Translating the Crisis
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It hasn't been long since I have started my career as a freelance translator but I must say I have already faced - and am facing - a good number of challenges. Not only am I referring to the usual and typical difficulties every freelance translator goes through at the beginning of his or her career, but also to a whole new kind of difficulties... Lately we all learned to live side by side and together with words and concepts like "Financial Crisis", "Recession" and "Austerity". I think... Actually, I am pretty sure that these problems do not affect only new professionals like me, but established translators as well.
So how do we cope with this new reality? How should we deal with this problem? How are we going to survive as freelance translators?
As I mentioned above, my career as a translator is not that long and I am still learning how to move around the world of translation. I had the traditional issues as a freelance translator starting his career: how to meet clients, which rates to practice, which CAT tools to use, how to avoid scams, and etc. But for these problems there are plenty of places where to search and find solutions, there are many websites, forums, webinars, articles, courses and people to give answers and advices. What about answers to our recent problems caused by the (in)famous recent financial crisis?
The general tax increase was a huge blow on the translator’s economies as well as on translation agencies, which resulted in a demand to reduce costs. Translation agencies are now trying to reduce any costs possible, and their first target is, of course, freelance translators. There is now a huge pressure made by the companies on translators to reduce rates, and quality seems to be at risk of losing against price and deadlines. Added to the fact that freelance translators now need to reduce their rates in order to remain competitive, they are now spending less in whatever they need for them and their family and are more reluctant in investing in new software and hardware.
I have recently participated in a webinar where translator rates were discussed and the general conclusion was that every professional there should keep his or her rates and refuse to go along with the general pricing fall. But outside that meeting of highly qualified professionals there is a whole world full of not so well qualified "professionals" and also other very well qualified professionals that are unbalancing the scale by dropping their prices and taking other translator’s established clients and potential clients as well. Is it that wrong that I drop my rates as well? I need to work just as everyone else, and although I could not agree more with the conclusions withdrawn from that conference, I am afraid it will be very hard to compete with some of the rates I often see. I cannot and will not work for 0.01€ or 0.02€ per word, for the simple reason that this is not enough to even pay my taxes! I know that serious translation agencies normally do not recruit professionals with these kind of rates, but keep in mind what I mentioned before - our current situation forces everyone to reduce costs, so I doubt that most agencies will be able to resist this tendency, and it is more than clear that quality is being replaced by cost and time reduction.
Another issue addressed at this particular conference was specialization. It was generally agreed that in order to be successful, a translator should specialize in one or a few particular fields or subjects. Again, when I check my competition I find professionals claiming to specialize in fields ranging from botany to aeronautics, with enology among the 100 specialization fields each one of these persons have. I can understand if one has 1 or 2 specialization fields with no credentials to back it up, for example: I am able to deal with a general medical translation for the fact that both my parents are doctors and I have countless language resource materials at my disposal, so I am confident enough to offer this particular service, but I am also very careful not to accept any translation with a highly specialized subject - I would not think about translating a brain surgery equipment manual but I would gladly accept an article on a general healthcare subject. But back to my point - how does a translator specialize in so many and so different fields? And most importantly, how do I compete with this? I am often terribly tempted to think "If some self-proclaimed professional can do a crappy work for a couple of dollars, so can I!". But if I seriously think about it, I reach the conclusion that my reputation is at risk, and we still do not know where this crisis is leading us.
As you may have noticed, I wrote this article to share with you my worries about my, and probably everyone's, current situation. I think we, freelance translators, should seriously consider working together to ensure quality standards are recognized and low quality standards are denounced, or at least not rewarded. It seems to me that simply maintaining our rates and present our certifications is not enough, we seriously need to start thinking on a clear strategy to ensure our future. I saw a suggestion of doing a sort of peer review of each other’s work that might be a good way to start, but maybe there are other ways to separate the good from bad, I just think it is a debate worth having.
Anyway, the main point is that this crisis is here, it is real and it is affecting us all. But it will not probably be here forever, so we need to hold on, and not give in to the temptation of dumping our rates and throw away our quality standards. In my point of view, the call for cooperation has never been so strong, and we as freelance translators should, now more than ever, work together to ensure our job stays honorable and serious.