Posted by: patenttranslator | June 3, 2016

Outsourcing Is an Ugly, Dirty Word

At least as far as some translators are concerned, it’s definitely an ugly word.

They say it with the same kind of disdain that most right-wing ideologues in the United States reserve for words like “entitlement” (Social Security is an “entitlement”), or “socialized medicine” (also an “entitlement, and also considered to be a really bad thing in this country, so horrific that it must be resisted at all cost).

Without Social Security, many if not most old people would not be able to afford even cat food. But it is an “entitlement”, so it’s a bad thing anyway, old people be damned. Privatized corporate medicine does not work and is about 50 times more expensive than socialized medicine, which for the most part works much better. But because it is “an entitlement”, it’s better when people suffer needlessly and die prematurely as long as they don’t have to deal with the monstrous “socialized medicine”.

Outsourcing is another word that seems to have an ugly ring to it among many translators. A real translator does not outsource. If he or she is offered a job that he or she can’t do because it is not in his or her language combination, the proper thing to do is to simply say no, just like Nancy Reagan told us (Say No To Drugs!).

Outsourcing is done mostly by greedy shylocks. This is the clear implication of statements by translators who proudly say in online discussions, “No, I do not outsource, I would never do that!”

Whenever I read something like that in an online discussion, I always think to myself, this person is either lazy, dumb, or a combination of the two.

Why do I think so? Because I have been “outsourcing” for more than 20 years. Initially, I too thought that it made sense to simply say no to a customer who was asking to translate something into Japanese, or German. I can translate myself from those languages into English, but not into those languages from English.

It is too dangerous, I was told by other, older and more experienced translators some 20 years ago, so it’s best to stay away from this kind of thing. You should concentrate on what you know best, and that means that you should translate only the languages you know yourself into your native language and say “no” to everything else.

I still remember how an older, much more experienced translator shared this pearl of wisdom with me when I told her that I had recently accepted a project involving translation of a patent from English into Japanese, and that it went well. I translate from Japanese into English, but I cannot translate from English into Japanese. I remember the look of genuine concern on her face when she was saying these words to me. I even remember that at that moment, we were walking through San Francisco’s Chinatown on Post Street.

Well, I didn’t listen to her. Instead of saying no, I started looking around for native Japanese speakers and if there was a request for translation into Japanese, I tried to match the job with suitable translators and then “outsourced” the project to them, proofread it and delivered the final translation to the customer. And then I started doing the same also for other languages from which I translate into English as well, and since I translate from seven languages into English, this means that I can translate, partially by “outsourcing”, from and into fourteen languages. Some of the projects I translate myself and some of them I handle with the dirty “outsourcing” technique.

I am hardly the only one who thinks that it makes perfect sense for a translator to “outsource” translations in this manner. Of course, this can be done only with translations from direct clients. For one thing, it would be dishonest to pretend to a translation agency that you are translating something that will be translated by someone else. Perhaps even more importantly, there would not be enough profit margin for you in such an arrangement if you were working for an intermediary, i.e. a translation agency. But when you are the intermediary, or agency, if you will, who usually works for a direct client for X cents per word, you can ask for 2 x X cents per word for projects in language directions that you cannot translate yourself … and you can generally get away with it and split the remuneration with the translator.

I think that this is how the concept of a translation agency was originally created, before the advent of mega-translation agencies, back when most translation agencies were actually run by translators who understood complicated translation problems, unlike many, possibly most translation agencies today that can be characterized best by the word “clueless” when it comes intricate translation issues because they don’t understand the languages from and into which they are translating.

Imagine, for example, the following scenario: Let’s say that you are a medical translator who has been translating articles from medical journals for a direct client, for example a pharmaceuticals company, from Spanish and French into English for several years now. The client obviously likes you and trusts you because the company has been sending you the same type of projects to be translated into English from Spanish and French for a number of years.

But all of a sudden, this client has a different project for you: translations of summaries of the same articles from the same medical journals into Spanish and French, which is something that you cannot do yourself.

What should you do? It’s quite a dilemma, isn’t it? According to many purists among translators who are convinced that “outsourcing” translations to other translators is a filthy practice unworthy of a genuine translator (in fact on par with “crowdsourcing”), you should simply say to the client, no, sorry, I don’t do that, the way Nancy Reagan taught us to say no to drugs.

The other option is that you accept the project but tell the client that you have to charge 2 x X cents per word instead of 1 x X cents a word because you need to share the bounty with qualified translators.

If you say yes, the client will probably go along with the higher cost because you have already proved your worth to the client if your expertise is more important to the client than the cost.

If you say no, what is the client likely to do? Well, he or she will probably go on the internet, click on one of the advertisements from mega-agencies because they usually come up at the top of the page and the project will be handled by a project manager who most likely does not know anything about the field of medical translation and who does not understand the languages in question either.

And if the client gets used to the mega-agency, the projects that you used to translate yourself may after a while disappear too.

If we now change the translation field and language combination, this imaginary dilemma was a real dilemma that I was facing myself about eight years ago. At that point, I was swamped with very profitable Japanese patents that I was translating myself and I did not want to bother with projects into other languages. I don’t need this hassle, I thought to myself. I will just say no to the client.

But in the end I said yes,  asked for a substantially higher rate, and when the rate was accepted, I started looking for suitable translators with experience in the field.

I am so glad I did that all those years ago, especially since I don’t have nearly as many Japanese patents for translation at this point. But the projects that I “outsource” into other languages that I cannot translate myself, projects that I organize and proofread, have been coming from the same client several times a month (who might have been tempted to defect to another agency had I said “no” back then).

At this moment, I in fact have no work, which is why I have time to write another silly blog post this morning. I sent my cost estimate to a client yesterday and if it is accepted, that project will keep me busy for about a week. But even if my bid is not accepted (it was for several fairly long patents, and the client of my client might say no to the cost), I still have four translators working on six projects in two language combinations that I cannot handle myself thanks to the fact that I said “yes” to a project that I did not really want to do when I was busy translating myself.

So even if my cost estimate from yesterday is not accepted, and even if no other work comes through the pipeline in the meantime, I should have enough money to pay my bills from the translations that I “outsourced”.

I think I made the right decision when I dared to ignore conventional wisdom and ventured beyond my comfort zone all those years ago, don’t you agree?



I just checked my e-mail and saw that my bid from yesterday was accepted.The little engine that could, called, is now firing again on all cylinders.



  1. Ah! My week-end reading material! 🙂

    I also recommend the #blabberingtranslators video in which you are being interviewed (to be found on Twitter and YouTube + on the interviewers’ website, of which I have forgotten the name.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, it must be #blabbingtranslators, I don’t know why they called it like that…


      • It’s a smart phone application called “blab” and the people in various groups who talk to each other in this manner (it works kind of like Skype) are called blabbing this or that. So translators are called #blabbingtranslators” in the blabbing group started by Dmitri Kornyukov, a Russian translator in Canada, about three months ago. You can also find us on Youtube if you look for #blabbingtranslators or Dmitri’s name.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree that an individual can outsource in a language they know themselves because even if they are not native in the other language they can easily spot mistakes or misunderstandings that the translator has made. In the case of languages of which they have no knowledge, the decent thing is to find a translation agency that does it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m not sure if it’s the *decent* thing, as such, but it certainly saves you a BUNCH of work in trying to figure out if mistakes or misunderstandings have occurred.


  3. By the way, today I have found a new name for large, non-translating translation intermediaries: not just “brokers”, but “word brokers”: they buy and sell words, with per-word rates (sorry: fees, I always use this word now, after our colleague’s remark the other day).

    So this blog is also useful to find the proper terminology to use in our contacts with our clients (intermediaries or end clients), so as to avoid the terminology invented by large, non-translating intermediaries. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “if the client gets used to the mega-agency, the projects that you used to translate yourself may after a while disappear too”

    It is so true…

    So much wisdom on one page, as usual!

    But you must be busy with your new patent translation order now! 🙂


    • Busy, but not too busy to turn down another interesting project if it comes because I always quote two prices, one for expedited and one for regular turnaround time at a lower price. The lower price is usually accepted, unless it is an emergency, which makes it possible for me to fit more work if it comes.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I have to remember to always do that.

        I am changing my email template right now! 🙂


  5. Reblogged this on International Language Services – Isabelle F. Brucher – Translation office specializing in Law, Finance and Marketing since 2004 and commented:
    Why you should #outsource #translations into your source #languages in order not to lose your direct customers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interestingly, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting’s Code of Conduct actually prohibit its members from outsourcing without the client’s knowledge.


    • 99.99% of “translators’ associations” are “translation intermediaries’ associations” in which translators are allowed.

      I do no recommend giving one’s money to them. They only represent the interest of our enemies: our exploiters.

      Being listed there might give you customers.

      But if I were a customer, I would know that paying one’s membership fees does not make you a good translator. So…

      Anyway that rule you are mentioning is only for translators who work for intermediaries.

      The problem is that those associations cannot conceive that translating slaves might take their freedom and work directly for end customers.

      So for them a “customer” is an intermediary, not an end customer.


      Just the terminology they use proves that they are serving the interests of our exploiters: intermediaries – most of the time our enemies, who force us to work with expensive software that slows down our work and decrease its quality, because they prefer to believe SDL’s lies than missing an opportunity to extort huge rebates in which our TIME is not at all considered.


  7. What is the specific formulation of this ban, I wonder?
    Given that most clients don’t give a damn, it does not seem to make any sense. My clients are not stupid, they know that I don’t translate into French, English, German, Japanese and Chinese myself.
    And does it cover also agencies, or are they not allowed to be FIT members.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Whenever I read something like that in an online discussion, I always think to myself, this person is either lazy, dumb, or a combination of the two.”

    I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with this statement.
    I can think of several valid reasons for not wanting to outsource that have nothing to do with the degree of laziness or dumbness of a person; just as I can think of several valid reasons not to outsource, which some people ignore and as a result damage others and the “profession”.

    This is a discussion worth having, but it is a more complicated (and indeed sensitive) subject to be discussed in terms of black and white.
    It has to do with the make-up of this so-called “profession”, and ethical considerations, to name just a few points.


  9. Thanks for your comment, Shai.

    So if a direct client asked you to translate something that you cannot translate yourself, what would you do?

    Would you just say, no, sorry, go some place else, I don’t do that?


    • Different people will have different answers for that question depending on circumstances, motives, and character traits. It is irrelevant what I would do. My point was that there are valid reasons not to outsource that have nothing to do with being lazy or dumb. Namely, some people don’t like this type of work and are not good at it. They don’t want the stress or don’t like being dependent on others.

      But in my opinion, “what would you do” is not even the right question here, or at least not the main one. The question is where the line is drawn between “good” outsourcing and “bad” outsourcing (and by extension “good” and “bad” outsourcers). What are the differences? I don’t pretend to have the answers.

      For example, in the post you argued that one criterion for “good” outsourcing is that one should work with a client, not an agency. Fair enough. Sounds very reasonable to me. However, the entire translation “industry” is built upon a supply chain comprised of outsources, many of whom are “laptop/kitchen-top/bedroom agencies” or “hybrid translators” working for bigger outsources. And it is all above board. The mega-agencies actually prefer it this way for various reasons.

      In my opinion, the evolution of this valueless (if not value subtracting) and opportunistic supply chain is one of the biggest problems leading to the deterioration quality of service in the “commoditizing industry”, which is doing quite a bit of disservice to unsuspecting clients. But it is built on outsources who do it out of their own free will. It seems these days (if to judge by social media and the occasional email) anyone who charges low fees and gets “flooded” with agency (or sub-sub-sub agency) work as a result thinks the obvious thing to do is start outsourcing at an even lower fee.

      But couldn’t these outsources also use the argument that while the fee is not great, it is at least somewhat acceptable for the relevant geographical region — and if they won’t step in the (mega-)agency above them will find its way to outsourcers in developing economics, who in turn will turn to amateur/fraudulent/desperate translators at a ridiculously low fee?

      So where does the line cross between “good” and “bad” outsourcing? What are the differences? Anyone who outsource can argue they are also translators, thus getting access to, and even take control of, the translation community. As if translators are not already being targeted enough by external interests who cynically pretend to be peers.

      As I’ve said, I don’t pretend to have the answers. But these (and more) are the questions I think worth discussing.


      • “As I’ve said, I don’t pretend to have the answers. But these (and more) are the questions I think worth discussing.”


        I naturally agree with about 95% of what you said, Shai.

        The problem that I see is that because so many translators think that “outsourcing” is beneath them, they send the client to a mega-agency who is likely to do a poor job and may possibly even steal their client away from them, instead of using the opportunity to add a valuable skill and service to the range of services that they offer. I think that if more translators started to think of themselves in this manner, we, translators would be finally changing the balance of power by taking the power away from “the translation industry”.

        Instead, they look in disdain on translators who “outsource” as if they were doing something that is inherently unethical and somewhat dirty.


  10. Based on our previous exchanges I’m assuming I fall into the “lazy, dumb, or a combination of the two” category.

    To answer your question (albeit put to Shai): assuming I could outsource (I can’t think of any my main direct clients who would allow me to), I would just refer them to a trusted colleague.


  11. What about if you don’t happen to know a suitable trusted colleague?


    • As far as I remember, it’s never happened to me.

      Anyway, I could list dozens of reasons why outsourcing is not possible or undesirable. Do you still stand by “lazy and dumb”?


  12. I do not consider you to be a lazy and dumb person because I met you and I know that you are smart and I think that you are probably not lazy either, except maybe sometime.

    It would be a horrible world to live in if we were not allowed to be lazy sometime!

    But I notice that you avoided answering my question, and I can only answer your question if you answer mine.


    • Which question? The trusted colleague one? I answered it above. It’s never happened to me and even if I didn’t know anyone I can’t imagine a scenario where another trusted colleague wouldn’t. The alternative is not that the client goes to a mega-agency either. That really is too simplistic.


  13. Ha, ha, ha, Lisa is still avoiding my question about what she would do if she did not know a handy trusted colleague for a well-paid translation from a direct client that she could not do herself.

    Would she send the client to Transperfect or thebigword?

    Or would she find another solution?

    We just don’t know, do we? She keeps saying that it never happened to her …. ergo, it could never happen.


  14. Hmm, I’m beginning to think you like to use your blog to bully people.

    I’ll recap:

    1. On the odd occasion when it was needed I have never had a problem finding a trusted colleague to recommend.
    2. Assuming that if I were unsuccessful the client would go to Transperfect or The Big Word really is a crazy leap and quite frankly absurd.
    3. I do not currently work with direct clients who allow outsourcing and nor do they work with agencies so this whole conversation of what I would is pretty pointless.

    Now back over to you. What is the difference between you and the ghastly agencies you keep writing about? How do you define good and bad outsourcing?


  15. “Hmm, I’m beginning to think you like to use your blog to bully people.”

    If you accuse me of being a bully, I’m afraid no further discussion is possible.

    Too bad, it might have been an interesting discussion, but I am not going to put with this.


  16. I have a question both to Shai and Lisa and, of course, everyone else.

    I assume you have a client base with A, B, C etc. clients.

    Suppose one of your A clients asks you for a translation of something that you cannot handle yourself.

    It can be:
    a) not your language (your language combination or direction in your language combination),
    b) not your specialty (say you usually translate legal documents for your A client, but this one is clearly a technical or PR piece for the upcoming industry exhibition),
    c) the volume you can handle on your own (given your A client’s deadline),
    d) any other incapacity at the given time (you are busy with work for other clients or have an interpreting job or plan to vacation etc.).

    What do you do?


    • I can’t speak for Lisa, but she already answered this question several times now: She would refer this to a trusted colleague.

      What I would do is irrelevant. I can think of valid reasons for outsourcing and circumstances in which it might make sense, valid reason for not wanting to outsource (that have nothing to do with laziness or being stupid), as well as wrong reasons and circumstances in which outsourcing is not the right thing to do (which people ignore).

      My question is not whether or not one should outsource per se, there are too many parameters involved and therefore there isn’t a blanket one-size-fits-all answer, bur where does the line is drawn between “good” and “bad” outsourcing?


  17. My question was, what would Lisa do if she did not happen to have a trusted colleague? And she said that something like that could not happen to her …. because she had no answer for such a situation. And when I pointed it out, she called me a bully.

    Huh? WTF?

    Here is how I would answer your question. As I said in my blog, just like I think that calling Social Security “entitlement” is wrong (we should be “entitled” to get something back for taxes that we have been paying for decades, should we not?), I also think that it is a mistake to use the term “outsourcing” for what Valerij, myself, Loek and many other translators are doing.

    Some translators like to use this word to imply that there is something inherently wrong with it, but I consider it lazy and dumb thinking (I should have the right to feel this way, should I not)?

    But if we do use this word, here is where I would draw the line between good and bad “outsourcing”.

    If you are a translator who treats another translator as a professional, i.e. if you pay him the rate that he asks for, pay quickly, do not ask him to sign a demeaning “NDA”, do not insist on Trados so that you could refuse payment for a part of the translation, you are a good “outsourcer” in my book and I will gladly work for you. I have been working for at least at least half a dozen “outsourcers” in this manner over the last three decades. Most of them were German patent patent translators who “outsourced” Japanese patents to me instead of telling their client “no” and sending him on a silver platter to “the translation industry” because they knew very well that this would probably happen had they simply said “no” to their client.

    We all know that the number of “bad outsourcers” in the translation industry, by which I mean agencies that take 60 days to pay, force translators to sign illegal “NDAs”, insist on Trados in order to steal our money and generally treat us like garbage, is very high.

    That is what I would call bad outsourcing.

    I am not saying that every translator should outsource. It is a different type of activity and not everybody is suited for it. But I do think that to say “I would never do that” as if it were something dirty is wrong and dumb.

    If we want to change the balance of power between us and translation agencies, we need to be outsourcing more because that will make the bad outsourcers less and less relevant and translators more and more relevant. But first we probably need to change the way some translators are thinking about “outsourcing”, and we probably need a different term for it too.


  18. Thank you, Shai.

    I agree with Steve’s answer to your question, but I was going to give you another answer anyway.

    Where is the line between “good” and “bad” drawn?

    We could probably use the idea of added value as a differentiating criterion, but again, what constitutes an added value from my viewpoint might be seen as no added value in your book.

    In such a case, we could discuss it further and I would suggest defining added value from the perspective of your client.

    I have my doubts that, in practical life, referring to a trusted colleague may be of added value, only as a solution to (a). I think is is highly relevant to consider what you’d do in the situations (b) to (d).


  19. Reblogged this on Translator Power.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. And again, can someone explain why the majority of freelance translators, while working for translation agencies, have strong objections against “outsourcing”, e.g. working for/with other freelance translators? Is is something other than the notorious “poverty cult”?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Neid?


  22. @Steve @Valerij

    I really have no desire to get into the thick of it right now, so excuse my relatively brief reply.


    You said “My question was, what would Lisa do if she did not happen to have a trusted colleague?”

    And what an outsourcer does if they did not happen to have a suitable trustworthy translator on the books? Sure, one can go on ProZ to find someone, but I think you’d agree this is hardly a value-added type of “outsourcing”.
    There is really not much of a difference between referrals and “outsourcing” in terms of not driving people into the greedy hands of corporate agencies. Both provide the client with a solution, not turning the client down.

    I also think that assuming a client will immediately turn to a corporate agency is a bit of an oversimplification. If that client chose to contact a translator instead of an agency (or at least chose to work with a translator instead if an agency), which is how one got the client’s business in the first place, I would argue it is not unlikely the client will contact another translator if one can’t/won’t provide the service.
    Mind you, I’m not advocating turning down clients outright, but there is too much variety and too many variables for a black and white type of outcome.

    “If we want to change the balance of power between us and translation agencies, we need to be outsourcing more because that will make the bad outsourcers less and less relevant and translators more and more relevant.”

    I see your point, but I can also think of a different outcome: Replacing one industry of brokers with another. I’d even argue that given enough time the practices and structures of the two are likely to converge.

    Yes, your description of what is considered a “good” outsourcing is definitely something I can get behind of, but is it really that sterile in practice?

    “Some translators like to use this word to imply that there is something inherently wrong with it, but I consider it lazy and dumb thinking (I should have the right to feel this way, should I not)?”

    Your feeling and thoughts are your prerogative. But if you don’t like feeling judged for being an outsourcer, I think it is only fair not to judge others for not wanting to outsource. And I’m not saying this to for the sake of PC (everyone is free to do what they want), but because this approach (from either “side”) does not contribute to a constructive dialog.


    Indeed, there are too many variables. As I’ve explained briefly above, I really don’t see the big difference between referring work and outsourcing it from the client’s perspective. I acknowledge that some clients don’t want the hassle — there are circumstances where “outsourcing” makes the most sense.

    If agencies are being criticized for their outsourcing practices, why should outsourcing translators be treated differently when it comes to scrutiny.
    Not all outsourcing translators are “good” ones. Many charge low rates get flooded with agency work, and then outsource it at an even lower rate. This, and similar practices, shouldn’t be defended and protected under the pretense of collegiality.

    “And again, can someone explain why the majority of freelance translators, while working for translation agencies, have strong objections against “outsourcing” e.g. working for/with other freelance translators?”

    There are too many reasons to list here, and they vary between different demographics within the so-called translation “profession”. But I think that one main reason is years of being exposed to exploitative outsourcing practices, and conditioned by them as the “translation community at large” (the associations) pretty much adopted them, endorse them, and promote them — while blurring the lines between who is a colleague and a peer, and who is just pretending to be one so they could target their prey.

    This is a more complicated issue to be discussed in terms of black and white, which is not helped by the variance in the market. From my experience people tend to come to this conversation looking only at their own experience, motivation, circumstances, and even insecurities — and project them on others. This rarely leads to any meaningful conversation, which I think this topic deserves.

    I never argued outsourcing is something illegitimate, and personally I don’t mind outsourcing per se. I do mind hypocrisy and damaging practices though.


  23. Shai, I generally admire how informed and logical you are when you analyze just about anything, but I have to say, this is the first time when I am unable to understand your reasoning.

    It just makes no sense to me whatsoever.

    I think you are in this case completely wrong and I don’t know what else to say to make you change your position.

    But that’s OK with me, and maybe we both learned something from our exchange of opinion.

    One final comment that I think should be made:”the translation industry”, especially mega-agencies and agencies small and big that use the dirtiest practices and treat translators like garbage must be very happy to know that so many translators would never “outsource” anything because so many translators consider it such a filthy, unhealthy and unethical practice.


  24. “I think you are in this case completely wrong and I don’t know what else to say to make you change your position.”

    And what position is this?
    I did not present any position as such, I don’t think. All I tried to do is present a more round and complete picture.

    What made me comment in the first place was the blanket recommendation about how everyone should start outsourcing. I disagree with that because when taken at face value it could result in a different outcome than the one you had in mind.

    At the risk of repeating myself:
    – There are valid reasons to outsource;
    – There are valid reasons not to outsource; and
    – There are circumstances in which outsourcing doesn’t add any (and possibly even subtract) value to the client or the “profession”, just to the outsourcer.

    I agree that turning down clients (and by clients I mean direct clients; not agencies) is rarely the right decision when there is otherwise a good fit.
    But there are more options than either outsource or turn down the client while providing them with the contact details of a “mega-agency”.

    No one is arguing that outsourcing is an outright filthy, unhealthy and unethical practice, only that when not done right it have negative impact on the market and “profession”.

    All I tried to do is inspire a conversation and advocate looking at the more round picture. There are different circumstances to one’s own, and one can only learn about them as well as share one’s experience, perspective, and insight only through a constructive conversation.


  25. Hi Steve,
    Another heads-up from your “lazy or dumb” demographic group.
    In my work I try to focus on what I do best, which is translating in specific subject fields, mainly into my native language and occasionally into the adopted language of my country of residence. I am not cut out to be a project manager juggling jobs that other people do.
    In 25 years I have outsourced jobs perhaps 3 or 4 times. In each case, I had landed a job in my working languages which was too big to handle alone, so I did part of it myself and sub-contracted parts to others. But this is something that I only do in highly extreme situations. Sub-contracting jobs in my working languages is not part of my normal game plan. And I have never ever sub-contracted work in languages that I could not handle myself.
    Why not?
    Lazy? Guilty as charged, m’lud. I am often overloaded with work in my “real” focus area, and I don’t need the distraction of fiddling about with something I am not particularly good at (project organisation and finance organisation).
    Dumb? Guilty as charged, m’lud. I pass up the “monetisation opportunity” of pretending to be an “LSP” (ouch!!!). I suppose that leaves a bigger slice of the cake for you and others.
    Heartless? Not quite. When I get enquiries that I can’t deal with (for time reasons or because I don’t work in the desired languages or subject areas), I usually point people to the directory of professional translators run by the national translators’ association here.


    • “In each case, I had landed a job in my working languages which was too big to handle alone, so I did part of it myself and sub-contracted parts to others. But this is something that I only do in highly extreme situations.”

      Ha! So you too engage in the dirty and highly immoral “outsourcing” practice, Victor?

      That means that you are no longer a pure translator, you have committed a major sin and you probably will be turned away from the Pearly Gates when the time comes to judge the deeds of our lives.

      To repent, you have to say NO! to (33) thirty three next major translation projects that you would be perfectly capable of handling only with a few more highly qualified translators joining you in a team, but not on your own.

      Only then can you hope to be forgiven your sin by the worldwide community of pure translators who would never stoop so low as to “outsource” under any circumstances whatsoever!


      • Oh dear, such outrage for mere pragmatism.


      • If you mean misplaced outrage from the I-hate-outsourcing crowd that simply disregards pragmatic concerns such as that a client who has been turned down by a translator is most likely going to be a new client of Transperfect or thebigword, I agree with you completely.


      • One person’s “pragmatic concern” is another person’s scaremongering. I don’t lose any sleep over clients who choose to go to big agencies. Why should I? These agencies are fishing a different ocean anyway. The discerning client can tell the difference.


  26. “No one is arguing that outsourcing is an outright filthy, unhealthy and unethical practice”.

    That’s what I thought until I started writing my blog and reading discussions of translators online to discover that many translators think precisely that.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I don’t blame you. Different translators do things differently and that’s perfectly fine. But even though you may not be losing sleep, the fact is that you are losing money.

    And since I would kind of mind that, I do things differently.


    • So I am losing money by focussing on what I can do well and refraining from doing what I can’t do well and dislike doing? Interesting theory! But even if things really were that simple, my choice would be the same.


  28. Assuming that you cannot do both things, and equally well, at the same time, or even if you simply don’t want to bother, your choice makes perfect sense.

    Since I believe that I can do both things, and at this point equally well because I have been a translator/translation agency hybrid for more than 20 years now, it would be foolish of me to turn down well paying work.

    For example, about 80% of what I will probably make today will be from proofreading translations of other translators, and 20% will be from my own translation of a German patent, partly because working as an agency generally pays better than working as a translator.

    Had I said no to this particular client and sent him to a colleague or Transperfect or thebigword, I would make only 20% of what I will probably make today.

    And let’s not close our eyes to reality, most translators are so invisible on the internet to direct clients that had I said no to this particular direct client, he would have gone to one of the big agencies because unlike most translators, translation agencies can be easily found by simply googling a few words on the internet.

    So I don’t think that what I am talking about is theory.


  29. I thought twice whether I should respond to “Neid”, I thought the better of it, finally. But another word that comes to mind is “empathy”. How come translators fail to Look Through the Client’s Eyes?

    Another question that I think of is – is it only our industry/profession? Are there other industries/professions “out there” who have paired their “poverty cult” with an intense feeling of moral supremacy? And why do their moral instincts fail so bitterly as regards the real-world problems (associations that betray their members, technology that is touted to raise productivity, but benefits not the producers, but the technology owners and the middlemen, crowdsourcing à la Translators without Borders – what about “hypocrisy and damaging practices” in this case, etc.).

    Speaking of real world: I lost one of my best clients (one of Germany’s Top 100 Companies) to a large translation agency that was swallowed by Lionbridge. It was some 12 years ago, but it was a very discerning client. However, the client couldn’t help it. As far as I remember it was called “internal restructuring at the enterprise level” aka life.


  30. Question 1 and Question 2 are very good questions indeed. I think that the partial answer to the apparent lack of empathy is that many translators simply can’t imagine what it would be like for a direct client to be turned down by a translator because they have little or no experience in working with direct clients.

    As far as losing large corporate customers is concerned, I lost all of them too. One of them was with me for about 15 years.

    Occasionally I still sometime work for a large corporation, usually with headquarters abroad, but generally only on one project.

    I think the corporate culture forces the people working in the corporate structure to behave in certain manner and one of the rules is that they prefer to work with a similar structure and thus dislike very small operations such as yours or mine.

    That is why I try to mostly after small and medium-sized firms only.


  31. Oh, I still have a few large organizations as clients. But generally, you are right, of course. It is not the word rate or anything that miniscule that matters – in fact, it doesn’t matter at all, as soon as the relevant person in the organization makes sure he or she acts responsibly, according to the internal processes and regulations (e.g. requesting quotes from several providers before awarding the contract).

    A large corporate customer has to make sure they deal with a responsible counterpart. Someone who can let you down, that is to turn down a job due to reasons that I listed above, simply doesn’t qualify. Being referred to a colleague is an exemplary case. In a corporate culture and for people in such organizations It translates to a risk (actually that is the major risk of dealing with a freelancer that you cannot offset either with quality, or price or anything else). (That is BTW one of the reasons why standards matter. They don’t have much to do with quality, but they serve as proof that there are similar internal rules and regulations in place that prevent or minimize risks.)

    So yes, people working in the corporate structure prefer to work with a similar structure, but not because they “dislike very small operations such as yours as mine”. They cannot afford the risks pertaining to very small operations or don’t want to (and why should they?).

    In fact, we strive to minimize this risk too. That is the point of your question “what about if you don’t happen to know a suitable trusted colleague”.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I believe that translators who “outsource” are better translators who never “outsource” on principle precisely because they “the outsourcers” are able emphasize with the clients more since they know what it is like to be in their shoes.

    We, translators, are not exactly saints, and many of us have very strange quirks that our clients often have to put up with. I did not know that until I became “an outsourcer” myself and thus was exposed to the behavior of some translators that I consider unreasonable and sometime quite weird and inexplicable.

    I think that those of us who work both as translators and as agencies have more empathy, as you put it, for both the translators and the agencies simply because we have experience in both camps.

    Some of my own somewhat illogical intransigence to agencies magically disappeared when I became an agency myself.

    Now I just deeply dislike what I call the corporate model of “the translation industry”, which I generally always put in quotation marks because to me it is akin to saying “charity industry”, “religion industry” or “grief industry” (by which I mean undertakers).

    Liked by 1 person

  33. I’ll do an exception for undertakers (Six Feet Under used to be my favorite).
    Other than that – absolutely.

    As for translators, I don’t know… On one hand, they are exposed to so many things, qua what they get to translate. On the other hand… I’d rather keep it to myself.

    A theater director I used to work with had a saying about actors: “Они же как дети. А детей надо любить. Это ж сукины дети.”

    Remember the saying about the people and the government they deserve. Sometimes I think that freelance translators really deserve their “industry”.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Yes, and when you love your children, sometime they don’t love you back when you are telling them what they don’t want to hear.

    That’s just how it is.


  35. […] At least as far as some translators are concerned, it's definitely an ugly word.  […]


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  37. […] from outraged translators but not many Facebook likes, as far as many translators are concerned, outsourcing is an ugly, dirty word and a practice that real, pure translators would never engage […]


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