Translators’ rates: of guns and hoes

Don’t worry, this post isn’t a homage to gangsta’ rap. The title refers to the implements used by translators to shoot themselves – or, if they’re Italian, hoe themselves – in the foot where pay’s concerned (the Italian expression is “darsi una zappata sui piedi”. Another reason to avoid gardening). Following on from my last two posts – Translators’ pay: how much are you worth? and Job satisfaction… and the UK’s (surprising?) top job – on translators’ pay and rates, I thought it might be useful to give some real-life examples that illustrate how translators all too often undervalue their work and their service to clients. (Please bear with me, non-translator readers – this is relevant to other professions too, I think).

Scenario 1: qualified member of professional organisation, 20 years’ experience, legal and financial specialist

An agency I sometimes work with contacted me a few months ago asking if I could translate a stock option plan. The agency’s client was a corporate law firm, which in turn was working for an Italian company about to be listed on the stock exchange. The translation, of nearly 5000 words (about 23 translation pages), was needed the following day. I couldn’t take it on but found a translator – a qualified member of her national professional organisation with 20 years’ experience and specialising in economic-financial –  who could. Her quote (agency rate) was £0.07 per word, which included an urgency surcharge of, by my calculation but I could well be wrong, around 8% on her standard rate of £0.065.

So that makes a fee of £350 (an hourly rate of £28-35, depending on time taken) for approximately 2 days’ work compressed into 1, and requiring the translator to set aside any existing projects or plans, to translate a complex financial-legal document. The company was duly listed a few days later and raised around $1 billion.

Scenario 2: translators with 5 to 10 years’ experience, no professional membership, no specialist expertise

A few days after this, I received some unsolicited translator CVs in my mailbox (I’m not an agency but get these “job applications” all the same). On average, the translators had been translating for 8 years and their agency fee per word was £0.65 – so the same rate as the translator above. They were all generalists. None of them were qualified members of a professional association. None of them had specialist degrees (eg in translation studies).

Scenario 3: local plumbers

Yes, I know, we always pick on plumbers: “It was a waste of time going to university, I should have trained as a plumber instead and I’d be raking in the money”. Anyway, we had a leaky tap a couple of weeks ago, at 6.30 pm on a Friday. The tap wasn’t just dripping, it was flowing. It was the hot water tap. And it was attached to the wash-hand basin in my daughter’s bedroom. So we needed to get it fixed.

I phoned around some plumbers in our neighbourhood and eventually found one – located 5 minutes away by car – who was available. He gave me a quote of £140, his weekend rate, to fix the tap. His standard call-out rate is £40, making a weekend/after-hours surcharge of (again, my calculation) 250%.

I eventually found another plumber based 5 minutes’ drive away, who came round promptly and repaired the tap for £40. No weekend rate (although I’d have paid an extra charge – just not an additional £100!). It took him about 20 minutes – so £40 for half an hour’s work including travelling time. Paid on the nail.

Some perspective

Let’s put all of this into perspective. Translator A has 20 years experience, has passed her professional exam and has specialist expertise in two difficult fields (fields in which people in other professions make LOTS of money). She charges the same as translators with less than half that experience, no professional membership or specific qualification, and no discernible field of specialist expertise. She applies an urgency surcharge of 8%, compared with an after-hours surcharge of 250% applied by a local plumber. Taking an hourly rate, she charges much less than the standard rate for local plumbers (who admittedly, for longer jobs, are unlikely to charge £40 for every half-hour worked… I hope). The translation she quoted for was required by a corporate lawyer to help a company worth millions of dollars become even richer (much richer).

What price career progression for translators? Any thoughts?

Other posts you might like:

Are your fees high enough? Some food for thought

All about price? Not necessarily

From GIGO to QIQO: the quest for quality

By Marian Dougan

Craftsmanship: is it boring? Not for translators (the good ones, that is).

This advert for Leica cameras made me think of the translator’s craft. And the skill and work and care and honing and polishing that it takes to produce a really good translation that truly serves your client’s needs.

The Most Boring Ad Ever Made? from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

What do you think, readers: is craftsmanship boring?

With thanks to Katherine Parish (translation student and photographer) for posting this ad on Twitter.

Other posts you might like:

Translators’ pay: how much are you worth?

From GIGO to QIQO: the quest for quality

Omnishambles: object-lessons in how not to contract out language services


By Marian Dougan

101 things a translator needs to know but doesn’t necessarily think to ask

Book: 101 things a translator needs to knowIt’s always good to find a new book on translation – for reading yourself or as a gift for a translator friend.

101 Things a Translator Needs to Know contains “over 500 years’ collective experience in translation pondered, distilled and published: nuggets of translation wisdom from prominent exponents of the profession”.

The introduction describes 101 as “a book for beginners. It’s also a book for seasoned professionals, students and teachers. For freelancers and staff translators. For amateurs and experts, generalists and super-specialists — be they certified and sworn, recognised, authorised… or simply tantalised by translation’s potential for a varied and enriching career”.

A translator’s handbag/man-bag book

I’d describe 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know as the translator’s ideal handbag/man-bag (sorry!) book. It’s the sort of book to dip into rather than read at one sitting. You could read it in one go if you wanted, as each of the 101 “things” is only about 100 words long. But I don’t think that’s what the authors intended, and I suspect it would give you translation indigestion. It’s great for those times when you want to read snippets rather than get engrossed in a novel, say. So, during a short train or bus journey, in the doctor’s waiting room, or during your tea/coffee-break. Or, to put you in a good mind-set, first thing in your working day when you sit down at your ergonomically appropriate desk (nugget no. 25: You only live once).

You can read 101 in order, or dip in at random. You can also dip back in again over time, because each snippet serves as a reminder of the things we probably know we should be doing, but sometimes forget.

My own favourite nugget of advice in the whole book is:

Good translators always put themselves in their readers’ shoes (nugget no. 45: There’s more to translation than meets the eye). So true!

Spot the contributor

If you’ve attended presentations or read articles by any of the contributing translators, you could play a “spot the contributor” game as you read the book. Here’s the full list of contributors and here are the ones on Twitter (and whose accounts aren’t locked): Chris DurbanTerence Lewis, Nick RosenthalRos SchwartzRannheid SharmaLois Thomas and the creator of the illustrations, Catherine Anne Hiley (sister of translator Margaret Hiley, who no doubt provided plenty of translation insights).

Other posts you might like:

Not love, not money, it’s translation that makes the world go round

Gifted in translation: specialist publishers

Gifted in translation (3): The Little Prince

By Marian Dougan

Life’s a beach? Great! But please, not on LinkedIn…

Cartoon image of lady on the beachOne of social media’s great mysteries is why people think it’s appropriate to use holiday snaps showing them in their swimsuits for their LinkedIn profile pics. Complete with fruity cocktails and palm trees.

LinkedIn is a business and professional platform. Users’ photos should reflect that. You can portray your personality and look warm and friendly and approachable (if that’s the image you’re after) while still looking professional and businesslike. But not in your bikini (or Speedos!). Facebook or Instagram are the places for that.

Then there are the profiles with no picture at all. No photo, no logo, nothing. Why? Are people really that camera-shy? Maybe they don’t know how to upload images? Marketing professionals say that “people buy people”. But it’s difficult to engage with a head-and-shoulders icon and think “Yes, that’s somebody I could do business with”.

With everyone on LinkedIn telling visitors to their page how professional and expert and passionate (!) about quality they are, your photo is one sure way to differentiate your profile from all the others.

Translator invisibility

LinkedIn isn’t the only place with  image-free profiles. A quick look at the Institute of Translation and Interpreting directory shows (hides?) way too many translators without photos. That raises questions of marketing and branding, not to mention our reputation for introversion and anonymity… and frugality, to cite Chris Durban. As a self-employed professional, you are your brand. A decent set of professional photos needn’t cost much, and is surely a good investment in your business.

Confession: my own profile pics were taken 4 years ago… Time for an up-date!

Other posts you might like:

Passionate about perspective

A social networking rant. Tell us who you are, people!

Marketing? Some boy telephoned…

By Marian Dougan

Translators’ pay: how much are you worth?

The Cabinet Office job satisfaction survey I mentioned in my last post ranks “Authors, writers and translators” at no. 42, with an average income of £26,207. The Adzuna  survey lists average pay for translators as £39,900. That’s quite a gap, and there are plenty of variables that might explain it: in-house or self-employed status, level of experience and/or specialisation, for example. But I suspect the £26,207 figure is nearer the reality for most self-employed translators. If you think it’s way off the mark, let me know and we’ll run a poll.

Focusing just on the income side of the surveys, here’s an exercise to do.

Step 1 – consider translators’ career paths

Read this description of the translator’s career path, by Lanna Castellano (I first saw it in the 1992 edition of Mona Baker’s book “In Other Words”, published by Routledge):

“Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator, not until fifty do you start to be in your prime. The first stage of the career pyramid – the apprenticeship stage – is the time we devote to investing in ourselves by acquiring knowledge and experience of life. Let me propose a life path: grandparents of different nationalities, a good school education in which you learn to read, write, spell, construe and love your own language. Then roam the world, make friends, see life. Go back to education, but to take a technical or commercial degree, not a language degree. Spend the rest of your twenties and your early thirties in the countries whose languages you speak, working in industry or commerce but not directly in languages. Never marry into your own nationality. Have your children. Then back to a postgraduate translation course. A staff job as a translator, and then go freelance. By which time you are forty and ready to begin”.

(Lanna Castellano, 1988)

Step 2 – compare that with other people’s career paths

What do other people need to do their jobs? A degree? A post-graduate qualification? An apprenticeship? On-the-job training? Life experience? A vocation? Natural talent?

Step 3 – consider translators’ pay with respect to other people’s pay levels

Next, take a look at the income levels for other jobs, trades and professions included in the survey. How does translation compare? And don’t forget that some of the jobs listed are “cash in hand, on the nail”, where actual earnings are far higher than those stated.

Step 4 – examine your job: what does being a translator actually involve?

How difficult are the texts you translate? What are your specialist subjects? How did you gain your expertise in those subjects? How much research do you do for your translation projects? How many training events do you attend each year? How much do they cost (in time, as well as money)? How much reading and on-going learning do you do? Which software have you had to buy and learn to use? How many hours do you work? How much marketing and business growth activity do you do? How much is your service worth to your clients?

Step 5 – ask yourself this question

Are people in higher paid professions significantly cleverer than translators? If you re-trained (say a one-year post-graduate qualification or equivalent) and/or gained the relevant experience in a given profession, could you do their job? Could they do yours?

Step 6 – ponder the question: what does all of this say about translators’ pay?

This topic provoked quite a discussion on Twitter the other day (featuring Sarah PybusNikki GrahamClaire CoxKaren NettoSteve Woods and Jonathan Downie) about pay levels, not just for translators but for people in other jobs and for students, graduates paying off their loans and anyone having to get by on a non-stellar salary.

More thoughts and views welcome – let us know in the comments!

Other posts you might like:

St. Jerome: a good role model for translators?

All about price? Not necessarily

Omnishambles: object-lessons in how not to contract out language services


By Marian Dougan

Job satisfaction… and the UK’s (surprising?) top job

Well, we had happy words in a recent post, but what about happy jobs? A report commissioned by the UK government (the Cabinet Office, to be precise) lists 274 occupations in order of their “job satisfaction rating“. Some of the results I find a bit odd: farmers come in at number 8 and farm workers 23, while gardeners and landscape gardeners are down at 173. Why the gap, I wonder? Anyway, “Authors, writers and translators” are number 42 in the list, a result that I find gratifying for 3 reasons:

  1. Translators actually got a mention (I so often have to list my occupation as “other” in surveys and similar).
  2. 42 out of 274 is a none-too-shabby score.
  3. We’re grouped with authors and writers. This seems to me a pretty classy group to be in. And it makes sense, if you consider that translators need to have good writing skills if they’re to do their job properly.

And the UK’s top job is…

Another survey, from September 2013, ranks the Top 10 Best Jobs in the UK. The survey, conducted by Adzuna, a search engine for classified ads, ranks jobs on the basis of criteria such as earning potential, competitiveness, working conditions, unemployment rates and job security. Amazingly, this survey puts translators at Number 1. Now, I like my job and it gives me great satisfaction, and I know that lots of other translators feel the same way. But the top job in the UK? The survey also lists translation as one of the 5 least stressful jobs, stress level being calculated by ranking the inherent demands of the job against 15 different criteria, including deadlines, competitiveness, and physical and emotional risk. I’d have thought deadlines alone would be enough to take translation soaring off the stress chart…

Does money buy you happiness at work?

Both studies also list average income. According to The Economist, referring to the Cabinet Office study, “regression analysis on all the data suggests that pay and job satisfaction are pretty closely correlated“. That study put translators’ average pay at £26,207, while Adzuna’s gives an average salary of £39,900. So quite a discrepancy, although the two surveys are probably not comparing like with like. Adzuna’s use of “salary” suggests in-house positions, while the Cabinet Office grouping of “Authors, writers and translators” suggests that they’re looking at self-employment figures. I’ll be writing more posts on translator pay and job satisfaction in the next week or so but take a look at these surveys in the meantime – they provide plenty of food for thought.

Other posts you might like:

Translation as a career? It’s right up there!

Not love, not money. It’s translation that makes the world go round

The Gettysburg Address: lessons for writers (and translators!)

By Marian Dougan

The meaning of happiness

Today is the International Day of Happiness so websites and blogs will probably be awash with videos featuring “Happy” by Pharrell Williams (or check out the 24-hours of Happy version).

But what about the true meaning of happiness (or at least, its etymology)? Here it is, courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary:

happy (adj.)

late 14c., “lucky, favored by fortune, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune” + –y (2). Sense of “very glad” first recorded late 14c. Ousted Old English eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. Meaning “greatly pleased and content” is from 1520s. Old English bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.”

Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happy medium is from 1778. Happy ending in the literary sense recorded from 1756. Happy as a clam (1630s) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten. Happy hunting ground, the reputed Indian paradise, is attested from 1840, American English. Related: Happier; happiest.

If you’d like to ring the changes, Mental Floss has compiled the following list of antiquated words for “happy” which they say we should bring back:

1. Chirky From the late 19th century, meaning “cheerful.”

2. In high snuff An expression for “good mood,” used from the late 17th century until the 1930s.

3. Over the moon Before humans literally went beyond the moon, this popular phrase from the 1930s means “overjoyed.”

4. Gassed Started out meaning “intoxicated,” but by the 1950s it just meant happy.

5. Tickled As in “tickled pink.”

6. Merry-pin Also started as a reference to tipsiness, this referred to a general good ol’ time in the 19th century.

7. Ricochet In the 19th century, this bouncy term also meant “splendid.”

8. All callao This 19th century sailor’s slang either referred to the Peruvian port of Callo or acted as a play on the word alcohol. Or both.

9. Gaudeamus From the Latin for “let us rejoice,” this oldie refers to a merry jamboree.

10. Kvelling From the Yiddish for “so happy and proud my heart is overflowing.”

11. Chuffed This current slang in the UK certainly needs to make a trip across the pond.

12. Delira and excira A term the Irish use to mean “delirious and excited.” We need to borrow this one too.

13. Gladsome This classic from the 14th century doesn’t get used enough anymore.

14. To lick the eye This confusing 19th century gem was used to describe someone who was extremely pleased.

15. Cock-a-hoop From the phrase “to set the cock on the hoop,” meaning open the tap and let the good times flow.

Which do you think are worth reviving? Have you any favourite “happy” words?

Other posts you might like:

English words the world likes

If the shoe doesn’t fit: eggcorns and etymology

For words to even better effect – just add music


By Marian Dougan

Listen to music while you work? Take our poll and let us know!

Yesterday’s guest post, Language, music, and me, by Elisa Bonora, was about listening to music while you work. It sparked quite a discussion on Twitter, between those, like Elisa, who find music an inspiration and those, like me, who (sadly) find it a distraction.

What about you? Take our poll and let us know. And if you’ve got time, let us know your favourite “music while you work” tracks in the comments. Thanks!

Other posts you might like:

Get me to a bookery!

Singing in Occitan. Beautifully.

For a clear New Year: a musical style guide from the EU Commission. (A great example of how to combine music and writing!)

By Marian Dougan


Language, music, and me, by Elisa Bonora

Keyboard with musical noteDo you listen to music while you’re working? I’d love to be able to, but sadly I can’t – my brain just doesn’t work that way. When I’m reading or writing – even just a simple email – the music distracts me and I just can’t focus. I know that  lots of people do manage to enjoy music as they work, and even find that it boosts their productivity and/or creativity. Elisa Bonora, an Italian translator, is one of them. She’s very kindly written a guest post on the subject. Here it is.

Language, music, and me, by Elisa Bonora

Some things have always been with you, as simple as that. I was born with a curiosity for words and their hues of meaning, in my native language and in foreign ones. And I was born with a deep love of music, a language in itself.

Music, for me, is a universal but also very personal language. It resonates deeply with me, putting me in the right frame of mind to tune into my creativity and enhancing my productivity, or my mood.

I’ve been studying music since I was a child and it’s part of my everyday life and routine. When it comes to my job as a linguist, it helps me unplug from the world and focus on words. The way I see it, translating is an art: it’s very much about finding the right feel between two worlds and languages, and music can be my key to connect with them, almost by magic.

Which music for which work?

There are no set rules as to which music I listen to for each different type or stage of work; sometimes it just depends on the mood I’m in. However, I tend to choose something quiet and calming when I’m working long hours on a big project and I need to be focused and relaxed, with no distractions. Upbeat music gives me extra energy and a boost when I feel I need it – it might unlock the right idea for creative challenges. It also works well with less demanding tasks, or for the first draft.

In any case, it has to be something that really speaks to me: I need to feel a connection with what I’m listening to.

Of course silence is an option too, for example when I’m working on a very complex task with many issues requiring attention. For re-reading and final polishing, when I need to make sure that the text reads flawlessly, I usually prefer peaceful tunes or no music at all.

A personal playlist

Here is a very short playlist of some of my favourite music for work. It is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a general idea of my tastes. A couple of notes (a play on words! Oops, another one! 😉 ): although I am a huge Beatles fan, I find I can’t listen to them while translating because they inevitably trigger a “sing along” reaction in me, and however good at multitasking I may be, that would be a bit too much – I don’t think any of my clients would want to have the lyrics of Ticket to Ride incorporated in their text. I also enjoy classical music, but I prefer to listen to it when I’m in a meditative mood and doing absolutely nothing else. And if you’re wondering what I’m listening to while writing this post… just the rain on my office window 🙂

About Elisa

Elisa Bonora of Millefolia TranslationsElisa Bonora, owner of Millefolia Translations, is a translator and editor working from English and Spanish into Italian.

Elisa has been involved with classical and modern music all her life. With a strong background in natural sciences, wildlife and the environment, she is committed to a green lifestyle and believes that “communication makes all the difference in the world”.

She also believes in providing “Italian translation, editing, and language consulting with a smile”.

By Marian Dougan

A Burns Day round-up

Today is Burns Day, when Scots (here in Scotland and just about everywhere else in the world) celebrate the life and work of Robert (Rabbie) Burns. The celebrations often take the form of a Burns Supper at which the haggis takes pride of place, along with poetry and, of course, whisky.

Here’s a wee round-up of Burns-related stories.

Burns Night Treat Ends In Airport Alert As Ian Blake’s Haggis Is Mistaken For Plastic Explosives. The title of this article from the Huffington Post is self-explanatory. Don’t miss Ian’s poem at the bottom of the article: “On Being Hauled Out Of The Line By Security At Birmingham Airport ‘Because The Scan Shows You Have Plastic Explosive In Your Luggage, Sir’”.

Kate o Shanter’s Tale: the Tam o’Shanter story told from his wife Kate’s point of view. Tam is described in Wikepedia as “a farmer who often gets drunk with his friends in a public house in the Scottish town of Ayr, and his thoughtless ways, specifically towards his wife, who is waiting at home for him, angry”. Judging by Kate’s reaction in the poem, “angry” isn’t the half of it.

How to strengthen your voice – with Robert Burns! A blog post by Cordelia (aka Dilly) Ditton on how not to be a cow’rin, tim’rous beastie when you have to speak in public. Useful advice for anyone who gives talks or presentations.

Dilly’s post also features the beautiful “Ae Fond Kiss”, with a link to a BBC webpage about the poem. It’s sung in the video above by Rachel Sermanni, a Scottish singer whose grandfather came from Barga, in Tuscany. And here’s another Burns poem sung by an Italian-Scot, Paolo Nutini, whose family was also from Barga: A Man’s a Man for A’ That (what is it about Italian-Scots and Burns, I wonder?).

Other posts you might like:

“Dreich”: Scots, the Scots… or Scottish weather? 

The Caledonian Mercury: “Scotland’s first truly online newspaper”. Plus, Useful Scots Words.

When the poet died: on translating remembrance

And, last but certainly not least (watch your back Rabbie Burns!): The translators’ poet laureate (and rapper!)

By Marian Dougan





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