlikely to be highly educated, highly qualified and highly intelligent individuals (if they were, why would they want to work for them?), most of these agencies first make translators sign a lot of silly paperwork.

But here’s the trick – you have to make “translators” sign the paperwork before the rate and payment terms are even mentioned.

Doing this does make sense, in a perverted kind of logic. If you sign an agreement to work for somebody before you even know how much you would be paid, that tells the esteemed translation agency that you are desperate and ready to work for next to nothing, which is always good to know!

And if you also sign a whole bunch of other agreements where among other things you proclaim yourself to be a highly qualified and experienced translator, then based on these agreements the translation agency does not need to pay you if something goes wrong and an angry client says that your translation is unusable.

It is not the fault of the agency if it hired an incompetent moron! The moron signed a piece of paper in which he clearly stated that he was highly qualified! So how could it possibly be the agency’s fault?

Since the translation agency does not know whether you are in fact a good translator either because the monolingual project managers (“PMs”) working for it are not qualified to make such a complicated determination, it really needs to have all kinds of agreements in place in the event that an irate client refuses to pay the bill received for a substandard translation from a translation agency.

One translation agency, which is located in Western Europe and which found my particulars last week in the ATA (American Translators Association) database, sent me an inquiry about my availability for a short translation last week. When I asked them politely whether I could see the document in question first before I give them my answer, instead of the document I received a zipped file (Registration Pack for Translators and Proofreaders) with 4 files in it:

1. Database Information
2. Non-Disclosure Agreement (this one was only 800 words long, although I have seen NDAs that were from 3 to 8 thousand words long)
3. Supplier Agreement (well over 3 thousand words)
4. Registration Paperwork – Notes.

The Notes were particularly interesting to me because their purpose is to explain to particularly stupid translators, which evidently must be most of us, why all this paperwork is needed.

First of all we’d like to thank you for taking the time to read these documents. We do know there’s a lot to go through, but it is very important and very necessary … we’re not just wasting your time for our own twisted pleasure… We need you to fill in the details as accurately as possible so we can compile an accurate database of people we can trust, who know what to expect from us and vice versa.

The things we need you to send back to us are:
o Terms and conditions
o Includes details on general terms and conditions, service specific terms and details on how payments are made. Please check carefully to make sure we’re going to make you happy!
o Non-disclosure agreement
o We have to have this for everyone, even our in-house staff!
o Database information
o Please fill in carefully, especially the details on projects that you most enjoy working on – this goes on our supplier database.

Once you are happy [sic], please sign by hand on hard copy and return all pages to us via one of these methods:
o Email to either:
o Your project manager if you have been contacted by a PM directly; or
o The vendor manager
o Or by fax to: 12345678910
o Or by post: Trans-Galagtic Translations [I just made this name up].

o Two references. Not your best friends … professional references please.

We look forward to receiving all the info from you – and we look forward to working with you.
Yours faithfully,
Transgalactic Translations, Inc.

But nowhere in this paperwork did it say how much they would pay me should I accept the job that they were offering, which they said was a translation of about 800 words.

Although I politely refused their offer of work while pointing out that I could not possibly sign anything if I don’t know whether I want to work for them (and how could I know that when they never said how much they were willing to pay me?), they must have found my behavior irrational and difficult to understand because they then sent me a second e-mail two days later with the same four files in the same zipped directory, urging me to sign the paperwork so that they could “register me in their database and work with me on a regular basis once signed-up”.

So I just rudely ignored the second e-mail.

I doubt that I would be able to explain to them that I am not interested in being registered in their database because being “signed-up” with them to me would be tantamount to being sentenced to dwell for eternity in the darkest and hottest Circle of Hell where the incessant weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth of poor translators is extremely loud.


  1. I managed to keep my coffee from blowing out my nose, but it was a close call 🙂

    Those skulking bottom feeders.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh such agencies are hellish. I am currently being pestered by one to register with their system so I can bid for their “events” i.e. jobs. I have started writing back, just to vent.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed the last paragraph of your screed the most, Steve. 🙂


    • Screed?

      I thought it was a well-reasoned argument.:)


      • It was an excellently reasoned argument and my description of it was in no way intended as a put-down!
        The meaning of screed that I had in mind is the second one in the list below – a very uncontroversial usage, I think you’ll agree!!
        All the Best, as always 🙂 MP

        an informal letter, account, or other piece of writing.


  4. I was just kidding.


  5. Really enjoyed you article, Steve, and don’t worry about not going to heaven, I suspect it’s not even licensed to serve alcohol.

    I have recently taken to answering some of the ‘great opportunities offered’.
    This was the most recent one:

    Dear Rocio,

    Thank you for your enquiry.
    I am neither a vendor of translation services nor a free-lance translator.
    I am an independent, professional translator in private practice.
    My details are readily available on the internet and on my website.
    I do not provide CVs (I am not applying for a position with your company) and I do not quote (piecework) rates.

    Like any professional, I will be happy to examine your requirements in strict confidence, check my availability and provide an estimate of my fee, a possible delivery time-line and a copy of my terms of service, after I have examined the documents and your client’s needs.

    You appear to be looking for a para-professional, casual worker, with some rudimentary language skills.
    Sorry I cannot help you in that way.
    Good luck

    I do vary it a little bit from time-to-time, and I find it quite therapeutic.
    More often then not, I also ask them to remove my details from their database. It removes any doubt or misunderstanding of the message I am trying to send.
    I hope I can start a trend that is going to get some of them worried (I agree it’s a whimsical thought, but a boy can dream, can’t he?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. […] a marketer in the houseThe Interview of the Weekend: Leslie Carroll on Royal Marriages Gone WrongWe Can’t Tell You How Much We Will Pay You Unless You First Sign Four Agreements ul.legalfooter li{ list-style:none; float:left; padding-right:20px; } .accept{ display:none; […]


  7. And the results of these practices and general business culture are inline with what one would expect, as can be learned in this blog post by Bettie Moser, describing a secret shopper experiment conducted by Chris Durban in 2011.


  8. […] Translators who have websites or who are listed in different databases receive e-mails (sometime mass e-mails) from translation agencies who are inquiring about our availability for a given projec…  […]


  9. […] Evolution of a Dictionary Project: Interview with Legal Dictionary Author Javier F. Becerra We Can’t Tell You How Much We Will Pay You Unless You First Sign Four Agreements Rant and the World Rants With You: Translators Should Complain More, Not Less Problems with […]


  10. […] 10/09/2014 We can’t tell you how much we will pay you unless you first sign four agreements by Steve Vitek (Diary of a Mad Patent Translator) […]


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