Translation Pricing: Speaking of fairness!

I have read dozens of articles about translation rates and pricing, in general, and it’s easy to find a plethora of articles on the subject. It might be redundant for some but I’ll share it, anyway. My focus in this article is on highlighting the learning process rather than money per se.

Like any novice translator, I worked for peanuts at first, accepted lower rates and unfair payment terms. I didn’t have a negotiating power. As time went by, I analyzed my work and (thanks to insights from colleagues), I began to see the value of my work. It wasn’t something I’ve done overnight.

In 2013, I was tasked with translating an eight-page real estate document; it took me over six days to complete. If you tell a colleague, one page could take one day of your time, they would tell you you’d never make it in the translation industry. The complexity of the document was extremely high I almost regretted accepting the assignment. It was a massive challenge, and I took it up anyway. The terminology and the vocabulary in that document were hard to find online, let alone their equivalents in Arabic. The language is archaic and quite specific to Scotland. So, I played the detective role to find every single term in that document. I was easily looking up more than thirty terms in one page. I felt a lot of bitterness about going all that length for one term and be paid peanuts. My ire faded shortly when I gleaned the lessons from the experience. It’s not about word count per se. If I didn’t take the task seriously and conducted proper research, I’d have put anything-goes equivalents or put some nonsense and called it a day but I’d have missed the chance to recognize the value of that document if I did so. Despite the lower rate, I was taken seriously thereafter and I was recommended for tough assignments with better rates.

If I were presented with the same document today, I will average how many pages I translate a day and that will be the cost of one page. Otherwise, I’ll just turn it down because spending one day on page is UNGODLY.

Morale of the story: Pull out all the stops to nail it down first regardless of how much you’re being paid. That’s how you recognize your work’s value.

In the Moroccan market, specialized translators are scarce. Perhaps in French/English combination, there could be some translators who invested in one or two specialties. However, since translation into Arabic doesn’t have much market share, translating technical documents into Arabic is a challenge of magnitude. First, there is the scarcity of updated terminology databases; often equivalents are inexistent and coining equivalents becomes a necessity. I worked on complex project for which paper and online dictionaries were of no help. To provide a small example, once I was translating a technical specifications document, many of the concepts are non-existent in Arabic. It was a headache to read the concept, check drawings and see what things look like. Luckily, my research project in translation school focused on this issue. So, the process encompasses reading the definition, understanding the concept then breaking down its distinctive features and determining which one is the most useful to create a transparent equivalent in conformity with ISO terminology standards. Normally, that’s not my job to coin terms; that’s a terminologist’s but do we have the time to wait until a dictionary is updated to fix the problem? So, here, we are talking about problem solving, and this takes time, and time means money. There are ongoing efforts to update dictionaries in Arabic but with the fast pace with which terms emerge in some industries. When I consider these factors, I bake them right into my project pricing.

Return on Investment on my Skills

From 2013 to 2014, my ultimate objective was to hone my skills -from brushing on my English and French to studying translation manuals. I invested in expensive specialized books. I spent hours and hours between vocabulary and terminology extraction, specialized and non-specialized readings, and learning how to use CAT tools.

To be deeply involved in the learning process, taking assignments seriously, and investing in tools and time to get it right every time … all these things have a COST. So, I understood that my pricing should include return on investment for every expensive book for which I sacrificed time to study in order to deliver that top-notch quality. For once, I felt I have gained a slight “edge” over the competition. When I think that by attending professional events to further my training, I wonder: “shouldn’t that be included in the price, too?” My translation mode cannot be turned off; you know that easy word for which the inattentive translator provides an automatic equivalent every time? Well, it strains every nerve in my system before I get it right. When I consider this modus operandi, it means I can’t match the speed of the average translator who undercuts my rates and thinks Linguee is a reliable source to fix serious translation problems. My rates may be higher than an average translator but I spend more time on the assignment than he or she does. And I have the nerve to tell my client it’s totally worth, and I also have the nerve to say “I’m sorry but I’m not the right person for this assignment.” Professional honesty matters!

We don’t become translators by magic. It takes true grit and determination to sit down for hours to get it right and a lot of patience to study in parallel with finishing assignments. So, for me, pricing is about fairness -not undercutting average rates or overcharging clients. Regardless of what I said above, I still have that incurable linguistic insecurity of whether I got it right or not. And that is why they are revised by a seasoned translator. And that adds to the cost.

When I think of it, much of the premium price goes to CPD and tools of trade. And that’s only fair that my rates will go higher and higher!