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The joy of a mid-day off June 19, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture, Random musings.
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One of the joys of freelancing is the ability to take time off whenever you want. After practically burning myself out translating a really term-dense medical assessment, which I delivered last night, I decided to take the early afternoon off to run errands and treat myself. I have a couple jobs on my desk, but they are all pretty manageable. I had to pick up my Father’s Day gift, a print of Cleveland my dad picked out on my laptop (I love the Internet!), so I made a list of all the things I needed to get done and spent a few hours driving around town and into downtown Cleveland. I got a little side-tracked (ok, lost) and drove through an extremely dodgy part of town (East Cleveland, which is the foreclosure capital of the world) on my way downtown. The Plain Dealer wrote an article on the situation in East Cleveland this week – little did I know I would be driving through that exact part of town just two days later. It was interesting seeing all the once-beautiful homes in a terrible state of disrepair. Some of the homes must have been breathtaking in their day.

I hit the local German import store, Hansa Import Haus, to stock up on Jacobs Krönung coffee and ended up buying some Lindt and Ritter chocolates, cheese, jam, good German bread, and several kinds of beer (since it’s summer I’ve decided to try Warsteiner’s new line of Radlers – beer mixed with lemon, orange and/or cola flavoring). I look forward to trying them on my balcony. Having lived in Salzburg, I am a big fan of the Radler and the Almdudler (which tastes a bit like ginger ale). Afterward, I treated myself to a nice café au lait, Perrier, Niçoise salad, and a strawberry crepe at a little French bistro and creperie, Le Petit Triangle Café (formerly known as Le Oui Oui Café) down the street from Hansa Haus.

I ran a couple other errands and stopped at the local library to pick up a book I ordered through Search Ohio and to browse their DVD collection. Now I am home, refreshed and ready to devote myself a marketing survey. But it definitely feels like a Friday…


Word count issues – Part II June 18, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Tools.

Disclaimer: For all those of you who already aware of this issue, bear with me, because this is for those who are not as familiar with word counts. Also, since I am a German translator, I am not at all familiar with how to count languages such as Japanese, Hebrew, etc. If you work in one of these languages, I suggest you ask some of your colleagues what they use.

Counting words, characters, and/or lines is a crucial subject for all freelance translators, because it is the foundation for pricing our translations, issuing invoices to clients, and getting paid. However, if you have been relying exclusively on the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word to invoice your clients, you may have been invoicing for a much lower word count than you actually translated. Different word processing programs and translation tools often produce different word count values for the same document. Sometimes those differences can be quite drastic. They are due to the use of different rules for counting as well as deficiencies in the applications themselves.

If you have been using the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word to invoice your clients, you have been short-changing yourself. The reason for this is that Microsoft Word does not count comments, headers, footers, embedded objects and files, and—most importantly—text boxes. If a file has been run through an Optical Character Recognition program, these programs tend to create a lot of text boxes. Word does not count the words in text boxes, and yet you definitely have to translate them.

The same problem exists with Excel and PowerPoint. One of my clients once sent me a PowerPoint presentation to translate and quoted me a word count of 2,000 words. By the end of the day I was nowhere close to being finished. After a quick count using PractiCount I discovered that the actual word count was more like 6,000 words because the client had not counted the embedded Excel spreadsheets. I wrote the client and explained why I would not be meeting the one-day deadline, and the client agreed to give me two extra days to work on it.

PowerPoint also does not offer character counts, which means translators in languages that rely on character counts should consider using a third party counting tool for this reason.

There is also a problem with version consistency. Every version of Word, PowerPoint, etc. has different rules regarding words and word count. PowerPoint 97 and 2000 are not consistent with the Word counting rules. For example, they count hyphenated words as two words. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately for us?) PowerPoint XP corrects this difference. In plain text, this means that two different users with different PowerPoint versions may disagree about the word count on the same document. So if your client contests your word count, the reason may be because the client is using a different version of Word, PowerPoint, etc. I for one am still using Word 2002 and see no reason to upgrade to Word 2007, because I am happy (and, most importantly, intimately familiar) with the 2002 version. I know I am not alone.

In our comparison of counting tools (see What’s in a Word?, ATA Chronicle, August 2006), PractiCount and Total Assistant came out the clear winners. PractiCount ($59.95 for the standard edition) is easy to use due to its tabbed interface and adjustable settings, and it can also generate invoices. PractiCount can count footers, headers, text boxes, inserted Excel and PowerPoint documents, comments, WordArt and more. Total Assistant ($24.95 for the standard version, $44.95 for the professional version) can produce a word count of multiple files in just two steps and counts unfriendly formats such as PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat. Total Assistant is a more basic but also cheaper program than PractiCount. Total Assistant Pro also adds invoice generation and other reports.

Some of the available word count tools are AnyCount (which comes with Translation Office 3000 or can be purchased as a stand-alone tool), TextCount, and FreeBudget. Marita and I recommend downloading the various free trial versions and deciding which one you prefer and best suits your needs.

I’m sure there are many more tools out there, and if you work with a different tool, feel free to tell us about it in the comments. As I’ve said, I can only talk about the ones I have worked with in the past.

Word count issues – Part I June 17, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Tools, Translation Sites.

I’m amazed to learn that one of my translation agency clients, which specializes in financial translations (note: I do not translate the heavy financial stuff. They have me translate magazine articles and the like), relies on the Trados analysis feature to perform its word counts, because Trados does not count stand-alone numbers. Numbers often have to be localized (commas changed to decimal points and vice versa), so if you have a document with a lot of numeric information with decimals or tables of pure numbers, Trados short-changes you. I feel that if I have to look at the number and/or physically alter it, then I should of course be compensated for that work.

Trados is a translation environment (CAT) tool and not a word count tool. Marita Marcano and I wrote an article about word count tools in the ATA Chronicle (“What’s in a Word?, p. 32 of the August 2006 issue) and presented a session at last year’s ATA conference on word count tools with Clove Lynch, who was representing the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA). LISA is working on coming up with a word counting standard, so hopefully this will change things soon. However, as it stands now, each tool has its own counting algorithm it uses to perform its count. There is no standardization between tools. We found PractiCount and Total Assistant to be the most accurate tools in our comparison. Word was a disaster (for reasons I will go into tomorrow for those of you who are not aware of the problem).

It seems to be a well-known fact among my colleagues that Trados does not count numbers. I don’t understand why some agencies insist on using Trados to do their word counts. They are not only shorting the translators, who are typing in the numbers, but are shorting themselves because they bill their clients based on these incorrect word counts.

Update: Client education does indeed work. I just received my client’s response: “I will definitely forward your feedback on the Trados Tool. It is the only tool we have to make a wordcount!!” I referred them to my article as well.

Were Cinderella’s glass slippers a mistranslation? June 16, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Translation Sites.
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I wanted to share this gem from my Snopes.com RSS feed on my iGoogle page (http://www.snopes.com/language/misxlate/slippers.asp). As translators we hear lots of myths and tales, such as Martin Luther supposedly throwing his inkwell at the devil while translating the Bible into German in his study at the Wartburg Castle (kind of a fun trip for translators, BTW – the tour guide mentioned he was constipated and that is why he might have imagined seeing the devil, but I digress…); however, I have to say that I had never heard about this myth before. Enjoy!

Claim: Cinderella’s slippers were made of fur in the original versions of the fairy tale, but they became glass slippers in later versions as the result of a mistranslation.

Status: False.

Origins: Although Cinderella’s glass slippers make their first appearance in Charles Perrault’s version of this well-known fairy tale, they were not the result of a mistranslation.

The standard explanation for Cinderella’s famous footwear is that it is the result of a mistranslation, someone having mistaken pantoufle de vair, fur slipper, for pantoufle de verre, glass slipper, when making an English version of Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou contes du temps passé avec des moralités (1697). (The title of Perrault’s collection — in English, Stories or Tales of Olden Times with Morals — also is known as Tales of My Mother Goose, after a line that appears on the frontispiece of the original, Contes de ma mère l’oye.)

The principal difficulty with the standard explanation is that pantoufle de verre appears in Perrault’s original text, so this is definitely not a question of mistranslation. Nor does it seem to be a case of mishearing, with Perrault writing verre for vair when transcribing an oral account, since vair, a medieval word, was no longer used in his time. (Vair, variegated fur, from the Latin varius, varied, also is a root of miniver, originally menu vair, small vair, which referred initially to the fur — perhaps squirrel — used as trim on medieval robes and later was applied to the prized ermine, or winter weasel fur, on the ceremonial robes of peers.)

Finally, the glass slipper is peculiar to Perrault’s telling of the story, which is one of the world’s best-known and most widely distributed folktales. In most versions, Cinderella is helped by her dead mother, who reappears as a domestic animal, typically a cow or goat, rather than her fairy godmother; often, she makes three visits to a ball, festival, or church; and her true identity is revealed by a ring that will not fit anyone’s finger but hers. The story probably is of Oriental origin. In the oldest known version, from China in the ninth century, the heroine loses a slipper, as it happens, but it is of gold. The glass slipper, then, along with the use of the witching hour of midnight as the moment at which the heroine’s finery will disappear, seems to be one of Perrault’s own contributions to the Cinderella story.

Top 10 tips from an overworked translator June 13, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings, Translation Sites.
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If you are just getting started (or are striving to be better), here are my top 10 tips to be efficient and successful.

1. Be organized. Develop a system that works for you. Use some kind of job tracking system. Make lists of tasks you need to do that day, week, month. Keep all open jobs in a folder and move the files somewhere else once you have delivered the job. Set up an archiving system to archive your past work using a system that allows you to quickly and easily locate a file if the client asks for it. I zip up the source file, Trados backup file, target file, and any reference materials and/or any purchase orders from the client and name it with the client name and some descriptive words about the file (title, keywords, etc.). I then save the zip file in a folder called “Archive” in My Documents that has subfolders for each month, which are then moved inside folders for each year at the end of the year. Also, keep a handle on your e-mail in box using folders and e-mail filters. Read your e-mail program’s Help to find out more.

2. Manage your time wisely. Check your e-mail and plan your day accordingly as soon as you turn the computer on. Work when you need to work. Set your e-mail program to check e-mail every half hour – not as soon as it comes in. Avoid being sucked into watching television when you should be working. One of my colleagues always recounts to new translators how she would watch soap operas for several hours a day when she first started translating. If you do take a break, set a deadline and then go back to work when that time is up.

3. Take regular breaks. Try to get up and walk away from your desk every hour for at least five minutes. Make a cup of tea or coffee or drink a glass of water. Take a lunch break. Sitting at a desk in one position can be very taxing on your shoulders and strains the eyes. Getting up and walking away allows your eyes to focus on something else for a while. Your health and your sanity will thank you.

4. Be easy to work with. Be the translator that project managers contact for assignments. If you cannot accept a job, try to recommend another translator who can. Always be pleasant and try to be as accommodating as possible. I always include a few sentences of personal greeting to my project managers or the accountant who receives my invoice. Build up a personal rapport with your clients.

5. Strive to be the best. Respond promptly to e-mails – even if it is just to say “Thank you for your inquiry; however, I’m afraid I am booked through next Thursday.” Turn in your translations on time or even early. If you are running behind, notify your clients in advance – not an hour before the deadline. Do everything you can to track down that last elusive term or abbreviation. Ask your colleagues on a listserv, call an expert, or research it on Google. One time I was translating bank statements and records and called someone at the bank in Germany to find out exactly what the abbreviations meant instead of just guessing.

6. Don’t be a generalist – specialize. By that I mean don’t accept every job that comes across your desk just because you might need the work. If you don’t know how to translate patents or have no idea what the steel pressing text is about, turn it down! You’ll be doing yourself and your client a favor. If you accept a job that is over your head you will only be stressing yourself out and may ruin your relationship with your client by turning in a sub-par translation despite all your hard work.

7. Put in the extra effort to format your documents properly. Clients really appreciate it when you format the documents to correspond to the source text. That said, they may have different margin settings or may not have your font, so your perfectly formatted document could look terrible if you don’t format in a manner that transcends margins and fonts. Learn as much as you can about formatting. Learn how to set tabs instead of hitting the tab key eight times and/or the space bar. Try to use common fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman instead of obscure fonts such as Shruti or Ravie. Learn how to use the Hanging Indent tab on the ruler instead of using the space bar to line up your text.

8. Run spell-check. This should be obvious, but you’d be surprised how many translators do not run spell-check before delivering their translations. Make sure your translation is perfect – or at least has no obvious typos. Someone once told me to proof your translation backwards so you really notice the words.

9. Try to take tech-free days. When I am really busy my apartment looks like a tornado went through it by the end of the week :-). It’s important to schedule days or afternoons off so you can run errands, do laundry, vacuum, wash dishes, and just plain relax. My biggest pet peeve is that agencies don’t seem to respect weekends. It is up to us to defend our right to have a day or two off. Everyone needs days off in order to recharge. In our case, we also need to loosen up our shoulders and give our brains a break. Translation can be stressful and requires a lot of concentration and thought.

10. Keep marketing yourself whenever you can. Even though I have plenty of work and several clients who regularly contact me at least several times a week, you never know if that client will develop liquidity problems, your favorite project manager may leave and no one else there will know you, or their client base may change and they will suddenly no longer be getting work in your field of specialization. Become active in local groups (either translation-related or in your fields of specialization) and post regularly on listservs where your fellow translators are active. Join the ATA and attend their smaller, specialized conferences (you’re more likely to make lucrative contacts). Keep your resume up to date, post your profile/resume on translator portals such as Aquarius, TranslatorsCafe, or ProZ (however, I don’t pay to use them.), and carry business cards with you wherever you go. You never know where your next job will come from.

Does anyone else have a fabulous tip they would like to share? I’d love to hear it!

Omnilingua servers down due to Iowa flooding June 13, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Uncategorized.

One of my clients, Omnilingua in Cedar Rapids, is doing its best to keep operating as usual despite the fact that its servers (e-mail, FTP, etc.) are down due to the flooding in Cedar Rapids. According to CNN, nearly 4,000 homes have been evacuated, a railroad bridge has collapsed and cars are underwater on downtown streets. The Iowa governor has declared 55 of Iowa’s 99 counties to be state disaster areas. I hope everyone at Omnilingua and throughout Iowa are safe and dry tonight and that the flood waters will recede soon. No deaths or serious injuries were reported in Iowa, but they’re “going to need a lot of prayers, and people are going to need a lot of patience and understanding.”

6/16/08: I received an e-mail this morning that the servers at Omnilingua are functioning again as well as two job requests, so business is back to normal there – thank heavens. I remember how weird things were when the Rhine flooded in Bonn. I can’t even imagine the entire downtown area flooding there. Let’s hope the rains stop and the floodwaters recede quickly.

Foreign bank accounts and taxes June 12, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas, Random musings.

After a good night’s sleep I feel well-rested and ready to the tackle the day.

I’m going to treat myself to a nice breakfast out in a few minutes, but I just wanted to talk about the importance of having a foreign bank account. Having an account in your foreign country of choice will not only save your foreign-based clients money and hassle when paying you, it will also save you money on wire transfer fees and/or foreign check charges.

A service like Paypal and Moneybookers may be convenient, but it is a lot more expensive than setting up a foreign bank account when you consider the fees involved (1% or 5% doesn’t sound like much, but when you have a EUR 5,000.00 payment it can be downright painful!)

You may also obtain more work from agencies in foreign countries. For instance, with the dollar tanking, agencies in Europe are in search of good translators here in the U.S. because they can hire translators for a lower euro word or line rate yet still keep the translators happy because the rate is higher in the long run due to the exchange rate. But the key to being able to earn euros is having a euro-based bank account.

I opened my bank account in Germany while I was living there and simply changed my address when I moved. My bank (Dresdner Bank, which bought out the Internet-based Advance Bank) has no problems mailing my bank statements to the U.S., and I am able to track my accounts, make transfers, and use my Dresdner Bank credit card here in the U.S. As far as I am concerned, online banking is one of the best inventions since sliced bread and the Internet!

One of my French translator friends was in Paris a few weeks ago and managed to open a savings account there with the help of one of her friends/colleagues, who went with her and dropped a lot of names of the people he knows at the bank, which really helped get things moving.

That is all well and good, but there are also ways that U.S.-based translators can open a foreign bank account without having to physically be in the foreign country. It’s a little extra work, but it’s really worth it. Now, I can only speak for German banks, since I have experience with them.

A good place to start is http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=784503. You would open a personal account because your business is not registered with the German authorities. It’s legal to have a personal account in this case.

Several translators I know have opened an account with Postbank, Deutsche Bank, or Bank of America. The procedure is probably similar for any bank.

Get the form for opening an account online, print it out and complete it. It has to be “legitimiert” (notarized/legitimized) by a German embassy, consulate or mission and then returned by post. No initial deposit is usually required. The only hassle is having to go to the nearest German consulate to have it legitimiert.

One translator I know has had very bad customer service experiences with Postbank and found Deutsche Bank to be relatively easy to use. Their account forms can be downloaded from the Web. Also, you will need to complete forms validating that you are a foreign tax subject and provide a W-9 – the bank may be able to provide these to you in advance.

Most of us do our banking online (very secure with a TAN system) and also use a debit card here or abroad. There are several ways you can access your money:

  • If you have a Postbank account, you can request a check be sent to you in USD. It takes about 10 days to arrive, slightly longer than a wire transfer, but only costs EUR 7.80 and it is a US check drawn on a US subsidiary of Postbank.
  • Wiring money through your bank is not a good option! My bank takes out a sizable fee (EUR 19.50) – and intermediary banks in the middle also take a sizable chunk (last time some bank in New York took out $25 for simply forwarding the transfer). However, you can transfer the money after it accumulates into a sizable amount using a service such as XEtrade, which enables business and individuals to send, receive and track international payments and buy and sell foreign currency. XEtrade makes its money by collecting a small percentage of the money through a lower exchange rate. You transfer the money to their local bank account in Germany or wherever else they have an office, and they transfer the equivalent amount from their local bank account in the U.S. to your chosen bank account. The initial paperwork and verification process is rather annoying, but once it is set up it is a very quick and affordable option.
  • You can initiate a transfer from your German bank to your U.S.account by mailing in a simple Auslandsüberweisungsauftrag. This is a special form, but you can also do it informally on your letterhead as long as the signature matches.
  • You can use your bank or debit card to withdraw money at an ATM here in the U.S. It only costs EUR 4.50 through Dresdner Bank – no matter how much you withdraw. That said, I haven’t withdrawn more than $800 at a time.
  • Deutsche Bank and Bank of America have an agreement in which you can withdraw money at an ATM for free. It can be a good deal if you have one in your area.
  • A colleague just reported that Netbank (http://www.netbank.de/nb/) is an option. It was apparently quicker to do the identification process while in Germany but you can also take care of it here in the US (notary public, etc.).
  • I sometimes let the money accumulate and rely on it when I am overseas, which minimizes my “vacation” expenses. That way you don’t have to worry about the weak dollar while in Europe.

Having a foreign bank account gives potential clients the (accurate) impression that the translator has regular dealings with that country and gives them one less administrative task to worry about. And that is truly money in the bank!

P.S. One important note: you should always declare your foreign income on your tax returns! My tax consultant tells me as long as you do not have $10,000 in a foreign bank account you do not need to declare that you have a foreign bank account (I’m not a tax consultant – I’m merely repeating what my consultant told me!). But you do need to report your foreign income. It simply isn’t worth the aggravation, and one should never try to cheat Uncle Sam. I track all my income on an Excel spread sheet (four worksheets – one for each quarter). Column A is for payment in euros, Column B the exchange rate that day, Column C the total or converted total in dollars, Column D the invoice number, Column D the client name, and Column E the date paid. I total up the dollar amount and set aside 20% for my estimated quarterly tax payment. Preparing my taxes is a breeze because I simply print out the Excel spread sheet and hand it to my tax consultant. But I digress…

[July 16, 2008: If you are looking for a German bank, Expatica has a very good article that compares the different German banks and the various services they offer.]

Das hat mir gerade noch gefehlt… June 11, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.
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I just read on Wired Top Stories (through iGoogle) that my ISP, Time Warner Cable, is discontinuing access to Usenet due to the New York Attorney General’s blacklist-based initiative to quell undesirable Internet content (i.e., child pornography).

According to a report by Declan McCullagh, Sprint will be blocking the entire alt. hierarchy of Usenet, while good old Time Warner Cable has no time for such fussiness and will just stop offering all Usenet access.

I’m obviously not interested in child pornography, but I do use Usenet to download music sometimes. This is just downright censorship for censorship’s sake. Talk about painting all Usenet users with one brush. I’ve been using Usenet since 1995. It was one of my core tools when I worked as an Internet researcher in Germany. Just because some sicko misuses Usenet doesn’t mean everyone should suffer. What’s next? Discontinuing phone service because some people call 1-900 numbers?

Can anyone recommend a good ISP?

Nobody ever told me there’d be days like these June 11, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

I’m having one of those days where you wish you could just crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head. I delivered my second batch of files for one of my clients today, but unfortunately due to her poor writing/communication skills apparently that batch of files had been canceled but she hadn’t made that clear. I assumed the second batch of files she had sent out had precedence over the first batch and that the due date for the first group of files I received was June 11th. So I translated 1,600 words for nothing – well, not quite nothing. They’ve offered to pay 50%, which I obviously have no choice but to accept. AAARGH!!! I’d rather have the full amount since I had turned down several jobs in order to translate that batch. Don’t bother telling me I should have asked for a PO. With this client usually an e-mail confirming the job (which I have) is sufficient. I have an e-mail stating “You still can do the other documents, I sent you yesterday, but this batch is more important for the client.” Oh well, I’m not giving up yet.

To add insult to injury, I have almost $1000 in overdue invoices at the moment (6 invoices ranging from 6 to 17 days overdue) and when I wrote the PM for the largest outstanding invoice to remind him (because they have been prompt payers in the past) he told me they cannot locate my invoice. I went into my out box and forwarded the e-mail from April 28th in which I sent the invoice to him (with the invoice attached). He promised they would process it right away. I hope it arrives by June 15th when my quarterly tax payment is due, but I highly doubt it. Luckily I have a tiny cushion tucked away.

I don’t know about you, but I really want to call it a day and avoid e-mail and the phone for the rest of the day! Unfortunately I can’t, because I still have to translate 3000 words of a medical report (for Friday) and 3000 words of quality management text (due whenever but I’d like to get it off my desk by Friday).

Ah, the joys of being a freelancer…

Yeah, right… June 9, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Translation Sites.

I just received one of those e-mails we all love from an agency I haven’t worked for in at least a year and a half. Part of me wanted to refer them to Corinne McKay’s post on the care and feeding of translators, but in the end I decided it just wasn’t worth it and simply deleted both e-mails from my in box without answering them.

Since most of you probably received this as well (judging from the anonymous, generic greeting) I don’t have qualms about posting the text of the e-mail here. If this violates some kind of code please let me know. After all, I am new to the blogosphere. I have, of course, left out all identifying information.


I am contacting you because you are listed as one of our valued translators.

We need to identify those translators who use Trados and rate breakdowns.

Please respond if you do or do not use Trados.

If you do currently use Trados, please fill out the table below:

Trados version:
Rate breakdown rate percentage (for example: 33%) Rate (USD)
100% matches
95-99% matches
85-94% matches
75-84% matches
50-74% matches
No Match

Please contact me if you have any questions.

Yeah, right. I’ll be getting right on that…

First of all, I don’t know what happened to the Trados suggested rate of 30/60/100, because a lot of agencies that have recently contacted me are asking for all kinds of crazy graduated rates (see above). Anything less than a 85% match pretty much needs your full attention – not to mention those close matches that maybe have a number or word that is different. I know several translators who do not pay close enough attention to close matches as it is, which drives me crazy when I proofread their work.

Secondly, why should I essentially VOLUNTARILY offer an agency a discount – for a piece of software that I purchased out of my own pocket? Every job has its own particulars and should be negotiated accordingly. If the agency provides a good TM and I have a good relationship with them, I am usually happy to negotiate a Trados discount with them. However, that should not be considered a given just because I own a translation environment tool.