27 Sep Words Are Only Part of the Equation
Not long ago, a colleague was trying to justify the practice of charging less, imposed by some agencies, on work performed using CAT tools. I do have an issue with that concept. I mean, when my doctor gets more accurate and expensive equipment, his rates go up. When my mechanic upgrades his shop’s equipment, his fees go up. The same applies to my dentist, and many other professionals: they upgrade their practice and their fees go up.
I am not a typist
Why should it be different with translators? “You are reusing words and phrases you have used before, so you don’t have to type them.” Well, if I were working into English 100% of the time, I might consider that a bonus. Unfortunately, I work with a Latin-rooted language and its speakers take pride in the versatility and richness of their vocabulary. It is expected of me, the translator, to reflect that in my work. Plus, I am not working as a typist: translation is intellectual work, its demands creativity and knowledge that goes beyond word choice. My response to his argument was, “Agreed. But that does not mean accepting substandard, unjustifiable pay. Words may be a commodity, but I work with meanings, nuances, cultural bias, the message, not mere words. The guy who came up with ‘Just do it’ did not charge per word…”
Words are not the beginning and the end
And that is the crux of the issue. We do not work with just words. If it were so, anyone with a good dictionary could be a translator. We work with language which is much more than words, and our job is to convey the message in all its splendor – or lack thereof. We also charge for our time. Time to research, to discuss options with colleagues, to check on similar work in the client’s website to see how certain matters were addressed.
Many colleagues now advocate charging based on project rather than time or words, the traditional units. I have used all three and I found out that clients really do not care how we calculate our fees. They want a fee that makes sense (not too high, not too low), they want the job done right the first time, they want to trust they can come to us for corrections or questions, they want to be satisfied with our services. They need a number, not a novel telling them how we got to that number.
How well do you know your output?
Charging per project means I must have a good idea of how familiar I am with the subject matter, how good a typist I am, how long it takes me to translate a given number of words. So, I may be able to do a 5-page letter, double space, font size 12, on a simple subject in two hours without breaking a sweat, and that will go for $XX. A 5-page legal brief will take me longer, so I charge $XXX – even if it is the same amount of words. The work is different in nature and will demand more focus and more time, hence the higher price.
Again, I am not a typist and I don’t juggle words for a living. I am a translator.
Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester, Co-Chair of NAJIT’s PR Committee, started her career in translation and interpreting in 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with. In 2009, she co-founded the Florida ATA Chapter (ATIF), served as its first elected president (2011-2012), and later as president of its interim board. As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. Gio has been a contributor to The NAJIT Observer since its inception in 2011, and its Editor since 2016. In 2017 she was appointed Chair of the Miami Dade College Translation and Interpretation Advisory Committee, which she had been a member of since 2014. In 2018, Gio was elected to the Executive Committee of the Brazilian Association of Translators and Interpreters, Abrates, as its General Secretary. You can follow her on Twitter (@cariobana), learn more about Gio on her website, and she can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read other posts by Gio.