Translation Work

Some have asked about establishing a BU SHI BAN.

My question is about doing translation for a living.

To those of you out there with expereince what should I pay attention to?

I want to get an office and do this full time. Is there a market here in Taiwan for this? What should I charge? What is the pay like? What areas should I focus on?

Tips?

Thanks

getting a legal office for translation might be tough…try doing it out of your home first…

sorry noshrink this aint the info I am looking for.

Specific questions for anyone who has the knowledge:

  1. What rates are competitive to charge for translation work?

  2. What area does a bulk of translation work take place in?

  3. What is the easiest most lucractive work? Most difficult?

  4. What work should one steer clear of? Embrace with open arms?

  5. What is the size of the translation market in Taiwan? Is it easy to find customers? Difficult?

Thanks in advance for any help in answering these questions…

[QUOTE]Originally posted by zlaieou:
Specific questions for anyone who has the knowledge:

  1. What rates are competitive to charge for translation work?

Competitive rates would be like NT$0.05 or less per character or word, but I wouldn’t recommend that if you are accustomed to eating three times a day.

Since I assume (perhaps wrongly?) from the questions you ask in your post that you have no experience in this area, you might be able to get NT$1.0-$2.0 or even $2.5 with luck if you are a native English speaker working from Chinese to English. It is certainly possible to get more but generally you will either have to have some really good PR behind you or some solid qualifications.

2. What area does a bulk of translation work take place in? If you mean subject area, it depends on which area you have contacts in. I specialize in industrial and technical stuff; I have a friend who absolutely loves doing what I think of as "fluffy art stuff" (too many adjectives need looking up for my taste, though!); there are occasional manuals, business correspondence, laws and regulations, anything.

Generally speaking I think translators working out of Chinese tend to specialize LESS than, say, Spanish translators, because the market has not required it of us in the past.

3. What is the easiest most lucractive work? Most difficult?

If you’re looking for “easy, lucrative” work, get some private English students. Translation is not likely to be either, especially for somebody without experience. You need to be fast and accurate to make any kind of money, and beginners usually aren’t. (Again, I do not know your own particular situation so don’t take this personally). I’ve seen newcomers to the field take on jobs and then absolutely suffer not realizing that anything more than 3000 words a day is insane, and not realizing that their command of Chinese, while hailed as “good” by everyone in Taiwan, wasn’t nearly what they needed to be able to translate efficiently.

So, the most lucrative areas would clearly be the ones you are most qualified to work in (i.e., you have the subject knowledge and the vocabulary knowledge, and ideally have some kind of work experience or at least extensive reading in both languages in that particular discipline) and/or the areas where you can choke the most money out of the client.

  1. What work should one steer clear of? Embrace with open arms?
    Definitely stay away from the following:

  2. Translation agency says, “This job is 30,000 words and we need it in 2 days.”

  3. Translation agency says, “This is a sample to see if we get the whole job.” You do a great sample, then they farm out the resulting contract to a non-native speaking, cheaper translator 90% of the time.

  4. Agency says, “This is just a common sense job, so can you accept a lower rate?” Ditto for “we just want the basic idea.”

  5. Agency has changed its name and/or address more than twice in the last year.

  6. Agency says, “This was translated by another translator, but could you just fix it up a little bit?” This is first a pain in the pigu for you, and second encourages them to use the unqualified translator and have a native speaker “clean it up” afterwards.
    I could go on and on…

  7. What is the size of the translation market in Taiwan? Is it easy to find customers? Difficult?

It’s like anything else. You need to have some skills and experience to offer. It’s not impossible to break in, but most people prefer to hire professionals with experience. Most of the folks I know on the Taipei translation market have paid their dues in this industry and are sitting on 10, 15 or 20 years of solid experience; it would be difficult for a newcomer to compete with that.

Also, it might be worthwhile to translate something and have somebody experienced take a look at it. The ability to read one language and write another does not guarantee that a person will produce high-quality translations, any more than the ability to speak two languages makes an interpreter.

Generally speaking don’t expect to make big bucks with this because the market is depressed with a glut of non-native-speaking people who do written translations out of their native language (a professional no-no) at much lower rates. Unless you’re so taken with Chinese that it seems like a pleasant pastime to you to spend 3 hours searching Google for some obscure engineering term that in the end turns out to have had a wrongly typed character in the original, I would advise you to stick to English teaching. Much easier to get “clients” and much more lucrative on an hourly basis for the less experienced.

Just my NT$0.66, your mileage may vary.

Terry

Can people post current translator “per word” rate ranges in Taiwan? Assume average experience levels. Has translation work been affected by the economic downturn?

  1. Chinese to English agency job
  2. Chinese to English direct job from client
  3. English to Chinese agency job
  4. English to Chinese direct job from client

I’ve seen rates in the archives ranging from NT$0.5-NT$4/word but the quoted rates have not been precise about whether it was agency work or not and what was the source language.

Whatever you can get. Period.

As high as you can convince people you are worth (easier, obviously if you are a native speaker of English for work into English, and if you have translation experience and/or a qualification in the field).

Most people who want to start “translating” want to do a small job on the weekends to make a little extra beer money. That might be fine, but if you’re going to make a living doing it, it involves sitting down every day and doing your 3,000 words or whatever it is you need to make an acceptable income for yourself. That is what gets most neophytes back out of the translation market in a hurry.

You will have little bargaining power with agencies at any rate; they will offer what they will offer, and you can either accept it or tell them “no way” in any of a variety of polite or less-then-courteous ways. Direct clients: you need guanxi or qualifications or great personal charisma to get the big bucks.

HTH

Double posted. Mod please delete! Tks!

If the work is sufficiently important and there are few or no other people with the specialized knowledge to do it, then the sky’s the limit. Some of the jobs I’ve done have worked out at more than NT$10 per word – but they usually are bloody hard work, and worth every single penny.

Like many people here, I don’t hold myself out as a professional translator, and wouldn’t dream of getting involved with any kind of agency, but just take on jobs from time to time to help people out as a favour. I never discuss rates, but leave it up to them to pay whatever they think is appropriate. If they value your work, and want to be sure that you’ll be available to help them again when they’re in need, they’ll pay a good rate – usually well above the market levels. If they know you are good and dependable, they will always come back to you again and again and recommend you to others. If you get yourself a few government ministers and captains of industry who think you’re the best, then you’ve pretty much got it made. I already have at least as much work as I can comfortably handle, and often way too much, so that I have to be selective in what I take on.

There is actually a dire shortage of first-rate Chinese-to-English translators in Taiwan, particularly for material that requires a high level of specialized knowledge in difficult subjects. In such cases, the local translation agencies produce truly appalling work. In the course of doing my office job, I’ve often been asked to look at or edit stuff they’ve translated so badly that I’ve had no choice but to throw it into the rubbish bin and retranslate the whole thing myself from scratch. In fact, that’s how I got into doing translation in the first place, and I guess it’s probably the way that a lot of others get started: Someone goes to a translation agency, has a good enough grasp of English to know that it’s not been translated well, asks you to take a look at it and perhaps “polish” it for them, you tell them that it’s hopelessly bad and needs to be retranslated, they persuade you to do that for them as a favour, and they’re so pleased with the result that the next time they come straight to you instead of going to the agency.

[quote="Omniloquacious Someone goes to a translation agency, has good a good enough grasp of English to know that it’s not been translated well, asks you to take a look at it and perhaps “polish” it for them, you tell them that it’s hopelessly bad and needs to be retranslated, they persuade you to do that for them as a favour, and they’re so pleased with the result that the next time they come straight to you instead of going to the agency.[/quote]

Um…or they’re so pleased that they ask you to do it every time, and you are making no money at all from it, and getting annoyed. But you don’t dare say “no” because you’ve done it once for free, and you want to maintain that relationship [guanxi].

[quote=“ironlady”]
Um…or they’re so pleased that they ask you to do it every time, and you are making no money at all from it, and getting annoyed. But you don’t dare say “no” because you’ve done it once for free, and you want to maintain that relationship [guanxi].[/quote]

Oh no … by “for a favour”, I don’t mean for free – of course they pay, whatever they feel to be appropriate (because that’s what I tell them to do if they ask how much they should pay), but out of gratitude and respect, it’ll be above the market rate, and probably well above it. I don’t think anyone has ever failed to pay me for a substantial translation (for a tiny one or two page thing, I might insist on not taking anything because it would be too much trouble to mess about with furnishing receipts, etc.). Sometimes I’m quite surprised to receive 20~30k more than I’d expected, which happens more often than the payment being rather on the stingy side.

However, even when the fees proffered are several times higher than the market rates paid for run-of-the-mill translation, I don’t consider it particularly lucrative work. The standards required are extremely high, and the Chinese material is often maddeningly difficult to understand. At the end of the day, the hourly rate works out at only a fraction of what my time was worth when I was working as a lawyer, even though it’s often far more important and difficult than the legal stuff. After all, there are far more lawyers available if needed (they’re pretty much two-a-penny wherever you are) than there are capable Chinese-to-English translators, so I believe that the latter should be paid at least as well as the sharks. Maybe some day in the future, when the value of such work gains proper recognition…

That’s why we say, “Don’t try this at home.” :wink:

Glad you’re not working (absolutely) for free, though.

Be sure and call me the minute our work gains proper recognition (if I can still come to the phone at that age!) :laughing:

Seriously, though, I’ve had good success with client “complaints” (usually caused by their own incompetent “proofreaders” who don’t know English) by saying, “Well, the translation is good, and it was delivered on time/early. I know you’ll do the right thing.” I guess there’s not much of this kind of thing going on, because I’ve almost never had a problem getting the money after saying something like that. Also true – I sometimes (but more with non-Chinese clients!) get higher rates by asking the client what his budget is for the job, rather than stating a rate. At any rate, if they are stuck with a lower budget than what I charge, they’re not going to give me the work anyway, so nothing is lost, and there is the potential to get a higher rate quoted to me than I might have asked for in the first place.

I would say, though, that 99% of the human race feels that translation is not lucrative. (The other 1% of us do it for fun, I guess. But I haven’t starved yet.) :laughing:

I agree it seems like translation work can be as important as other forms of work that cost US$300-500/hour for a lawyer at top NY law firms. If you’re translating an important contract, you’re as important as the lawyer in some respects. But Omni, I think what distinguishes you is your background as a lawyer. The law is unique, though, because only on legal documents is each and every word so important, where a wrong translation could cost another company millions of dollars. This is less true in other industries.

Which “other industries” do not depend on accurate translation?

–A patent document, on which multi-million dollar lawsuits could hinge (independent of contracts)?

–A scientific paper, which will determine how millions of dollars are invested in basic or applied research or in some technical program?

–A medical report, which will determine how a doctor treats a person, maybe meaning the difference between life and death, or at least good health and poor?

–A business letter, which, being poorly translated, causes the receiver to lose confidence in the abilities and professionalism of the sender – while not a direct monetary loss, these little impressions add up, and could cost thousands in lost business opportunities.

I don’t think being a lawyer is what makes a person’s translations more valuable. (Indeed, being a lawyer, doctor, etc. doesn’t automatically make you a good translator in that field). Witness this sentence (please make small children leave the room first):

"After approaching the lesion, one extirpates the degenerated and necrotic zones of the tendon and one applies the scarring according to the habitual technique. "

This was just one of hundreds of such examples in a paper I “edited” (actually retranslated) this weekend. It was translated from Spanish (not a big stretch for most people, being a friendly, alphabetic, well-documented and straightforward language) by a native English speaking M.D. However, further research on the internet revealed that, well, he claims to be native in both English and French, and, well, he is an MD but he’s a psychiatrist, and, well, he went to medical school in Europe, and well, that school was French-speaking, and, well, it was at least 30 years ago.

So, although I’m not a physician, because I know how to research and am familiar with medical writing style, and have the good sense to ask about things I’m not sure about, I’ll produce a much better translation of that paper than the person one would expect to be an “expert”.

You can just never tell. But the more stuff I see on the market, the less embarassed I am for keeping my prices where they are, or even thinking seriously about raising them. :smiley:

[quote=“Omniloquacious”]
…run-of-the-mill translation, I don’t consider it particularly lucrative work. The standards required are extremely high, and the Chinese material is often maddeningly difficult to understand. At the end of the day, the hourly rate works out at only a fraction of what my time was worth when I was working as a lawyer, even though it’s often far more important and difficult than the legal stuff. After all, there are far more lawyers available if needed (they’re pretty much two-a-penny wherever you are) than there are capable Chinese-to-English translators, so I believe that the latter should be paid at least as well as the sharks. Maybe some day in the future, when the value of such work gains proper recognition…[/quote]
Indeed, capable Chinese-to-English translators are a comparatively rare commodity, and my own ability to make a living at it freelance is premised upon just that. Four years into this gig, I’m finding it to be sufficiently lucrative, though my minimum charge is a very unlawyerly-like $30.00 US an hour (the money is in the big projects at 18+ cents per target English word, not in bulk PRC birth certificates). The secrets, I’m sure ironlady will agree (Hi ironlady! We know each other on a translator’s mailing list), are: getting and keeping good clients, be they agencies or “direct” clients; working fast; doing most of your work in the areas in which you specialize; and having built up your personal storehouse of glossaries and/or searchable projects broken down into Chinese and English by sentence (I prefer the latter, though it can be time-consuming), either from using CAT tools or for use with indexed searching software. In regard to that last “secret,” you must guard the personal reference material you’ve accumulated over the years with your life, as it is the most valuable asset you have outside of the brain in your noggin.

In regard to “proper recognition,” I’m rarely met with a lack of such. Without completely meaning to sound arrogant, I’ve found that potential clients not sufficiently in awe of my ability to transform text from one language into another tend to be the ones who balk at my rates, sending their documents to a Chinese exchange student for 5 cents a word instead (“Hey, he speaks English too!”). Some of them learn their lesson. The ones who don’t aren’t worth bothering with. Furthermore, folks I chat with down at the pub (notice the “at”–I’m not British) are mostly either stupified at learning I do a job well outside their radar, or afford me a fawning kind of respect that gets tiresome quickly.

Having said that, I still get a kick out of telling people that my commute to work involves about twenty steps down the hall in my underwear!

Concur with all the above.

The “arrogance” comment is interesting. I find that the more I throw my “credentials” around (especially the Ph.D, which frankly doesn’t usually have a lot of direct bearing on a translation job!) the more likely I am to attract “quality” clients (read: pay a living wage and pay on time.)

If you’re charging $0.18, I bet I know which list you’re talking about…and it ain’t FANYI-L, right? :wink: Come clean…(on a PM, of course!)

By the way, don’t get too envious of those lawyers earning $300/hour. That’s billable hours, so that might translate to a more earthly $100 per real time hour. Still high, but less.

It depends how good you are, what kind of lawyer you are, what area of the law you’re working in, and so on. In the U.K., barristers don’t bill and don’t have to justify the scale of their fees (unless they’re doing legal aid work, which the best in the profession usually won’t) – the fees for their services are negotiated on their behalf by their clerk, and the market dictates how much they are worth. So in complex commercial litigation, with large amounts of money at stake, a top barrister can command fees that work out at several hundred US dollars per hour for however much time he puts into the case. And in the US, where you have attorneys taking on tort claims on a contingency fee basis, a single case that nets a large sum in damages or settlement can earn the lawyer a very fat payment that works out at many hundreds of dollars per hour (and possibly far more). There’s nothing equivalent to that for even the most brilliant and celebrated translator.

We just need a translators union. If everyone refuses to translate except for a percentage of any total award in litigation, then translators can get a bigger chunk of the pie

Oops, was I fantasizing aloud? :unamused: :stuck_out_tongue:

[quote=“Neo”]We just need a translators union. If everyone refuses to translate except for a percentage of any total award in litigation, then translators can get a bigger chunk of the pie

Oops, was I fantasizing aloud? :unamused: :P[/quote]
It may surprise you, or it may not, that some translations out there have nothing to do with lawsuits.

If you want a union then knock yourself out, though I think the logistics against it are formidable. This is an unregulated industry we’re in. Why? Because while doctors and lawyers need training, you can’t train fluency in another language. I spent seven years in Taiwan learning Chinese on my own–I could not have replaced that with four years of Chinese study in a Canadian university. Translation programs in universities and tests for certification with government bodies can be nice things, I’m sure the certificates are attractive, but a large majority of the freelancers working out there today are simply bilinguals (or tri-, quadra-, quinta- etc.) who write well in their native tongues and have a knack for translating words from one language into those of another. How can you possibly regulate all these people? How can you possibly regulate all this activity, either? Aside from court interpreters and documents for use by the government, you simply cannot design a law that would prohibit someone working in a commercial business from hiring someone like me to translate a contract to be signed with their American partners, as that would impinge upon free speech.

Without some sort of governmental regulation, it follows then that a union would be a non-starter. Added to that is the problem of translators living in different countries–do you work out a law that is international? Imagine the resources and bureaucracy required for that!

Ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, and I for one couldn’t care less. I like being a free agent. Should the day come when rates go south and I can’t afford to make a living at it anymore, I hope I’ll have enough saved so that I can move on to the next gig, whatever that may be.

I might do some part time work as a translator and was wondering about the rates I could ask for.
I’m more or less a beginner, haven’t done much professional translating before, so what rates would be appropriate to ask for, if I were to translate a Chinese text into German? I understand that one gets a certain amount for each word, but then again, is it the Chinese characters in the source text or the words translated? Are there different rates for translations from Chinese into German or English?

Thanks for your help and information!!