Posted by: patenttranslator | December 15, 2016

Please Abuse Me – I Am a Translator

Translators are gluttons for punishment. They keep begging me to abuse them, and they will not take “no” for an answer.

Most days I have to delete at least a dozen résumés from my inbox that scream at me, “I am a translator, please, please, abuse me!”

These translators signal their eagerness in no uncertain terms to me in formulations copied and well established especially, although not exclusively, in résumés of newbie translators whose first language is not English.

Here is a short sample of a few of them.

  1. I work well under pressure

You do? Is that why you became a freelance translator? To work well under pressure?

That’s funny, personally, I got into my present line of work to escape pressure, to get out of the rat race and quit it for good.

But you enjoy this kind of abuse of human beings by other human beings?

And what does working well under pressure mean … does it mean that you can translate 5,000 or more words per day on impossible to meet, do-or-die deadlines? If that is the case, most brokers of translation and translation services, calling themselves “Language Services Providers” nowadays (ha, ha, ha) would probably try to lower your rates, would they not? If you can translate twice as many words as most other translators, it’s only fair that your rate should be only half of what other translators are paid!

Personally, I don’t work well under pressure. I thrive when I have enough time to do a good job, and I catch more mistakes when I have enough time—mine as well as those of other translators—when I am rested and have plenty of time to do a thorough job.

I sometimes have no choice but to translate 5,000 words a day. But if I have to do that, I charge a higher rate, at least 40% higher, because working like a robot gives me a terrible headache in the evening and I can’t sustain such a suicidal pace for more than a few days.

  1. My rate is negotiable

You don’t say! How negotiable is your rate, my dear newbie? Can it be negotiated down to 0 (zero) cents per word or per hour?

After all, it’s such fun to translate! It’s a blast and you love it so much because it is the coolest thing in the universe. Special “translation platforms and marketplaces” have been and are being developed as I am writing these words (also called blind auction sites), where translators fight over who will offer less for a translation job in order to land a crummy job from an anonymous client.

Some people are making a lot of money from this lovely and ingenious design, but it’s not the translators who do the heavy lifting and underpaid work, that’s for sure.

  1. I am a proficient Trados user

Remember how wonderful “translation technology tools”, also called Computer-Assisted Tools, and Trados in particular, were first sold to translators by the “translation industry” with the promise that they could double or triple the number of words translated per day, and the same tools were then used by the same “translation industry” to negotiate rates paid to translators down by about 30% on average in the last decade or so on the basis of a criminal scheme called “full matches” or “fuzzy matches”, i.e. words regurgitated by a computer program to be flagged as reused, identical or similar words deserving only a fraction of the nominal rate of reimbursement?

This ingenious and highly profitable abuse of human beings, which is nothing more and nothing less than an illegal wage theft scheme, is well established now in the “translation industry”.

If your rate is negotiable and you love translating so much, how about if you are charged for the privilege of working for a new kind of “translation marketplace” instead of being paid peanuts?

Would that work too?

This kind of double dipping would definitely work for “Language Services Providers” – people who buy and sell translations, wholesale and retail.

It’s probably coming to us in a new, improved, enhanced and perfected version of the “translation industry”.

  1. I would love to be a member of you team

What team is that? There is no team, my dear newbie. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out here in the wonderful freelance universe.

When every other translator is a competitor, that means that there are no teams in our wonderful freelance universe, only circular firing squads.

I used to be on a team, but that was more than three decades ago when I was an employee.

And I tried my best to be a good team member: I called in sick only twice in three years when I was an employee.

Incidentally, don’t tell anybody, but I did not really get sick on those two days I called in sick. There were these two girls that I wanted to show around San Francisco, one was from Austria, and the other one from Japan, so I had to take a day off.

But it was worth it because I married the second one. Our children should be really grateful if they ever find out why I called in sick one fateful day 32 years ago when I was a team member.

But I am digressing again.

I was willing to be a team member employee because in exchange for being a good team member, I got a few things from my employer that were customarily offered to good employees in America back then (30 years ago) and that probably are no longer being offered presently, things like:

I received health insurance paid by my employer, including dental care insurance. I also had life insurance (although I did not really need it because I had no family), vacation time, more money if I had to work on Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays, and every year my salary was increased by a small but significant amount because that was how employers used to reward good team members back then.

What will be your reward, my dear newbie, for being a good team member?

Your reward will be that an “LSP” may send you another job at some point … unless another member of a circular firing squad of translators offers to do the same job for a little less.

It is interesting to me that no matter how desperate the people looking for work as translators may be, so far I have not received a single offer from a volunteer for the ultimate abuse and punishment for and aspiring translator: to post-process machine translation for a living. Even people who may be living a hardscrabble life in an impoverished country seem to understand that this kind of abuse of humans by other humans who use machines to inflict torture is something that should probably only exist in Dante’s seven circle of hell (or maybe the ninth circle of hell), but not in real life.


  1. Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats, Steve! That “silly post of yours” is really great! I suggest you compile all or some of your articles in a book for easier reference.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. If you think that’s abuse, you should see how interpreters are treated. How often do interpreters arrive at a venue miles from home (often abroad) to find that their hotel accommodation which was supposed to have been paid for by the client or the person employing them has been booked but not paid for? And how often do interpreters have to pay from their own money for travel etc., only to be reimbursed months later (if at all!). If you think translators’ rates have been reduced thanks to the wonderful CAT tools, simultaneous interpreters in the 1960s when I started were paid US$65 a day, something like £800 today. Now they are paid £325 a day if they are lucky!


  4. Sounds like I made the right decision when I decided not to do interpreting 30 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My post seems to have vanished?


  6. I hit “post” at about the same time as Volkmar – but nothing showed up. Weird.


    • This comment is shown. I have weird problems with my blog, for example, the counters for twitter and facebook no longer work. Can somebody tell me how to fix it?


  7. This should be required reading for all new translators (and some not-so-new who have gotten brainwashed by the “industry”). They may not have heard that agencies, when boasting about their record profits at industry conferences, swap tips with each other about slick lines to use on translators to pressure them to lower their rates and therefore increase agency profits (actual testimony from a past ATA officer). They don’t even expect the translators to fall for them, using it more like the proverbial spaghetti thrown against the wall. Your point — that translators are now *offering* these lines pre-emptively — shows how these tactics of wage theft are now so common that they have been “normalized” across the translation landscape.

    Here’s another line some translators have adopted as their own to ensure they will be abused:

    “I can work on short notice for urgent assignments”: in TranslationSpeak, this means “I have no life of my own so I’ll drop ev-er-y-thing for your super-urgent job for your end client. Too bad that client is unable to plan ahead or screwed something up: I’ll clean up the mess. Too bad you, as a ‘LSP,’ haven’t educated the client to realize that human translators need more time than Google Translate: I’ll do my best to catch up, and apologize if I can’t. I’ve even learned how to TWD (translate while driving) on my cell phone (with the latest translation apps!), should you need a turnaround of a few hundred words before I can pull over to the side of the road. Oh, and don’t worry, I’m covered by my own insurance policy if anything happens in the meantime.”

    Translators of the world, unite and throw off your chains!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “I’ve even learned how to TWD (translate while driving) on my cell phone (with the latest translation apps!), should you need a turnaround of a few hundred words before I can pull over to the side of the road. Oh, and don’t worry, I’m covered by my own insurance policy if anything happens in the meantime.”

    Ha, ha, ha.

    Given how we are treated by the “translation industry”, I wouldn’t be surprised if these words came true one day soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, it already is a reality (well, all except for TWD). There are several start-up companies that offer clients almost-real-time translating of emails, social media posts, and even chat threads. Translators sign up to get bite-site chunks of text (20, 50, 100, 150 words) sent to them over a cell phone app, which they are expected to turn around immediately. They are “on call” for as many hours as they want (no promise any work will come, but they have to promise to respond right away). A little counter adds up the number of words translated throughout the day, like chips that can be cashed in. The companies promise lots of “easy money,” although one translator reported that the rate is around 2 cents or less a word.

      This really reminds me of Charlie Chaplin’s scenes of a hapless worker in a factory assembly line.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The only solution is to figure out how to be independent of the modern version of the “translation industry”.

        Unless one can do that, the inevitable result will be death by a thousand cuts.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. Translators’ self-offering behavior reminds me of the cow scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    “The waiter approached.

    “Would you like to see the menu?” he said, “or would you like to meet the Dish of the Day?”

    “Huh?” said Ford.

    “Huh?” said Arthur.

    “Huh?” said Trillian.

    “That’s cool,” said Zaphod, “we’ll meet the meat.”

    A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox’s table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

    “Good evening,” it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, “I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in the parts of my body?”, etc.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Nothing wrong in being a proficient Trados user, whether or not you want to accept fuzzy match discounts. It is a wonderful tool that has doubled my productivity in my field. Of course, I do not translate literature.


  11. And nothing wrong with discounts for “fuzzy and full matches” either, I suppose.


    • I did not say that. That is another topic. But Trados is a good tool, whether you want (are forced to) to give discounts or not.


  12. Tilting at windmills, Steve, tilting at windmills 🙂 For translators trying to get their first clients, the reality is harsh, and of course they’d say all sorts of nonsense (as they have been told in all those “write a winning over letter” instructions) to get ahead. Nothing new here. I would not judge them too harshly.
    In the situation of the abused and the abusers, it is easy to put the blame on those who allow themselves to be taken advantage of, but I think we all know it is far from simple. Using CAT tools and providing discounts for repetitions or fuzzy matches is a reality. Being team player, when the translation project is now a teamwork of translators, editors, DTP people, quality managers and client’s reviewers (whoever those might be), is a reality, and it means delivering projects on time, responding to queries and understanding the entire process. And doing my job the best I can, putting ego and emotions aside (well, I try, anyway). I do not see anything wrong with it. Yes, it used to be different. But it has changed. It is not going to change back. And it is not the fault of those who are just starting out. They are just reacting to the “new normal”. But that new normal should not include blatant abuse and exploitation.
    We have a professional association (or two 🙂 ) that is supposed to steer the development in the right direction and let us to “unite and throw off our chains”. I think, by now, we all know how well that works. And still, every year, like good little sheep, we pay them our hard-earned money. I am just about to. It is kind of getting harder every year.


    • Hi, Anna.
      “Being team player, when the translation project is now a teamwork of translators, editors, DTP people, quality managers and client’s reviewers (whoever those might be), is a reality, and it means delivering projects on time, responding to queries and understanding the entire process.”
      I don’t know about you but, unless I’d work in loco at the agencies I translate for, I am seldom considered or feel as a “team player”. I am sometimes not even properly greeted by the PMs I work with, I have never seen them in real life, I have no idea who the translators, editors and proofreaders involved in my projects are (sometimes, not even the end client!), basically, I am just an alienated part of an engine that, ironically, does the real job. I normally don’t even have feedback of what I do – I guess if it is good I am not the one who receives the compliments. The idea of “team player” in a freelance translating for agencies scenario is nonsense to me (I am not saying you’re talking nonsense, maybe you have a different experience and it makes sense in your working context, but not for most people I know). Merry Christmas to you and to the owner of this “silly blog”! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • What I am saying that is that the concept “a team player” should be a two-way street.

        But how can the agencies ask us to be on their team, when they don’t owe us anything at all since they are not obligated to do anything for us, such as send us work when we need it? That is what employers must do for employees who are on their team.

        As you said, they don’t even call us by our name because mass e-mails save time for them. To most of them, we are just easily replaceable peons.

        As a translator, I am not on anybody’s team, and I don’t consider translators who work for me as being on my team either.

        To me they are independent professionals who are not obligated to do anything for me, except to deliver good work when I send them a translation.

        And Merry Christmas to you, Daniela.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s not about placing blame, I think.

    It’s about seeing the reality of it.

    Fortunately, your reality is not my reality, Anna Schuster.

    It so happens that we do have the power to change our reality … but not not if we don’t try.


  14. (this is second try to post; the first was unsuccessful)

    What do you mean by “team”, Anna_schtr (@a_schtr)? In terms of legal relations? Not in terms of general talk! Or, to put it in other words, has legislation changed so much as to allow a company to treat all and any self-employed as its employees? I mean, in your country. In mine, it hasn’t.


  15. […] and interpreters are abused all the time, mostly by translation agencies as I wrote in Part I of my post with the same title. But sometimes we can fight back … although we usually have to use furtive, clandestine […]


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