Posted by: patenttranslator | August 8, 2015

A Dream Or a Nightmare, the Choice Is Ours

“My boss recommended I reach out to you for translation of the attached document. The file is in Japanese and needs to be translated into English. I was hoping you would be able to provide me with some sort of a quote for the translation of the document.

Please let me know your rates for this and also your availability.”

This was an e-mail received from a translation agency a few days ago. It was clear to me that the agency coordinator, or project manager (PM) as they are called, had absolutely no idea what was in this “Japanese document”. Whenever PMs call something “a document,” which is most of the time, they do so because they don’t know what’s in it. Naturally, how could they know what’s in the “document” when the “document” is in a foreign language? They are just PMs and nobody should expect them to actually have some understanding of the “documents” that they manage.

Because the PM did not ask me for “my best rate,” I answered the e-mail by quoting a price, per word rate, and turnaround time. (It is best to simply ignore requests for a “best rate”).

The time was 4: 30 PM. There was no answer that day. Maybe they only work until 5 PM, I thought, like normal people (read: non-translators) do.

There was no answer the next day in the morning either. I was thinking of asking the Project Manager, who had no way of even estimating the cost of the project without the assistance of somebody like this Mad Patent Translator, whether her mother never taught her that it is polite to thank people when they do something for you, especially if they do it for free. But then I figured, to hell with them, I have better things to do.

But the PM finally answered this MPT, after almost 24 hours:

“Hi Steve,

Thanks for the reply on this.
Do you mind me asking what the specific amount of English words is based on?

Of course it is quite difficult to determine a word count for the Japanese [No, it is not very difficult if you know what you’re doing], without manually going through each page. Also in regards to the rate of 0.XX cents per word this seems a little high compared to other vendors, would it be possible to do this for between 0.XX-0.XX cents per word?”

(They wanted me to translate it, but for about 15% less than what I normally charge to translation agencies, which is quite a bit lower than what I charge to direct customers).

So I answered thusly:

Hi [name of the PM]:

Oh well, if you can’t afford me, that’s OK too.

And don’t call me “a vendor,” I don’t sell hotdogs.

Have a nice life!

S. V.”

Why would I want to teach them how to estimate the word count in English for Japanese patents when they can’t even pay my rate? Since the method that I use in fact has several caveats (because the word count depends on the type of the document and the kind of words and characters that the writer is using,) I am not sure that they would be able to understand it anyway.

I expected that the only response to my short e-mail in which I protested the application of the crass capitalist term “vendor” to a translator would be a frosty radio silence after such a cheeky e-mail, but contrary to my expectation, the following response appeared in my mailbox within a few minutes:

Hi Steve,

My apologies if I offended you by using the term vendor, I did not mean for it to come out in such a way that was demeaning. [How did she expect it to come out then?, I wonder].

Of course we try to source the best available price for our clients, and after discussing this with my boss, he has assured me that your rate of 0.XX cents per word would be more than acceptable for such an accomplished translator. [Accomplished or not, I’ve got bills to pay].

This project has not yet been given the go ahead, but if it does are you still available and willing to work on this document?[There is a comma missing in this e-mail.]

Please let me know when you get a chance and again my deepest apologies.

[name of the Project Manager]

With a chuckle, or a snigger, or a cackle or whatever other name can be used for this particular activity that I enjoy so much, I graciously accepted both the apology and the offer of the job, should it pan out, (the apology was accepted unconditionally, the job conditionally,) as follows:

“Apologies accepted. At this point I have work for about a week, but I will try to fit in your translation if the project is a go.”
Best regards,
S. V.”

In every negotiation, everything depends on who needs whom more. The size, income levels, ethnicity, skin color, gender …. none of these things matter nearly as much as whether you need the other party more than they need you.
I could certainly use the particular translation that was offered to me in this manner, subject to approval of the end client, of course, because I will have quite a few additional bills to pay on top of the usual ones that I have to pay every month: such as airplane ticket from Norfolk to Bordeaux and back next month because I will be going to the IAPTI III Conference in Bordeaux in a few weeks. I have not bought the ticket yet, and this patent translation job would basically pay for it.

But I don’t like to haggle and be treated like some kind of cheap domestic help who may charge no more than what the next cheap domestic help factotum is charging.

There are in fact thousands of translation agencies offering the same thing (“translations”) to customers, big and small, who need to have “documents” translated, generally because these customers can’t make money without a really good translation. And there are probably only about a dozen translators living on planet Earth who are experienced enough and know both Japanese and English and who can translate a long, complicated biotechnology patent so that both the agency and the translator will be paid for the translation, and so that the end client can go on making money based on the information provided in it.

My life would be a nightmare if I allowed thousands of PMs working for thousands of translation agencies to treat me as just another “vendor” among dozens or hundreds of other “vendors”. I would have to haggle about the price and live in fear that even if I give in, my price might still be higher than what other “vendors” are willing to take, and I would have to work long hours, including on Saturdays and Sundays, without any additional compensation for overtime.

Or life can be a dream, or as close to a dream as it is possible in real life, if I am in charge of the terms under which I sell my experience, my skills and my time to people who are in need of the same, because to a translator, being able to do the kind of work that I do at rates and at a pace that I consider fair is a dream come true.

Two weeks later I received the same long patent for translation from the same translation agency at the rate that was in my original e-mail response.

For some reason, a different project manager was assigned to handle the project.


  1. I agree that PMs act pretty cluelessly with their “vendors” most of the time. It’s very surprising that you got into such an extended palaver with one; I guess she or he had plenty of free time for some reason.

    Personally, I don’t care how they treat me or what they call me, as long as I get the job at a decent rate or better. I feel that it’s part of the occupational hazards of the line of work, like a coal miner getting dirty (as long as they don’t have to breathe too much coal dust). And the physical working conditions certainly beat coal mining by a mile.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t mind when accounting departments of patent law firms call me “a vendor”. They pay much better rates than translation agencies and they have many vendors who sell different services to them.

    But translation agencies better be polite to me if they want me to work for them and be polite to them too. In this case, calling me “a vendor” is not exactly polite considering that the only way the agency can make money is from the labor of people who are called “translators”.

    So I kind of get mad once they start calling me “a vendor”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the post. It goes to show it’s much better to stand your ground than to cave, no matter how much you need the job. Bernhard


  3. I did not need the job. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that even when we could use a job, there will be other offers, so why put up with BS.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “even when we could use a job, there will be other offers, so why put up with BS.”


    Even though the scarcity of translators like you on this planet might be slightly exaggerated, today’s post is a tremendously enjoyable read.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Right on, Steve; I have always felt that a vendor needs to wear a little cap with white-with-red-piping, set at a jaunty angle 🙂

    I have long ago given up quoting a ‘rate-per-word’. In many cases, it simply provides the project manager with a word count they are too lazy (or unable) to calculate themselves. A word count and a rate-per-word can be used as a simple common denominator for hawking a project to ‘translators’ world-wide.

    I insist on seeing the document before I quote a fee, payment terms and an estimated time-line (subject to the timing of receiving final instructions).

    In my mind quoting a ‘rate-per-word’ characterises translation as generic piecework in the mind of project managers and agencies; like producing garments in a sweatshop. It makes it too easy to invite and compare quotations world-wide, and in my view, is at the heart of the success of the agencies’ business model that is destroying part of the profession.

    Keep up the good work and have a nice trip.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I always ask to see the document first and only then do I quote a price per word or per project, usually both.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “quoting a ‘rate-per-word’ characterises translation as generic piecework in the mind of project managers and agencies; like producing garments in a sweatshop.”


    “I insist on seeing the document before I quote a fee, payment terms and an estimated time-line (subject to the timing of receiving final instructions).”


    And I insist on being put through to the end client, so that in case I need to clarify something in the text, I could ask the client, not a clueless PM.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Use of the term “vendor” by agencies may have a lot to do with the PM programs we (agencies) all use. These have a “vendor database” and every time a job is assigned it’s to a “vendor”. We deal with “vendor jobs”, “vendor payments”, “vendor purchase orders”, “vendor ratings” – in fact “vendor” is everywhere in the software. So PMs are bombarded with the term and see it on their screens all day. It’s hard for them to escape it!

    The software developers do need a short, generic term for all the skilled people an agency might use – translators, interpreters, typesetters, reviewers, etc. Maybe teachers, technical experts who aren’t linguists, localization experts. “Vendors” is what they’ve come up with, although when I was researching possible programs a few years back I seem to remember one or two of them used “expert”. Maybe that’s better.

    Is “vendor” demeaning? Well if it’s used to lump you in with hot dog sellers, ie suppliers of a commodity, with no respect for your expertise or skills, or you interpret it like that, definitely.

    But a plea for understanding if an otherwise respectful PM uses it inadvertently on occasion, as looks to be the case in this example. If you work in a translation company and use PM software, it’s a very hard term to shut out.


    • “But a plea for understanding…”

      Dennis, I don’t think the problem is what names you, agencies, call translators. The problem is, I think, that you call them yours. Even worse, you claim that you, agencies, do the translations. (Don’t tell me clients are not interested in translators; clients are not interested in cash receipts, either, but we must issue them nonetheless)

      What would you think, for example, of a publishing house which claims they write, translate, edit, and illustrate all the materials they publish? I myself wouldn’t think much.

      So, I find the actual situation in translation industry nowadays sort of tragicomic 🙂

      “Any document translated by us 🙂 can also be provided as a certified translation.

      (Note. Be careful with certified translation! Illegal practices are rampant here, such as: agencies will ask translators to sign blank sheets in advance, or someone else ill sign the translation of the document after it is received by email and printed at the office, or even sometimes someone in the office will use a template made in many languages only to replace names and dates – you don’t do that, do you?)

      And finally, we 🙂 also offer two other types of translation where a full translation is not needed or would not be warranted. In a selective translation we 🙂 translate selected parts of the document only. A summary translation provides an overview or summary of the content of the document.

      Each of these different types of translation is offered in all of our 🙂 80+ working translation languages. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s because intermediaries, who are non-translators most of the time (99.9% of the time) do not understand anything about translation. Their only obsession is to have the lowest possible price for a reasonably good quality so that they can sell it without being sued. Those non-translating intermediaries probably fear that the term “Experts” might lead to higher rates from translators. Most translation agencies use mostly or only translators, so this “Vendor” thing is ridiculous. Your cheap PMs know nothing about translation, they are not even bilingual most of the time, and they have no respect for translators, since they do not understand their job – they do not have the faintest idea – and this is why us, translators, are completely fed up with the present state of the translation market, where our profession is disappearing thanks to non-translating intermediaries, who think they can call them “post-editors” at even cheaper rates… This is why we, translators, intend to rob all of your customers, so that empty shells like you get out of business – and the sooner the better. Hah ! 🙂 Or rather: we intend to get back all of the customers that non-translating intermediaries have robbed from us, Experts ! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have a suggestion: they could, perhaps, try calling us “professionals”? That might do at a pinch. Particularly since, as a patent translator, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an expert on any particular type of technology (unless it were tyres, possibly).


      • That would be nice, but the problem is, they don’t consider us professionals, do they?

        Otherwise they would not be calling us vendors.

        So I would settle for “translator”.

        (A Hispanic ice scream truck vendor, indistinguishable from a translator, is playing awful, repetitive, tinny music from speakers on his truck to lure children out and buy some ice cream from his truck as I am writing this response.)


      • I have a suggestion, too. It’s about the client’s right of choice.

        Each agency could make a catalog out of its databases and give clients access to it against a small fee so that clients could make their informed choice of a translator.

        The catalog could be organized by language pairs and contain information about translators’ names, qualification, experience, specialization, contact details and range of prices they charge.

        I think agencies have all this information available so they only have to let clients see it and make their informed choice.

        Note. Clients don’t have to search through all the catalog, but only through the language pair for the specific translation they need.


  8. Oh, I do understand what’s going on, Dennis.

    Translation agencies no longer want to be called what they are and instead call themselves “LSPs”, as in “Language Services Providers”, although they do not provide languages services – they only buy them from translators and resell them at a higher price. At the same time they no longer want to call translators what they are either, which is translators, and instead call them “vendors”.

    The misuse, or incorrect use of language is obviously intentional. They want to make their customers believe that they are the ones providing the services, and at the same time, they need a generic, demeaning term for translators to put them in their place.

    Let me assure you, the few agencies that I work for do not call me “vendor”, and if some young, inexperienced thing does it on occasion, I will quickly correct her.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The link below was e-mailed to me this morning. I think you have to be registered with Proz to be able to read the messages, but I am not sure, maybe non-members can read it too. (I did register with Proz as a non-paying member years ago).


  10. The picture painted in these comments is that agencies simply shovel on translations produced by highly skilled freelance translators to their clients at a higher price, whilst also treating those translators as mere unskilled commodity vendors to be beaten down to the lowest possible price. Nothing but parasitic intermediaries.

    Two thoughts about that.

    Whilst this picture is undoubtedly true, as we all know, it’s only one segment of the market. There are thousands of agencies who are not at all like that. Agencies that absolutely value the skills and expertise of their (sorry, Rennie!) translators and treat them accordingly.

    This picture also conveniently leaves out the fact that agencies can and do provide their clients with additional value, or perceived value, over their using feelancers directly. Coordinating a multilingual project for example. Dealing with artwork/typesetting/pre-press. Adding a review and/or other QA steps. Complying with EN15038. And a host of other things.

    To consider all agencies the enemy would be a mistake I think.


    • “Agencies that absolutely value the skills and expertise of their (sorry, Rennie!) translators and treat them accordingly.”

      Not at all, Dennis, you’re welcome! I also often use possessives like “my supermarket”, “my hairdresser”, etc. I also pay them just as you pay translators.

      “This picture also conveniently leaves out the fact that agencies can and do provide their clients with additional value, or perceived value, over their using freelancers directly. Coordinating a multilingual project for example. Dealing with artwork/typesetting/pre-press. Adding a review and/or other QA steps. Complying with EN15038. And a host of other things.”

      Here’s the answer to this really strong argument of yours:

      “If a translation agency really adds value to the process, then every customer will naturally prefer doing business with agencies. But if there is no perceived added value, then it has to be created artificially. One way of doing this is to make any communication between customers and the translators who actually do the work as difficult as possible.”


    • First of all, you are not “agencies”, you are intermediaries, brokers, buying at the lowest possible price and selling at the highest possible price.

      Agencies know what they are talking about, which 99.99% of translation “agencies” don’t.

      I believe translators have a better view of what “agencies” really are than agencies themselves. How often are you in touch with other “agencies”?… So part of your propaganda/brainwashing is telling translators what they must think, now?….

      As you said, “agencies” only have a “perceived” value, from all the brainwashing (propaganda) they also do on customers’ brains, who then think they are legally entitled to substantial rebates as soon as there is a 70% match, for example. This deplorable situation is the result of our enemies: all those money suckers who know nothing about translation, yet present themselves as (the only) Language Service Providers.

      You are liers and thieves.

      You are ruining the translation market.

      You are taking advantage of the fact that translation schools do not teach translators how to become freelancers. But this is going to change.

      You are parasites, scroungers.

      There is no more proofreading these days – spot checks at best.

      Multilingual projects are very scarce, yet it is one of your main arguments.

      There are few projects that involve artwork/typesetting/pre-press.

      Your argumentation is so poor that it is laughable.

      Any former scuba diving teacher becomes a translation intermediary these days and after a few years they call themselves “translation experts”!…

      And, believe me, translation agencies that are properly run are to be counted on the fingers of one hand.

      Stop this lying and this propaganda, especially on translators’ websites.

      Yes, you are the enemies of the translation profession, because you rob us and you are destroying our profession.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if you explained, please, the legal grounds of the agency-translator relationship. By translators I mean self-employed (freelancers or translators with their own translation company), as well as people employed elsewhere (teachers, etc.)? NOT translators employed by agencies, as their relationship is clear: boss-employee, and their number insignificant.


    • Dennis wrote:
      “agencies can and do provide their clients with additional value, or perceived value, over their using feelancers directly”

      Let’s consider for comparison an other field rather close that we do all know: don’t you believe that a book publisher provides an additional value over having a book sold directly by the author?

      For sure printing quality can be better, the cover may be enhanced, the title improved, the press coverage higher, the distribution to bookshops better organized, the availability in multiple languages arranged, etc.

      Anyway the name of the author is on the cover of the book and this may help sales, by the way do you better know Marcel Proust or Gallimard, J.K. Rowling or Bloomsburry/Scholastic?

      The “addtitional” value of the agency means that there is an “initial” value of the translator’s work, freelancer or what.
      However all too often agencies tend to appropriate this value and merge it with their own, this is where they cheat the reader or the customer.

      In fact “their” translators belong to the whole pool of agencies or translation companies in the world, because a remarkable trait of this “industry” is that they all compete with the same workforce, when all other companies claim to keep the best and most skilled teams.

      Can you really imagine Gaston Gallimard, whose genius in finding talents is certain, publishing “À la recherche du temps perdu” from “one of our skilled professionals”?
      My guess is nevertheless the reading committee at Gallimard is more thorough and selective than the recruiting or QA procedures I have seen in agencies, what do you think?


      • Excellent points!

        The most important value that agencies provide is when they pick the right translator for the right job.

        Most of the time, are not able to do even that, for a number of reasons, such as that they want to pay the lowest rate possible, which limits their choices drastically …. or when their PMs, who handle “all language”, don’t even know what is in the language to be translated …. how are they supposed to be able to pick the right person for the job?


      • To Diddier Fourcot:

        Yes, yes, yes, Didier! Well done! Très bien!!! 🙂


  11. Dennis, I agree with most of what you say, but please leave out the BS.

    You know as well as I do, and as does every translator and client who is not brain-dead, that all this talk about ISO quality standards or compliance with EN15038 is bullshit designed by agencies as propaganda aimed at gullible clients who don’t understand how translation works.

    Clients who are not stupid will not fall for this inane propaganda – they will be put off by this nonsense instead. They know that unless the work was done by a very good and highly experienced translator, all those “industrial quality standards” are worse than useless.

    If I were you, I would redo that part of your website, unless it is aimed at really gullible clients on purpose.

    And please don’t try to convince me that these “quality standards” work.

    I have been working both as a translator and as an agency for close to 30 years, and every time when I see an agency using this kind of talk on its website, I smell a rat stinking to high heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Status and respect are earned. It will not be conferred upon us by businesses that have a vested interest in creating a perception that the role of translators is insignificant and disappearing “now that most translations are made with computers using translation software”. Why, “even your phone can ‘translate’ anything for you in real time!” It call also take pictures of the pigs flying past your window 🙂

    It’s up to us:


  13. One correction, Louis, it’s “now that most translations are done with computers using sophisticated translation software!”


    • My humble apologies, you’re quite right 🙂


  14. “now that most translations are done with computers using sophisticated translation software!” 🙂

    One doesn’t have to possess any business acumen to contrive a fraud like this: “We can use MT and cheap post-MT-editors, and then tell OUR clients (sorry, Dennis, clients aren’t yours, either) that OUR best ever human translators do the translations with greatest possible care while astute PMs supervise the complex multi-stage process observing tough industrial standards of quality control”

    All one has to possess is criminal mentality. And sure means to make any communication between customers and the translators who actually do the work as difficult as possible.


  15. French way of keeping a dream life when others want to get free education from you, could be useful in a French congress:
    “Faut pas parler aux cons, ça les instruit”
    (could not post the link, but you wil easily find a number of occurrences in French quotes)
    This is a bit rude, but after all in any language, how do you call someone who asks for a 15% rebate while being convinced that the original rate is right, and how do you think he considers you, whatever the name used?


  16. ” how do you think he considers you, whatever the name used?”

    An …uhhuhh … eeee-diot? 🙂


  17. I’m not a “vendor” and the minute an agency PM tells me they’re “reaching out” to me that e-mail also gets overlooked. When did everyone start “reaching out”? What happened to “contacting”?


  18. “Contacting” is too lightweight, “reaching out” sounds much more dramatic. “My boss told me to reach out to you” could be an opening line of a mystery novel.


  19. Which is more frustrating, a PM (badly paid and under-qualified) at a translation agency, or the agency owner? Some of them are barely literate and certainly not in more than one language (which is not always English).


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