Volume 10, No. 3 
July 2006

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page

Select one of the previous 36 issues.

Index 1997-2006

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Five Chapters in the Life of a Translator
by Everette Jordan

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Twenty Bucks for a Sheet of Paper
by Danilo Nogueira

  Translators and the Media
La traduction français-espagnol des titres journalistiques du Monde Diplomatique : un exemple de tension entre adéquation et acceptabilité
Gemma Andújar Moreno, Ph.D.

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages—How Do I Love Thee
by Ted Crump

  Arts and Entertainment
Screen Translation. A Case Study: The Translation of Swearing in the Dubbing of the Film South Park into Spanish
by María Jesús Fernández Fernández

“Con mala escoba mal se barre”: los problemas de la localización de productos informáticos no internacionalizados
Itziar Bernaola, Ana Isabel Morales e Irune Payros

  Literary Translation
Translation of Charactonyms from English into Russian
by Alexander Kalashnikov
Réflexions sur la littérature africaine et sa traduction
Iheanacho A. Akakuru, PhD, Dominic C. Chima, PhD

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
L'Emprunt dans la traduction
by Salawu Adewuni, Ph.D.

Los servicios de interpretación a disposición de las mujeres inmigrantes maltratadas y la nueva ley contra la violencia machista en España
Macarena Molina Gutiérrez

  Machine Translation
Interlingual Machine Translation: Prospects and Setbacks
by Fırat Aıkgz and Olcay Sert

  Translator Education
Cultivating Translator Competence: Teaching & Testing
by Li Haiyan

Neutral Spanish, Spanglish and Medical Translation. A Case of Heterodoxy
by Prof. Isabel García Izquierdo

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

Translation Journal
The Profession

The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

Practical tips for practicing translators.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

When is a translation agency legally entitled to refuse to pay for a job?

Fight in Sight


Dear Fight,

When the job delivered is not up to mutually agreed specifications—assessed, if necessary, by a neutral third party. Which is one reason why both you and your agency client have a vested interest in spelling out exactly what is expected at both ends before any assignment gets under way.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

A middle manager at one of my (direct) clients quit to join another company about six months ago. We'd had a cordial working relationship over three years. and I was sorry to see him go. But the new job didn't work out, and he is now unemployed. I found this out last week when he phoned to ask if I could translate his CV. I was happy to do so, but on delivery discovered that he was not expecting to pay; he'd assumed this was simply a favor. Things got awkward and in the end I waived my fee. But I am unhappy; it was only two pages but took me more than four hours. Should I have insisted on payment?

Career Helper


Dear Helper,

A professionally translated CV is so essential to the international job-seeker's kit that you can easily make a case for payment, but only if you do so up front, as you have discovered. Next time, you can clarify this by mentioning, as soon as the subject comes up, how challenging it is to find exact equivalents for job titles and the like, how this requires massive interaction with the client, and by slipping in "which is why CV translations are so expensive." In the exchange that follows you set out your terms and conditions.

That's option 1.

In option 2, you view the situation as a marketing opportunity: if your man lands a new job with responsibility for outsourcing translations—or even talks you up to friends and colleagues—you will quickly recoup the four hours you've logged.

So we advise playing it by ear. If your contact's career is going places, consider it an investment. But if he comes back every three months for a CV update, start charging the second time around. And if you're offering a freebie and he insists on paying, have a few discreet alternatives up your sleeve: rather than protest and accept a cut-rate fee under pressure (tacky), simply say that payment is out of the question but note, with a laugh, that you and your partner enjoy champagne/chocolate/orchids/(fill in blank) and see what shows up on the doorstep. Or give him the website of a charity you support and suggest that he make their day.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I've always been a supporter of professional associations, and joining our new national translators' group five years ago was a natural step. I became more active last summer, and in May was asked to serve as temporary head of a regional chapter while the official chair recovers from surgery. I accepted.

I'm not in this for the long haul but want to make sure my tenure is constructive. Already a few people who seemed professional and friendly last year have launched petty attacks on others; clearly they've got some issues I knew nothing about before. How do I keep things on track?

Pitching In


Dear Pitching,

Ah translators, bless their tetchy little hearts. Is it the solitary work that makes them so subject to mood swings, so quick to flare up at perceived slights, so eager to identify "plots" and ulterior motives... or was it an initial lack of people skills that lured them into a profession which is often one remove from the real world?

Who knows. All we can say is that the behavior you describe is the flip side of the passion and intensity that the best translators bring to their work on the page—qualities that generate infinitely greater rewards than the backbiting.

Short of loading everybody onto a chartered jet and whisking them off to a well-appointed resort for a weekend of team-building with a facilitator, the only solution we know of is a thick skin, a ready smile, and a list of stimulating projects to divert some of that negative energy into constructive efforts.

You can top these up by

  • Distributing praise generously, even lavishly, since one of the squabblers' problems is lack of recognition.
  • Avoiding conspiracy theories like the plague. Plotland is a bad place, and dividing the world into goodies and baddies is a staple prop of the relationally-handicapped, with Internet communications multiplying opportunities for misunderstanding. This is where your ready smile comes into play, along with good-natured private appeals to well-intentioned but divisive committee members to pull together for the greater good.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Our three-person agency (Spanish and Portuguese to English) specializes in medical texts, and we have found a handful of demanding clients prepared to pay good rates for material that is technically challenging. Work ranges from massive texts on clinical trials to a few sentences here and there; in general, we log assignments as they come in and bill weekly.

Last month a major client challenged us on a slogan we'd devised for an advertising campaign. True, it was only five words (their argument), but the three of us spent an hour googling, discussing, testing alternatives before submitting four options. An advertising agency would have charged them tens of thousands of dollars; we'd charged just $400. We made that argument, but they still refused. Comments?

We're Worth More


Dear WWM,

In our experience it is unusual for a longstanding, quality-driven client to balk at a bill like this, particularly with the explanation you've given. Was this perhaps a blip on the screen, an underling attempting to throw his weight around, a new bean-counter or boss weighing in?

In any case, rather than haggle, you can use it as an opportunity to revisit your billing practices and raise this client's awareness of just how lucky they are to have you on their side.


  • Waive this job on your invoice. That's right: include it as a line item (date, reference number, etc.) but charge zero dollars. You might put this in italics or otherwise flag it as an exceptional occurrence.
  • Enclose with your invoice a short memo to the company setting out your policy on hourly rates. The tone must be friendly and informative, not plaintive. They are not unfair bullies; instead, you are remiss for not having made the billing system clear. Content-wise, rather than cite what a more expensive provider might charge, remind them what an hour of your time represents—not just that hour then and there, but the skills you have built up over years of honing your expertise in their field. That is what they are paying for; it is why your services cost far more than those of a beginner.
  • Clients—even demanding, happy ones—don't spend much time thinking about translation other than when they need you. This is only natural. But it can lead them to underestimate how much effort you put into serving them. Regular reminders that you are at the wordface on their behalf will help redress the balance. So don't hesitate to copy them in when you see an article in a specialized publication in your language combination that they might otherwise miss. Likewise, get into the habit of listing in your invoice the services you provide that are not necessarily billed per se (phone queries on term X, Y or Z from their various departments, for example). Client education starts with raising awareness of your added value.