We are aware that this post is published later than usual. The start of the year has been very busy for us: lots of assignments, emails and phone calls to answer, words to be translated… i. e. a lot of work. We know that ours is a privileged situation in the midst of an economic crisis such as the European, therefore we won’t complain but celebrate that our effort to develop the Wordwire project is producing good results.
During this stressful period we have also had to make multiple quotes, orders, invoices… plenty of figures which have inspired us to write about a daily situation that affects translators and interpreters -mostly self-employed-: the price war.
As in other cases, we need to differentiate between translation and interpreting, given that they are two different but related disciplines with different circumstances. Let’s start off with translation.
Although the situation may differ depending on the country, we will describe the general situation today. Many times our friends and family have asked us “How many pages do you translate per day?”, and this shows us that our daily work needs an explanation to be better understood. We guess this question results from a society that considers us book translators, however, there is no awareness about everything around us that needs to be translated: our new digital camera instructions, the text from a software to be launched internationally, our 32″ TV menu, the videogame we are playing lately, our favourite on-line shop website, our shampoo label… Tons of products that don’t actually have pages!
For all those that do not know about or industry and have this same question, this is the key: when we translate written words, a text is not calculated per pages but per words. That is, a word has a certain price, and a text is made of a number of words that together make the total price of a translation. That’s it. The price may depend on different factors: target languages which are more or less common (more spoken or translated globally, e.g. there are more translators of English than of Zulu…), source text difficulty (obviously a tourism text would not need the same level of documentation than an aeronautical text…), whether it is a sworn/”official” translation or a normal translation… We need to consider each text independently, assess it and choose a translator properly trained for it, since, as we said other times, although translators are bilingual their years-long language training is not the only requirement to translate with a minimum quality: they need to know the different techniques used for each kind of text, the specific vocabulary in both languages (marketing, legal, medical, informative, chemical, economic, software…), the register required… Many translators are even specialised in a specific field given the great difficulty that it may pose. They need to be experts in a certain field so they can create texts in the target language that are understandable, fluent and “do not seem a translation”. No easy task, don’t you think?
Let’s talk about interpreting now. As this type of job is not written but spoken, we could not calculate per word, but per time: hours, half day or full day. Many countries distinguish between the type of interpretation or the effort that it may require: an interpretation of a conversation between two people has a certain rate (liaison interpreting: a speaker A briefly speaks, e.g. in English, once they stop, the interpreter translates the content into other language [e.g. Spanish]; then speaker B would answer in Spanish, and the interpreter would translate into English, and so on); whereas the rate is completely different in the case of a simultaneous interpretation (in a conference, the interpreter works from their booth placed in a discreet corner of the room; they listen to the speech in English for example, and translate it simultaneously into Spanish), or consecutive interpretation (a speaker gives a long speech, in the meantime the interpreter takes notes of its contents and, once the speaker stops, the interpreter completely translates it into the target language).
In this case not only the language knowledge and the interpretation result would be taken into account, but also the effort required in each situation. In the case of simultaneous interpreting, this is not only a technique that you can learn in university; it’s a quite unique skill. As in translation, an interpretation requires long language training and a level of specialisation in a certain field, as well as an exhaustive preparation before the event: an interpreter needs to work for whole days in the preparation of the topic in question (Note: although we are linguists, we should communicate a message to doctors, biologists, pilots, politicians, entrepreneurs… in their own “language” or jargon).
Once both disciplines have been roughly explained, you might be at a point where you may better understand our job. However, many people hiring translation don’t know about this context. That’s where war begins.
On the one hand, we find respectful clients who value out professionalism and hard work and entrust us with their linguistic needs to commercialise their products, legalise a certain situation or expand their businesses. In other words, when a plumber comes home to fix a pipe or a locksmith helps us when we left our keys at home, we accept any rate established by them, that’s the case of our best clients. It is a pleasure to work with them respecting each other.
On the other hand, however, we find clients or future clients that don’t know or value enough our work and try to “bargain” once and again to get lower prices, and even, in a desperate attempt to save money, some of them hire people without a proper training to translate for much lower rates than those established in the sector with disastrous results. This situation repeats both in translation and interpreting, very often in the latter, given that its rates are higher. This “price war” or continuous negotiation is very tiring, and sometimes even offensive, because the professionalism and effort required in this very demanding profession are not valued at all.
Therefore, we would like all our readers -regardless of their role in this “war”- to think deeply about this subject in order to understand our profession, which is in the end the aim of our blog.
We would like to share with you a video that perfectly shows our reaction to these situations https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeF7ykpRRc4
If you wish to share your thoughts about this or have suffered similar situations, we’d love to hear them!