Volume 16, No. 4
October 2012

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page


Index 1997-2012

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
How I Tripled My Translation Business in One Year
by Ilse Wong

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
The Most Prized Possession of All
by Jost Zetzsche

  Translators Around the World
The Booming Localization Industry in the People’s Republic of China
by Chuanmao Tian

  Translators' Health
Using OSHA Guidelines for Ourselves
by Françoise Herrmann, PhD

  Legal Translation
Derecho continental y derecho anglosajón: la terminología y la fraseología propia del ámbito sucesorio
by Esther Vázquez y del Árbol
The Brazilian Supreme Court Comes to the Rescue of Translators!
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Literary Translation
La palingénésie de Marco Micone : écriture, traduction et auto-traduction comme remèdes littéraires à l’invisibilité du migrant
by Cecilia Foglia

Cultural Aspects of Translation
Who’s Listening/Reading?
by by Philip Macdonald
Translation of Cultural Items in Dubbed Animated Comedies
by by Paulina Burczynska

Advertising Translation
Advertising in Translation: “Nivea Beauty Is” Campaign Against “Belleza Es, Facetas”
by Soledad Sta. María

Translation Theory
The Illusion of Transparency
by Daniel Valles

Translator Education
A Foray into Student-Centered Learning (SCL): Two SCL Activities Designed to Enhance Translation Pedagogy
by Lorin Card, PhD

  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' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

Translation Journal
The Profession

The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  Practical tips for practicing translators.


Hi Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I always read and hear from other translators and those involved in the profession that it is considered unethical to approach translation agency clients directly behind the agency's back.

Is it unethical to freelance for an agency that the company you work for may do business with, even though the offer has come from the agency?

The company that currently employs me full-time as a translator outsources some of the work to external translators/translation companies to manage and reduce our workload. I have recently been approached by one of the translation companies that we are considering working with. The company has approached me independently and asked me if I would like to freelance for them if I have the time.

If I accept, would this be considered unethical?

Need Guidance


Dear Guidance,

If you’re already in full-time salaried employment as a translator, check your contract to see whether it allows you to freelance in the same field. We suspect not—think conflicts of interest. Don’t make any move at all without sorting this out or you could face a lawsuit.

But even without a legal barrier, the ethics of freelancing via a broker currently pitching for your full-time employer’s business get messy very fast.

How did this agency find you in the first place? If your contact details are in an online directory—if you’re a member of your country’s professional association for translators, for example, and haven’t specified your place of employment, and your areas of specialization correspond to skills the agency is looking for now to line up talent for your current employer, well, that may be understandable. Set them straight. But if they contacted you after meetings on your company’s premises to discuss potential assignments, the deal sounds much more questionable.

If your office is swamped with work and you’ve got time on your hands after hours, why not bypass the wannabe middleman and work out an overtime deal directly with your boss?



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I like my clients but two of them periodically drive me crazy with flurries of little questions. These concern minor points (often single-word changes they want to introduce into something I’ve translated), but since the original work was done a week or month earlier, there is a lot of look-up involved. You can’t translate a word or two out of context, after all.

While I’m familiar with them and their businesses, I’m dealing with enough volume that I generally have to stop everything and search back in my archives. It then takes me time to get my mind back into whatever I am currently translating.

Maybe this is not a big deal, but I want to deal with it constructively. That is, I like it that they take the time to check with me when they change things; if I charged for my time (splinters of time, actually), they might stop checking with me, which means the translations would probably be less good.

But right now it’s a little frustrating. Any suggestions?

Detail Driven


Dear Minutiae,

If there are different departments involved, your clients may not realize just how many of these queries you’re receiving.

One solution would be to incorporate each minor request into a monthly invoice as a line item identified by time/date/length, but billed zero.

Your invoices then become a reminder to bean counters and others that you are more than pulling your weight in the “going the extra mile” stakes—something you can leverage next time you renegotiate your rates with them, for example. Don’t forget that their apparent addiction to your opinion is a very good sign indeed.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I entered the translation profession due to my fascination with foreign languages and my knack for writing. To that effect, I have found great satisfaction in deciding to become a freelance translator.

However, I've recently realized that I need to develop a specialization not only to attract higher end clients, but also because my passion for language has not proved to be motivation enough to translate any old text that comes my way.

I've noticed that green translation agencies have started popping up and I'm now wondering how to tap into the alternative energy market. Having worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa and a US National Park ranger in Alaska, I have experience in both sustainable development and environmental protection. While I'm not sure that this last detail matters, my language combination is French to English. Would you happen to have any advice for a would-be environmentalist translator?

Going Green


Dear Green,

Yes: follow the money.

There are plenty of congenial tree-huggers out there, but to build a specialized practice based on sustainable development and environmental protection that is capable of sustaining you and your family, you’ll have to link up with clients that have comfortable budgets.

So think Ramsar Convention and Sierra Club, but also investment funds dedicated to alternative energy and a healthy planet.

Read up on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the many listed companies that not only fund replanting of mangrove swamps and Alpine slopes, but also produce websites, reports and films to explain to their shareholders just how dedicated they are. Examine the English versions of those websites, reports and films to identify who needs your services, and then get out to sector events to meet their representatives.

Pro bono projects, too, can be a good way to ease into the NGO sector, but be prepared to shift things over into the realm of commerce after a project or two.

You should also work on developing your own network of like-minded specialists and on-their-way-to-specialist-status translators. Here you might start with Trash Girl, who clearly has her eye on the ball and finger on the pulse.

Along the way you’ll notice that translators who have invested the time and energy to master specialized topics have a lot of intriguing market intelligence to share, regardless of their language combinations. And when you’re starting out, fellow translators who share your passion can be as fruitful a source of paid assignments as direct clients.

Good luck as you ratchet up—your previous lives in West Africa and Alaska should serve you well!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Please can you advise me about giving discounts? A new client approached me with a very interesting job but seemed to expect a discount as a matter of course. I had quoted a very reasonable rate and couldn’t see any reason to drop it, especially as the job was urgent and I had not applied an urgency surcharge. The client was very condescending and tried to make me feel as though I didn’t quite understand how business worked.

I did agree to a small discount on this first job, and the client was extremely happy with the quality of my translation. However he came back demanding a bigger discount on subsequent work. I politely pointed out that I had more than enough work at my existing rate and had no reason to take on work at lower rates, assuming that as he was pleased with the quality of the job I’d done, he’d agree to my rate, especially as he had previous paid peanuts and got monkeys. But instead he went off in a huff.

What is your view on the principle of offering discounts?

Not Cheap But


Dear Not,

Generally speaking, we think discounts are a bad idea, especially when your client pretends they are standard practice—which they are, of course, at the most price-sensitive end of the market. But you don’t want to be there, do you?

In fact, we’re convinced that it makes far more sense to work for free on short, critically important texts for premium clients than waste time on low-ballers—or “pimp for losers” as one industry observer puts it.

For an insightful analysis of why you don’t want to get sucked down this drain, see Walt Kania’s comments in a recent post at thefreelancery.com.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am currently an in-house translator with a brokerage firm where I have been for about seven years. My original boss here has moved on to bigger and better things, i.e., he has gone freelance.

I contemplate becoming freelance on a daily basis but am frightened to make the leap for various reasons, most of them financial, as I’m worried that I might not be able to earn as much as I do now if I start to work freelance, especially in today's particularly tough climate. On top of that, I am the main breadwinner in my family, so I really need to make sure that it will work from the outset or as soon as possible after I start, since I don’t have huge financial sums stashed away to tide me over for very long (who does?).

Do you have any suggestions for me?

Stretching My Wings


Dear Stretching,

First, start building up a nest egg. Have at least six months’ and if possible one year’s cash socked away before you make your move.

Second, start networking with freelancers—including your former boss—to collect data on how much/how long/gross/net and so on. Talk to a financial adviser, too, and draw up a business plan.

Third, given your family responsibilities, look into taking a year or two of unpaid leave. Under French law, an année sabbatique is possible for virtually all employees in the private sector, and makes it reasonably certain that your job will be waiting for you if things don’t work out. In the very worst-case scenario, you’ll get a hefty cash payment if your employer refuses to take you back.

Fourth, if you haven’t already done so, build your network: subscribe to the Financial Translators Forum and plan to attend next summer’s Summer School for Financial Translators in Spiez, Switzerland. Your in-house experience is likely to serve you very well in these circles.

Finally, make sure your family is on board. And once things are under way, check regularly to ensure that you are on track to achieve milestones in your business plan. Be sure to factor in all the positive energy that comes from being your own boss.