Translators can Count too

While most clients simply ask service providers for a quotation, the occasional client approaches translators with their own rates and terms and expect nothing more than a yes or no reply – not unlike an employment offer but without the interview or a chance for the translator to negotiate or explain what they can offer as part of their service.

Clients’ rates (an odd combination of words) take on all sorts of interesting forms such as per line (especially in German-speaking countries), per character or stroke (as if translators were typesetters), per page (fairly common in France) or per word. These can then be applied to either the source (original) or target (translation) text. There are also some agencies that do not pay for repetitions! (Who cares about context, after all?) Then, if the client and the translator are in different countries, the currency exchange rate adds to the arithmetic work-out.

Perhaps the idea is that far-fetched complexity spices things up, and I may be missing out on a lot of fun, but I like to make my life easier wherever possible. So to such eclectic self-quoting offers, I reply with a universally understood hourly rate. Boring, I know, but everyone gets it instantly and without a calculator.

While some translators see this as a lack of respect from the clients, in my view, this is more about a lack of understanding of what the work of translation entails and of the level of skills it requires. Indeed, the various methods mentioned above for calculating a rate illustrate how the focus is too often – and wrongly – on the text itself rather than on the work, as if all texts were the same and translation was a mere product you bought by the word/line/stroke… Translators do not sell words. They provide a skilled service.

As business owners, translators are quite capable of managing their own affairs and it makes little sense that a client should dictate arbitrary, inflexible terms. A simple quotation request shows trust and respect towards the linguist and appreciation of the complexity of their work. It also leads to healthier partnerships.


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