Two exciting weeks: after I published my blog post about 5 reasons to be proud as a freelance translator for International Translator’s Day and shared it on LinkedIn, I received a host of comments. It also led to a short discussion about money. A Czech colleague believed that money should be one of the first things to be proud of and that keeping silent about money is an indication of contributing to the underevaluation of our job. That’s an interesting point of view. I promised him to write about this topic. Here’s my contribution – with a kind of confession.
The discussion began with the comment below:
[quote style=’3′ cite=’Radovan Pletka’]Reality Czech:
I wonder if the author ever translated anything for a living, because anybody, who translates for a living, and forgets to mention rates paid for a good work, seems to be living in the world, where the bills are paid by the tooth ferry.
The best sign for a translation well done is a good rate per word … And when you walk with a really nice big fat one to the bank, you really walk tall and PROUD.[/quote]
An interesting point is introduced here. Yes, I am translating for my living and take care to get paid for my work as my bills are not paid by the tooth fairy. But is money definitely something to be proud of? And should it be mentioned in an article with five (random) reasons for being proud of your work? I don’t think so. In fact, while money is quite important in daily life, I don’t see it as one of the reasons to be proud. For me, money is only one outcome of the work. The joy in my work comes from the interesting jobs I do and the joy in personal life is partly generated by the money I earn for doing my work. But I believe there is more reason to be proud of my value for money than in the money I earn for the value I offer. And that’s where an important cultural factor comes into play. I know many professional translators who dare to charge relatively high rates because they think they’re worth it, but wouldn’t think about talking about it – whether influenced by cultural habits, education or simple professionalism.
[quote style=’3′ cite=’Radovan Pletka’]Pieter
Thanks for responding. If you are translating for living, why are you not willing to talk about the money, unles you are independently wealthy and translate because you love it and therefore do not care about money.
I translate because I am good at it and it is easiest way for me to make most money in the time I have allocated for work.
Is there anything wrong with that?
Translators are often paid poorly, because they feel it is “beneath their dignity” to “hassle about rate” and they end working for peanuts.
Your silence about money is only confirming this.
Please prove me wrong and lets talk about money openly.
There is nothing wrong to be paid well for good work.
Or is it?
And be happy that you do good work and are paid well and happy because of that?
Please share your thoughts.[/quote]
That’s exactly why I won’t talk about money in the first place. In our culture talking about money often carries with it emotional baggage. One ’doesn’t speak about one’s poverty openly, but when one does speak about wealth, that’s perceived as boasting. So talking about your rates with family and friends is not a good habit but talking with colleagues about rates doesn’t happen much either in my environment.
More important for me personally is that money doesn’t necessarily make me happy. I’m glad I can pay my bills and live my life, but if I was to derive my happiness from my money, I would lose all happiness if I lost my money. However, happiness is not for sale.
When it comes to translation rates, I must admit that for many translators rates are an issue. New technologies and market trends are resulting in rates that seems to be downgraded more each year. As far as I can see many translators are not paid poorly because they find negotiating a rate beneath their dignity, but because they don’t know how to deal with the situation. They can top up their rates and lose their clients or lower their rates in order to compete with colleagues. That can be a difficult choice that in the end will affect the whole market. That’s bad and it’s an art (and a necessity) to find a balance between these two extremes. Luckily Proz.com is offering an overview of translation rates. Sticking to these rates will ensure a good income, a professional outlook, and prospects for a beneficial future for the whole community.
We can work for peanuts some of the time, but not for years.
[quote style=’3′ cite=’Radovan Pletka’]Thank you for your response.
I think that even successful translators, when they avoid the topic of money, especially when they are talking about being proud of translation work, as you did, are indirectly contributing to the undervaluation of our work and to the perception that we are happy to work for $10 per hour, because we love to translate and are proud of it. I am sure it was not your intention, but your silence about the money speaks LOUD AND CLEAR.
I am expensive and I am proud if it.
Are you expensive and are you proud of it?
If yes, say it, if no, you are contributing to the cult of translators poverty.[/quote]
Rates are important for us, for our clients and for our community. Some openness about it can help us to stand up against negative trends in our industry. However, it’s not only money that counts, and keeping silent about money doesn’t say anything at all about money. We should be proud of our jobs, our knowledge, our ability to survive in a changing market (that’s where rates come into play) and our ability to bridge cultures.
Personally, I believe we should be proud of our rates when we offer real value for money. I’m not contributing to the cult of translator’s poverty but to the cult of valued translations that make sense for contexts, cultures and clients. Anyone who is lacking these characteristics will, in the end, do bigger damage to cultures and people. If they survive at all…