Educating the “Uneducated” Client

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

Because of the nature of our work, we translators are fated to work with clients who may not always understand what we do and often push our skills and resilience to the limit. But while some may think that difficult clients top the list of challenges translators face in the exercise of their work and business-building activities, that title is actually held by someone else: the “uneducated” client.

Appreciation: The Difference that Matters

Working with difficult clients (those with tight deadlines, last-minute changes, multiple-review-round habits, etc.) can be taxing, but as long as those clients know what translation entails, time and hard work will likely lead to a mutually trusting relationship. This is one where the client appreciates (both literally and figuratively) what the translator does, and where the translator may trust the client not to jeopardize the quality of his or her work or reputation. Working with “uneducated” clients (who may also be difficult clients) proves a tougher challenge with deeper ramifications.

By definition, “uneducated” clients lack knowledge and understanding about what translation is, what translators do, and the challenges of intercultural communication. As a result, they are less likely than most to prepare their texts for translation, make reasonable demands, understand the choices made during translation, involve us in their projects, value our work and feedback, or treat us as partners in the quest for the perfect final text. Therefore, if we ever hope to establish a mutually trusting and beneficial relationship with these clients, education is key.

The Challenge

While client education is part of our job description and we should always be prepared and willing to provide as much information as needed, educating “uneducated” clients may take more time, patience, and effort than we have to give. However, armed with the right tools, these clients also present an interesting challenge and an opportunity to change the perception the world has of us and our work. Doing so is not without difficulty.

One cannot fail to acknowledge that not all “uneducated” clients are created equal. There are instances when a translator will need to arm himself or herself not only with patience, but with a great deal of stoicism and humor to deal with the situation. This is even more true if that client has no intention of getting “educated,” thinks he already knows all there is to know, or enters the relationship thinking that translators are nothing more than glorified bilingual typists.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The following discusses the different types of “uneducated” clients and how to deal with each effectively.

The Blank-Canvas Client

The Blank-Canvas Client is new to translation and, in my experience, tends to be monolingual. He has no or little preconceived ideas about language, intercultural communication, or translation in general. This most often stems from a lack of interest in or need for our services. Or his curiosity may have led him to try his hand at a game of “Google Translate back-and-forth,” which is when he realized that things are not as simple as they look. (This is probably what convinced him to hire a professional translator in the first place!)

To a translator, the Blank-Canvas Client is as much a challenge as an opportunity to learn. Indeed, explaining the basics of our trade forces us to take a closer look at things, simplify ideas (perhaps even challenge some), and improve the way we do things when it comes to including our clients in the decision-making process.

As mentioned previously, the Blank-Canvas Client has no preconceived ideas about our work. Educating him gives us an opportunity to promote professional translation and share bona fide knowledge that will benefit not only us but the translation industry as a whole— hence the need to do it right.

The main challenge we face when educating the Blank-Canvas Client is to provide him with enough information, but not to a degree where he becomes confused with too much of it. The good news is that streamlined help is available in the form of ATA’s Translation: Getting it Right (available online as a free PDF), a guide that provides clients who are new to translation with basic, valuable information about the translation process, what to expect, and how to prepare their texts for translation. (An equally valuable resource is ATA’s Interpreting: Getting it Right.)

Educating the Blank-Canvas Client starts with providing him with a copy of Translation: Getting it Right, explaining that it will clarify the translation process and help him get the most out of his translation budget. (That latter point should guarantee that he reads it!) After familiarizing himself with the guide’s contents, the client should have a better understanding of the basics of translation, including the following:

  • Not all translations (or translators) are created equal.
  • Translation takes as much time as writing.
  • Translation is about “exporting” concepts and ideas across cultures, not transposing words.
  • An inquisitive translator is good news.
  • Typography varies from one language to the next.

Naturally, as you work on more projects with your client and questions/ challenges arise, you may need to go into detail about one point or another or address other issues. Provided that your message is clear and consistent, the Blank-Canvas Client will in time become an educated client who understands what you do and trusts you. You’ll also be in a better position to exchange ideas without fear of confusing him or jeopardizing the quality of your work. The same is achievable with our next type of uneducated client, but it will take much more time and effort.

The Biased Client

Just like the Blank-Canvas Client, the Biased Client is often (although not always) monolingual and may be new to translation. But unlike his quick-learning counterpart, he believes strongly in some widely-held translation myths that will take time and effort to dispel. While it is always useful to share Translation: Getting it Right with the Biased Client, you will also need to spend a considerable amount of time disproving moderately-to-deeply ingrained dangerous misconceptions about translation. Dangerous misconceptions are those that have the potential of deeply and negatively affecting your relationship with your clients and the quality of your work, so it’s important to have an answer ready when specific concerns come up.

Most dangerous misconceptions derive from one myth: that translation is about replacing word A in the source language with word B in the target language. Clients who believe that translation is simply about replacing words will generally think that:

  • Translation is a fast and simple process.
  • Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can translate and/or review translations.
  • Machine translations are as good as human translations.
  • There’s only one possible translation for every text.
  • Back translation is a good indicator of the quality of a translation.
  • Source and target copy are similar in length and structure.

To the Biased Client, translation is easy, fast, and predictable, and any bilingual person is as valuable and knowledgeable as the next. Hence the importance of quickly, clearly, and consistently disproving the following dangerous misconceptions one at a time:

Translation is a fast and simple process.

Answer: Translation is an elaborate deconstruction-reconstruction process that consists of interpreting words and ideas and “exporting” them into another language and culture. That process is as complex and time consuming as writing (i.e., not typing, but actually writing creative/technical copy). It is also a process that may take longer depending on the level of creativity, complexity, or technicality of the text. My experience has been that professional translators will translate around 250-350 words per hour. Delivery time may be hastened, but not without sacrificing quality, accuracy, or consistency.

Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can translate.

Answer: There is more to translating than understanding and being able to speak another language. Just as being able to speak/write English doesn’t make you a writer, being able to speak a language doesn’t make you a translator. Professional translators are skilled writers with the language skills, subject-matter expertise, and the socio-cultural knowledge needed to produce an accurate text that reads well in the target language and with which target readers can relate. Even the skills required to interpret or teach another language are different than the set of skills required to translate (and vice versa).

Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can review translations.

Answer: The decisions made by the professional translator during the translation process are based on numerous factors: interpretation, style, lexical choices, research, available space, errors in the source copy, background material and reference copy, etc. Unless the reviewer is also a linguist and is aware of all the factors that the translator had to consider during translation, the edits made to the text may harm it instead of improve it.

Machine translations are as good as human translations.

Answer: While automated translation has come a long way and may be helpful to get the gist of simple texts, raw computer output is unviable as a finished printed product. Machine translation programs typically translate sentences word for word, failing to take context, sense, or style into account. These programs do not distinguish between different meanings of the same word. They cannot analyze technical terminology.

There is only one possible translation for every text.

Answer: Translating is not about transposing words, but about expressing ideas into another language. Any idea can be phrased in many different ways. A translation may vary based on interpretation, lexical choice, style, context, available space, target readers, and many other factors. Ask 10 professional translators to translate the same sentence, and chances are you’ll get 10 different translations—all of which may be correct.

Back translation is a good indicator of the quality of a translation.

Answer: A back-translation is intended only to ensure that a translation’s original meaning has been conveyed correctly. Because translation depends on many factors (lexical choices, style, etc.), a back translation will not result in a text that is identical to the source text, and therefore cannot be used as the sole indicator of the quality of a translation.

Source and target copy are similar in length and structure.

Answer: Different languages follow different grammar, semantic, phrase construction, punctuation, and typography rules, which results in many differences between source and target texts, including differences in length and structure/layout. When working with language pairs with a significant difference in length, it is unlikely that same-length translation can be achieved—at least not without sacrificing content, style, or some other element of the original text. Since phrase construction differs from one language to the next, it is also unlikely that the source and target texts can be laid out exactly the same way.

Regardless of how much your client learns to appreciate you as a professional over time, it may take much repetition for the facts above to replace the preconceived ideas that have anchored themselves in his “pre-educated mind.” Though some situations can try your endurance, it is important to be patient and strive to provide clear, consistent answers. In really desperate situations, remember: a good sense of humor goes a long way, and it’s always better to laugh (at situations, never at clients) than pull your hair out.

Even after working with the same Biased Client for many years, you might still get unexpected surprises! Here are a few real-life examples that prove that even the most hopeless-looking situations are not without moments of humor:

Client: We need this in three days, but send it before if you can (concerning a 150,000-word, brand-new-content text).

Client: We noticed that the three-line burst in this ad didn’t follow the same order as the original text, but it must for artistic purposes, so we’ve moved words around (and published it without checking with you first).

Client: There’s a problem with the translation you provided. We double-checked it with Google Translate, and it doesn’t say what we want.

Situations like those might feel discouraging, especially if you’ve been working with (and educating) your client for a while, but provided that your message is consistent and you have nerves of steel, there’s hope that your client will one day understand enough about translation to trust you and allow you to do the same. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of our last type of “uneducated” client.

The Recalcitrant Client

The Recalcitrant Client (who could as easily have been called the Know-Better Client) may not be as easily “spottable” as his counterparts because, unlike them, he doesn’t fit the typical profile of the uneducated client. The Recalcitrant Client is not necessarily new to translation, monolingual, badly informed, or ill advised. At first, he may even seem familiar with the target language and/or the translation process. But working with him soon becomes the utmost challenge as you realize that, to him, everything seems “wrong” (although he will seldom provide you with any direction on how to make it right). It may also take all of your skill, patience, and guile to reach a point where you may have a relatively good working relationship with him—if ever.

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to the Recalcitrant Client, you’re not dealing with someone who necessarily lacks information or has preconceived ideas about translation. Actually, what seems to drive the client to doubt your work doesn’t have anything to do with language or translation! Most often, it has to do with mistrust, and perhaps even ego and/or control. Whether the client has any knowledge of the target language or not, he believes that he knows better. He will always doubt, question, and ultimately revise your work, even if he has to resort to machine translation to do so.

Unlike his counterparts, the Recalcitrant Client seldom sees things objectively, and no evidence, explanation, or rework ever seems to satisfy him. That is, unless he feels that he’s had decisive input in the final text or got you to acquiesce to all his demands. Whether that’s something you can do depends on your personality, the value you put on your work and professional reputation, and how much of your livelihood depends on him.

When working as an in-house translator, you might have little choice in the matter. When working as a freelance translator on the other hand, you always have the option to “fire” your Recalcitrant Client (especially if the situation has turned abusive). The following advice about how to deal with overly difficult clients, originally written by Judy Jenner (author of “The Entrepreneurial Linguist” column in The ATA Chronicle), is pertinent:

If your customer makes your stomach turn, you are losing sleep, or can’t talk about anything else, perhaps it’s time to prioritize your mental health over your business’ bottom line […].

A translator’s job is complex enough, and while we should always be prepared and willing to educate our clients (because it’s to our mutual benefit), client education should not occupy most of our time or resources. While we can reasonably anticipate having to explain repeatedly that computer-assisted translation is different from machine translation and that we’re the ones doing the work (and therefore need time), we can’t be expected to consent to unrealistic demands, intentionally damage translations, or spend hours justifying every single word because the dictionary, Google Translate, or our client’s bilingual accountant (or plumber) “says something else.”

Ultimately, It’s All about Trust … and Patience

When working with clients who are familiar enough with translation and/or the target language to be able to provide constructive input, the ensuing relationship feels more like a partnership than a service provider-client relationship. That’s really what all translators strive for: trust, collaboration, and mutual respect. Getting there may take a little longer with “uneducated” clients, but it’s an attainable goal for most.

The vast majority of “uneducated” clients are “educable” (or at least willing to get educated), and even though they may never thoroughly appreciate the difficulty of our work, they’ll get to understand enough of the translation process to develop a positive, trusting, and mutually beneficial working relationship with us. As for dealing with those few “uneducable” clients who may cross our path from time to time, the choice is ours. We may either choose to get crafty, yield, terminate the relationship, or hope and trust that “a little persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.” Meanwhile, keeping a sense of humor is not a bad idea!

Business and Marketing Tips for Translators: Direct Client Contact Ideas

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

Companies are looking for someone who is more than just a great translator and writer. They’re looking for someone who can translate, provide cultural and background expertise, and who is in tune with the company’s vision.

Finding and contacting potential direct clients can be perplexing for translators. One of the challenges is performing appropriately within the context of the client relationship. I’m always on the prowl for tips on how to finesse these relationships.

Recently, I listened to a webinar by Ed Gandia entitled “How to Launch a Profitable B2B Writing Business in 10 Weeks or Less.”1 While this audio course focused primarily on writers and copywriters and how they can make money quickly by zeroing in on corporate content writing, a number of strategies and ideas stood out to me as being relevant to translators marketing their services and dealing with direct clients.

Writing for businesses that sell to other businesses can be very profitable. Think potentially doubling whatever you thought would be a healthy freelancing income in our profession and you’ll get an idea about your potential profit margins for corporate content writing. How is this related to direct translation clients and a healthy freelancing career? Well, it has to do with the approach: being focused and strategic. As freelancers, we’re always trying to get on the right radar. We know clients are out there and that they need us, but exactly how to reach them is the issue.

Focus on What Clients Need

The first step toward securing clients is to stop pestering potential ones with details about what we do. Yes, we have to educate clients, but we can’t just overwhelm them with that education from the very beginning. We have to ease them into it, like getting in a hot tub. But before we invite them in, let’s make sure they have a swimsuit on and that they like to soak.

So, how can we get to clients? How can we let them know that we’re here to solve their problems? By offering to help with what they need most and learning about their businesses. Keep in mind that what you can do for clients and what they need can be two different things. In order to get the business we want—the fun projects, the high profile names, the work that makes a difference—before all that, we have to get clients, confidence, and experience. How? Once you’ve listened to what clients need, deliver it to them by going the extra mile.

Look Beyond Your Current Contacts

Find your ideal potential clients by looking for a business that offers services or products that are new, expensive, and complex, and—this is the key for translators—a business that wants to expand into a target market for your native language. This should be a company that has a lot of written material to explain and inform about the services and products it offers. This is a good time to showcase your writing skills as a translator by providing excellent copy in your target language.

The crux of the thing here is that companies are looking for someone who is more than just a great translator and writer. They’re looking for someone who can translate, provide cultural and background expertise, and who is in tune with the company’s vision.

To find these elusive companies, invest in a hyper-focused marketing effort. Hyper-focused? Yes, this is going to require some reflection. But break through those usual barriers where you say to yourself, “I don’t know anyone who needs my services,” or “I’ve already told everyone about what I do.” Instead, look beyond your contacts to the people they know. Investigate their circles online and consider where you could do meaningful work (i.e., the type of work that you enjoy most and excel). Here’s a possible path your thinking could follow:

  • Think about the people you know in professional and personal circles.
  • Think about the people you know and the companies where they work. Are you interested in any of those companies as potential clients?
  • What’s your specialty or favorite type of text? What sector is it?
  • Have you ever done work in that area? Ask a contact from a previous project for a recommendation.

For online research, you can start by looking at your contacts’ contacts on LinkedIn to see if there is an area where you can fill a need. For example, I browsed an investment banker’s contacts recently and not only learned a lot, but also got some great ideas for potential leads, even though I’m not involved in financial translation. (As a courtesy, you might want to mention to your existing contact that you found a potential lead on their profile list.)

Shift Your Focus

When you market your services as a translator, consider shifting your focus away from telling prospects about your business and services. Instead, how about learning about the companies your clients run and how they are organized? What do they want and need, and how can you make that happen for them?

For example, say you want to translate a book describing photography from the state where you live for a client in your source-language country. You know a client who will publish such a translation in your target language. Boom! Sounds great, right? But this client doesn’t know you, and the photography book is one of the most important things they’re doing this year. By finding the areas where they need help, not what you want to do for them, you get your foot in their door. Ask clients what their most urgent communication needs are related to cultural questions, translation, interpreting, or another service at which you excel.

Oh, and don’t forget to mention any certifications. Recently, I told a client that I’m certified as a translator by the Judiciary Council of the State of Jalisco. Although this has little to do with being a literary translator, it turned out that the client needed someone with this certification. After helping the client in this way, I became liked, known, and trusted. This is a great place to start a long-term relationship with a client.

Market Yourself as a Problem Solver, but Be Selective

Every client needs someone to solve his or her communication problems. Translators are in a unique position to do so because of the complexity of their work and the level of skill required. For each step in the translation process, the translator changes roles: from researcher to cultural expert; from writer to editor to word processor; from customer services representative to bookkeeper to innovator; from friend to colleague to mentor. What are we missing? Business, sales, negotiation, and soft skills (e.g., interpersonal skills).2

Clients need you to take the tasks off their hands that they don’t understand completely but realize are important. Unfortunately, working with clients who have no idea what translation involves is not the road to increased income and a comfortable freelancing career. Every freelancer works with clients who aren’t from the word world (i.e. linguists, writers, editors, etc.), and every professional has to explain what he or she does. However, if you work with clients who have even an inkling of what you do and why it’s important, you’ll be able to do business faster, more productively, and ultimately, more successfully.

In his webinar, Ed Gandia alludes to a great parable about a man selling watches. Ed’s advice: if you’re selling watches, don’t try to sell to someone who doesn’t have a watch, since this is very hard. You need to find those clients who already have a watch and know its value. In our case, this means clients who appreciate the value of translation.

Whatever the reason for clients having some knowledge about what you do, it’s very helpful. Maybe it’s because you’re not the first translator they’re dealing with, maybe the text was botched the first time. Maybe it’s a marketing department at a large company where they know that translation is important, but don’t exactly understand everything that’s involved in shifting a text from one culture to another. Whatever it is, the kind of clients you market to makes all the difference.

Stockpiling Documents

I listened to another talk by legendary copywriter Bob Bly, and his marketing strategies are pure genius.3 In terms of positioning—that is, how you communicate with clients and the value you bring to their business—his strategies and suggestions are spot on in relation to freelance translation.

In addition to the types of clients to whom you market, the sheer number is crucial. Bob’s suggestion is to try and get two to five times the leads you can handle. In his words: “Don’t market to get business, market to have choice.”

How can you help ensure that your marketing efforts stand out? Freelance translators looking to attract great direct clients should have a cache of professional documents, samples, and website pages. When clients need information about what you do or your work process, you should have documents ready to send out that describe and highlight your value and explain your approach. For translators, this might mean a document showing how historical miscommunications have led to costly errors, or the traditional example of company names not working in target cultures.4

A great way to get clients’ attention is to show them how your cultural knowledge can help them save time and money. Find a translation blunder in your prospect’s industry and you’ll be sure to impress. This leads to a more satisfying business relationship and in turn generates new insights in your clients about the culture of their customers and suppliers. This document could include examples from their industry or that show how important it is to localize content. There are great examples in the book Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. Here’s an excerpt:

When Mistranslations Cost Millions
Banking and financial services giant HSBC had a popular Assume Nothing campaign, but the phrase was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in several countries. How to repair the damage done to the brand? A $10 million rebranding initiative soon followed.5

As an added value, you can check if the client has localized their products in your target language, or send them a short paragraph on why the brand name would work in country X, which, incidentally, might also be a good place to export. When you have industry-specific examples ready, it’s easy to connect with and educate clients.

Another suggestion is to write a book to market yourself. This could be great for many translators with vast specialty knowledge. A nonfiction book, a handout, or a pamphlet on your specialty knowledge subject area might be just the ticket. Your book could get noticed. As word spreads, you’ll gradually gain a reputation as an expert on the subject, and clients will come to you. This happens when someone buys your book, tells other people about it, or simply keeps it and picks it up again later. When you’ve written a book on a specialized sector you boost your authority and exposure. You can also send copies of your book to potential clients. Bob says it best: “A book is a brochure that will never be thrown away.” Remember, in every business, professionals have to explain what they do.

Take Advantage of ATA’s Client Outreach Kit

For translators working with clients who don’t have a precise idea about what translators or interpreters do, a short, informative, and entertaining document, brochure, case study or short presentation prepared beforehand with clients in mind is an invaluable resource. ATA’s Client Outreach Kit will help with some ideas on how to prepare your material.6 These documents will also showcase your writing skills, but they must be flawless. Get a top-notch translation editor to look over your material so that clients will be drawn in by the meticulous copy.

It’s Time to Determine What Works for You

What marketing methods have worked for you with direct clients? What cultural quandaries have you come into contact with? Consider creating a list with examples to use with future clients!

Notes
  1. “High-Level Business Writing with Ed Gandia,” http://b2blauncher.com.
  2. For a basic definition of soft skills, see http://bit.ly/soft-skills-defined.
  3. Bly, Bob. “Ten Steps to Having a Great Copywriting Career for Life,” http://bit.ly/Bob_Bly-talk.
  4. “13 Unfortunate Translations that Harmed Brand Reputations,” http://bit.ly/unfortunate-translations; also see “11 Brand Names that Sound Hilarious in a Different Language” (Huffington Post, August 11, 2012), http://bit.ly/hilarious-translations.
  5. Kelly, Nataly, and Jost Zetzsche. Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World (Perigee Books, 2012).
  6. ATA Client Outreach Kit, www.atanet.org/client_outreach.

Author bio

Jesse Tomlinson is an interpreter and translator and splits her time between Canada and México. She translates from Spanish into English and interprets in both languages. Her special interests lie in Mexican culture, the tequila industry, and literature. Website: www.tomlinsontranslations.com

 

How to maintain a healthy work/life balance

This post originally appeared on Trados blog and it is republished with permission.

Work plays a significant role in all our lives. We need it to keep the lights on, our stomachs full, money in the pot and a roof over our head.
Whether you work as a freelance translator, as part of an agency, or within an in-house translation team, the working culture within the localization industry has seen a considerable shift in 2020. The amount of time we spend working remotely has increased and the technology on offer to us has continued to grow more sophisticated. As freelance translators have long known, and as many agency and corporate translators have since learned, home working certainly has its benefits; you don’t have to spend large chunks of your day stuck in traffic, sitting in uncomfortable work clothes or choking down the unpleasant way a colleague makes your coffee. And the growing sophistication of the CAT tools we use, whether working from the office or at home, means translating is faster, simpler, and more consistent than ever.And yet… when you work where you simultaneously live, and have the other staples of progressive technology — smartphone, email and social media for example — vying for your attention too, how do you strike a healthy balance between work and life?

Jamie Hartz of Tilde Language Services is an ATA-certified freelance Spanish-to-English translator who provides services to clients in a variety of industries. The juggling act of trying to maintain a healthy balance between the professional and personal facets of life as a translation professional is something Jamie is all too familiar with, so she has kindly shared some of the top tips she uses to combat the common issues that arise when trying to achieve equity between the two.

1. Resist the temptation to be ‘always on’

The value of this tip depends on the individual person, but I know that, particularly at the early stage of my career as a freelancer, I found it very difficult to step away from being available.This is perhaps mainly relevant to freelancers who worry that if they ever aren’t available, then they’re missing out on opportunities. If you miss an email or if you don’t respond within a certain amount of time then you worry that you may disappoint clients, or even lose them. This paranoia isn’t unjustified, because there can be opportunities that present within a very small window of time, but you have to make peace with the fact that there are always going to be opportunities that you miss – most of which you won’t ever know about anyway.

For agency or corporate freelancers it’s different, but there may still be pressures to be ‘on’ after hours or at weekends, and you need to be careful about drawing clear lines if necessary.

So when you step away from your desk, resist the temptation to obsessively check your phone for work emails, and don’t let ‘always on’ notifications become exhausting.

2. Dispel the pervasive guilt

Especially now in 2020, we have translation professionals who would normally work in an office having to adjust to working from home, and those of us who normally work from home offices are having them invaded by people who wouldn’t previously have been there.I know a lot of colleagues who have their children at home and are trying to home-school them and work alongside a spouse or partner who is also having to work from home. While we are fortunate to be able to work from home during this pandemic, having other people around you who are demanding your time and attention can create a sense of guilt.

If you are diligently working on your translation projects, you may feel guilty for not paying attention to your children or spending time with your spouse. Alternatively, you may go off and spend an hour in the middle of the afternoon playing with your children or taking a walk with your spouse and then you feel guilty about not being available for your work.

I think there’s a certain level of guilt which we experience no matter what type of balance we try to strike between work and life — and that isn’t really fair because the guilt is not productive for us. Make sure you set aside allocated time for your family and don’t let guilt paralyze you when it comes to setting those boundaries.

3. Don’t take on more work than you are comfortable with

Everyone has to draw a line if work becomes ‘too much’ (though naturally what constitutes ‘too much’ will differ for different people).For agency and corporate translators, if your volume of work is consistently uncomfortable, you’ll need to have a conversation with your manager. If you are a freelancer, especially a new one getting started, securing a particular client who you know is going to be a good source of work in the future can lead you to take on more work than you would ideally like. Ultimately, though, that line still has to be drawn so that you don’t make a counterproductive decision where you are taking on so much work that it’s negatively impacting other areas of your personal or professional life.

During the pandemic, in particular, I’ve noticed that the busy weeks are busier than ever and the slow weeks are slower than ever so there is that temptation, when something comes along, to feel that I have to take it because I don’t know what will come next week. This is part of what makes the 2020 pandemic so problematic.

The key for me is to ask: can I do a good job of everything I’ve committed to? Whether you’re a freelancer like me or not, always ask yourself this before you agree to new projects.

4. No matter how busy you are, take a break —and eat!

Yes, you may have a lot of work on, but take a break anyway. Taking a short break and stepping away is a good way of getting some perspective on your work. Meal breaks are a good excuse for this, as you should never eat at your desk. Use them to give your eyes and mind a rest so that you can come back to your work refreshed.I can’t count the number of times I’ve worked through lunch and it’s gotten to two o’clock in the afternoon (I normally eat at noon) and I’ve realized that I’m nowhere near as productive as I need to be — and it’s simply because I’m hungry! Don’t overlook basic needs. Remember that something as simple as stepping away to eat can make a huge difference.

5. Set realistic expectations for your day-to-day work

Set up a schedule of what you will be working on, at what times and for how long each day. I use Google Calendar to manage my time because I find it extremely useful to be able to look at my day before it has even started and see what chunks of time I am going to be committing to each of my tasks that I have planned to do that day. It helps me to organize my projects and thoughts and generally alleviates my stress levels because I’ve got everything right in front of me.A calendar can also help you define the boundary between work and personal life, in that you can even color-code personal activities versus work activities and see the balance that you’re creating between the two. One way I’ve managed to combat the temptation to work too much is to schedule commitments to friends and family in my calendar that I know will inhibit me from accepting work that I don’t have time for. You can also look back over previous weeks and see how well you’ve done with setting those expectations, and then potentially set up future weeks in the same way.

One of the most important things to note about setting a schedule is that it has to be adaptable. It has to be flexible to change because things can and do suddenly come up – that’s the nature of the business we work in.

6. Use an out-of-office responder

There are certain times when I need to be completely removed from my email and my computer, but there are also times when I want clients to know that while I may not be tethered to my desk, I am still reachable.
Setting up an out-of-office responder is an effective way of giving myself space. I will normally have it set up to state I am ‘away from my desk’ but that I will get back to them as and when I can.
This is a really simple but effective tool you can use to help set clear lines when it comes to your ability to work without completely cutting people off. Clients will know you are still open to work and can expect a response from you, but that urgent requests will not sit within the realms of your availability.
In a sense, your out-of-office responder can act as a cushion between your work and your personal life – use it wisely to give yourself that extra bit of breathing room.

7. Take part in a stress-reducing activity

Personally, I run as a means of exercise and as a way to relieve stress. You don’t have to run, or even necessarily ‘exercise’ per se, but I think everyone should have some sort of stress-reducing activity that they love.
It could be yoga, it could be knitting, it could be taking a walk with your dog. Anything that gets the endorphins going in your brain will reduce stress and help you focus on your work with a better sense of clarity when you need to.

8. Make technology work for you

There are so many brilliant apps out there that can help you manage your work and recreation time, from the Google Calendar I mentioned earlier to the pomodoro timers people use to help them stay focused on one particular task.I use the Digital Wellbeing app which gives you a daily view of your digital habits. It’s got a really useful ‘bedtime’ setting which turns notifications off during your allocated ‘bedtime’ period. This stops me receiving notifications during this time and, in turn, helps me to stop feeling like I have to check my emails outside of my allotted working time.

A colleague also recently mentioned the Timeular app to me. I haven’t used it personally but as I understand it, you buy an eight-sided ‘tracking die’ which links to your phone and you flip the die onto the correct side that is associated with the task you are currently working on. The die tracks the amount of time you spend doing each task and tells you where each minute of your day is spent. It sounds really interesting!

If working from home is a recent adjustment you have had to make this year, or if you are just looking for some further holistic advice, our ‘how to stay productive and healthy when working from home’ blog contains some more pragmatic tips on how to stay as efficient as possible when having to work remotely.Having a healthy mind is just as important for translators as having a healthy body, and the two are more intrinsically linked than you may think. Take a look at our ‘simple tips to help you keep a positive mindset as a busy translation professional’ blog and harness the power of positive thought to help bolster your translation productivity.

Author bio

Rebecca White is a Digital Marketing Executive for Translation Productivity at RWS with a passion for creative content generation, social media engagement and product analysis.

Cold Emailing: What Not To Do

This post originally appeared on Diálogos Online Forum and it is republished with permission.

When novice translators ask me how they should begin establishing a client base, cold emailing to potential clients is rarely one of the strategies that I suggest. As a general rule, unsolicited emails are much less effective than responding to job postings, attending conferences, establishing a solid online presence or simply being available at the right time (i.e., all the time). As a freelancer I have had only very occasional success with cold emailing (indeed, it has been many years now since I last employed the strategy), and as the director of a small translation agency I receive hundreds of unsolicited emails a month from freelancers offering their services, the percentage of which I actually retain for future reference is negligible. Nevertheless, there are occasions when cold emailing may yield results, provided that, as a bare minimum, the following basic guidelines are followed. Most of these points may seem obvious to any freelancer, yet I can assure you, based on the many cold emails I receive, that they are all too often overlooked.

  1. Select your potential clients carefully and personalize your email to them. When sending out CVs to potential clients, many freelancers adopt a bulk emailing approach, equivalent to the “strafing approach” used by bomber pilots at war. The problem with this approach is that while in a war zone the objective is to hit anything that moves, in job-seeking it is not enough merely to hit your target, but to consider the kind of impact you’ll have on that target, and whether it is a target that you actually want to hit. I run a small agency dedicated exclusively to Spanish-English translation in a few specialist fields, a fact that is quite clearly stated on the home page of the Diálogos website; nevertheless, I receive huge volumes of cold emails from translators working into or out of French, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese and Somali, to name but a few. I also receive many emails that make no reference to my agency at all, and some that even address me anonymously as “Dear ,”. Even if they do reach a potential client with an interest in your services, impersonal emails like these are likely be deleted as soon as the recipient sees the blank space for the addressee’s name at the top. It is essential in your cover message to show some indication that you have actually researched the client you’re soliciting work from, and have recognized that they may have a need that you have the skills base to fill. Otherwise, your email is really just spam, and will be treated accordingly.
  1. State your language pair(s) in the subject of your email. It should perhaps be obvious to most translators that the language pair or pairs you work in is the first piece of information you should provide to clients, yet it is surprising how many freelancers bury this indispensable bit of data down the bottom of their email… or don’t even include it at all! This oversight is especially common among French-English translators in Canada, where you can still find lingering traces of the antiquated chauvinist notion that Canada’s two official languages are the only languages, even in a multicultural context that makes such chauvinism look highly ludicrous. I have also found it quite common among Spanish-English translators based in Latin America, where this language pair tends to dominate the translation sector. It is essential to provide the information on your language pair first (preferably in the subject of your email), because (as should be obvious) all your other qualifications are irrelevant if the client you’re approaching doesn’t work with your languages.
  1. Check your spelling, grammar and phrasing. In any field of employment, cover letters with spelling or grammar errors would probably be used as an excuse to disqualify a job candidate; but for linguists, where your language proficiency is one of the skills you are marketing, an error or awkward phrasing in your cover email can be fatal. Consider, for example, a freelance translator whose cover email to me included the sentence: “I dominate perfectly both English and Spanish languages.” With his awkward use of language, this translator has managed to make an affirmation about his English language skills and, simultaneously, to contradict that affirmation. In linguistic terms this is quite an impressive feat, but it is not the sort of achievement that you would want to become known for among your potential clients.
  1. Avoid translation industry clichés. Words like “accuracy” and “faithfulness” tend to get thrown around a lot in the translation industry, but in a cover email they don’t convey any real information about you and thus tend to look like filler. The assumption that a professional translator will endeavour to produce an accurate translation that is faithful to the source text should be so obvious that to state it is redundant. On the other hand, blithely employing adjectives like “accurate”, “faithful”, “flawless” or “verbatim” to describe your translation skills may give clients the impression that you haven’t really reflected on the contentious and subjective nature of these terms, which should be a point of reflection for any serious translator. The best approach is thus to avoid making what may sound like hollow or meaningless claims, and let your qualifications and experience speak for themselves.
  1. Be concise. It is important to bear in mind that any unsolicited email you send to a potential client is essentially advertising, and as such you need to apply the rules of effective advertising. One of the most important of these rules is to keep it short, offering the essential information about you and your work in as few words as possible. Given the limited amount of time that clients have on their hands to review their inboxes, any cold email that exceeds two short paragraphs will probably be deleted immediately. Do your best to hone your cover email down as much as possible, focusing on a short set of key points that the potential client really needs to know (language pair, fields of specialization, academic degree, translator’s certification, years of experience, past clients), and expressing those points as succinctly as you can.

Of course, following these guidelines will not guarantee success with cold emailing, which, as I suggested above, can be a less than rewarding client-hunting strategy at the best of times. However, I can guarantee that ignoring these guidelines will ensure a swift journey for your cold emails out of the inboxes of your potential clients and into their junk folders. And if you want to see something come out of your work in preparing your cold emails, that is a journey you will want them to avoid.

Author bio

Martin Boyd is a Spanish-English translator certified by both the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (Canada) and the American Translators’ Association (United States), and the director of the Toronto-based translation agency Diálogos Intercultural Services (www.dialogos.ca). He has numerous published translations to his credit, including articles for academic journals such as L’Atalante and Mediterranean Journal of Communication, and books such as The Neoliberal Pattern of Domination by José Manuel Sánchez Bermúdez (Brill, 2012) and The Mystery of Queen Nefertiti by C. T. Cassana (Amazon Books, 2017).

Is There a Future in Freelance Translation? Let’s Talk About It!

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

While the demand for translation services is at a record high, many freelancers say their inflation-adjusted earnings seem to be declining. Why is this and can anything be done to reverse what some have labelled an irreversible trend?

Over the past few years globalization has brought unprecedented growth to the language services industry. Many have heard and answered the call. Census data shows that the number of translators and interpreters in the U.S. nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for translators and interpreters is projected to grow by 29% through 2024.1 In an interview with CNBC last year, ATA Past President David Rumsey stated: “As the economy becomes more globalized and businesses realize the need for translation and interpreting to market their products and services, opportunities for people with advanced language skills will continue to grow sharply.”2 Judging by the size of the industry—estimated at $33.5 billion back in 2012, and expected to reach $37 billion this year3—it seems the demand for translation will only continue to increase.

Many long-time freelance translators, however, don’t seem to be benefitting from this growth, particularly those who don’t work with a lot of direct clients. Many report they’ve had to lower their rates and work more hours to maintain their inflation-adjusted earnings. Also, the same question seems to be popping up in articles, blogs, and online forums. Namely, if the demand for translation is increasing, along with opportunities for people with advanced language skills, why are many professional freelance translators having difficulty finding work that compensates translation for what it is—a time-intensive, complex process that requires advanced, unique, and hard-acquired skills?

Before attempting to discuss this issue, a quick disclaimer is necessary: for legal reasons, antitrust law prohibits members of associations from discussing specific rates.4 Therefore, the following will not mention translation rates per se. Instead, it will focus on why many experienced translators, in a booming translation market inundated by newcomers, are forced to switch gears or careers, and what can be done to reverse what some have labelled an irreversible trend.

The (Unquantifiable) Issue

I’ll be honest. Being an in-house translator with a steady salary subject to regular increases, I have no first-hand experience with the crisis many freelance translators are currently facing. But I have many friends and colleagues who do. We all do. Friends who tell us that they’ve lost long-standing clients because they couldn’t lower their rates enough to accommodate the clients’ new demands. Friends who have been translating for ages who are now wondering whether there’s a future in freelance translation.

Unfortunately, unlike the growth of the translation industry, the number of freelance translators concerned about the loss of their inflation-adjusted earnings and the future of the profession is impossible to quantify. But that doesn’t mean the problem is any less real. At least not judging by the increasing number of social media posts discussing the issue, where comments such as the ones below abound.5

  • “Expenses go up, but rates have remained stagnant or decreased. It doesn’t take a genius to see that translation is slowly becoming a sideline industry rather than a full-time profession.”
  • “Some business economists claim that translation is a growth industry. The problem is that the growth is in volume, not rates.”
  • “Our industry has been growing, but average wages are going down. This means that cheap service is growing faster than quality.”

Back in 2010, Common Sense Advisory, a market research company specializing in translation and globalization, started discussing technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation and analyzing potential causes.6 Now, almost 10 years later, let’s take another look at what created the crisis many freelance translators are facing today.

A Long List of Interconnected Factors

The causes leading to technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation are so interconnected that it’s difficult to think of each one separately. Nevertheless, each deserves a spot on the following list.

Globalization, internet technology, and the growth of demand for translation services naturally resulted in a rise of the “supply.” In other words, an increasing number of people started offering their services as translators. Today, like all professionals affected by global competition, most freelance translators in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Western Europe find themselves competing against a virtually infinite pool of translators who live in countries where the cost of living is much cheaper and are able to offer much lower rates. Whether those translators are genuine professional translators or opportunists selling machine translation to unsuspecting clients is almost immaterial. As the law of supply and demand dictates, when supply exceeds demand, prices generally fall.

2. The Sheer Number of Language Services Providers and the Business/Competition Model: The increase in global demand has also lead to an increase in the number of language services providers (LSPs) entering the market. Today, there are seemingly thousands of translation agencies in a market dominated by top players.7 Forced to keep prices down and invest in advertising and sales to maintain their competitiveness, many agencies give themselves limited options to keep profits up—the most obvious being to cut direct costs (i.e., lower rates paid to translators). Whether those agencies make a substantial profit each year (or know anything about translation itself) is beside the point. There are many LSPs out there that follow a business model that is simply not designed to serve the interests of freelance translators. Interestingly enough, competing against each other on the basis of price alone doesn’t seem to be serving their interests either, as it forces many LSPs into a self-defeating, downward spiral of dropping prices. As Luigi Muzii, an author, translator, terminologist, teacher, and entrepreneur who has been working in the industry for over 30 years, puts it:

“The industry as a whole behaves as if the market were extremely limited. It’s as if survival depended on open warfare […] by outright price competition. Constantly pushing the price down is clearly not a sustainable strategy in the long-term interests of the professional translation community.”8

3. The Unregulated State of the Profession: In many countries, including the U.S., translation is a widely unregulated profession with low barriers to entry. There is also not a standardized career path stipulating the minimum level of training, experience, or credentials required. Despite the existence of ISO standards and certifications from professional associations around the globe, as long as the profession (and membership to many professional associations) remains open to anyone and everyone, competition will remain exaggeratedly and unnaturally high, keeping prices low or, worse, driving them down.

4. Technology and Technological “Improvements”: From the internet to computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools to machine translation, technology may not be directly related to technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation, but there’s no denying it’s connected. The internet is what makes global communication and competition possible. CAT tools have improved efficiency so much in some areas that most clients have learned to expect three-tier pricing in all areas. Machine translation is what’s allowing amateurs to pass as professionals and driving the post-editing-of-machine-translation business that more and more LSPs rely on today. Whether machine translation produces quality translations, whether the post-editing of machine translation is time efficient, and whether “fuzzy matches” require less work than new content are all irrelevant questions, at least as things stand today. As long as technologies that improve (or claim to improve) efficiency exist, end clients will keep expecting prices to reflect those “improvements.”

5. Unaware, Unsuspecting, and Unconcerned Clients: Those of you who’ve read my article about “uneducated” clients9 may think that I’m obsessed with the subject, but to me it seems that most of the aforementioned factors have one common denominator: clients who are either unaware that all translations (and translators) are not created equal, or are simply unconcerned about the quality of the service they receive. These clients will not be willing to pay a premium price for a service they don’t consider to be premium.

One look at major translation bloopers and their financial consequences for companies such as HSBC, KFC, Ford, Pampers, Coca Cola, and many more is enough to postulate that many clients know little about translation (or the languages they’re having their texts translated into).10 They may be unaware that results (in terms of quality) are commensurate to a translator’s skills, experience, and expertise, the technique/technology used for translating, and the time spent on a project. And who’s to blame them? Anyone with two eyes is capable of looking at a bad paint job and seeing it for what it is, but it requires a trained eye to spot a poor translation and knowledge of the translation process itself (and language in general) to value translation for what it is.

Then there’s the (thankfully marginal) number of clients who simply don’t care about the quality of the service they receive, or whether the translation makes sense or not. This has the unfortunate effect of devaluing our work and the profession in the eyes of the general public. Regrettably, when something is perceived as being of little value, it doesn’t tend to fetch premium prices. As ATA Treasurer John Milan writes:

“When consumers perceive value, they [clients] are more willing to pay for it, which raises a series of questions for our market. Do buyers of language services understand the services being offered? What value do they put on them? […] All these variables will have an impact on final market rates.”11

6. The Economy/The Economical State of Mind: Whether clients need or want to save money on language services, there’s no denying that everyone always seems to be looking for a bargain these days. Those of us who have outsourced translation on behalf of clients know that, more often than not, what drives a client’s decision to choose a service provider over another is price, especially when many LSPs make the same claims about their qualifications, quality assurance processes, and industry expertise.

7. Other Factors: From online platforms and auction sites that encourage price-based bidding and undifferentiated global competition, to LSPs making the post-editing of machine translation the cornerstone of their business, to professional translators willing to drop their rates to extreme lows, there are many other factors that may be responsible for the state of things. However, they’re more byproducts of the situation than factors themselves.

A Very Real Concern

Rising global competition and rate stagnation are hardly a unique situation. Today, freelance web designers, search engine optimization specialists, graphic designers, and many other professionals in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Western Europe must compete against counterparts in India, China, and other parts of the world where the cost of living is much cheaper—with the difference that product/service quality isn’t necessarily sacrificed in the process. And that may be the major distinction between what’s happening in our industry and others: the risk posed to translation itself, both as an art form and as a product/service.

While some talk about the “uberization” or “uberification”12 of the translation industry or blame technology (namely, machine translation) for declining rates, others point a finger at a business model (i.e., the business/competition model) that marginalizes the best translators and creates a system where “bad translators are driving out the good ones.” The outcome seems to be the same no matter which theory we examine: the number of qualified translators (and the quality of translations) is in danger of going down over time. As Luigi Muzii explains:

“The unprecedented growth in demand for translation in tandem with the effect of Gresham’s Law [i.e., bad translators driving out the good ones] will lead inexorably to a chronic shortfall of qualified language specialists. The gap between the lower and the higher ends of the translation labor market is widening and the process will inevitably continue.”13

Between 2006 and 2012, Common Sense Advisory conducted a regular business confidence survey among LSPs. During those years, there seemed to be an increase in the number of LSPs that reported having difficulty finding enough qualified language specialists to meet their needs.14 Since the number of translators varies depending on the language pair, the shortage may not yet be apparent in all segments of the industry, but the trend is obviously noticeable enough that an increasing number of professionals (translators, LSPs, business analysts, etc.) are worrying about it. And all are wondering the same thing: can anything be done to reverse it?

Are There Any “Solutions?”

In terms of solutions, two types have been discussed in recent years: micro solutions (i.e., individual measures that may help individual translators maintain their rates or get more work), and macro solutions (i.e., large-scale measures that may help the entire profession on a long-term basis).

On the micro-solution side, we generally find:

  • Differentiation (skills, expertise, productivity, degree, etc.)
  • Specialization (language, subject area, market, translation sub-fields such a transcreation)
  • Diversification (number of languages or services offered, etc.)
  • Presentation (marketing efforts, business practices, etc.)
  • Client education

Generally speaking, micro solutions tend to benefit only the person implementing them, although it can be argued that anything that can be done to improve one’s image as a professional and educate clients might also benefit the profession as a whole, albeit to a lesser degree.

On the macro-solution side, we find things that individual translators have somewhat limited power over. But professional associations (and even governments) may be able to help!

Large-Scale Client Education: Large-scale client education is possibly the cornerstone of change; the one thing that may change consumer perception and revalue the profession in the eyes of the general public. As ATA Treasurer John Milan puts it:

“Together, we can educate the public and ensure that our consumers value us more like diamonds and less like water”15

Most professional associations around the globe already publish client education material, such as Translation, Getting it Right— A Guide to Buying Translation.16 Other initiatives designed to raise awareness about translation, such as ATA’s School Outreach Program, are also helpful because they educate the next generation of clients. But some argue that client education could be more “aggressive.” In other words, professional associations should not wait for inquiring clients to look for information, but take the information to everyone, carrying out highly visible public outreach campaigns (e.g., advertising, articles, and columns in the general media). ATA’s Public Relations Committee has been very active in this area, including publishing articles written by its Writers Group in over 85 trade and business publications.

Some have also mentioned that having professional associations take a clear position on issues such as machine translation and the post-editing of machine translation would also go a long way in changing consumer perception. In this regard, many salute ATA’s first Advocacy Day last October in Washington, DC, when 50 translators and interpreters approached the U.S. Congress on issues affecting our industry, including machine translation and the “lowest-price-technically-available” model often used by the government to contract language services.17 However, the success of large-scale client education may be hindered by one fundamental element, at least in the United States.

Language Education: I’m a firm believer that there are some things that one must have some personal experience with to value. For example, a small business owner might think that tax preparation is easy (and undervalue the service provided by his CPA) until he tries to prepare his business taxes himself and realizes how difficult and time consuming it is—not to mention the level of expertise required!

Similarly, monolingual people may be told or “understand” that translation is a complex process that requires a particular set of skills, or that being bilingual doesn’t make you a translator any more than having two hands makes you a concert pianist. But unless they have studied another language (or, in the case of bilingual people, have formally studied their second language or have tried their hand at translation), they’re not likely to truly comprehend the amount of work and expertise required to translate, or value translation for what it really is.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the vast majority of Americans (close to 80%) remain monolingual, and only 10% of the U.S. population speak another language well.18 In their 2017 report on the state of language education in the U.S., the Commission on Language Learning concluded that the U.S. lags behind most nations when it comes to language education and knowledge, and recommended a national strategy to improve access to language learning and “value language education as a persistent national need.”19

Until language education improves and most potential clients have studied a second language, one might contend that the vast majority of Americans are likely to keep undervaluing translation services and that large-scale client education may not yield the hoped-for results. This leaves us with one option when it comes to addressing the technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation conundrum.

Industry-Wide Regulations: In most countries, physicians are expected to have a medical degree, undergo certification, and get licensed to practice medicine. The same applies to dentists, nurses, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, and many other professions. In those fields, mandatory education, training, and/or licensing/certification establish core standards and set an expected proficiency level that clients have learned to expect and trust—a proficiency level that all clients value.

Whether we’re talking of regulating access to the profession itself or controlling access to professional associations or online bidding platforms, there’s no question that implementing industry-wide regulations would go a long way in limiting wild, undifferentiated competition and assuring clients that they are receiving the best possible service. While some may think that regulations are not a practical option, it may be helpful to remember that physicians didn’t always have to undergo training, certification, and licensing to practice medicine in the U.S. Today, however, around 85% of physicians in the U.S. are certified by an accredited medical board,20 and it’s safe to say that all American physicians have a medical degree and are licensed to practice medicine. And the general public wouldn’t want it any other way! Is it so implausible to expect that the same people who would let no one except a qualified surgeon operate on them would want no one except a qualified professional translate the maintenance manual of their nation’s nuclear reactors?

So, What Does the Future Hold for Freelance Translators?

Generally speaking, most experts agree that the demand for translation services will keep growing, that technology will keep becoming more and more prevalent, and that the translation industry will become even more fragmented. According to Luigi Muzii:

In the immediate future, I see the translation industry remaining highly fragmented with an even larger concentration of the volume of business in the hands of a bunch of multi-language vendors who hire translators from the lower layer of the resource market to keep competing on price. This side of the industry will soon count for more than a half of the pie. The other side will be made up of tiny local boutique firms and tech-savvy translator pools making use of cutting-edge collaborative tools. […] The prevailing model will be “freeconomics,” where basic services are offered for free while advanced or special features are charged at a premium. The future is in disintermediation and collaboration. […] The winners will be those translators who can leverage their specialist linguistic skills by increasing their productivity with advances in technology.21

The future of freelance translation, however, may be a bit more uncertain. Indeed, many argue that even with acute specialization, first-rate translation skills, and marketing abilities to match, many freelance translators’ chances at succeeding financially in the long term may be limited by the lack of industry regulations and the general public’s lack of language education/knowledge (i.e., the two factors that feed wild, undifferentiated competition). But that’s not to say there’s no hope.

At least that’s what learning about the history of vanilla production taught me. Growing and curing vanilla beans is a time-intensive, labor-intensive, intricate process. It’s a process that meant that for over 150 years vanilla was considered a premium product, and vanilla growers made a decent living. When vanillin (i.e., synthetic vanilla flavoring) became widely available in the 1950s, however, most food manufacturers switched to the less expensive alternative. After only a few decades, many vanilla growers were out of business and the ones who endured barely made a living, forced to lower prices or resort to production shortcuts (which reduced quality) to sell faster. During that period, the only people making a profit were the vanilla brokers. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, nutrition education and consumer demand for all-natural foods started turning things around, and by 2015 vanillin had fallen from grace and natural vanilla was in high demand again. By then, however, there were few vanilla growers left and climate change was affecting production and reducing supply significantly. Today, vanilla beans fetch 30–50 times the price they did during the vanillin era.22

For those who may have missed the analogy: professional (freelance) translators are to the translation industry what the vanilla growers are to the food industry. Those who endure the current technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation may eventually (if the forces at play can be harnessed) witness a resurgence. In the meantime, the best we can do is to keep doing what we do (provide quality service, educate our clients, fight for better language education in the U.S., and support our professional associations’ initiatives to improve things), and talk constructively about the issue instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist, that it won’t affect us, or that nothing can be done about it. If you’re reading this article, things have already started to change!

NOTES
  1. “U.S. Language Industry Booms, Doubles Headcount within Seven Years,” Slator (May 24, 2017), http://bit.ly/language-industry-booms.
  2. Rogers, Kate. “Where the Jobs Are: Demand for Translators and Interpreters Skyrocket,” CNBC (July 7, 2017), http://bit.ly/translation-demand.
  3. Kelly, Nataly, and Donald DePalma. “The Top 100 Language Service Providers” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/Top-100-LSP.
  4. ATA Antitrust Compliance Policy, http://bit.ly/ATA-Antitrust.
  5. “Is There a Way to Prevent the Decline of Translation Rates?” (Proz.com Forum: Money Matters), http://bit.ly/ProZ-forum.
  6. DePalma, Donald. “Translation Prices: Up, Down or Unchanged” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/CSA-translation-prices.
  7. “Top 2016 Language Service Providers” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/CSA-top-LSPs.
  8. Muzii, Luigi. “Nice or Nasty? Which Translators Finish First?” http://bit.ly/nice-or-nasty.
  9. Maginot, Christelle. “Educating the Uneducated Client,” The ATA Chronicle (July 2015), http://bit.ly/undereducated-client.
  10. Brooks, Chad. “Lost in Translation: 8 International Marketing Fails,” Business News Daily, http://bit.ly/marketing-fails.
  11. Milan, John. “Why Can’t I Raise My Rates? An Introduction to the Economics of Language Services,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2018), http://bit.ly/Milan-rates.
  12. Vitek, Steve. “Uberification of the Translation Industry Is Quickly Moving Forward,” http://bit.ly/Vitek-Uberification.
  13. Muzii, Luigi. “Are Bad Translators Driving Out the Good?” http://bit.ly/Muzii-bad-translators.
  14. DePalma, Donald. “Translation Demand-Supply Mismatch” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/CSA-mismatch.
  15. Milan, John. “Why Can’t I Raise My Rates? An Introduction to the Economics of Language Services,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2018), http://bit.ly/Milan-rates.
  16. Translation, Getting it Right— A Guide to Buying Translation, http://bit.ly/Getting_it_right.
  17. “Stepping Out On Capitol Hill: ATA’s First Advocacy Day in Washington DC,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2018), http://bit.ly/ATA-advocacy.
  18. “Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over for United States: 2009–2013” (American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, October 2015), http://bit.ly/census-home-languages.
  19. “America’s Languages” (Commission on Language Learning, 2017), http://bit.ly/Americas-Languages.
  20. Paris, Brittany. “Are All Doctors Board Certified?” (Angie’s List), http://bit.ly/doctors-certified.
  21. Muzii, Luigi. “Are Bad Translators Driving Out the Good?” http://bit.ly/Muzii-bad-translators.
  22. Bomgardner, Melody. “The Problem with Vanilla,” Chemical & Engineering News (September 12, 2016), http://bit.ly/CEN-vanilla.

Author bio

Christelle Maginot has over 25 years of experience as a professional translator. For the past 18 years, she has been working as an in-house translator for a major consumer goods corporation, where she handles and supervises the translation of corporate, technical, sales, and marketing material into multiple languages. She has a master’s degree in International Business/Marketing and English, French, and Spanish translation from the University of Aix-en-Provence, France. Contact: Christelle.maginot@yahoo.com.