Posted by: patenttranslator | December 10, 2015

Just About Every Day Brings an Offer of Translation Work for Me that I Ignore

Just about every day brings an e-mail from a translation agency that either has a job for me, or wants to know more about me for its files about translators.

Two days ago it was a small but insistent translation agency in California that proposed the following deal to me:

The subject: Medical – Gynecological
Languages: Japanese into English
Description: [I prefer not mention the name of the project due to possible confidentiality issues]
Wordcount: 1260 English words total
Turnaround: tomorrow 10 am pacific time
TRADOS: not necessary
Format: ms word – track changes

This agency has been e-mailing me similar proposals for at least a year about every other month. I ignore them because I still remember that in their initial work proposals, they themselves determined how much they were going to pay me for the translations instead of asking what my rate for the project would be. Which to me means that I simply can’t take these people seriously.

If I went to a restaurant and said that I was willing to spend no more than 6 dollars for a dinner that costs 15 dollars, they would not take me seriously either. They would probably think that I was a slow and confused person and the owner would most likely kick me off the premises. It’s not good for business when your restaurant is frequented by people who have no money to spend and on top of that are unsure about how the business works.

But because in this particular proposal two days ago, the translation agency actually wanted to know my rate, I figured that they must be really desperate. And how did they come up with the number of words if it’s not translated yet? I wondered. So I Googled the name of the project – and voilà, I found the gynecological tool manual online in Japanese in MS Word. So they must have just pasted the short document into GoogleTranslate and that gave them the likely word count in English.

But still, I had to ignore their e-mails because a while ago, they offered me a ridiculous sum for my expert work, which is something I am unlikely to forgive easily and I am sure that they still pay extremely low rates, even when desperate. Plus I received the e-mail at 5 PM, and they wanted my translation by 7 AM next day.

Gynecological tools are not really my cup of tea – although I prefer them to patents about dentistry. I remember a Japanese patent about gum surgery that I translated a long time ago because I had no other work. Man, it was a scary job! Then, more recently, I translated a few patents in the field of dentistry from French, but they were not nearly as scary because they were about new materials for tooth fillings. It was mostly chemistry, physics and mechanical engineering on a very small scale.
But to translate a gynecological tool manual as a rush job at a low rate for an agency that deeply offended me about a year ago … no way José.

I know how to carry a grudge, for years or decades if need be.

Yesterday’s offer of work from the translation agency to be ignored came, of all places, from Thailand. It said:

Dear sir,

We are looking for a translator who can handle below patents documents now.
We would really appreciate if you provide us your quote. We would like to know quote per EN word.(We hope to get not higher than 0.09USD per English word this acceptable price)
We would like to obtain Patent documents translation From English to Japanese (/EN word) and Japanese to English (/EN word)and We would like to check translation quality so could you trial translation document without any fee ? I will send simple documents to you. Thank you very much.

We are looking forwards to hearing from you soon.

They’re still looking forwards (rather than backwards) to hearing from me, I guess. I’m sure 9 cents a word is pretty good money in Thailand, but that’s because a dinner in a nice Thai restaurant that would cost at least 15 dollars here in Virginia would probably cost 6 dollars or less in a nice Thai restaurant in Thailand.

So I ignored the e-mail from Thailand yesterday as well. But if I ever move to Thailand, I’ll be sure to look up the agency!

I usually receive e-mails with proposals of work, but at very low rates, a few times a week from agencies even right here in Virginia, as well as from outfits based in various other countries, such as Egypt, Israel, India, China, Romania, United Kingdom … the list goes on and on. Most translators who have been in business for a while probably receive similar e-mails from the low price leaders of our beloved translation industry as well.

And several of them keep e-mailing me for months or years even though I never respond. I remember that one such agency is in Israel, while another one competing with the Israeli agency is in Palestine. But even if it could solve the problems in Middle East, I wouldn’t work for these agencies.

And then there are also agencies that pretend to be based in a place like London, while in reality they or at least most of the people working in the agency are based in a place where the cost of living and labor is very low, like Moldova. Some of these agencies in fact work as sub-sub-subcontractors for translation agencies based in Western countries. One of them, based in Moldova, sent me a list of their translation rates a while ago. The next day, a guy who spoke good English but with a slight Russian accent called me to see if I would bite.

Although I’m constantly looking for new translators myself, especially for certain languages, mostly those that I can’t translate myself, I would never work with the sub-sub-sub-contracting type of agency that is very popular now with large translation agencies.

These sub-sub-subcontractors from Moldova, China and India all offer to work for me for about 9 cents per word, but that must mean that they only pay about 4 or 5 cent to translators who work for them, which must mean that these translators are not very good.

The e-mail to be ignored (except for the purposes of my silly blog) received today came from an agency here in United States. The agency did not actually have work at this point, they just wanted to know more about me for their files.

They were looking for a translator of chemical patents from Russian, which I do occasionally, because they found my listing in the ATA (American Translators Association) directory. They had numerous requirements right off the bat:

“In addition, we are also interested in receiving referrals from your professional network. Please forward this message along to any of your contacts who may be interested in working with us.
Our minimum application requirement are as follows:
• Native-level proficiency in English [whatever that means]
• At least 5 years of professional translation experience in the subject above (I have more like a quarter century)
• Bachelors degree or equivalent (I have a master’s degree)
• Contact with target-language speakers on a very frequent and regular basis (busted – the only contact with Russian speakers that I have now is in English).
• Use of Trados Studio 2014 or compatible tool – able to receive and return .sdlppx/.sdlrpx files (busted again, I would not touch Trados with a ten foot pole).
Please submit the following:
• A CV
• A brief description of your specific experience with translation in the subject above
• Your most competitive per word and hourly rates in USD
• What CAT tool do you use?
• Your available capacity for us in words per day.

They must have submitted a proposal to translate a lot of Russian patents in the field of chemistry at a very low rate, their bid was accepted and now they are looking for translators who would do it for half of their very low rate.

The coordinator who found my information in the ATA directory is probably a recent college graduate who doesn’t really know anything about anything and who is willing to work for a miserable salary for this translation agency.

I actually know, or used to know this agency, because I used to translate Japanese patents for them for several years, mostly dealing with chemistry. But they don’t remember me because the last time I worked for them was about 10 years ago, and in any case, to them I am only one entry among hundreds of entries in a database of translators, or people who say that they are translators.

After people like me, namely highly experienced but not necessarily cheap patent translators, secured their initial supply of patent work for the agency from patent law firms and corporate patent law departments, the agency started cutting the rates that it was willing to pay to translators and requiring its translators to use a specific, proprietary CAT tool in order to cheat the translators on the word count to keep more money for itself.

So I dropped the agency like a hot potato, as I said, about 10 years ago.

The problem with the e-mail offers of work that I have been receiving for the last three days is that they all came from the red ocean or from the yellow ocean areas of markets where the supply greatly exceeds the demand and service providers thus must fight for available work like sharks fighting over food so that the blood from the vicious fights of the sharks has turned the ocean red. If you want to know what I mean by the yellow ocean, read this post on my silly blog.

But since tomorrow is another day, I will wait until I get an offer of work coming from the pristine blue waters of the unspoiled ocean regions where the waters have not been turned red yet by the many hungry sharks ferociously fighting for any kind of food that can be found in the ocean.


  1. Two days ago I received a request to translate a very difficult Arabic document into English for the magnificent sum of £5.00 per page! I protested and they replied “we know this is a low rate but it is all we can pay for this job”. I replied that I would not even TYPE a page of English for that amount! How low can these agencies sink? As for Israel, the only agency that pays these ridiculous rates is Hever, they pay US$0.05 a word for Hebrew to English and that is because most people in Israel who translate are not trained translators and their mother tongue is not even English, they describe themselves as being “near-native”! Those that are English speak no other language and in order to decipher names in Hebrew you need to know several other languages such as Polish, Russian, Arabic etc. at least at a basic level.


  2. I did not know you translate Arabic, Josephine. I was guessing a European language like French or German.

    Can you tell us what language(s) you translate?


  3. I can never decide what the best policy is. Does one:
    1) Decline briefly and politely?
    2) Decline but perform a little “client education” and explain why nothing they are suggesting is remotely acceptable?
    3) Ignore, which to me is bad manners (I confess I’ve learnt to live with my conscience)?


  4. I use option 3), Lisa-san, bad manners or not.
    (It’s probably the Czech in me).

    My reasoning is that some people are uneducatable, so why should one waste one’s time?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello. Exactly. Two days ago I received an email from a Russian agency (of which I have never heard before), addressing me in general terms and asking if I could translate a paragraph about a subject in which I have no expertise. They didn’t greet me, say how they got my e-mail, ask about my rates, nothing. Just said ‘can you please translate the paragraph below.’ I don’t feel like I have to be polite with people like that, I just ignore them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, but I think a lot of these e-mails get sent out by interns and I sometimes wonder if they wouldn’t benefit from some enlightening. Then again, life IS too short.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are other people who can educate them if they wish to do so. Why waste my energy and my own time?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your post shed quite a light on a dismal part of the translation world out there. Thank you for the warnings. You mentionned: “I would not touch Trados with a ten foot pole”. Any reason why? Or, if you have already elaborated on that topic, would you be kind to point out in which archived blog so I may read more about it? I’m a university student in the ENtoFR translation program, and I am thinking about purchasing Trados, but before I do I want consider all pros and cons. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Elisabeth:

    Here is a post I wrote about about Trados 5 and half years ago.


  8. Great post! Do you have any insight for how you might market yourself so you are invited to higher level/paid projects?


  9. I think that one needs to figure out how to market the services to direct clients instead of to agencies and different people will need to find different solutions.


  10. Once again, I enjoyed reading your post. 🙂

    @Lisa: How to deal with such mails? At the beginning of my career (17 years ago), I was usually trying to educate the client and/or to answer briefly and politely. In the meanwhile, I react as an ill-bred person, sending such mails directly into the trash can. 😉
    Because, as you said, life is short, and my time is precious. Those sharks are behaving badly, wanting to eat in my restaurant for 6 $ only while meals are costing 15… Why should I waste my time and energy?


    • @Chani: I’m sure you’re right. There’s just a tiny little part of me that thinks that those e-mails are usually sent by the skivvies, i.e. interns, rather than the bosses and they should be shown the light. But yes, there aren’t enough hours in the day.

      Liked by 1 person

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