Toxic Translation: A Twelve-Step Program for Self-Injuring Translators

The Twelve Steps | now available in Portuguese

1. Admit that you are powerless over translation agencies.

2. Make a searching and fearless inventory of the times you have found yourself saying “I might as well take this job for $0.0000000006 per word; if I don’t, someone else will!” or “A client who pays regularly at 8,275 days is still better than one who doesn’t pay at all!” or “Agencies are a business like any other; it’s only natural that they try to make as much money as possible.” Acknowledge that the justification of unjustifiable behavior is an addiction and that your life as a translator has become unmanageable.

3. Prepare to receive a truth of the universe in nine words: Translation rates are dropping because translators accept low rates. If you want rates to stop descending, you must take your finger off the elevator button. Immediately. There is no methadone for people who are willing to translate for half what the average busboy makes, so the only way to combat this addiction is cold-turkey. Make amends by explaining clearly, each time you respond to an insulting offer, refuse a low-wage job, or decline an invitation to lower your rates why you are doing so. I know Miss Manners says we’re not supposed to tell crass, rude people that they’re crass and rude, but she’d make an exception if she were a translator: Low-payers are the abyssopelagic feeders of the sea of translation. Do not hesitate to send them back to filter the ooze whence they came.

4. If you are truly living on Kibbles ‘n Bits, cannot pay the rent, or are slipping your child thinly diluted Elmer’s glue because it’s cheaper than milk, you have an excellent excuse to accept offensive working conditions and insulting wages. Temporarily. While you look for a job that pays you a living wage and doesn’t screw your colleagues who depend on translation for their livelihood. Otherwise, you don’t have an excuse. Not everything in life is black and white, but this is. Meanwhile, if you are not truly in need, stop using that pretext to justify your participation in the destruction of the profession. It might happen to any of us to find the wolf at the door, but he isn’t at everyone’s door all the time. Don’t use the real misery of others to disguise the fact that you couldn’t locate your self-respect with a Sherpa guide and GPS.

5. Conversely, if your parents are still paying your rent and buying your groceries, your husband is the CEO of Halliburton or the President of Mediaset, or you’re a trust-fund baby who just “loves languages,” do some good for the profession and your immortal soul and start translating for free. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of worthy non-profit organizations who could use your help. In the meantime, some of us are trying to earn a living here. Your “pin-money” rates are killing translators who depend on translation as their sole source of income.

6. Accept the fact that your degree from Acme School of Language Mediation or The Flinghurst Academy of Translationology is substantially worthless. Translation is learned in the field, not in the classroom. If you are nonetheless a recent graduate of such a program, here is what to do until you’re truly prepared to command professional rates: apprentice yourself to a translator you trust, donate translations to a worthy cause in order to build your curriculum (see No. 5, above), spend your free time doing practice translations for your personal training, improve your ability to write in your native language, read—a lot—in both your languages. DO NOT : offer cut-rate translations or beg clients to let you work “for practically nothing” because you “love translating.” Why not? For the same reason that there’s a sign at the zoo that says “Don’t Feed The Monkeys.” Because, if you do, they get fat and lazy and never learn that professional, well qualified bananas are not handed around for free.

7.  Stop allowing clients to dictate your fees and working conditions. Do you really need me to trot the analogy out for you one more time? Do you? Really? Fine. Here it is: You sit down to eat in a restaurant. After consulting the menu, you call the owner over to your table. “This steak is overpriced,” you say. “I’ll pay half, and I want you to throw in a bottle of wine with that. If you don’t get everything on my table within ten minutes, though, the deal’s off.” What happens in a restaurant is that they toss you out on your stern. What happens in translation is that you say, “Oh, yes, Mr. Client, thank you, Mr. Client, may I please have another, Mr. Client.” Three words: Knock. It. Off.

8. Stop using the internet until you learn how. The “freedictionary” is not a professional resource and and Yahoo! Answers are not forums where you can consult with reliable and knowledgeable colleagues. About half the answers on’s KudoZ boards are wrong. Wiki is often worth the paper it’s printed on. Google is not your friend. Go search for the phrase “their is” or “its a question” and see how many hits you get (2,160,000 and 50,500,000, respectively). Then we can talk about how internet searches can be so helpful in confirming correct usage. (Gosh! Translation turns out to be tougher than you thought, huh?)

9. If a client doesn’t pay you on time (or doesn’t pay you at all), stop working for that client. Agencies, publishers, and clients who fail to pay as promised are like men who hit their wives. They will do it again. The only question is: Are you going to be standing there when the blow comes? (Quiz: “They didn’t mean to do it”; “They’re just going through a difficult period”; and “If I leave, who knows if I’ll ever find another one” are phrases commonly used by [a] abused wives; [b] self-injuring translators; [c] both.)

10. Translation is not the ‘Ndrangheta. No one will send you to sleep with the fishes if you fail to maintain a lifelong pledge of omertà. Tell your colleagues when clients don’t pay, when they make unreasonable demands, when they revise without telling you, when they insist that you lower your rates, when they forget to put your name on the translation, when they change the agreed-upon conditions after you’ve already started, when they refuse to pay for urgent or after-hours work, when they demand unwarranted discounts. Accepting these conditions silently doesn’t make you a Wise Guy; it makes you an accomplice.

11. Stand up for your native language. Take pride in seeing it used eloquently, fluently, and well. Take offense when it is abused and disrespected. Don’t believe the hype about globalism, world languages, and all the rest. Stop caving in to the absurd and unverified claim that non-native translation is just as valid as native translation or that the people who read translations in their second language “don’t care” if they’re well written or not. Your ability to deploy your native language with sophistication, flexibility, and skill is your most important selling point. You may never succeed in convincing everyone of the importance of this issue, but consider this: many people also find it acceptable to drink wine that comes in boxes, watch Fox News, or buy Lady Gaga CDs. If you’re a language professional, you’re supposed to be above things like that.

12. If there’s anything worse than translators who complain all the time, it’s translators who complain about translators who complain all the time. Let’s suppose you make lots of money, your clients are respectful of your time and your expertise, and everyone pays you promptly. If so, let’s call that what it is: Enormous luck. What it is not is a license to lecture everyone on how they should just stop whinging and get back to work. The fact that translators complain is a good thing; it indicates self-esteem and an instinct for self-preservation, as distinct from your sense of superiority and every-man-for-himself smugness. If you have nothing to say that helps moves the profession forward (and not just your personal little slice of it), at least have the decency to get out of the way of people who are trying to make things better (including for you, buckaroo).

80 Responses to Toxic Translation: A Twelve-Step Program for Self-Injuring Translators

  1. Dan Newland says:

    This is brilliant and EXACTLY what I keep telling people who are constantly bending over in front of exploiters and then complaining that they’re getting screwed.

  2. Very cleverly done.Would you mind if I translated it in French. Maybe I could post it on my blog (with you being credited and a link to your blog, obviously). I’m a translator and copy writer from Montréal, Québec, Canada.

    In any case, I am subscribing to your blog after posting this.


    André Farhat

  3. malspt says:

    It’s really funny to see how true this used to be for me. Before I graduated in conference interpreting and translation I used to think like that and I remember applying for a few jobs for very low rates. Even at university the advice we often received was to begin with low rates and then increase them. Luckily for me I began my professional career mostly as an interpreter and started noticing that even though our daily fees are pretty high, clients pay them happily because we do our job very well. It’s funny to see that it is much easier for me to find interpreting jobs at very high rates than translation jobs at average rates because there are so many toxic translators. The interpreting market where I live (Paris) is very well protected and that’s a blessing and I wish it was that way for translation.
    I couldn’t say it in a better way. Also, I am creating a blog and I would love to post your article ( s) there. Is that ok if I do so? It is a personal blog I am starting to write to help newbies like me and to allow an exchange among translators and interpreters. The adress is

    My website, if you have time to give me some feedback:

    I hope you agree in me posting your article (under your name of course)


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  6. Victoria says:

    Hmmm — I have this exact same problem with tutoring. I charge a rate that is actually lower than some “centers” (aka boiler rooms) and offer professional service, but still get calls and emails from people who berate me for charging too much. I have arrived at two answers: first, that I have rent to pay just like they do, and second, if they continue to insult me (why would I want to work for you after you demonstrate that attitude?) that they can get what they pay for and welcome to it.
    Locally, as tutors we are competing with the local college and even high school students who can work for pennies to pay for their beer fund. They may not know the subject and may have no idea how to teach, but they are cheap.
    Internationally on the internet, the situation is worse. Apparently there are people in India who have advanced degrees and who can make an acceptable living out of online tutoring, taking advantage of the differences in the economies and currencies. It seems they sign up for several services, stay online all day as a full-time job, and grab every offer in their field the second it comes on the screen. Forty rushed answers at two dollars apiece will make you a living. The problem with this is that you get boiler-room answers again, and as mentioned in the article, many of those answers are wrong. More people to the unemployed engineers in India who are working hard and supporting themselves, but trying to pay North American costs of living we can’t compete.
    The problem of wrong answers is a real issue. I wrote to one “We’ll answer your homework!” site to tell them tht one of their model math problems was in error; the response was that I was banned from their site. Thanks, I guess.
    If you want to be a professional, time to act like a professional. That’s the only thing to do.

  7. StErn says:

    Thanks a lot. You made my day with this article!

  8. Pingback: Toxic Translation: A Twelve-Step Program for Self-Injuring Translators(or ‘How to retain your sanity after reading the job ads’) « The right word must be out there somewhere!

  9. Rob Grayson says:

    Brilliant in both form and content. I agree with 99% of what you say, and couldn’t have expressed it half as well myself.

    A plea: I have only discovered your blog (if, indeed, that is what it is) today, and would like to be informed when you post new material. Please consider including an RSS feed for new posts.


  10. Jenny Forbes says:

    Excellent article. Should be required reading.
    Re luck: I agree with those who object to the notion that successful translators have just been lucky. Though a modicum of luck may come into the equation (e.g. good genes), success in most cases is all about hard work, perseverence, reliability and all those dreary “protestant” virtues.
    There’s a nice reply to “Oh, you’re so lucky!”. It’s: “Yes, and the harder I work, the luckier I get”.
    Best wishes, Jenny (one of the lucky ones)

    • provenwrite says:

      Here’s what I find interesting about all the “objections” to my comments re: luck. It strikes me, first of all, that part of the capitalist mind-washing that we’ve almost all undergone is the notion that anyone who succeeds does so solely and exclusively because of hard work, talent, perseverance, etc. I don’t doubt that these play a role, but they aren’t the whole story: luck, connections, social class, race, gender, and a whole lot of other things come into play. I don’t say that any single one of these is determinative, standing alone. But they definitely play a role. For me, the biggest problem with “All my success is due to my efforts” approach is that, when people fail or aren’t successful, the only logical explanation for such an outcome is that they weren’t talented, didn’t persevere, didn’t work hard, etc. And that, quite obviously, is not true. Not only isn’t it true, it’s a fairly hateful position to hold when dealing w/people in trouble or on hard times. If nothing else, the current world economic crisis ought to have made this clear once and for all: tens of thousands of people are “failing” for reasons that have nothing to do w/how “good” (smart, educated, hard-working, talented, determined) they are. All that said, I cited three conditions in “Toxic Translation” which I attributed to “enormous luck”: you make lots of money, your clients are respectful of your time and your expertise, and everyone pays you promptly. Frankly, none of those strikes me as a factor determined solely by the translator’s efforts–and certainly not the second and third, which have everything to do with the marketplace that you find yourself in and relatively little to do with your personal “virtues.”

      • Judy Jenner says:

        Hilarous, thank you so much for this great article. This is precisely what I preach in my workshops and book, but your style is incredibly unique. You had me in stitches — great job. Judging by the number of enthusiastic responses, your article was long overdue. Perhaps this might be a good one for the ATA Chronicle? If you would like, I can propose it to Jeff, the editor, who is always looking for great articles. I write a monthly column for the Chronicle, and I’d be happy to propose it. Let me know!

  11. Tanya says:

    Absolutely, thank you. Other professions did it, and, hopefully, we can. The only note I’d make (being a graduate of a translation program) is that while a lot is learned on the job, good translation programs put you way ahead of most self-trained candidates in quite a few things, e.g., using state-of-the-art translation tools and technology. I think it may be a long-term mistake to downplay the role of university degrees (Europe knows it well, the U.S. is, apparently, still learning).

  12. Anastasia La Fata says:

    Great article! Too bad that chances are so few that those so called translators read it…. They must be too busy with their monkey work.
    Thank you!

  13. jado92mx says:

    Now, thanks to your post, I’m recovering the energy for get back my favorite hobby: translations :)


  14. João Esteves says:

    The cap does fit me.

  15. Czech Translators Association regularly publishes recommended rates, I personally don’t agree with it, and I believe not many people are listening to it.
    But I believe if we can establish some sort of rating of translation agencies by the prices they offer, and be able to brand the biggest offenders as cheap bastards, we will avoid any legal problems, and make clients aware they are getting their translation from some serious bottom feeders (smile).
    Agencies need us more then we need agencies.
    We can work directly for clients, but translation agencies need our cheap labor.
    If the coffee growers can organize themselves and get fair wages, why we can’t start boycotting the worst offenders.
    We already blacklist agencies with bad payment practices, another step is to avoid agencies with low payment practices.

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  17. I just posted this on Proz – see the link below

    How to improve Proz blue board and rates problem at the same time

    Proz should allow paying translators to add additional categorization in a blue board – dividing translation companies into 3 major groups.

    0-6 cents – Low end bottom feeders
    7-12 cents – Medium end TAs
    13 and up – Upscale TAs

    It will help very quickly to divide good and bad companies.

    R. Pletka

    Here is the link to the posting

  18. Antinea says:

    Great points, BUT you forgot an essential step: Thou shall not be afraid to discuss rates with fellow translators”. There is no greater incentive to raise one’s rates than realizing that they are still below the lowest rate charged by a confident colleague.

    • provenwrite says:

      Thanks Antinea. That’s one I should definitely have included!

      • JusticeDemon says:

        Or maybe not, if you are subject to antitrust legislation.

      • provenwrite says:

        I’d be curious to know which translators might be subject to antitrust legislation (and under what circumstances), given that there’s no union, professional organization, or other entity that would constitute the trust. (Obviously, in individual cases translators might be bound by confidentiality agreements, but that’s another issue.) There’s an awful lot of misinformation about so-called price-fixing and antitrust floating around, most of it apparently being aimed at keeping translators from doing exactly what they ought to be doing: telling each other what they earn. From my point of view, the issue isn’t price-fixing but establishing living wages for translators, which exist in many other professions. There’s a reason why minimum-wage laws exist in the US and why unions establish union scales; I only wish translators were covered by something similar.

      • JusticeDemon says:

        This is mainly a question of exchanging confidential information between competitors. In principle the detailed pricing policy of an enterprise is confidential. Exchanging such details constitutes unlawful collusion that distorts competition. This, at least, is the theory.

        The Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters has managed to get away with publishing statistics on rates in various translation-related occupations. These statistics are based on a survey of members. However, the association is not allowed to recommend rates to its members.

        Trade unions enjoy protection from antitrust legislation in the European Union thanks to judicial and other decisions upholding the social dimension of their work. This protection does not extend to self-employed persons, even though the concrete situation of the self-employed often approximates to that of employees.

      • Mia Dintinjana says:

        I don’t know about the US, but in the EU the anti-trust law (in EU known as the competition law) regulates the behavious of large enterprises with significant or dominant market shares that are in a position, due to their market share, to fix prices and thwart the market; in other words, it is not about individuals.

        Great article!

  19. Heidi Mathias says:

    Perfect! Every translator (or those so called) must read this article.

  20. Alberto Álvarez Lugrís says:

    Right now I’m telling my students your post is a must for this term! (Mostly #6!!) Congratulations!

  21. tony says:

    Thank you! Well done!
    I tweeted this and facebooked it.
    (I know…new verbs for the English language).

  22. Tess says:

    Amen to that! Spread the word.

  23. Great post! Self-injuring translators of the world, take notice, we’re staging an “intervention”. I bet that number 5 alone is dragging down rates by at least 20-30% below what the unsubsidized market rate would be. Translation buyers are essentially being subsidized by wealthy spouses, even when they don’t buy directly from a “hobby” translator, since their rates affect us all.

    I only disagree with the jab at Google – if I google a phrase and find numerous hits in reputable scientific journals and other well-written publications, I take that as a strong indication that the phrase is acceptable. But every other satiric barb was right on target! Thank you for writing this clever satire!

  24. Joseph Hitti says:

    I have a friend whose English and own native language are absolutely poor, but who “dabbles” in managing translation jobs. At the low rates she charges, she hires translators from around the world for literally pennies to work in languages she can’t even read, does not hire proofreaders (what difference will that make anyway?), and she literally makes more money than I do as a full time freelance translator in one language.
    Who is to blame? The agencies and the clients who hire her, because she and they are cheap and don’t give a hoot about quality.
    I also blame the American Translators Association for its collusion with agencies, for not mandating their corporate members to hire only certified translators, for not lobbying the US government to make translators licensed professionals (like every other serious profession out there), etc.
    This is why I never bid for jobs on or TranslatorsCafe or any of the other outfits. They all remind me of the old fish market in downtown Beirut, before the war: With the stench all around you, you maintain your dignity by haggling till you die.

  25. Ildiko says:

    Thank you for this! A gem of an article, brilliant; great insight, style, humor.. I would make it a must-read for all translators and outsourcers. Of course, the final test is in the ‘doing’ and not in the ‘knowing’ so let’s hope everyone will be *working* these steps. As it is emphasized in all self-help programs, recovery is not a theory – we have to *live* it! :)

    With my very best wishes,

  26. David Parry says:

    Firstly, it is VERY hard to read the comments when they are light grey on dark grey in small print that even lawyers would have trouble with.

    Point 7: in my experience agencies have their set rates and a “pain level” that they will not exceed. I can some times get a surcharge out of them for a rush job, with the half-joking justification that you need to train your customers, but in other cases it is a simple choice of accept their rates or look for another agency. Generally speaking, the latter is the better choice.

    About the only way to lever your rates upwards is to have expertise in some field. Or better yet, several fields. This way you are the only person who can be trusted with the job, and if the subject is really exotic, the price is secondary.

    Point 8: LEO and ProZ et al are fine, up to a point, but you need to know where the point is. You feel so good Googling for terms for translation and finally hit a bilingual Website in the right field, and your word swims up – until you notice that the English text is truly faecal. IT gets better if you are supposed to be translating said crapulous Website and have been told to use the existing terminology.

    Further to which, engineers and IT jocks tend to be very proud of the fact that they need to use English and know some words. Alas, not always the right ones. I have lost count of the number of times I have have tried to correct mistranslations or lame translations that have been embedded in software or in control panels.

  27. provenwrite says:

    Just a reminder, esp. to those who’ve written to deliver personal insults, that “Toxic Translation” is a satire. It’s meant to raise issues which you can and should then carry elsewhere so they can be discussed thoughtfully — in your translators’ association, e.g., or on the translator mailing lists to which you belong. If I wanted to discuss these issues one by one in an entirely serious key, I’d have done that (and, in fact, do it on other blogs). But let’s not freight a satire with more “political” significance than it can bear. If you find it amusing, great. If it spurs you to take action in support of our profession, better. If it pisses you off, best of all because you’re probably a self-injuring translator and you needed to hear it. But don’t expect me to hand my forum over to you. Go write on your own blog. W.

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  29. I wish I could have more time to write about my complacency with this article. I have just turn down to translate a book because of the rate they want me to accept. And of course the condition of getting paid when all is done…no way!
    Thank you so much for your time and willingness to help our profession of translators.

  30. Amanda says:

    Absolutely brilliant. As a self-respecting translator, I am glad to say I don’t follow any of these rules, and I am picky about who I will take on as a new client. I ask for references. The good customers are happy to comply.

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  32. Mandlanne,

    I also live in the SH (Argentina) and do not accept low rates. If I´m working for international clients, I quote international rates; Do not quote local rates for intl. clients –that´s what most agencies/translators from our region are currently doing, not realizing –or not caring– that what they´re doing is affecting the global community and dumping the market.

    • Mandlanne says:

      Please see my reply above.

      I agree with you and that’s what I do. However, as a lecturer in translation, I am just wondering how you can pass on such message while taking into consideration the fact that this is not necessarily applicable to all situations.

  33. Joao says:

    Just great! This is so familiar. I am based in Brazil and I guess the translation market is the same everywhere.

  34. I will use a teenage favorite praiseword: Awesome! You’ve said it all. Hope you don’t mind my tweeting your article, it deserves as wide a dissemination as possible!

    Whereas I work out of the Southern Hemisphere and therefore share some of the concerns voiced by some colleagues in this respect, I believe however that, since we do work in a globalized market, we should not think “south”, let us think “global”. And, as I always say, I prefer to go walk on the beach than break my back and go sleepless (in Montevideo, not Seattle :)) for a pittance. Something of myself goes out in each translation, so I refuse to sell myself short. No self-respecting translator should.Ever. The worst thing we have to contend with, however, is not agencies, it’s undercutting on the part of so-called colleagues. It is the same as in the case of substance abuse. Are we going to load all the blame on the supplier or admit that the consumer has, in a way, spawned the supplier? Desperation is a poor bedfellow. Once, when I found myself twiddling my thumbs, so to speak, I decided to go the other way: I raised my rates. And it paid off. Sort of. I work with clients I respect, and each client, no matter how small (doing certified translations brings me in contact with private customers, locally) becomes a friend. So, to cut a long story short, I was fascinated by your article and congratulate you on your humor and your much-needed candor.



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  36. Hello! THANK YOU for your article. I agree with you completely, about rates lowering and how damaging this can be for the entire translators’ community. I also must admit that it is sometimes difficult to refuse a project which pays 0.01usd less per word than m minimum rate. Especially since I am a freelancer and this style of work has high busy times and dead times. So, in a way, it’s slightly paranoiac.
    BUT reading your article will encourage me to put my foot down against all clients. :)

  37. Tony says:

    It’s been said before, maybe, but never better.

  38. I don’t agree with #1
    We are not powerless, on the contrary, we have the final say. We can always say no.
    And we can survive without agencies, but agencies can’t survive without us.

  39. mekyam says:

    oooh, love this. thank you, pw!

    now, with your permish, i’d like to translate the steps into my native tongue (with “sophistication, flexibility, and skill, or course!) and sock all twelve rungs to the jokers in my language pair (english-malay). :D

  40. Shakirah says:

    Absolutely wonderful post. Exactly what I am going through as EnglishMalay translator. Sometimes the review work I get is totally preposterous, absolutely unreviewable, particularly when it is in the realm of legal or financial genre, and agencies hand it over to translators who have no firm grasp of the subject.
    Thank you so much for verbalising it, and so beautifully too

  41. Mandlanne says:

    I understand that. However, when one replies to a job offer on the web, the country of origin is not always mentioned.

    I also fight where I work with people offering (generally poor) translations for extremely low prices. As a lecturer in translation, it is also something I teach my students.

    Nevertheless, I feel that many discussions by translators surounding the issue of rates are led and commented by people living in the “northern hemisphere”. Maybe it is time for translators from the “southern hemisphere” to enter the debates.

    • Very interesting issue, you are raising here!

    • Dawn Montague says:

      Maybe the key is to start thinking about what it actually takes to live. The cost of living in “southern hemisphere” countries may be somewhat cheaper, but not that much cheaper. I believe that a professional translator should be able to support a family on his or her translation income alone. Can you do that with the typical rates in your country?

      • Mandlanne says:

        Thanks a lot for the comments linked to the issue I raised.

        Dawn: I live in South Africa, which is definitely not a cheap country – especially with the influence of the World Cup.

        However, my students come from all over Africa and situations vary. What do you say to someone who comes from DRC where if you can make more than $5 a month you already belong to the middle-class? Do you tell that person that they should refuse the job because of principle?

        I guess it goes back to #4, except that this is not a temporary situation in one’s life but a reality that may last for a long time.

        I just think that sometimes we forget other people’s perspectives. Going global is fine but the implications are not the same everywhere.

  42. provenwrite says:

    Mandianne: The point is this — outsourcers should pay a living wage for the economy in which the translator lives; translators should work in the economy in which they live. I don’t know whether “feeling guilty” is the answer, but if you are participating in the off-shoring of jobs from Europe to the “southern hemisphere,” you are harming your colleagues in Europe. It’s that simple.

  43. Fantastic! Finally somebody tells the basics about being a good, successful translator. We who love to translate should be just as doctors who love to care for their patients and therefore give their best and rate their services accordingly (as high as their love and care). A good translation deserves a good payment.
    You should send your text to every translation school worldwide.

  44. Mandlanne says:

    I could not agree more with what you say.

    Nevertheless, I have issues with rates. Indeed, I live in the Southern hemisphere and our rates are far from those expected in Europe, the US or Canada.

    Translation has gone global which means that someone from Europe may advertise a job on the web and get offers from wherever and thus at different rates.

    What should we do as translators who are used to lower rates than others? It has nothing to do with wanting to lower down the European rates.

    Ultimately, I end up feeling guilty for something I am not responsible for.

  45. Well said, Wendell!

    Twenty years as a freelance musician taught me to walk away from rotten jobs rather than lose my self respect. I never regretted it.

    After starting out recently as a freelance translator, and determined to be fair to myself and others, I have dedicated a page of my own website to would-be client education.

  46. Brilliant, Wendell. Thank you :-)

    However, I’ll join Sara is disagreeing with #12. Claiming that success is “luck” also implies that it is pointless to work toward achieving it. There may be elements of luck, but the good and the bad parts of one’s business often reflect long-term habits (as well as basic characteristics).

  47. Ann-Kristin says:

    Thank you! You made me think I’m not so wrong, after all – just have to keep my head down and continue “the good work” …
    It’s good to have a laugh every now and then – at least that comes free of charge, dividends are paid on time (feeling better already) and we laugh – or at least smile – together, that’s good.

  48. Sara says:

    Great article, fabulous tone of voice.

    I do have to take exception to the final point, though.

    “Let’s suppose you make lots of money, your clients are respectful of your time and your expertise, and everyone pays you promptly. If so, let’s call that what it is: Enormous luck.”


    What it really is is: creativity, commitment, and hard work. Oh yeah, and more hard work.

    It never ceases to amaze me when translators sit around complaining about how exploited they are by agencies. The good clients are out there, people, but finding them, marketing to them, and giving them the high level of service they expect is *work*.

  49. Alex Eames says:

    Nice article Wendell. I enjoyed reading it a lot.

    I’ve recently written one with a similar theme called How To Kill Your Translation Business. Should be out next week.

    Alex Eames

  50. Sarah Jane Webb says:

    Wisdom, wit and style. You’re our hero, WonderWendell.

  51. Riccardo Duranti says:

    Right on!
    You might also add that this is about the only field where top quality and experience get you off the market because publishers think they can’t afford your services (without even checking!)
    Sometimes I wonder whether self-injuring doesn’t come with the activity itself…

  52. Lucia says:


  53. jo says:

    Prices are dropping, as they will when people are desperate to work. But I trust a real good translator knows his or her worth – if for no other reason, because work keeps coming his or her way. A lot of these underpaid & badly treated people are not just badly paid, they supply badly done translations… Still let’s face it, there’s a serious crisis out there & those who still work well must realize the wolf is at the door… let’s hope not for long..

  54. Sarah says:

    Just. Superb.
    I’ll be passing this one around for months to come.

  55. Sue Jollow says:

    Thanks! I particularly like your observations at point 8 – re such simplistic superficially reasonable approaches as using google as an authority. If 3 million websites in Chinese misuse a phrase that doesn’t make it ‘correct’ by force of numbers!
    I take pride in applying my language skills – at times it feels more like carving wood or stone – and when I edit I try not to criticize what is just someone’s slightly different style choice, but I keep finding many people simply don’t understand that grammar and syntax articulate meaning.

  56. Giusi says:

    Anyway, I loved your article, it was absolutely fun to read, incredibly well written and straight to the point. It deserves to be published in a book that all these hordes of “How do I become a translator” people should be obligated to buy and read!

  57. Giusi says:

    Complaining…yes, theoretically, if people complained about the poor quality of a text, that might have some positive results. The problem is: Who is able nowadays to discern the bad quality of a text? Who has the time to do that? Who cares, at the end? We do, since we work with words, but many people would comment: What the heck, they are just words…

  58. YMGalán says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with all that has been expressed in this article.

    But I believe that many of these issues depend on the translator him/herself. For me, personally, quality i far more important than quantity. Therefore, I will not sell my services just for the sake of getting a few extra dollars or because I am scared to loose a client. I am selling my interpreting and translating services based on the high standard my work offers and guarantees.

  59. Miriam Ludwig says:

    Step 5 is marvelous! It is obvious that you are living in Italy :-)))!

  60. guest says:

    Points 2 to 5 hit the nail. A serious business should not fall apart at the lightest wind gust, such as price blackmailing. You should aim at being financially self-sufficient.
    Point 6 hits another nail: one who has proven credentials, should be given the job.
    So, the ideal dream might be three-step: be professionally credited, be self-sufficient, have unhampered access to the job. Sorry, four-stepped: never argue with strong bloggers :)

  61. JusticeDemon says:

    It seems that many people and businesses are unable to recognise quality in the translations that they buy. The upshot of this is that a great deal of linguistically shoddy material gets published in a glossy format. This will probably continue for as long as the reader is too polite to complain.

    This problem is not unique to the translation sector. A similar malaise affects competitive tendering of services such as public transport, in that the people who design the tendering process and decide the winning bid are generally not the people who ride the buses every day.

    It is essential for the public to complain, loudly and frequently, about the declining service standard when local authorities contract out their public transport services to cowboy bus companies. Feedback of this kind gives the lie to quality guarantees made in the competitive tendering process.

    Similarly, we should not refrain from pointing out, with a generous measure of ridicule when appropriate, that the language used in the annual report of some flagship multinational company is below par. We should be willing to call attention to the errors and use appropriate adjectives such as shoddy and turgid, or even the modern catch-all verb suck. This is not rubbishing the work of one’s fellow professionals. It’s merely calling attention to the ineptitude of an agency that has sold low quality work to a pennywise, tuppence-foolish client. We do not know the conditions under which the translation was made, but we can call attention to the need for meaningful quality control and the need to pay for good quality.

  62. I think we need one of these twelve-step-lists for self-injuring agencies, who in turn injure and pressure needy, or just too nice, translators, who in turn injure the profession as a whole.

    I couldn’t agree more. That is why I have made the choice to work with fewer, select clients, choose them carefully, so I can continue to treat translators the way I would like to be treated: professionally!

    Translation has become far too commoditized. Words don’t get cheaper by the dozen.

    My five cents …

    Dagmar Dolatschko
    Founder & President
    Peritus Language Services

  63. A gem of an article. Hat’s off to your style and humor.

    Jonathan Goldberg

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