I have read a lot of comments regarding falling rates in the translation industry. I have very often received translation job offers for the rate of proofreading ones. And I have on and on been asked to perform free tests. Also, in the process of handling several proofreading jobs, I have personally seen the result of hiring unprofessional translators. My question is: where is the problem? What is causing the issues in the translation world: bad quality translations, professionals asked to work for free, low rates? In other words, why are translators so unhappy with the rates offered (when any!) and why are agencies finding it so hard to trust the product they are purchasing? I believe there is a very simple answer to that question. Let me explain why.
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In my experience, any new average size translation project (2000 words and above) normally involves spending one third of my time researching the subject area, one third of my time translating the actual document and the final third allowing my work to go through several proofreading stages, three being the least, four or five being the rule. It is obvious that if my time was spent translating only, I would be able to charge a third of my rate and make a good living. But the quality of my translation would be such that someone would have to spend the remaining two thirds of the time involved taking care of researching the subject area and rewriting my work.
Based on experience, I also tend to refuse taking on proofreading jobs and I know many translators that have adopted the same attitude. Why? Because a large portion of the jobs sent over to proofreaders are jobs that have neither gone through phase one or three, and often times are performed by translators whose writing skills are way below average. I received such a translation several months ago. There were so many omissions, switched paragraphs, entire sentences needing to be entirely rewritten, that it took me an entire day to perform a task that should normally have taken an hour and a half at the most. I could not even leave the track changes function on for to have done so would have turned the proofreading of the final version of my work into an impossible task.
It seems to me that the tendency is to pay a low rate to the translator thus enticing him to only perform phase two while hiring a proofreader at a portion of that rate in order for him to "redo the whole job", thus paying him a small portion of the actual time spent fixing the document. That is why I do not take proofreading jobs. For me to work an entire day for an hour worth of pay is commercial suicide.
So who is to blame?
Let us keep in mind that in order for any agency to deliver a good quality translation, it has to eventually pay someone to perform all three phases of the job plus a fourth proofreading phase performed by a third party. An agency has end clients and cannot afford to provide them with low quality translations. I recently read some comments at a forum from someone about to set up an agency asking questions about how to proceed with hiring freelance translators. So for a while, I put myself in the agency's shoes. You have a job and you get quotes. Translators send out their resumes, one resume looking pretty much like another, they explain to you how many projects they have taken on, but overall, they never tell you what their rates include. So why on earth would an agency pick you, the good translator, with a rate three times higher than the other guy unless they have a solid reason to make that choice based on what they are getting? On and on, I have sent messages to agencies telling them about myself and the great translation experience I had without ever mentioning what I was putting on the table for the rate I was asking.
So from now on, I have decided to be very clear about what I am offering. In other words, I clearly state in my cover letter that my rate includes phase one, two and three, plus some after-service care in the case of omissions or errors. In other words, I am clearly stating that I am offering a translation of publishable quality requiring minimal proofreading only, thus positioning myself at the higher end of my profession and justifying a reasonable rate based on my actual experience. It is obvious that to advertise higher quality without providing it would make me go out of business so it is in my interest to describe my product accurately and follow up accordingly.
Some clients may decide they are not interested in the whole package and that’s their choice. But I want their decision to be based on what they are getting rather than what they are paying. In other words, it’s my commercial responsibility to give a detailed description of the product I am offering and to leave the agency with a choice based on knowledge rather than guessing.
Low rates may still apply for a while but my understanding is that less and less translators are willing to spend entire days proofreading jobs that should only take an hour of their time. So eventually agencies may have to make the commercial decision to purchase the "whole package" thus allowing the proofreaders to do their jobs only, consisting of fixing typos and small omissions for a portion of the fee paid to the translator. And I strongly believe that our industry will then have taken an essential step towards professionalism.