The underestimation of translation; how to fight against ignorance

Let’s face it; most people underestimate the work us translators do. This comes from many different sources throughout our life and is in most cases the result of a general ignorance of translation, its difficulties, and its value.

-Underestimation by friends/acquaintances

When I was studying translation, I often had to respond to offensive remarks from people I knew, ranging from complete ignorance (Are you really studying translation? I had no idea it was an actual programme…I thought that anyone who speaks a foreign language can translate!) to subtle irony (You use a dictionary for assignments? It doesn’t really sound that difficult then…). It was annoying at the time, but it got much more annoying when I started working professionally and had to face similar reactions from potential clients.

-Underestimation by clients

I’m sure you’ve all been there, one way or another. A client sends you a website to translate into a rare language. The website has approximately one trillion subpages and the word count you come up with ends up being 20,000 words. You kindly send them a quote and the reply is “WHAAAAAT? I was expecting something around 150 euro, you are way too expensive” (!!!).

-Underestimation by official bodies

This is not the case in all countries, so I’m only referring to Greece, where this situation is more or less known to all translators. Most people who require a certified translation would go to a lawyer and not even think of looking for a translation company or a freelancer. This is partly because some institutions don’t accept translations bearing a certified translator’s stamp and request a lawyer’s signature. This has devastating consequences for our profession: lawyers often ask for ridiculous prices and then assign the job to a translator (offering about one third of what they are paid) and place their stamp on the translation without even so much as taking a look at it.

I know you feel like getting a bazooka and going after them, but the main problem here is ignorance, and that’s what we should all try to fight against, in our own way. Sure, you can start doubting yourself and end up admitting that you studied the science of nothing or offering a price that is way beneath what you should actually be paid, but you must stop yourself right there and resist the temptation.

What your friends or potential clients don’t know is basically two things:

1. How difficult translation can be.

Take some time to explain to your friends, family members, acquaintances or clients that translation is not just about looking for words in a dictionary and writing them down. If necessary, think of a few words/expressions you’ve had difficulty translating and offer them these situations as examples. Explain how translation is about conveying meaning and not words and restructuring sentences and concepts in a way that makes sense in another language. If they are still having trouble understanding it, tell them to try translating one paragraph to another language; I guarantee they will immediately see what you’re talking about.

2. How timeconsuming translation can be.

For some reason, most people seem to think that translators receive the text, put it in a translation machine and it comes out about 5 minutes later. This is the main reason why they don’t understand the prices we offer. If you have the chance, explain that the average translator can translate approximately 2,500-3,500 words per day and therefore their 100,000-word text is going to take a considerable amount of time which should be compensated by a considerable amount of money. Everybody understands that time is money, and when you explain to them the amount of time it would take anyone to finish it they might think again before asking for a lower price.

Of course, you will never manage to convince everybody and there will always be clients asking for the lowest price possible (and often get it for the lowest quality possible). However, the next time you stumble against one of the above reactions do us all a favour and try to explain. Maybe a few minds will be changed in the end.




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