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What will they think of next… September 9, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

After 16 years in the business I thought nothing could surprise me anymore, but I was wrong. There is a discussion on one of the payment practices listservs to which I subscribe about the following contract clause from a translation agency, which states:

After the Purchase Order is approved by the translator, he/she has to start the translation immediately and deliver the first 800 words within the next 2 hours. If the translator fails to do so, the PM will write a warning email and call, if no reply within 3 hours, the PM will assign the project to another translator and current translator won’t be paid.

Are you kidding me?

First of all, most of us usually have several jobs on our desk. They expect us to drop everything and deliver the first 800 words within the next 2 hours? Partial deliveries are NEVER a good idea. I guess quality isn’t all that important to them…

Secondly, this is an inequitable clause because we are independent contractors. The nature of our work is characterized by autonomy from the client. It is up to us to decide on the best time to begin the job. It is up to us to decide whether or not we will translate more or less than 800 words within the first 2 hours. I don’t sit chained to my desk panting and awaiting the next translation job. If I don’t have a translation job lined up I am usually running errands or enjoying living my life. As independent contractors, we cannot be bound by work constraints in this way.

I say delete inquiries like this and don’t look back. There are tens of thousands of translation agencies out there. You do not have to work with the ones of which you do not approve (or of whom you are suspicious) and you can still make a good living as a translator.



1. Jenn Mercer - September 9, 2011

Er, is it just me or is that a lot of words at the beginning of a project. Not only that, but the first 800 words that I translate are rarely consecutive. I use Trados, so I will hop around from headings to duplicates, addresses, etc. in order to get a good feel for the project. I guess I could convert it to a target file at that point and tell them to look for the English, but I doubt that would make them happy. I agree – delete on sight.

2. Rachel E. Lauber (@rel626ad) - September 9, 2011

I couldn’t agree more! Thank you very much for posting this. It is vindicating to learn that there is another translator out there turning down work from unreasonable agencies. 🙂

3. Diandra - September 9, 2011

Wow, really???

4. patenttranslator - September 9, 2011

“Secondly, this is an inequitable clause because we are independent contractors.”


And since as independent contractors we are free to modify any contract before becoming a party to it, you could for instance keep the clause in but add your own requirements based on this clause.

I would classify orders of this kind as “super-rush orders with a payment surcharge of 50%, to be paid by PayPal or the like before the translator starts working on said super-rush order”.

Obviously, I would not expect any agency to accept such terms except if they are in dire straits, but why not give morons a taste of their own medicine?

5. Kevin Lossner - September 9, 2011

These people are morons. I’m tempted to say the same about anyone accepting such terms. Let ’em crash and burn with whatever foolish monkeys will take their BS.

6. Anke - September 10, 2011

Amen, brothers and sisters!

Also makes one really want to read all of a contract TWICE, just to be sure not to overlook anything!

7. HH - September 10, 2011

This is a perfect clause for all serious translators. I wished that most agencies have such a clause!
Why? Well, only CFI translators (cheap+fast+incapable) could agree to such contracts, resulting in poorest quality. The clients will be happy! 😉

8. Johanna - September 11, 2011

Hm.. reminds me of bit of a new code of conduct one of the translation agencies I used to work for set up in which they state that payment will be reduced by a certain percentage depending on how many mistakes (typos, spelling, mistranslations, untranslated sentences) there are. Kind of makes me wonder what kind of people they work with that they feel it is necessary to penalize lack of QA on the translator’s side. But then again, they always expect HUGE translations in an unrealistically short amount of time. Instead of putting more pressure on the translators, perhaps they should consider assigning better deadlines…

9. Angela - September 11, 2011

I agree, HH. Only “CFI” translators or translators who agree to contracts without actually reading them (DANGER).

10. Andie - September 11, 2011

As a former PM I *think* I *might* know why the agency inserted this clause, but I still believe it’s a bad idea, for all of the reasons everyone has cited above!

11. Maria - September 12, 2011

I’d LOVE to work with a PM who was prone to writing “warning” emails. I can understand if they need a confirmation from you within two hours, but I would need time to read project instructions, the source file, reference material etc before I start translating. Unless the text was really easy for you, you’re not going to plunge right in there and produce a perfect translation straightaway. Within those two hours, you’re not going to have time to read over it and polish it up.

Anyway, I thought the average throughput was approx 200-250 words per hour? Idiots.
Bet some fancy accountant or consultant told them to roll that one out.. *eye-roll*

12. Tess Whitty - September 12, 2011

I hope all colleagues are wise enought to not accept such terms. Amazing!

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