7 nasty problems that translators have to deal with

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A couple of months ago, I made my introduction into the realm of translations as a means to have a real income as a digital nomad. I was kind of eager to do it because, as of now, translations are indeed my main source of income. However, I was a bit under fire because of that article. People criticized me saying that working in translations was not as simple as that and that my advice was too basic. As if there were no struggles or problems in translations whatsoever. Well, surely I’m not here to make articles that align 100% with everyone’s thoughts. One of the cornerstones of BTW is that I’ll present things through my point of view and experience. Everyone is different and all people have distinct experiences in all areas of life. This is my version of it.

With that said, translations REALLY are an EASY way to earn an income. That is provided you know at a native or near-native level two languages AND have the “right” opportunities (and that is a whole other subject). Surely, if you never did translations you’re not going to apply full-time as a resident team of an agency. Or commit to translating a rather technical and long document that will be used for important decisions. You have to start by small and low-impact jobs and, most importantly, someone has to give you a chance when you have zero experience. Then, slowly, work will pick up and, depending on the market, you should have at least an interesting side profit from time to time.

Regardless of those comments and the aforementioned, my intention was always to follow-up the first article with another type of piece. And this article is exactly that.

Translations are a digital nomad dream when they go well. Nonetheless, this business also features sort of a “dark side”: a wide variety of nuisances and issues that will beat you up mercilessly, some of them even before you actually start working. The following list is based on my own frequent frustrations as a translator. For sure you’ve already or will (I promise) experience some of these problems in translations yourself.

1 – You miss a project by minutes

Translation agencies will come to you when a new project comes up within your language pairs. Like many other freelancing opportunities, you’re just one of many people waiting for that to happen. Not only that, but the norm is that projects have tight deadlines. So the sooner a translator can be locked, the better. If you miss your chance to see and accept a project for a matter of, say… 30 minutes, sometimes that’s enough for you to miss the train.

2 – The client cancels the project

Especially for large projects, there tends to be a long process of preparation before the translation actually starts. Agencies have to lock a translator or a team of translators, tests are taken, fees have to be negotiated, availabilities have to be matched, etc. Because of so many steps, your confidence on the project grows as you pass all of those stages. Eventually, you’re just waiting for the project to start working. And then it happens: the client, for whatever reason, cancels the job.

3 – Project managers are unpolite AF

Look, I get project managers’ work. They have a hard job meeting the demands of both the client and the translators. They talk with a lot of people at the same time, so it comes to a point where they have to set priorities. Which is to say that they’ll only maintain an acceptable communication etiquette with whoever is planned to perform the project or whoever has what they need at that time. For example, they stop replying to normal back and forth emails, they don’t report on the outcome of tests or they forget to state vital details in negotiations. I’m an email-oriented guy and overall extremely precise and thorough when communicating online, so I’m just picky by nature when talking about digital etiquette. Still, some people are on the other end of this mindset and I just don’t respect that.

4 – You’re not paid when you’re due

Timely-speaking, translation payments suck big time. The average invoicing period is one month. Some companies make it worse (60 days), while others work out miracles (weekly payments). While this is bad enough, these are just company rules and you accept them at first, so you can’t complain. What pisses me off is the lack of payment when it’s due. Many agencies have invoice and payment systems, so you know when you’re supposed to be paid. But there are endless cases where I have to remind them, which is very unprofessional.

5 – Some companies don’t pay for QA

In general, translating texts can be subdivided into three main activities. Translating means translating content the first time. Proofreading means checking (and generally fixing) the quality of someone else’s prior translation. And (post-)editing means the same as proofreading, but when the translation was done with automated tools. In any case, sometimes you’re given a translation project which has been pre-translated, so you do a bit of translation, as well as editing. Some agencies fail to understand that, just because you kept content untouched, you still had to read it and enforce its QA (some only pay for actually modified segments). For large projects such as these, this leads to a huge effort and very little compensation.

6 – You can be scammed

Hopefully, you’ll never come across this, but it can happen. Some companies simply scam you into providing (generally small) translation services without payment. Just like email phishing, pay attention to the little signs that help you see they’re a fake agency. Those can be weird or too basic websites, unreachable or blacklisted emails and phone numbers, as well as negative ratings (for example the WWA rating in ProZ).

 7 – You’re hired without solid project forecast

Although I put this last, this happens all the time. You apply to translation opportunities requesting vendors from specific language pairs. You may or may not perform admission tests but, eventually, you make the agency’s team of translators. Hurray! Here’s the problem: after that, it may take months or infinity for you to ACTUALLY BE CONTACTED to perform a job. I call them ghost partnerships. While many of the original job ads disclose upfront that they’re just “building up their database”, due to the sheer amount of times this happens I’m forced to think that companies overhire translators (i.e. some of them won’t be contacted) or don’t accurately estimate their workload within a particular language pair.

Please keep in mind that I don’t believe this is a thorough list by any means. There’s bound to be a thing or two that I forgot. But I’ll be sure to be back soon with this kind of down-to-earth reviews. Ultimately, you have to be mentally strong and try not to be influenced by these things, which can indeed bring you down. Sometimes a single good project is enough to keep you busy for a long time, and refresh your hopes in this business.

But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t tell you that these problems in translations will, eventually, happen to you too.

Just keepin’ it real!



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