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Translation Rates: Price vs. Value

Thoughts and Musings

Translation Rates: Price vs. Value


I recently received a request for collaboration from a not-to-be-named company regarding translation services.  The manager mentioned that the translation company they are using does an “okay” job, but sometimes they have to be proofread in-house.  I gave my rates and the response was as expected.  Of course I charge "too much".  The problem is, I know that I do not actually charge an arm and a leg.  My rates are so reasonable I have been admonished by a few peers to charge even more.  Yet I still get emails requesting lower rates despite expressing a desire to hire me. I know that my prices reflect the amount of expertise, research, and proofreading required to do a good job but not so much that I feel I am cheating anyone.  My clients pay for a service to be completed as requested, not something done shoddily for a few pennies that needs extensive reviewing. In the end, my clients save time, and we all know time is money

My translations are good the first time.  At least, that is my ultimate goal. I either do them myself or outsource to someone who can do it better.  If I make a mistake, I fix it.  I give ample time for clients to review and test out my work before payments are due. While no translator is perfect, I feel that a large swath of translation companies serve the purposes of devaluing our work for their own financial gain.  They might give lip service to quality, yes.  However, no amount of fancy graphic design and promises can make up for the fact that they only give work to the translators who value themselves the least. 

Honestly the above statement isn't true of every translation company/agency.  At the few companies I continue to work for, it is precisely because they pay the best rates available, on time, and support me when there are issues I feel need resolving.  

Good translators are the product of good habits, practice, good study ethic, and an ability to take constructive criticism.  Learning the skills of translation takes a lot of time, a few years at the very least, and for certain specialties will require an advanced degree.  Good translators will practice on their own, even volunteering in their early days to gain experience and feedback on their work.  Especially in a place like Korea where English quality is not valued as much as its image, there is a tendency for translation agencies and regular businesses to just find someone who can do something that resembles translation as quickly and cheaply as possible.  On the other hand, my experience with translation agencies in the States or in the UK is the mirror image of this.  Korean is such an unknown language that has its own unique alphabet.  I commonly experience project managers who have zero understanding of Korean language, inadvertently causing the overall quality of the project to suffer. Project managers do work hard, but I would say it is necessary that this person has some method of evaluating the translators’ work.  I also experience companies insisting on using translation project management software that is not Korean-friendly.  The text is uploaded with errors, typos, omissions, strange tags likely remnants from Hanword files, and the like.  Honestly I find there is a lack of respect for the Korean language when it comes to translation software technology.  That said, I have not used all the varying forms of translation software yet, so I may be surprised by one in the future.  I will let you know if I ever have a bazillion dollars to spend on a possibly useless product! (You know who you are.)

If you are a fan of Korean cosmetics, music, or television, you have experienced the lack of quality of translations.  If you have gone through the application process, even at the prestigious SKY schools, you have experienced the lack of consistency and commitment to accuracy that you had possibly expected. If you have visited a Korean government office or a Korean hospital with limited language skills, you may have had a complete breakdown due to the inability to communicate, even when there are so-called “translations”.  You could say companies and institutions are valuing profit or trying to save money, but I say there are a lot fewer people who will understand their products or services if the translations are not understandable or accurate.  In a hospital or a court room, bad translations could ruin someone’s life, even end it.  Quality translation leads to greater sales and visibility for companies, and lends greater authenticity to institutions. It is important to remember that, in order to get the translation done right, paying a fair rate to the expert in question is absolutely necessary.