A few thoughts on setting prices

Pricing is a difficult subject because it’s very personal. When starting out translators tend to ask around to find out what their colleagues are charging and set their rates based on this information after deducting a certain amount to account for their lack of experience. Others simply let translations agencies dictate their rates. Here are a few thoughts on setting your rates, what to bear in mind and the potential consequences of your pricing decisions.

1) Once you’ve set your rate for a customer or an agency it will be difficult to increase that rate towards that particular customer or agency. It is easier to quote higher rates to new customers than to existing customers. Always be on the lookout for higher-paying work and offer higher rates to new customers. If the higher rate isn’t accepted, you can still negotiate and you may just be surprised at how often a higher rate is in fact accepted.

2) There will always be someone out there willing to do the translation for less. If you are a serious translator, competing on price alone is a bad idea. Play to your strengths and to your experience. Chances are you will find something in your skill set which will more than justify a higher rate and for which the end client will be more than willing to pay.

3) Charging low rates because you are “just a part-time translator” or “just a stay at home parent looking for something to do” and don’t have to live on what you earn is not helpful for the industry or others trying to make a living as a freelance translator. It is not in your best interest either since it is unlikely that you will always be in this position and will at some point want or need to make a decent living from translation.  

4) Believe in your skills and ability and make sure you produce work which measures up and charge rates which reflect your skills. Make sure you know the lowest you are prepared to go so that you don’t agree to something unfeasible when under pressure. It’s ok not to get every assignment and some customers simply have to learn the hard way. Low prices often mean low quality and a once-burned customer makes for a faithful future customer.

5) At lower rates you will obviously need to work more hours to earn the same amount as if you were charging higher rates. Don’t get lost in word rates and line rates, make sure you keep your eye on how much you are making per hour. If you work out that you need to work more than 24 hours a day at the rates you are charging to earn the amount you need to live on, then you have a problem…

Vicious circle

If you accept too much low-paying work just to make ends meet, you will most probably not have the time to accept higher-paying work when it does come your way. Leave yourself some room to manoeuvre so that you can move onwards and upwards and make your business successful.


Time-saving terminology tool – IntelliWebSearch

A large part of a translator’s job is terminology research. How quickly you can find definitions and possible translations on the internet, in online and offline dictionaries of your required terms ultimately determines how quickly you can produce the translation in question and therefore has a direct effect on your hourly rate. My post from the end of last year on The Secret Power of Search Engines provides a few tips on search methodology and ways of finding reliable sources for terminology research online. However, although with practice we can perform searches fairly quickly, we still have to start from scratch each time. We have to locate our chosen website or search engine, input our term and additional search criteria and so on. But what if there was a tool which allowed you to store all of your regular searches, a tool which allowed you to configure your search settings once and only once and they would thereafter always be at your fingertips? Faced with the same problems as the rest of us, professional translator Michael Farrell decided to develop just such a tool. IntelliWebSearch is freeware and can be downloaded from the IntelliWebSearch website.

Here’s a link to the video presentation and eCPD also has a three part online course on using the IntelliWebSearch tool coming up in February which I will be attending. I’ve played around with IntelliWebSearch myself and I’m impressed. I’m now looking forward to the training session to find out what else it can do.

Choosing your translation specializations

Here’s some really good advice on specialising!

Thoughts On Translation

About 11 years ago, I went on my first informational interview with a translation company. The project manager’s first question, “What are your languages?” was one that I expected. Her second question, “And what are your specializations?” caught me completely off guard. Specializations?? You mean it’s not enough that I speak another language? Well, as it turns out, language skills alone are not enough to make a successful career as a translator, so here are some thoughts on identifying and pursuing translation specializations.

First, here’s a tip from veteran translator Jill Sommer. Pick an area that you enjoy researching. You’re going to be doing a lot of reading in your specialization, so make sure that you find it interesting. You also want to make sure that your target specialization generates enough paying work for you to have a viable business. Lots of people start out focusing on their…

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Freelance Translator Development and Mentoring Programmes – A Short Survey

I have compiled a very short survey (ten questions) about freelance translator development and mentoring programmes. If you are a relatively new freelance translator, I would be very grateful if you would take the time to complete the survey. I intend to use the results to tailor the content of this blog to the issues and topics which new freelance translators really want and need to know about. Once 100 people have participated in the survey, I will post an analysis of the results.

Which topics are missing in translator training? Do you have all of the skills you feel you need to run a successful freelance translation business? What would you like to be able to ask more experienced freelancers? Have your say here.

Mentors and coaches and why we all need them

One of the questions I have been asked frequently over the last couple of years, particularly by mentees in the BDÜ’s mentoring programme, is why I spend so much time on mentoring when my schedule is already full and my life busy enough as it is. The answer to that question is fairly simple: having the opportunity to mentor new freelance translators has made me realise just how far I have come and how much progress I have made over the years. It reminds me of how I felt in the beginning when I was just starting out myself and makes me realise just how lucky I was to have mentors because these mentors have most certainly played a central role in my success.

When I started my first job as a legal translator back in 2002 in the translation department of a large commercial law firm here in southern Germany, I didn’t have any experience of translating legal texts. However, like most employees – and unlike freelancers – I did have two very experienced colleagues to put me on the right track. These colleagues answered my many many questions, proofread my work, introduced me to CAT tools and showed me how to use them effectively. I also had access to an authoritative translation memory, a large number of legal dictionaries and lots and lots of lawyers, many of whom were more than happy to explain the more complex points of German law to the “nichtjuristische Mitarbeiter” as we were called. When I started my freelance business several years later, I had learned an enormous amount and felt very confident in terms of translating complex legal texts. However, what I didn’t have was much of an idea about running a business or marketing myself effectively – or even at all.

Talking to translators starting their careers as freelancers and hearing about their struggles – both with business-related as well as translation-related issues –  has made me wonder whether it isn’t actually essential for the language industry but also for the sanity of new freelance translators that they have access to experienced mentors to answer their questions, give them encouragement and keep them on the right track. I believe that many new freelance translators would also benefit from subject-specific mentoring, from mentors who can proofread their translations and provide advice on questions of terminology.

Freelancing has many benefits but it also has its challenges and one of those challenges is the fact that we often feel like we are all alone. For this reason it is extremely important to have a good network of other translators for support and advice. Mentoring and coaching is used in many businesses and many walks of life and we can all benefit from this type of support, whatever stage we are at in our careers. Whilst there will always be things we are good at and find easy, there will also always be things which don’t come naturally to us. At the beginning of my career my colleagues were excellent mentors for me and now, several years later, I have a marketing coach who has helped me to broaden my perspective, to see my business less emotionally and to present myself to my customers in the best possible light.

One of the most important things we need to remember as freelancers is that whilst we may work alone, there is no shame in asking for help and getting the extra support and encouragement we sometimes need to take the steps we need to take to get us where we know we want to go.

Part 5 – Corpora and parallel texts

What is a corpus?

A corpus is essentially a collection of texts (usually in electronic form) which is used for linguistic research.

How can corpora help me as a translator?

There are many ways in which you can use corpora to assist you with your translation work. For example, if you are learning to specialise in a particular area, you may want to collect a specific type of document in your target language and analyse these documents for terminology, collocations in context and key words. You could use this to start you own glossary of target language terminology. You could also collect similar documents in your source language and use these to try to match terminology with the terminology you found in your target language corpus. You can also use corpora to help you with a specific translation. Perhaps you have been asked to translate a type of document with which you are not yet familiar. Compiling a corpus of similar target language documents can help you find the correct terminology and collocations. Or perhaps you would like to compile your own bilingual corpus by collecting texts from multilingual websites. There is also the option of downloading corpora which have already been compiled. Why not download the free bilingual corpus provided by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation which I discussed here.

How can I find texts for my own corpus?

You are unlikely to find ready-made corpora which are a perfect fit for your particular research needs. You will therefore need to learn how to compile your own corpora. In order to do this, the first thing you need to do is to find reliable and authentic documents, either in the target language, the source language or both. If you are looking for contracts and other official documents, the best way to do this is to search for PDF documents on the internet. For advice on how to do this click here. You can, of course, also use websites, a collection of newspaper articles or any other collection of texts which you can find which suits your needs.

More effective and efficient ways of leveraging terminology from monolingual corpora

In theory, the larger your corpus, the more useful your corpus will be. However, in practical terms, this is not always the case. If you collect a very large number of texts, analysing them manually is going to be a near impossible task. This is the stage I had arrived at myself earlier this year. I had a large number of judgments in a particular matter I was working on but just didn’t have the time to extract the very useful information I was sure was available within the corpus. I was therefore very excited to learn that there are programs available which allow you to automatically leverage terminology from corpora. One of these is AntConc developed by Laurence Anthony. Since I’m still a novice at this myself, I can only direct you to the AntConc website for further information but what I can say is that it is quick and easy to use and extremely effective and efficient.

Credit and final note

The credit for the information contained in this post goes to Juliette Scott. If I had not met Juliette and learned about her PhD project that “pile of potentially useful documents gathering dust” would still be there on my desk untouched and unused and would never have made the transition from “pile of potentially useful documents” to “specialised corpus” from which I have been able to leverage useful terminology and collocations for translation assignments.

If you happen to specialise in legal translation and you are interested in more efficient ways of leveraging terminology from corpora in the legal field, do have a look at Juliette’s post about her PhD project here.

Part 3 – Multilingual websites – the fruits and the pitfalls

Multilingual websites are the perfect place to find terminology used in context. Particularly useful in my field (law) are the websites of the European Union, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Patent Office. Fast access to multilingual websites can also be obtained via Linguee.

Check the source

Again, do check the source before accepting what you find on multilingual websites. There are both fruits and pitfalls out there. Not every website available in more than one language has been translated well by a professional translator. If your term is so remote that you do have to rely on less authoritative sources, do cross-check your potential term in a monolingual dictionary to make sure that the term is indeed a suitable translation.

Practical hints and tips

After I started writing this post I remembered where it was that I first learnt about effectively searching multilingual websites. It was back in around 2003 when I was at the very beginning of my career working as an in-house legal translator at a large commercial law firm and it was at a course entitled Research Techniques for Translators in Zurich which was the first course I was ever sent on. I just googled the course and was happy to see that Tanya Harvey Ciampi is still running the course, albeit in a slightly different format. She has a lot of useful tools on her website which you can access here: http://www.multilingual.ch/search_interfaces.htm and I also found this short YouTube video which might be of interest to some of you: http://www.youtube.com/TranslatorTips

Create your own TM

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation first made the Translation Memory of its Acquis communautaire publically accessible in 2007. It was most recently updated in 2012. This is an excellent resource, not only for legal translators but also for translators in other fields. It claims to be the biggest parallel corpus taking account of the number of translation units and the number of languages it covers. The instructions for downloading the relevant language files for your working languages and how to create the files to load into your TM can be found here http://ipsc.jrc.ec.europa.eu/index.php?id=197. It is not as complicated as it may look at first glance and is a terminology goldmine. If you are working with Trados Studio, don’t forget to use your newly created TM to produce an Autosuggest dictionary for yourself too.

Tips for dealing with stress and frustration

Running a small business can be a stressful endeavour, starting one even more so. It is as demanding as it is rewarding, as frustrating as it is exciting and for every great leap forwards, you will invariably take a couple of steps back. Since we’re all human it is inevitable that sometimes we will cope with these ups and downs better at some times than others. A certain amount of stress can be highly motivating. For some of us, it is essential for us to get anything done at all. But what happens when that stress builds up to a level which threatens to make us unproductive and even ill? What happens when wearing all those hats we have to wear as entrepreneurs just gets too much? What measures can we take to counter the effects of stress?

Don’t set yourself unrealistic goals

From experience I can say that when I start to feel stressed it usually means that I have set myself unrealistic goals or overcommitted myself. Although it is really important to have goals so that we can clearly see which direction we are heading in, sometimes we underestimate just how much time certain tasks are going to take and how much mental energy those tasks use up. It is unreasonable for us to expect ourselves to be equally productive and effective every single day. Sometimes just readjusting our goals can reduce stress greatly. It ultimately doesn’t matter if we do everything we have told ourselves we will do in a particular week. It is the direction that counts, not the speed. I’m a great believer in slow and steady progress being more sustainable in the long-term anyway.

5 Stress-busting tips

1. Take a break, do some exercise or get some fresh air – yes, especially when you don’t feel like you have time because you have so much to do. Often the best ideas come to us when we are not officially working on the task in hand.

2. Stop expecting so much of yourself. If you find yourself struggling to meet a deadline, make sure you negotiate a longer one next time. Deadlines set by customers are often unreasonable simply because they don’t understand how much work is involved. It is our job to educate our customers. And if the deadline can’t be changed and is clearly too tight, don’t accept the assignment. You don’t have to do every piece of work which comes your way.

3. If there is too much on your to-do list, prioritise ruthlessly and make a new list.

4. Be mindful and learn to see recurring patterns and take steps to keep stress at bay.

5. If you realise you have overcommitted yourself, do something about it and make sure you say “no” more often in future.

7 tips for effective proofreading

1. If time allows, try this method: translate, proofread against the original, proofread the translation as a standalone document. This method ensures that you don’t forget to translate anything in the source text, makes sure you spot anything you may have mistranslated and ensures that the target text is coherent and cohesive.

2. Check figures and dates separately: it is definitely worth scanning through your translation and the source text and cross-checking dates and figures.

3. If you have time, leave the translation overnight and proofread the next day. This gives you time to distance yourself from the text and makes it easier to spot typos and other mistakes.

4. If you don’t have the luxury of waiting until the next day, try proofreading your translation backwards, either sentence for sentence or paragraph for paragraph. When we have been working on a text for a long time, our brains becomes blind to mistakes. Reading the text backwards breaks the pattern.

5. Probably not the most environmentally-friendly tip but printing and proofreading on paper definitely works for me.

6. Don’t forget to run the spell check! Quickly entering last minute changes can be the main cause of typos left uncorrected.

7. If you are tired and finding it difficult to concentrate, try reading the translation aloud. Your ear may pick up on mistakes your eye may have missed.

How can I keep up to date?

Whether you are a linguist who has then gone on to specialise in a particular field or whether you first spent several years working in a specific industry before moving into translation, you will need to ensure that you keep abreast of changes and particularly linguistic developments in your specialist field.

Section 2.2 of the Code of Professional Practice of the International Federation of Translators (FIT) states:


Translators and interpreters shall keep up to date with developments in the profession and the relevant tools by means of continuing professional development.”

In most professions there is a continuing professional development (CPD) requirement or expectation. Lawyers and doctors regularly attend continuing professional development events. As an in-house translator I was also regularly sent on training courses. As a freelance translator whether you undertake continuing professional development, and if so how much, is basically up to you. However, if you want to come across as a professional and be able to talk on a par with direct clients, you simply have to keep up to date.

What kind of CPD is right for me?

Depending on your background and experience you will probably want to focus your CPD more heavily on specific areas. I think the key is to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Do you need to brush up on your translation skills? Perhaps you would benefit from gaining more in-depth knowledge in your specialist area? How are your business skills? Do you spend enough time reading, listening to and conversing in your foreign language(s) (or your native language if you live abroad)?

Where can I find CPD?

CPD comes in many forms and at different prices:

– Translator associations offer one day and weekend seminars (see the BDÜ, CIL and ITI websites)

– Conferences and trade fairs

– Webinars (eCPD)

– Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) such as Coursera

– University courses (including distance learning courses)

– Books

– Blogs

Look around and see what you can find to suit you.