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!


Translators upgrading to Ultra-HD display laptops: High-DPI and Legacy Software Issues

It’s 2017 and you’re probably thinking about upgrading your old laptop and perhaps lusting after a machine with a Quad-HD or 4K display. Resist that temptation until you have read this post and familiarized yourself with some concepts. If you run older software, you better read this until the end!

If you know about High-DPI, jump right to the scaling part!

What is a High-DPI display?

What is DPI? The term stands for “Dot per inch”; high-DPI means that every inch of the screen has a lot of pixels, and we hear a display with “high pixel density”. The pixel actually stands for “picture element” and that pixel contains layers of Red, Green and Blue, and the mix of the values of these colors is the color reproduced on the screen.

Resolution: the number of pixels on your laptop’s display.
• 4K: 3840 pixels × 2160p (8.3 megapixels or million pixels)
• Quad HD: 2560 x 1440p lines (3.69 Megapixels)
• Full HD (aka 1080p): 1920 x 1080 lines (2.1 megapixels.)
• HD Display (aka 720p): 1366×768

(I allow myself to digress a bit: See why they tell you megapixels don’t count when you go past 8MP for a camera? Because your eyes won’t notice the difference 😉 )
On a 15-inch laptop, Full HD is the sweet spot. Everything looks perfect with 100% Windows scaling (more on that in moment). In a Full HD panel, the “inch” contains enough pixels that your eyes cannot discern the pixel from a normal viewing distance. For your TV, you can’t tell either because you are too far away from it, but come closer and you’ll start seeing the pixels.


Let’s call the pixel the square. Older monitors show a sort of square-ish text, that’s because the pixel count is visible to the human eyes, and that’s why the text looks “pixelated”.
Full HD for a 15-inch laptop has been the perfect size that the human eye cannot discern the actual pixel. Quad HD and 4K are sort of overkill; yet, they have some advantages, including:

  • Text looks crisp because every inch in a 4K display (15.6-inch screen) contains 282.4 ppi (pixels per inch). That’s a LOT of pixels in a small area.
  • They offer you a roomier work space; in other words, you can fit two windows side by side or fit more icons in your desktop or have a larger text area or display many of your browser bookmarks.
    (Example: it displays more text, more visible open tabs: Scaling at 200%).




What is Windows Scaling?

Don’t be daunted by the technical term; it’s just the ability to make everything (text and icons) look bigger or smaller in Windows.
The first image depicts what everything looks like with the actual resolution with no scaling (100% scaling) so nothing is enlarged.
Problem: Text and icons look very small from a normal distance, and you’ll have to squint and hunch over to read what’s there. And that’s where scaling comes in handy; it makes everything larger thus readable.



Fix: At 250% scaling (it increases the size of everything by 2.5 times).

4K_scaled by 2 and half times


You scale the display by 250% and think the problem is gone. Not quite!

Let me share with you my story

Last summer, I bought a Dell XPS 15 (9550 model) with 4K display to replace my two-year-old Asus VivoBook with 720p display. And the jump felt like moving from a hot hatch to a Porsche 911 😃. When setting it up for the first time, I basked in the delightfully bright screen with its vividly accurate colors (100% of Adobe RGB color space), so text and images looked lifelike. However, the honeymoon was over the moment I began installing legacy software.

More context

The surge of better-than-HD displays took place with the launch of Apple’s MacBook Pro Retina display; before that point in time, you couldn’t find WQHD displays or 4K for Windows laptops. Therefore, applications were not optimized for that high-DPI display; this means that older software cannot make icons and text bigger correctly.
Let’s have a look at one of the affected programs:

Cambridge Dictionary case:

Compare the text size in the following images, and you’ll notice text is blown out of proportion except in case 3.


Look how small the buttons of minimize/maximize/close are. However, the problem is not that severe in this case. (All at 250% scaling in Windows)!

SDL Trados 2015 Case

Texts and icons are cramped. Quite unusable, in fact. The problem was alleviated to some extent in Trados 2017 but the issue persists!


SDL Trados_crappy_stuff


(Courtesy of: @AngelaBenoit)

MemoQ Case


So, you ask, how the heck am I supposed to fix this?



Solution 1

The first solution is the waiting game: wait for software developers to update their programs to make their software High-DPI-aware and then again who can wait? …. And what about software nobody supports anymore? Well, here comes solution 2.

Solution 2:

Fiddling with High-DPI Settings by right-clicking the application icon on your desktop and going to compatibility tab:

Types of scaling

  • Override High DPI scaling behavior performed by: -Application-System– System (Enhanced) (this one was added in Windows 10 Creators Update)

In every app, in the compatibility tab, you find a slew of workarounds for this issue:
– Overriding high DPI scaling:

Scenario one 1: Default app High-DPI Settings
Using the application’s default high-DPI settings, some parts couldn’t get bigger because they were not designed as such in the first place. Look at the A a and the top buttons.

Scenario 2: System scaling
The second alternative doesn’t change much.

Scenario 3: Enabling System Scaling
This solves the problem but partially. Everything is made bigger but the downside is that the text and images look blurry.
The blurriness of the text is set to alleviate the pixilation of the application. One could say, it’s the lesser of the two evils.
Microsoft’s latest Windows 10 Creators Update has improved DPI-scaling but not it didn’t solve the problem entirely; now the ball is in software developers’ court!

For the Cambridge Dictionary, the Creators Update solved the problem with the new option of “System Enhanced” settings. However, it doesn’t help with many apps.

High DPI

Final word

Getting a Quad-HD or 4K laptop is a dream. If you have too many legacy software (which are no longer supported), it’s better to stick to laptops with good 1080p panels. There are reasons why it’s best to opt for a Full HD display: 1) no need for scaling 2) better battery life (because Quad HD or 4K as there are too many pixels to power. 3) cost: they are rather cheaper. However, if you go for an Ultra-HD display, make sure you have an external monitor to mitigate the issues that arise from poor scaling on legacy software.