Translators : 10 effective ways to stop the flow of spams, scams and nasty offers, and start over on clean grounds

  • PLAY HARD TO GET (& disappear from Translation Directory). Personally, I was fed up with these agency emails and closed my account with TD. Since then I am receiving way less crappy offers and no more scammers. TD is feeding this by making your CV available to absolutely anyone including crooks. Translators have to be more selective with those websites and set their own limits. Trust me, putting your CV all over the web is not going to provide you with more work, but will rather cause a lot of nuisance.  
  • STOP GIVING YOUR MONEY TO PROZ : I only got one offer from Proz as a paying member, but am still working on a project I found on it when I was a non paying member. On top of lowering the rates and respect standards, this company is oblivious to the interests of its paying members, serving those of unscrupulous agencies. It refuses to listen to translators and their code of ethics is very suspicious, according to this insightful report. No need to stress that I deeply regret the 120 euros membership which ended up in Henry Dotterer's fat pocket. I guess shutting down websites like Proz and Translation Directory would be the best thing that can ever happen to the translation industry.
  • LOOK and be professional, show that you are not a "sunday translator" or looking for a new fun extra job. You have hard earned degrees and credentials, excellent language skills and are your own boss. Ideally, don't position yourself as a job seeker but as a service provider. Don't do anything for free, including tests, or only accept free tests (under 200 words to serious companies). Know the law, and have terms & conditions and a price list.
  • SECURE YOUR CV: make a PDF, with watermark and copyright. Don't put it all over the web if you don't want it to be unknowingly used or if you don't want someone else to ruin your reputation.
  • SET YOUR PRICE LIMITS ON PORTAL OFFERS : set yourself a minimum price and STICK to it. You won't receive anymore disappointing offers. 
  • START CHARGING REAL MONEY FOR YOUR SERVICES : that means always try to negociate higher rates. If you know you are valuable to a project and sense that it does not compute with what you are getting paid, RAISE your prices, with the attitude that goes with it. Instead of asking for a raise, state that your prices are increasing from next month on, and only accept compromise if it is substancial enough. This worked for me. I increased my rate by 50 percent over one year working on the same project, despite the allegedly "fixed budget" of the project. To help you negociate, make a list of arguments susceptible to make them think twice about it (they might not find someone as qualified for the same price, will have to interrupt the project for some time while looking for another translator, not providing the same quality, the client will leave and so on...) I personally could rely on the fact that another language team was fired from the project (book translated into 3 languages) by the end client, so my team was still holding it together.
  • OBEY STRICT PROFESSIONAL RULES when answering offers: before accepting anything, one must have : a PO stating deadline and total price, number of words (Do your own word count :), do not start anything without the PO. If a NDA or agreement is given to you, make sure it does not work against you.
  • CHECK the agencies (cf this blog "Looking up agencies") and look for them in Black lists, then tell them why you refuse to work for them (low rates, non payment or disgracious spelling or grammatical mistakes...).
  • COMMUNICATE, explain things to PM (that they should know, aka your performance is 2000 words a day), and ask questions so you are not held responsible for anything later on and so that your translation fits the needs of the client. If you have to go through an agency, remember that the PM does not know much because he doesn't know what questions to ask, but that you on the contrary need to know everything -or as much as possible.
  • START A COOP with trusted fellow translators : If instead of spending our time and energy slaving away for agencies, we were spending it getting rid of them and promoting ourselves via cooperatives, we could get out of this situation and enable good translators to stay in the business. I think this is possible via a lot of PR and communication about our status. Letting end clients (when you know them) know about the reality of this system is also important, but also writing blogs and informing companies and the media. We just have to think of new ways to save our profession and share our ideas through social networks. 

These are just a few basic ideas, but what would be your priorities and solutions to improve the future of translators?



Transperfect's redefinition of proofreading

SWEATSHOP alert.... 
There was so much to say about the translation agency Transperfect that I decided to create a special entry for them. The complaints from translators seem endless. As a matter of fact, this company has very unethical methods and its business model seems to revolve solely on the systematic exploitation of its translators, who get paid under 4 cents per word. Their greediness knows no bounds and they have made a huge fortune finding ingenuous new ways to pay their contractors less. Even ProZ Blue Board cannot manage to salvage TP's reputation as the "likelihood of working again" earned by TransPerfect from its translators between January 2009 and the present is barely 24%. They even sometimes go as far as banning them. What on earth do they do to deserve such radical measures from such an unselective portal? It appears that in fact, they sometimes have trouble paying their translators.

Reading all these reports, one wonders who still wants to work for them and what benefit they get from it. And above all, who still hires this company but unaware clients who have been told translation is a cheap, quick and automated process? But even if they end up collapsing under the weight of their shame, Liz Elting and Phil Shawe wont die of starvation like their cheap labour, since their gross profits amounted to $221 millions just for 2009, and $300 millions in 2011.
TP is actually the 4th biggest language services company in the world, see this report on the profits made in 2011 : 

However, their generosity has limits.

A translator's comment : 
" The other day, a newbie PM called and said that another PM (one who has been around for a while) had suggested me for a "fun and exciting" job writing the narration (in English) for a 40-50 second advertisement ordered by a major U.S. retailer (not WalMart or K-Mart, but not an upscale place). The offered price? $25. Yup, US$25 for writing the script for a 40-50 second video.The PM told me that writing advertising copy was a new field for Transperfect. This was my reply: "Thank you for your inquiry, but $25 for copywriting for a large company like X is ridiculous. They'd pay an advertising agency much more. If TransPerfect is really accepting $25 plus company's overhead plus profit margin (=$100 or less?), then there is something seriously wrong with its account executives. In any case, I'm very busy this weekend." Like many of you, I received better rates from Transperfect in the 1990s.
" I just did some googling to find out what the going rate for advertising copywriters is. For free-lancers, the average is about $83 an hour. That's a useful bit of information to have."

Now one aspect of their recruitment really bugs me and it concerns the proofreading. For TP, proofreading is something else altogether. They just reinvented the concept.

When I started as a translator I filled in an application with them. But then they realised that I only had one year experience in the business. Therefore they offered me another  job : proofreader !!!! (Yes, the one who corrects the 10 years of experienced expert translator !) 
The test was incredibly long (but short in time), incredibly impossible and seemed only to focuse on spotting formatting problems. A real robot job. I failed by their standards.The pay was 15 euros per 1000 words but I had managed to obtain 20. But since, I have heard such back feedback on this company that I am glad I never worked for them. 
Big problem there: how do they expect a newby to correct the translation of an expert? What is he gonna do but add problems to the text or check the formatting? 

So yes, Transperfect finds its own solutions to cut down on costs and time. They just reinvented the concept of proofreading: it no longer implies the verification by a translator of a source doc and its translation, the research and checking of certain tricky terms in dictionaries and glossaries, or the reworking of clumsily built sentences, as we fools may have believed. None of that nonsense. For TP, proofreading is a highly speedy reading operation, purely visual, consisting of a "spot the difference" fun little game. A space missing, a double dot, a line out of the box? TP hires you to solve that. It doesn't really matter if you don't speak the source language, you won't have the time to check the original text anyway ! Just take the 5 euros an hour and agree on the officious principle that the faster you go, the more money you make, just keep quiet about the quality, nobody needs to know;).

The rate seems indeed to be approximately 5 euros per hour, provided you don't pay tax. Here is one of their offers (kindly forwarded to me by a fellow translator)

"Diana Chemparathy (she can be found on LinkedIn) offered me bi-lingual proofreading for US$ 0.01 per word, telling me that "2,000 words per hour is the norm in this industry"! The proofing/editing/reviewing (she never really clarified what she meant by "proofreading") was to be done over the weekend and came with very detailed formatting instructions as well as two separate style guides. The work was highly specialised and not to be undertaken lightly, as it consisted of pages of faxed medical case notes, pathology reports and culture results, some handwritten.Needless to say I turned the job down flat. The agency she works with/for is TransPerfect. I complained directly to their head office but never received a reply. Well done you for initiating this blog and list and thank you!"

Now this is seriously taking the pxxx. This person needs to be educated about her own job. She is is completely wrong and knows it. A translator can proofread maximum 1000 words per hour if the translation is top notch. Then, it depends on the technicity of the text, the deadline, etc. 
In any case, a translator should not accept less than 20 euros per 1000 words for proofreading, and should charge  according to the amount of errors and corrections they had to make. I charge a minimum, plus a certain amount per correction made. That is the only way to not undersell yourself. 
Another crucial point: poor quality translations should not be proofread, they should be retranslated from scratch, and there is a big difference in price. You should check the text before they send the PO, then make an offer (in hours) and if it took you longer, complain about the quality and ask for compensation for extra time. I always do this and it has always worked. 

Finally, I have no problem saying to project managers that a job is shoddy since I don't consider these people as my "fellow translators" but as incompetent amateurs. This may sound harsh but these people are damaging the profession and dragging it down. They obviously should be doing something else, which is anything but translation. I haven't proofread in a while and am far from missing this ungrateful activity. Someone is responsible for these nasty translations and it ends up being your job to save the day (and rescue the agency's reputation). 
Don't let this happen. Ask yourself : does this agency deserves to be saved or shall it pay for its avidity and loose their client? If you find a collaborator seriously incompetent, say it (and justify it!). They are probably taking the place of someone who is actually qualified but asking for a fair rate. There are always interesting returns after these complaints, such as "you're not the first one to complain", "that's a non professional's work", "one of the client's employee" and so on...
Very negative blogs solely focusing on them (lots to say):
Read more about Transperfect on LinkedIn
Read more on Transperfect on Ripoff report
Interesting article about Transperfect :