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Unprofessionalism in the industry January 18, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

I received the following e-mail today and have to say I am speechless at the behavior of this “freelance translator.” I’ve heard of some unethical and unprofessional behavior on the part of colleagues in the past (telling a fellow translator to “go suck a lemon” is one example that comes to mind). But this just crosses the line and is all kinds of wrong. If I were to ever act like this I would never be successful. The industry is a small one. People talk to one another. I don’t know where the entitlement against test translations comes from. I see nothing wrong with a test translation to prove to a potential new client what you can do.

As you might remember from our previous correspondence, I work as a project manager at an agency in England as well as a freelancer. I have an issue I’d love to see in your blog, to get other freelancers’ takes on this:

About a month ago one of my project management colleagues sent an e-mail to translators asking for interested freelancers to choose any of the different test translations attached (different areas of specialisation) and submit them along with their CVs and rates if they wished to be added to our new database (our old one is being scrapped because it and the information in it are out of date). One translator replied with just two words: Fuck off [emphasis mine].

When our manager wrote him back to make sure the aggression wasn’t about a non-payment issue or some other valid grievance, he wrote back a long rant about how our “Wal*Mart approach” to translation was killing the industry and how he, as a qualified professional, should not be subjected to test translations.

First, I take offense to the Wal*Mart comment. I know that some agencies have automated systems and send around mass e-mails about potential jobs that never seem to come to fruition (and as a freelancer I send those messages straight to the “Deleted” folder), but we don’t. We are seven project managers and four in-house translators, we try our best not to bother freelancers until we know a job is confirmed, and we send out availability requests to ONE translator at a time unless there are urgent time constraints that make that impossible. Every job we handle is proofread or checked in some way by us ourselves, not just sent on without a second thought for quality. We are not some big corporate machine churning out high word counts at low rates with no thought to the translators or the individual projects. We never tell translators what to charge, although sometimes we may give fair warning if a translator’s rates are so high that they might not see much work from us (not in a threatening way, just as a fact in case they were counting on getting a lot of work from us). We try to keep to reasonable deadlines where possible.

Second, there are benefits that agencies bring to the industry. As an agency, we invest quite a bit of money into our marketing, which means freelancers don’t have to. We handle the administrative side of the projects, asking for reference materials and specific instructions beforehand so that freelancers get all of the information in one e-mail at the beginning of the job. We act as a buffer between difficult clients and hardworking professionals. We do the face-to-face contact to maintain good working relationships with clients, something that many freelancers are happy to avoid. These are some of the benefits that people like this translator should remember before being so rude and unprofessional. If he doesn’t want to work with us, or any other agency, that’s fine; he is well within his rights to ask us never to contact him again. But there’s no need to be so aggressive just because he has an overinflated sense of self-worth.

I have never been so shocked in my life at the sheer unprofessionalism. If you are running your own business, why sabotage it by offending complete strangers? Other freelancers who balked at the request for test translations (but were professional about it) were told they could send samples of their previous work if they preferred. If neither of those options suited them, we wish them all the best but have to respectfully pass them up when we look for translators to send work to. We just want an idea of the quality the translators are providing. As you know, our industry is not very well regulated and potentially anybody can walk around claiming to be a translator, without the quality or professional training/experience to back it up. Even a client you don’t want should be treated with professionalism at the very least. That sort of aggression is uncalled for, and not only does it mean that he will never be offered any work from us (OK, fine, clearly he didn’t want it in the first place) but word-of-mouth may well end up affecting his reputation and potentially have an impact on work from other clients. I can tell you now that after that e-mail he went straight onto our black list and no matter how desperate we get, that translator will never see an offer from us. We also warned a few of our colleagues outside of the company about him.

Is there ever a point where you and your readers would consider that level of rudeness and unprofessionalism to be acceptable or, at the very least, understandable? One colleague of mine said she might consider it understandable if we owed him money and were giving him the run-around about it, but that was definitely not the case here, and we even went out of our way to check that we hadn’t inadvertently forgotten to pay an invoice somehow.

This reader is not alone. As one of my colleagues (who is the owner of a small boutique agency) stated so eloquently on Facebook the other day in frustration because one of their favorite translators is also severely lacking in social graces:

Rant: Why are so many of the best and most talented translators complete and utter sociopaths?

The post generated 74 comments. My favorite comment in the thread was:

I get so excited when I can exclaim to one of our project managers that so-and-so is such a pleasure to work with. I wish that more translators would realize that that small thing can really move them way up the list. Pleasant or miscreant? Twelve e-mail exchanges or two? Hmmm..

Note: the same person wrote both comments!

So, fellow translators, what say you? Would you ever treat an agency this poorly? I don’t understand why some colleagues are hell-bent on viewing “agencies” as the “enemy.” Obviously not all agencies are alike. This agency is a smaller, more personal agency like the ones I prefer to deal with. I have never used this kind of language in correspondence – even towards the non-paying agency I like to call Dear Client:. I thought it, but I certainly never wrote it down and sent it. So, as the reader asks, “Is there ever a point where you and your readers would consider that level of rudeness and unprofessionalism to be acceptable or, at the very least, understandable?”



1. dieta - January 19, 2012

would help both clients and the public understand what interpreters and translators do […] In just six words, it sends the message that linguists are all about communication, about giving “voice” to information, ideas, and culture.

2. Wenjer Leuschel - January 19, 2012

I am wondering why any translation colleague should treat an agency that poorly, too.

Either a job or a test offer suits one or not. If not, a simple “Dear X, Thanks for getting in touch, but I am afraid I am not available for the job/test…” would be perfect. I see, as you do, nothing wrong with a test translation to prove to a potential new client what one can do.

I wish all of us in this industry the innecessity of even writing a dear client letter.

3. Annette - January 19, 2012

I can understand that the lady at the agency was shocked, and that kind of language is absolutely unacceptable. But, you have to take into consideration that this translator might have been cheated one time to many by agencies, may have been treated with equal rudeness by an agency in the past, I know I have. I have, as a European translator been met with statements like : What are you gonna do about it? when overseas agencies, that is north American, simply didn’t pay, and when you are on my side of the Atlantic ocean there is nothing you can do about it. Of course the lady that owns the agency in question stresses how nice they are, and I am sure that they are, and how much they do, but this is not true for all agencies, some push everything onto the translators, but the translator is the one who is paid the least. Bottom line, I can understand if some translators, especially in Europe, are sick and tired of agencies! I myself work with 3 agencies, and I have broken off relationships with more than I care to think about, and I have to say, mostly American agencies, who I have had some terrible encounters with, and I felt like these people saw me as nothing more than cheap foreign labor to be pushed around and paid whenever it suited them, if at all. This may be how American employers regard people, some say that that’s the problem, diff. corporate cultures, I don’t know, and I don’t care, service providers are the foundation of agencies, they should remember that, and treat you with a minimum of respect.
Just like there are unprofessional translators in this business, there are most certainly some very unprofessional agencies, money machines, in this business. So even if what this person wrote is unacceptable, there might just be a reason, or most likely more than one reason, so many reasons that this man just got mad.

Rant: Why are so many of the best and most talented translators complete and utter sociopaths?

That comment is even more unacceptable than the F*** one, if you ask me! Calling other people sociopaths, now there’s an unacceptable thing to say.

4. Craig Morris - January 19, 2012

As someone who farms out work, I do not send out pro bono test translations to established translators. And as a freelance translator, I do not do pro bono test translations. If a client wants to see samples of my work, I have lots of bilingual files I can send them. And if I want to see how well a person translates, it’s pretty easy to fork off 50 lines for pay.

As I posted here recently, I too have experienced unprofessional behavior from freelance translators. It’s not frequent, but it’s part of the job.

Being professional is the best way to retain clients, especially direct clients. Last week, one client wrote me saying that I forgot to put the GmbH behind their company name on my invoice – from November 12! I informed them that it had nearly been 60 days since that invoice was sent, asked them when it would be remitted, and attached a revised PDF.

I got no response, so I called them (a week later) yesterday and got the lady on the phone. I politely asked her if everything was okay with the new invoice, and she said that she would send over the maximum amount that her bank allows to transfer on a day that day and the rest tomorrow. I just checked, and the first batch is indeed on my account. There was no anger in our conversation.

I did get mad at a client recently, though. After a large project, I demanded feedback for the roughly 500 pages we did, and months later I finally got it – along with the comment that feedback from their proofreaders ranged from perfectly satisfied to “we might as well have had it machine translated.” I took a look at the comments and immediately saw that some of the German authors had been allowed to touch the texts. In one spot, our elegant “the school has been at this address since 1902” became “the school has been existing at this address since 1902.” That author commented at the end: “strange style but otherwise okay.”

I informed the client in no uncertain terms that German authors may indeed find our style strange because we do English that sounds good to native speakers, not to Germans. I also told her that I was not going to allow them to indicate that we did the translations in their Impressum/imprint page if they allowed non-native speakers to fill with our work again.

They became worried that we might not work with them again.

All of this led to a couple of telephone conferences, and we now have a structure in place where we get to at least react to changes the client makes before things go into print – and we raised our line rate. They have been showering us with praise in these discussions, incidentally.

None of that would have been possible if I had stayed mad at the client rather than move to a cheerful “how can we make things better?”

Sally Loren - January 19, 2012

Sounds like you handled all those situations well. I particularly like the remark that you translate into English that sounds good to native speakers and not to Germans (must remember that one!)

A tip: recommend you look at this blog regarding the translation of impressum http://false-friends.crellin.de/search?q=Impressum. Impressum translated as “imprint” is a particular pet-hate of mine. And nowhere is it better explained than here in my view!

Craig Morris - January 19, 2012

Sally, you write: “A tip: recommend you look at this blog regarding the translation of impressum http://false-friends.crellin.de/search?q=Impressum. Impressum translated as “imprint” is a particular pet-hate of mine”

And yet, “imprint” is the correct word for a book, see:


You are thinking of websites.

Sally Loren - January 21, 2012

Thanks Craig – you are a legend in your own lunchtime! I never knew that. It is probably the result of website-itis (translating far too many websites than is probably good for a gal and having to fight the “imprint” battle with too many customers). The word “imprint” for “impressum” has clearly brought me out in a rash so many times that I now have an allergy to it every time it’s mentioned. BTW: used your “we translate into English that sounds good to native speakers and not to Germans” argument only yesterday. Es saß – as the Germans say!

Amenel - January 21, 2012

“…because we do English that sounds good to native speakers, not to Germans.”

This is gold. Really.

5. Bjarne Poulsen (@bptranslation) - January 19, 2012

“…that small thing can really move them way up the list” – Very good point! I believe swift and relevant communication combined with a professional tone is what keeps me in business, even if I’m not the cheapest freelancer on the list.

6. patenttranslator - January 19, 2012

Speaking as an agency: I have never asked anybody to work for me for free, because that is something only slave owners and translation agencies do. There are other, less demeaning methods that I use to evaluate a potential translator.

Speaking as a translator: While I don’t use this kind of language in my responses to requests that I work for free for some kind of fly-by-night operation that is unable to evaluate a translator without forcing him to work for free, it sometime takes a lot of restraint on my part not to react in the same way.

7. Juan José Arevalillo Doval - January 19, 2012

Great post. I don’t have words to express that jungle behaviour, but it is not far surprising for me. I have read many, many times in translator forums recommendations to translators to send a #@$& message to a potential customer (normally an agency, of course) at different scenarios (the one you commented was one of them, just for nothing…).

In fact, it is a funny idea of negotiation with customers or prospects. 🙂

8. Oliver Lawrence - January 19, 2012

There is no excuse for disrespectful language or for making assumptions that tar everyone with the same brush (this applies to the ‘talented translators=sociopaths’ remark, too). Burning bridges is often not in one’s own interest.
And there are plenty of good translators out there who are nice to deal with.

9. Levent Yildizgoren - January 19, 2012

It is esential that we all defend the good quality practises in our industry. I therefore feel indebted to the writer of this blog to bring this up to the open for discussion. Not always easy thing to do.

I am translator and run a translation company, have been doing it for nearly 2 decades now. I am pleased to say we do not come across this sort of behaviour. On the other hand our company theme is ‘we are all part of the same team’. Respecting our translator colleagues and seeing them as part of our team has always worked for us. But to do this genuienly requires a lot effort on our part and we are happy to invest this time. That is namely: having a good and clear structure about the project management process, offering decent rates and knowing that happy people much prefer to work with us.

I recently wrote a blog called ‘7 Mistakes Freelance Translators Should Avoid’ purely based on my experience and I was flattered by the reception it has received.

There are amasing translators out there and I hope I will have the pleasure of working more and more of them in the coming years.

10. RobinB - January 19, 2012

Unlike Craig, we do require most applicants to do test translations without charge. These are standardised test translations that give us a good idea about where a translator’s strengths and weaknesses may lie. The test pieces also include revision tests so that we can assess the applicant’s ability to identify and correct errors. It goes without saying that none of these tests has anything to do with current projects. It’s probably also worth pointing out that the pass rate is very low.

What I haven’t quite understood though from the project manager at the agency is whether the translator in question already worked for the agency. The sentence in question:

“About a month ago one of my project management colleagues sent an e-mail to translators asking for interested freelancers to choose any of the different test translations attached (different areas of specialisation) and submit them along with their CVs and rates if they wished to be added to our new database (our old one is being scrapped because it and the information in it are out of date).”

doesn’t seem to make it absolutely clear whether translators were being asked to do test pieces because they’d never worked with the agency before, or because the agency has a new database. If the latter case holds true, then I can certainly understand – and even applaud – the translator’s response.

My experience is that a small number of translators are indeed “complete and utter sociopaths”, but probably no more percentage-wise than the population at large. However, I also think it’s possible to claim that a higher-than-average percentage of translators are what might be termed “part-time sociopaths”, in large part because the very nature of translation means that it does tend to attract a rather large number of people who do not possess finely honed social skills and who actually prefer to work by themselves.

@patenttranslator: “…work for me for free, because that is something only slave owners and translation agencies do.” But you yourself say that you are “speaking as an agency”. Something doesn’t quite add up there.

Angela - January 19, 2012

I am the project manager who wrote that e-mail to Jill.

The data for translators who have already done jobs for us in the past was migrated to the new database without any test translations (since we already know how the quality is, what a particular translator’s specialisations are, whether that person does better with technical versus marketing, for example). The test translations were only sent to translators we have never used who have either contacted us in the past marketing themselves or have ProZ or similar profiles offering the language combinations for which we desperately need more translators.

Having done more research on this particular “translator” it seems that he does not have translation qualifications per se (all I found was a reference to a master’s degree in English) and mainly works translating books from Italian into English. We searched our files (and the old database) and can confirm that he never did a job for us in the past. He seems to be one of those translators who just really hates agencies and we ended up a victim of his abuse because our resource manager (in charge of dealing with new translators quickly so we can get them on the database as soon as possible) sent the first “recruitment” message before Christmas and then sent a follow-up after Christmas but forgot to delete the line about Christmas in her follow-up message. It’s all very much an overreaction that has quickly made his name the most unforgettable name in our office — for all the wrong reasons.

11. céline - January 19, 2012

Of course nobody should ever be so rude in a professional context, but this reaction is so bizarre that I would assume that the translator has problems that go way beyond his dislike of translation agencies, and so I would just cut him some slack and not get too offended by it.

12. jennifer - January 19, 2012

A few people said that there are ways (plural) to evaluate one’s skills without asking them to do free work. Besides asking for samples of old works, what might those be? Of course this blog is for professionals and everyone assumes everyone to be professional, but every professional has to start somewhere – and our small, new agency is (as horrible as it might sound to you) finding a lot of less experienced, just out of school freelancers. So they might not have much to show. Besides, I tend to agree with RobinB in that a standardized translation sample makes it easier to compare and test for weaknesses/strengths.

Someone mentioned paying for a sample, not completely impossible. However, in our (not standard) situation, where only a small percentage of the interviewees can actually pass and start work, I think we wouldn’t go with it.

Any other suggestions?

Related to the topic, I also received a similar “F*** O**, enjoy your slaves” email to a sample request, AFTER he did it, poorly, apparently on purpose, then? Upon returning the sample he complained that the instructions (a few sentences) were in the original language (not the target, his native) and that there was a typo in the instructions, etc… When I nicely asked him about the “mistakes” (missing headlines etc), hoping there was a good reason, he exploded. And this was an experienced translator with his own company etc. I wonder how he managed his own, direct clients? All in all, I told him our rates etc conditions in the very beginning so I wonder why he bothered exchanging further emails and doing the sample. A simple “Sorry, this doesn’t work for me” would do. Basic human decency.

13. patenttranslator - January 19, 2012


I don’t understand what you don’t understand about my comment.

I don’t ask potential translators to do free tests for me because I think that it is morally questionable, to say the least, to ask people to work for me for free.

I can usually make a decision by looking at a resume and a prior sample translation. I do ask for sample translations.

It should be said that most agencies ask for a free test because they are usually unable to make a determination without a test. If the CK (Clueless Kid working as a project manager for an agency) does not understand the language and/or the field, how is he supposed to know whether the translator is any good without a free test?

14. RobinB - January 19, 2012

@patenttranslator: What I don’t understand is that you wrote:

“Speaking as an agency: I have never asked anybody to work for me for free, because that is something only slave owners and translation agencies do.”

So you said, speaking as an agency, that working for free is only something that slave owners and translation agencies do. But that you don’t do it, though you’re an agency, right? Don’t you find that confusing?

I can’t speak for “most agencies”. I think I can speak for high-end, specialised boutiques, and I’m sure I can say that there are no moral or ethical issues whatsoever about asking people to translate some standardised test passages for free so that we can gauge their ability to handle complex financial content. Translations are not experiments – ever – and I see no justification for paying people to do tests.

Or maybe we should adopt a different model: We pay them if they pass the test, they pay us if they fail. How about that?

Craig Morris - January 19, 2012

Just to make my position clear: when I say I “fork off” a passage so I can pay a person for a test translation, I mean I am taking a passage from work we actually need to do and farming it out. If I like what I get back, I’ll hand them something bigger.

What Robin seems to be talking about is fundamentally different, and I can imagine cases where I might be tempted to do that – send out the same text to multiple people to get a comparison (without pay). In fact, I write above that I “do not send out pro bono test translations to *established translators*.”

A few years ago, I decided to try out some newbies fresh from the university here. Tired of established translators who knew the industry terminology well but were impervious to my explanations of grammatical/punctuation niceties, I wanted someone whose English and German was rock-solid, and I would teach them the technical terms. I did in fact even pay for most of those test translations, though maybe not all of them. (The experiment worked fantastically well, incidentally, and the newbie is now my favorite translator on the team.)

So I dislike pro bono test translations because I know how they feel as a freelance translator, and as an agency you simply open yourself up to charges of exploitation. Instead of sending someone a template for a test, I tell them to wait until I have 30-50 lines I can pay them for.

15. Nicole - January 19, 2012

I would put that particular freelancer’s F*** response in the “bigger issues, deeper anger, ignore it” bin.
When people get that abrasive in a professional context then they really have lost sight of the bigger picture.

Clients aren’t above this either though – I got a response from a potential direct client the other day that in fact was just a CC on my quote being passed up the line, which read:

“For info. Let me know if you wish to go ahead. I don’t think its worth doing.”

The timespan and the person in question means it’s unlikely they really gave it much thought – but if it isn’t their decision to make anyway was there really any need to copy me in on that rather abrupt line?

16. Charlie Bavington - January 19, 2012

Understandable, certainly. Only last week, I had a call from an agency I registered with in 2006 or so, saying they were updating their database and would be emailing me to ask for info. The email duly arrived. Two pieces of info they were apparently lacking were my phone number and email address. Really? The reply given in Arkell v Pressdram was a whisker away 🙂

Acceptable? Clearly not.

Sociopaths? To an extent, yes. My experience in outsourcing is very small, but I would find it hard to argue against a proposition that people skills are lacking to a unusually high degree in this profession. And I used to work in IT, so I knows a sociopath when I sees one 🙂 But similar personality traits may lie behind both, such as attention to detail and need for the finished product to be just-so/bug-free.

(And anyone interested can visit my blog for my opinion on the nonsense that translators are the only poor downtrodden profession in the world that are required to offer “work” (which it isn’t – or shouldn’t be) for “free”. Although I suspect the word “nonsense” there may give the game away just a tad.)

17. Carolyn Y. - January 19, 2012

Harsh language is NEVER acceptable, no matter the situation. (Of course, I have to agree that calling others sociopaths is rather rude, too.) I like Nicole’s response “bigger issues, deeper anger,” however, that does not serve as an excuse. Why should someone who runs their own business ever have to choose to work with someone who is so angry and rude? I’m so sorry for your colleague! No one should ever have to bear the brunt of a stranger’s wrath.

18. Emily Tietze - January 19, 2012

I don’t understand where the ill-will against test translations comes from either. Although sometimes it can be hard to find time to do a couple hundred words free of charge, I’ve won almost all of my biggest clients through translation tests, and almost every single test I’ve submitted has led to significant amounts of work. I consider it part of marketing, and, by nature, marketing is not something that is directly compensated. One of my clients (whom I originally won over through a test translation) pays me to review translation tests submitted by other potential translators, and I can confirm, the pass rate is very low, and I’m sure that many of the non-passing translators have submitted glowing résumés and translation samples. Translation tests aren’t perfect, but they do have their merit.

Regarding translator-agency relationships, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve found that on the PM side, it is easy to form a grudge against translators because it is astounding how many times very experienced translators deliver late or don’t read instructions. On the translator side, it is easy to harbor resentment against PMs because they hardly ever look at the documents before sending them out for translation (“oh, there’s 500 words of text embedded in an image on page X?”) and so few of them have actual translation experience. Being professional and diplomatic in all circumstances (killing with kindness rather than profanity when you’re upset), goes so far.

19. Rebecca - January 19, 2012

After having read all the comments, I have to agree with the majority of people that have said that this type of behavior is simply unacceptable. Clearly this person took the effort to hit reply, type, and then send it off. If they felt that way about the agency, why bother?

In response to others’ comments about how to hire translators, I also believe that there has to be some sort of evaluation. Some have said that they request samples files, if not a test. How do you know that they haven’t tinkered with their sample files for days, weeks, months, to come up with the perfect sample? Wouldn’t a quick test be the easiest way to come up with an evaluation? Especially if you are working with a translator that may not be established or well-known in their field, or confirmed to be a good translator through word of mouth?

20. Sally Loren - January 19, 2012

I’m a one-woman band. I once received a mail from an American who actually sent a sample of the work he does. He was looking to expand his customer base. The quality was high. His prices were ridiculously low. I sent him a well-meaning and polite reply saying how much I liked his work, but that in my view he was selling himself short and could charge much higher prices (his translations were in a specialist area). I also stated that I would definitely pay him more. It was meant as encouragement. He then sent a response which beggars belief. It literally said that he didn’t need my “dumb opinion” and that he’d never found it easy to get higher prices and that I should basically mind own business. This was a great pity. A short time afterwards I did require someone in his area of specialty and he would have got the job if he’d responded more professionally. But as a result he shot himself in the foot and I gave it to someone else.

Every profession has its share of people who have a few screws loose. I’d just put this one down to experience.

21. Jenn Mercer - January 19, 2012

I have often thought that my days in customer service have served as good preparation for dealing with the interpersonal side of translation, but I did not know how low the bar could be. Good grief.

For my part, one of my best clients did request a test translation. As it was over 250 words, I asked for and received payment. I am not 100% opposed to smaller free translations, but these often get pushed back for other projects. Recently I refused to do a test translation because it was in the reverse direction and was composed of short phrases like “good morning” etc. I am not sure what the goal was, but with a testing process like that, I could not take the agency seriously.

22. tesstranslates - January 19, 2012

Of course not! Professionalism is what makes or breaks any business and any relation.

23. Wenjer Leuschel - January 20, 2012

In general, it is improper to ask “experienced” translators to do a test for free. But who is not an experienced one? Almost all the ones who apply for a job at my clients’ maintain to be experienced. When I have to make sure that they are really experienced ones, a test has to be done, at times paid and at times for free. It depends.

I wouldn’t ask such “established” translators like Jill, Céline, Charlie or Steve (or Mr. Vitek) for free tests if I happen to need their help, for I’ve been following them and know what they are capable of since a while. Instead, I would ask them to attend telcon of project briefings with other participating translators, in order to achieve the best possible proceeding of multilingual projects.

However, as agencies or PMs, we don’t have such opportunities that often, unless we have established relations with end clients who do not have their own language services departments. Most projects we receive are ones that happen to be there. And we need to get the translations done within certain time frames. Established translators are often unavailable or uninterested in such projects. We need a pool of translators, from green beaks to hard boiled eggs. Every translator has to begin from somewhere – association directories, online portals, employment at agencies or getting into the pools of agencies by translation tests. Marketing, some people would call it. As translators, we don’t have much choice as to fit ourselves into the existing structures, get us known to agencies or end clients and find a way, that suits us individually, to become “established.”

Before we get established, it is our personal choice whether to do tests for free or not. In my case, I did quite a few tests for free before relations to some agency/end clients got established. And, of course, I declined some tests as I accepted some tests, too. It all depends on my evaluations of the requesting potential clients. The same happens when I request (mostly paid) tests from some translators: they would accept or decline. There shall be no hard feelings whatsoever, even when the tests are pro bono. If one dislikes free tests, the mails go straight into the garbage bin or a simple “unavailable” as reply is perfectly all right.

As an experienced, established, veteran translator wrote correctly somewhere, there are a lot of emotions and power plays in our industry. On one hand, I understand Mr. Vitek perfectly when he wrote “I don’t ask potential translators to do free tests for me because I think that it is morally questionable, to say the least, to ask people to work for me for free.” I usually don’t ask translation colleague for free tests, either. But on the other hand, as Jennifer mentioned above, it is the “basic human decency” to decline an “unreasonable” request. It is always our own personal choice to submit ourselves to emotions or power plays.

Robin wrote, “I think I can speak for high-end, specialised boutiques, and I’m sure I can say that there are no moral or ethical issues whatsoever about asking people to translate some standardised test passages for free so that we can gauge their ability to handle complex financial content.Translations are not experiments – ever – and I see no justification for paying people to do tests.” How about a website getting its pages localized by the crowd for free? Do we know who did what in localizing the website, say, a website like ProZ.com? Isn’t it a an experiment?

Take TED talks for example, the subtitles are crowdsourced for free. We know who did such and such a subtitle and who is responsible for its quality. There is quite a pool of translators for us, as PMs, to choose for “high-end, specialised boutigues.” But as Mr. Vitek says, “If the CK (Clueless Kid working as a project manager for an agency) does not understand the language and/or the field, how is he supposed to know whether the translator is any good without a free test?” If I did not happen to understand several languages and several fields, how could I choose any for the “high-end, specialised boutigues”? Honestly, I see no justification for not paying people to do tests, especially when we are sourcing for “high-end, specialised boutigues.”

As a consequence of the above reasoning, I am of the opinion that we need to pay for tests one way or another. If we are “unable” to pay, we shall have the “basic human decency” to tell translators the truth and the translators shall have the “basic human decency” to politely decline our requests if they dislike the arrangements.

Exploitation and decent transactions happen everywhere in our industry. (For instance, a business model like this: http://nopeanuts.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/faligi-editore/). Business relations are based on mutuality/reciprocity. Should we notice the absence of mutuality/reciprocity, it is our professionalism that makes us quit a relation in a good manner.

To paraphrase Molière: “La traduction est comme la prostitution. D’abord vous faire pour l’amour, et ensuite pour quelques amis proches, et ensuite pour l’argent.” It is always our choice to be like a “professional translator” or whatever we like, for we may feel the necessity to write a dear client letter from time to time and grawlixes help venting the frustration of being the exploited.

Amenel - January 21, 2012

Maybe that a solution to the free tests vs non-free tests problem/debate would be making sample translations available on our website like I did? Of course, the translator has to have a website but who doesn’t?

Wenjer Leuschel - January 22, 2012

Well, Amenel, it could be a solution. But some people would say that you would never know how much time the translator tinkered at the sample or if the sample was done by the translator. Besides, clients usually need the translations accurapidly, so that they might want to know how well a translator can work under stress (tight deadlines). I tend to agree with Mr. Ellett´s point (a paid test works bilaterally), unless the two parties agreed otherwise.

Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini show in “How to Drive Your Translators Crazy” (http://www.bokorlang.com/journal/54agencies.htm) how translators can be on an equal stand with agencies, inspired by “How to Drive Agencies mad” (http://www.hansson.de/download/special/te7dovr61pxn/driving_nuts.pdf). It is not always bad agencies vs. good translators or bad translators vs. good agencies. People are different and they behave themselves differently. Some translators would even pay for a test or get certified with a badge made of seaweed.

24. Tom Ellett - January 20, 2012

A paid test translation works both ways: Besides allowing the agency to evaluate the translator, it enables the translator to assess the agency’s payment practices and creditworthiness.

25. Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) - January 20, 2012

IMHO, such language is NEVER acceptable in the professional world. Of course we all get frustrated or mad when we receive an email we don’t like from an agency. If you can’t find a polite (or at least professional) way to reply, just delete it. Who gives the translator (or any other provider for that matter) the right to talk like that to people they doesn’t know?
Thanks for this post Jill, it’s always great to see the agency’s point of view. I think we keep forgetting that they are humans too and should be treated accordingly. It reminds us that maybe we don’t rule the world, maybe we have to work on our work relationships like everybody else and we shouldn’t take anything for granted.

26. Madalena Sanchez Zampaulo - January 20, 2012

Thanks for this post, Jill. And I appreciate the comment by Catherine (@LinguaGreca): “…they are humans, too.” I find that if I am polite with the translators and proofreaders with whom I work and honest about the projects I send them, they tend to be professional with me and more than happy to work with me and my project managers. I feel like there can be such a stigma about working with agencies, but those who truly work with good agencies seem to be pleased with the work they get. One of my biggest pet peeves with individual translators is that many stereotype agencies with this “Wal-Mart” identity, when many of us who own agencies are actually running small businesses that are quite ethical. It’s always refreshing to know many individual translators and proofreaders do know the difference. So nice to see this on a Friday after a long week! And no, that type of language is never acceptable! The person would have been better off simply not answering at all.

27. Karen Tkaczyk - January 20, 2012

I’m in the ‘the guy has bigger problems – take a step back and ignore it’ camp.
It seems to me that we’re talking about emotional awareness. Anyone who has so little understanding of how something like this would be seen has no chance of succeeding in a self-driven profession like freelance translation. Indeed, I can’t imagine how he’d succeed in any profession.
And for what it’s worth, I don’t object to the odd free test. I did two in early Jan when I had hardly any work.

28. Mary - January 20, 2012

If this “translator” can do no better than communicate so inelegantly and without arguing his case reasonably and articulately then his personal crusade against presumed peanut-paying clients and agencies he considers to be “tricksters” is surely doomed to failure.

Charlie Bavington - January 20, 2012

Oh, do we know it’s the same person, then? Odd, that, because I nearly included a reference to this http://nopeanuts.wordpress.com/nopeanuts-humor/snappy-answers/ , a link to which I had been sent the same day as the link to here, and I was going to make a connection as regards the attitude, all that differs is the words used to express it. If it is indeed one and the same fellow, that would explain a lot. 🙂

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 20, 2012

I sincerely doubt it is the same person… This list is humorous – and I know that Danilo Nogueira would *never* resort to such rudeness. He is a professional through and through.

29. iouabook - January 20, 2012

I think the translator´s response gave away enough about him/her. 🙂 One is always subject to third party assessment, whether a client, a parent, a child,…. YOu have to to learn to live with that. 🙂

30. Steve Downie - January 20, 2012

While this is a fairly shocking story (I side with the people who put him in the ‘guy has issues, take no notice’ category), it’s heartening to read in the comments how many agencies/outsourcers use test translations to try out less-experienced translators.

I’ve only been in this business for a year, starting straight after graduation, and I’ve found that test translations have been an invaluable entry point into an industry where, understandably, experience is everything. For industry veterans, I see that being asked for free test translations might be annoying, but most of us seem to agree that professionals know how to say ‘no’ without burning bridges.

If you are angry with a client, read some David Thorne, laugh, feel better: http://www.27bslash6.com/kotex.html

31. Charlie Bavington - January 20, 2012

In truth, it wasn’t Danielo N I was thinking of. I have now seen his original

I was thinking of the chap who runs the website I actually linked to.

Compare and constrast, for example, the responses to the gambit about taking a loss on the project. DN’s original has a gently mocking tone, I would say. One or two of the amended responses and new content are indeed tantamount to the fairly blunt response quoted in the OP, without using quite as many f’s. Whether or not the author is one and the same (and not DN!), they are no doubt kindred spirits.

(Sorry, can’t reply to your reply to my reply!)

Wenjer Leuschel - January 23, 2012

So, Angela, I was the CK here until now. But I have a question for you: Would your company ask such established translators like Jill Sommer, Kevin Lossner, Steve Vitek, Charles Bavington, etc. to do a free test?

I wouldn’t, if I were a PM at yours. And I guess you wouldn’t, either. Like Mr. Vitek said, “While I don’t use this kind of language in my responses to requests that I work for free for some kind of fly-by-night operation that is unable to evaluate a translator without forcing him to work for free, it sometime takes a lot of restraint on my part not to react in the same way,” it would take me the same effort not to react in the same way.

As translators, all of us do have attitudes. Once Kevin sent out a tweet, reading, “Yesterday, ‘your quote is way too high.’ Today, ‘how about proodfreading?’ ESAD!” Well, that’s attitude and I agree with him. Should the company he works at ask me to do a free test, they would explain me in detail why they need an exception. That is, they never did ask for a free test. Either they have a job for me or they or they don’t. And I am pretty sure that neither Kevin nor I would tell an agency to f*$% off, except that we would vent our displeasure in tweets.

There was in 2009 a PM at a Swiss agency who asked me to do a free test referring to her colleague who used to work at another agency and who is well acquainted with me. I did the test and since then I work with them. One of their PMs asked me to do two paid tests last October, because they were not sure that the materials could be of my stuffs. I (my team) passed one of the test and the end client would like to contract me for the localization of the website. But I declined because I had too many jobs at hand and could not be sure that I would be able to take care of the quality assurance. The other test failed because of the writing style. Though the reviewer noted that he wonders if I understand German, I did not f*** off. I did not even blame my team members who did the QA because I could identify the reasons why it failed. Like one of my clients said, “Alle Kritik ist nicht ohne Eigennutzen.” I choose projects that are less likely to bring me and my team members some trouble afterwards. Why should I bother to argue with clients? I know the emotions and power plays among translation colleagues and between translators and agency clients to waste my time in commotions.

An agency based in China that recruits translators heavily at ProZ asked me to do a free test last November. I replied politely that I would be glad to work with them when they have something in my line, but that it is better that we save our time with free tests. I just don’t have the time right now and whensoever. They read Chinese and they can check online my publications in Chinese to figure out what I am capabel of. Either they have a job for me or they don’t, pretty much the same as I do with my team members – either I have a job for them or I don’t.

Paying for tests is a proper practice. One of my agency clients asked me last November to provide two EN>KO translators with a test in order to solve a problem with the branch office of an end client in Korea. We paid each translators for a test of the same text of 1000 words 120 EUR and both of them passed. So, I keep both of them in a team in collaboration with my previous Korean translator for the specific end client (whose translation was rejected because of a rigid style). The problem with the Korean branch office of the client is successfully solved and we have kept the contract for 2012.

Agencies and translators are translation colleagues. They are not necessarily against each other. However, mutual respect means mutual. From time to time, we might need free tests for specific clients. In such cases, we need to explain to our translation colleagues the reasons why. I would call it the least human decency.

In his case, it sounds shocking, but it’s kind of consequential because it could be the case that he doesn’t even know your company. Even if you know that Mr. Vitek and I would not do a free test for an agency that is unknown to us and that we are usually not rude, you wouldn’t ask anyone of us to do a free test, or would you?

Though I join the group from the very beginning, I have never had a problem with my clients. They respect my view of the business. They don’t ask me for free tests or they would explain why they need the test be free and how they would compensate for the test.

As said, mutual respect means mutual. Seth Godin’s blog may be of some help to understand what it means by mutual (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/01/trading-favors.html).

I wish you a prosperous New Year of Dragon!

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 23, 2012

Wenjer, I would never do more than one test translation for an agency. If an agency has a PM that has worked with me in the past they can vouch for me. I understand the instances you cited might require a test translation, but I too would weigh the value of it versus the time constraints in my schedule. It’s a judgment call and I have said no thanks plenty of times, but I would certainly never be rude to an agency for asking.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 24, 2012

Hi Jill, we are actually talking in the same line. In general, we don’t need to do twice a test. The two tests at the same time I did last October were of different stuffs and they were paid ones.

You see, German is not my native language (so that I could write “Alle Kritik ist nicht ohne Eigennutzen” instead of “Keine Kritik ist nicht ohne Eigennutzen.”) and the agency needs to make sure that I (my team) am suitable for such jobs. I don’t mind to be asked for a test, paid or unpaid, if it lies in my metier or fits in my schedule and if it’s from a company which is evaluated as potential. It depends on how tests are asked for. I would not decline a test in a rude way, either.

However, if I don’t even reply the request, it means almost the same as “F*** off!”

I was wondering that anyone should bother to reply with “F*** off!” before I knew it was who it was. But now I know why he replied that way. A “Wal*Mart approach” or what we call “cattle calls” are not the right way to do our business. Some people may not see any immorality in them. I do. Though I don’t fight against them in a rude way, I have my way to deal with them.

As said, I don’t have any problem with my clients, though I am for “No Peanuts!” I don’t even have the necessity to write a dear client letter, for there is never a non-payment issue since I became a freelancer 12 years ago. I don’t do business with people I don’t know or I don’t know how to make sure that I get paid.

Angela wrote that her company would ask you to do a test or provide her a similar sample and that it is not possible to pay all tests. That’s right. As an agency, we see the reasons why we cannot afford paying all tests. But cattle-called translators do not know the reasons. That is why we avoid cattle-calling translators. We pick out the potential translators and pay them for the tests or just ask them to provide relevant samples, as Angela would do with established translators. Or, like one of my clients did with me: He provided me all the materials to be translated by the end of 2010 and asked me to figure out how to proceed. The project started 6 months later with the right translators (me and my team) and lasted 3 months. The result turns out to be a successful marketing campaign in China around Christmas 2011.

You see, Jill, that’s the right way to do translation business, in contrast to cattle-calling (at portals like ProZ or TC).

32. Rose Newell - January 20, 2012

I am told that the agencies all have lists of “no-go” translators that they pass around at conferences. Usually your name would end up on there because you are a bad translator. It would seem very stupid to end up on such a list for a failure to restrain one’s language.

Sure, I usually refuse to do test translations – due to time constraints. I have enough paid work that I don’t really have time to take on more clients and work for free on the test translation. I would not have anything against doing a test translation for a quality client, though.


Jill (@bonnjill) - January 23, 2012

That’s a myth. There is no such list. They may talk amongst themselves, just like we are doing here. but there is no formal list being passed around at conferences.

Terena Bell, @ineverylanguage - January 24, 2012

I’d like to back Jill up here. I am not only on the national leadership council for the Association of Language Companies (ALC) but my company is also an active member of the Globalization & Localization Association (GALA). I’ve attended conferences for the ALC, GALA, and ATA-TCD. Never once in my life have I ever seen a list of this nature. I can also say with 100% certainty as a member of ALC leadership that our association does not have lists of this nature. Now Jill is right. If you really, really, really screw up a project, I will tell my friends. But I don’t email the whole association & say, “Never use Jane.” Instead, what happens is that Company X will say, “Do you have anyone great you’d recommend for German?” I’d then say, “Yeah, Jill and Ted are both great; here’s their information, and whatever you do, don’t use Jane.”

Speaking for myself now, and not on behalf of the ALC, I also think it says something about agencies that we DON’T have these lists. But freelancers DO. Freelancers have the ProZ BlueBoard, PaymentPractices.net, and the Translators’ Cafe Hall of Fame & Shame, not to mention tons of less reputable sites like GoTranslators.com’s blacklist and that horrendous “Bad Agencies, Bad Payers” LinkedIn group. As an agency owner, I like to think perhaps this is evidence that agencies aren’t so bad after all–that while freelancers are happy to formally blacklist us for the world to see, we’re not so quick to publicly accuse.

As an agency owner, it breaks my heart to see the way we’re stereotyped. Like many of my peers, I used to be a freelancer, so I know what it’s like. There’s truly nothing else in my life that I see stereotyped with such a wide and negative brush as the way many (note not all) freelancers stereotype agencies. If you put this into any other construct, this type of behavior would be classified as racist, sexist, ageist, or just plain wrong. Just because one or more members of a group have wronged you doesn’t mean we’re “all” this way. By nature of our jobs, we work in international or multicultural affairs on a daily basis. I would hope this would make us open minded. But prejudice against agencies is still that–prejudice–and it isn’t any less wrong than hatting women, gays, or blacks. And that’s what this man is to me–someone with hate, someone who’s blaming an entire group for one or many agencies’ actions, someone who prefers to stereotype than to openly engage and think.

Thank you.

33. Amenel - January 21, 2012

I didn’t read the comments but I am so outraged at the story that I had to post my own comment.

And no, such a behavior can never be understandable.

You know what, I have sent a few emails today as part of my never-ending email campaign and I wrote this just tonight:

“I am available to take the translation test at anytime this week-end or starting next Wednesday (January 25). Please note that you can already find 28000+ words worth of commented sample translations and localizations on the portfolio page of my website. All my comments are in French though.

I can also take a proofreading test as this is where I shine far brighter than other freelancers.”

The recipient was an agency that specifically mentioned that all freelancers are required to take a 250-word translation test. Almost thirty thousand words as samples and I am still offering to take even more tests than what they explicitly require. So my answer to Jill’s question is “no, it’s unacceptable and I cannot understand it”. It’s unbelievable.

34. Mary - January 23, 2012

Having guessed correctly and awarded myself a bag of Percy Pig sweets, I would like to make a few points.

Like the user of naughty words I too am a native English speaker working in Italy. I didn’t sign up for the “No Peanuts” campaign for various reasons which are too many to list here.

I will say this however: how on earth anyone can think that translators can “educate” agencies, or indeed other clients, and improve translation rates and other conditions by swearing at them beats me.

When replying to emails offering ridiculous rates I had fondly hoped that we translators would present a united front by replying, calmly and collectedly, by saying something along the lines of our rates being much higher and that nevertheless such rates are paid regularly by other translation companies in Italy, in the hope that they will eventually get the message.

To find that the person spearheading a campaign for improved rights for translators replied in such a way to an agency PM who merely asked for a translation test is a little disappointing, to say the least.

Angela - January 23, 2012

Very well written! You wrote exactly what I would have written myself as a freelancer.

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 23, 2012

I couldn’t agree more, Mary! Truly bad form. Not that I had signed up before, but I most certainly won’t now.

35. Angela - January 23, 2012

@Wenjer Leuschel
“Would your company ask such established translators like Jill Sommer, Kevin Lossner, Steve Vitek, Charles Bavington, etc. to do a free test?”

We probably would, or we would ask for a sample of previous work if they preferred that method. We’re not out to exploit translators, but obviously at the same time we can’t pay for every test translation, particularly when many of them do not meet our standards. And I’m not talking about unrealistic standards.

At our company we are all (every one of us, project managers included) either translators or have translation qualifications/experience. We do consider freelancers our colleagues and try to extend that mutual respect. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to ask to see some samples or ask for a test translation. That is a common practice in our industry and if it’s not a practice you take part in yourself, that’s fine. But I think it’s a stretch to say that it’s immoral.

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 23, 2012

And I for one would be okay with that. There are so many translators out there who can’t do a good or even passable job (I’ve been asked to proofread their work so I know) that I understand when an agency wants to make sure I know how to conjugate a sentence properly or read a sentence and know what they are saying (or, in some cases when the source text is poorly written, trying to say).

Wenjer Leuschel - January 24, 2012

Angela, neither do I see it disrespectful to ask to see some samples or ask for a test translation. It depends on the way how and whom an agency asks for samples or a test translation.

I am perfectly all right with tests and I have done many and declined many tests. I did not say it’s immoral because it is a matter of relations (or relationship) between individual translators to the agency. I have several end and several agency clients and almost all of them asked for tests or samples before the relations got established.

At the beginning of 2008, there was an agency A in Europe sourcing translators for a German manufacturer. They asked me to do a test and quote. Well, my quote was way too high. There came another agency B in Asia asking me to quote for the same project few weeks later. I stayed with my quote to Agency A. Nothing happened, but there came another agency C asking for a quote for review/proofreading of the same project three months later. I quoted the half of my quote to Agency A. Nothing happened. Another 4 months later, Agency A contacted me and asked me to figure out why the branch office of the end client in my country rejected the translations delivered. After a meeting at the branch office of the end client, I got the contract to fix the problems in the translations. Two months later, the marketing department of the manufacturer called me (I don’t even know how they got my name and phone number) and asked me if I would work with their other agencies along side with Agency A. I told them, there is a non-competition clause in the agreement between me and Agency A. They told me to rest assured that they would fix it in a week. Agency A sent me a revision of the agreement some days later. Since then I work with all agencies the manufacturer hires for their projects. The best thing is that we stay with my original quote and that they assign some engineers/employees for quality assurance of my translations (i.e., whatever I translate for them is endorsed by those employees). A test? The job of fixing the problems in the translations sourced by other 2 Asian agencies was the test. And it was paid decently.

If an agency cattle calls translators at translation portals without knowing them well enough, it is no wonder that the results most likely not to meet the “least” standards.

I do believe that your company is not out for exploitation. The problem is that there are more than enough submissive (or subservient) lambs at so many translation portals and why you have to pick out well-knowns for a cattle-called test? I wouldn’t ever come to the idea of cattle-calling articulated (established) translatortors. I would discuss with them about projects when my clients happen to need good translations.

36. Charlie Bavington - January 23, 2012

FWIW, I have no objection whatsoever to free tests for anyone. I don’t seek them out, and I’d rather not, but very little of my work is in the public domain and the little that is, by its very nature (websites) is liable to be tinkered with, so I rarely if ever use it as references. I may (or may not) be “established” and all that other stuff Wenjer said, but not *that* many people have read my translation of a full paragraph or two. So sure, I’m happy enough to be asked.

But surely the point at issue is not testing, but the more general question of (in)appropriate responses to requests that are not generally held to be utterly beyond the pale. He may think it was, but he was only asked to do a test, not for video evidence that he himself did the test or something. Just a test. I cannot think of a single objective that the reply “fuck off” achieves in those circumstances that could not have been achieved by other means. Perhaps I mean “positive objective”. I guess we are talking about him, and we all know there’s only one thing worse than being talked about… 🙂

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 23, 2012

He is welcome to do so.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 24, 2012

Charlie, I would wonder that he cares to defend himself outside of his websites.

As you correctly said, websites are liable to be tinkered with, many translators have experienced how the content of portals like ProZ or TC have been tinkered with. So, why should he bother to put his side here? All he has to say is on his own websites.

I got to know him, like I got to know you, through blog articles. I am not sure that I really know you, Jill, Kevin Lossner, Miguel Llorens or Mr. Vitek (well, he does not like to be called Steve by strangers; that’s why I name him Mr. Vitek) at all, but your articles reveal your attitudes. I respect all your attitudes like I respect his.

In short, sending him a cattle-call for test is kind of provocation. No wonder he responded that way. His attitude is clear enough. He is allergic to cattle calls, just as we would be allergic to non-payments. It is always our free choice to submit (or to subjugate) ourselves to any kind of practices. I guess, he has chosen not to.

And, Charlie, I would be more than happy, just like you, to be asked for tests, especially paid ones, by “potential” clients. Never would I reply with “F*** off!” Instead, I choose not to reply at all, if a request displeases me. People are of different attitudes. We can do nothing but respect their attitudes or retreat respectfully.

37. Charlie Bavington - January 24, 2012

Er, right. I was talking about tinkering in the sense of “improvements” which are no such thing, additions of a few lines here and there by whoever happens to be around the office with a smattering of English… anything which detracts from the quality of what I originally delivered, which can happen at any time.

I most definitely was not talking about the kind of behaviour whereby the owner of a website seeks to control or influence what people say in a discussion thread. You could well be right about proz and TC (well, you are right!) but what you have basically said is that he can’t trust Jill to simply post what he says, no more and no less. That’s quite an accusation.

And yes, no doubt the splendid Mr. did feel provoked. The questions are a) is anyone justified in feeling personally provoked when a request is made of them that is quite within the bounds of standard practice within the industry and b) even if they are, what are they trying to achieve by responding “fuck off” rather than, say, using their allegedly superior language skills to convey the same message as “fuck off” but without actually saying so, or replying with a straightforward “no” (“thanks” being optional under the circumstances) or indeed not replying at all? He can indeed choose or not to submit to anything. I’m just curious as to the justification for that specific response, and it would be nice to be able to read it here, now we actually know who is involved, rather than just some anonymous situation. ‘Tis all.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 24, 2012

Well, Charlie, let’s be fair and don’t put your words into my mouth. You see, the most effective censorship is a quiet censorship, some people say. I am sure Jill has the basic decency to declare me a persona non grata, should I have ever been rude to anyone at hers. But I don’t see that my expression of opinions could be such a case.

Though I cannot speak for the translator, his response to a cattle-called test can be somehow likened to Jesus’ behavior when He came to the Temple in Jerusalem. Some people would say, “Wow! How could you liken his rudeness to Jesus’ humble acts.” Well, think twice. People were doing the same “businesses” in Father’s House like people are doing businesses everywhere today. There was nothing immoral, some would say. It’s a matter of agreement. But why did Jesus turn the stands and tables in the Temple? Did He have any justification? Well, no wonder He got crucified!

There are too many “Unsitten” (bad practices) in our industry that have become “normal” just because of their repetitions. I don’t see why cattle-called tests should be a standard practice for our industry. However, I fully agree with your point b): there is no justification for rudeness, not even for Jesus. Everyone of us is entitled to be respectfully avoided. That is why I don’t suppose its necessary for him to come up and put his side here. He has explained his attitude in his blog articles as clearly as other translators do in their postings. So, no reply is also a reply. (Keine Antwort ist auch eine Antwort.) People are used to hear “no comment” without getting excited. Unlike militant religious foundamentalists, we are used to respectfully avoid attitudes that displease us, because we know that we can never be sure of the truth and we know well enough that it is about power and money in our business to submit ourselves to pseudo-standards of the existing structures. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are many, many possibilities/structures, so that even “sociopaths” can somehow survive as translators.

I appreciate it very much that we can discuss issues of our industry decently, even if we have different views or opinions on specific issues. I follow your blog postings, too, and I appreciate most of them very much. So, take good care, Charlie.

38. Tom Ellett - January 24, 2012

Am I the only one here who is a little concerned that the offending translator has been outed while the agency in question remains anonymous?

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 24, 2012

Good point, Tom. I know it’s a UK company. Angela, care to share?

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

@Tom: Thanks, Mr. Ellett, that you make it an issue. I was thinking of pointing this out, but I didn’t dare for fear of groupthought.

@Charlie: In case there might be some people who do not know what I am talking about with the likening of Jesus’ behavior at the Temple in Jerusalem, here is a short depiction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g77AcTbjFo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2RNecC68vk for the reasons why He must be crucified.

And here is something for the case of Jesus specially for you: http://www.mediterranees.net/romans/france/Procurateur.html or http://www.daily-pulp.com/literature/the-procurator-of-judea/ in English.

He may be rude replying a cattle call without a good justification, but his reasons for doing it can be understandable. Agencies who do such practices (cattle-calling, offering peanuts, etc.) mindlessly shall respectfully avoid him and his like – me and Mr. Vitek, for instance.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

And, Charlie, here is a somehow naive view of morality: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/paul_zak_trust_morality_and_oxytocin.html – It is rather naive, because it is not that simple for there is still 5% of the population who does not produce oxytocin and, for that fact, people have different awareness of morality.

39. céline - January 25, 2012

@Terena: You say “But prejudice against agencies is still that–prejudice–and it isn’t any less wrong than hating women, gays, or blacks.” I don’t quite agree with equating the prejudice felt by some in our industry towards a certain type of business model with homophobia, racism and sexism. Gay people, black people and women are killed every day for being what they are. Agency owners rarely are.

This, however, and the other comments, says a lot about the polarisation of feelings in the industry, which I knew nothing about, as I try and steer clear of organisations which seem to focus on the negative side of things, like the “no peanuts” site.

Amenel - January 25, 2012

Céline, I’m reacting to your message as a black man who has lived in mostly-white towns. I’ve heard “oh, comme tu parles bien français!” a million times as if French being my first language was an abnormality – the more I study other languages, the more I hear this comment – and I’ve felt the racist prejudice first-hand in other domains. Terena isn’t equating the prejudice towards with the one I’ve experienced. She’s equating the wrongness of the two situations. The core of the comment portion you quoted is in “prejudice […] is still that–prejudice– and it isn’t less wrong than [fill in the blank]”. Terena chose a filler that most of us find shocking, i.e. hatred. She could have chosen something less shocking like holding corporate companies in a higher esteem than proprietorships or being anti-technology or whatnot.

Personally, I make a difference between analogy and comparison so I didn’t perceive her comment the way you did. And I’ve been raised with the idea that there’s only one type of wrong, not several, no matter how serious the consequences of that wrongness can be. Wrong is wrong, prejudice is prejudice and prejudice is wrong.

However, I agree with your stance about focusing on the negative side of things. I’ve heard Mother Theresa used to say something like “count me in not when you fight against but when you fight to defend”.

Terena Bell, @ineverylanguage - January 25, 2012

Thanks, Amenel. That’s exactly how I meant it–to get people to think and to talk about the root principles behind the concept itself. Sexism, racism, ageism, etc all derive from someone taking one or more experiences with members of a group and using those experiences to stereotype the entire group. Some of the comments on this blog have done that–they’ve excused this man’s unprofessional behavior by saying things like (summarizing) he as probably sick of bum agencies, or agencies have a Wal-Mart mentality, etc. As an agency owner who used to be a freelancer, I just tire of this rhetoric. None of us have an excuse to be embittered at one man because of another man’s actions.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

Well said with Mother Theresa, Amenel. I used to say when I was in my study in Taiwan, “If you are talking about a revolution, you may count me out!” But then I went to Germany for further study, stayed 14 years there and wandered as a salesman in South America for another 7 years before I came back to my native land. The older I become, the less sure am I of what to defend. I work now as a freelance translator, PM and recruiter at several agencies’ and serveral manufactuerer’s. I am not against agencies, but I read almost everything he wrote about being a translator and find his writings are about defending the stand of translators. Maybe you shall read him before you judge him because of the “F*** off!” to a cattle call.

You see, I work with agencies and I know it very well that we translators are on an equal stand with agencies. It is not that translators work “for” agencies. In fact, we work “with” agencies. Agencies are our translation colleauges and we work with them “for” end clients. The problem with the polarization is that there is most of the time no transparency in the relationship to agencies and that it is because of the lack of transparency that leads to discrepancy and polarization.

Maybe I am just lucky to have gotten to know some agencies and end clients during my sales (and marketing) activities and know that there are reasons why translators need agencies and how agencies can work well with translators. I know the bad practices of agencies in general and in specific. What he is fighting for (not against) is that the agencies quit those bad practices – cattle-calling, for instance. I cannot explain well for him, but Miguel Llorens has an eloquent posting in his blog which I shall recommend reading to every translator and agency (http://traductor-financiero.blogspot.com/2011/11/whenever-i-hear-agency-owners-griping.html). There can be an end of the polarization if people understand what’s about translation and what’s about translation business. Enjoy reading.

40. céline - January 25, 2012

@Terena and Amenel: I disagree with the notion that racism and other -isms share root principles with some people’s dislike of translation agencies, but I wouldn’t want to highjack this thread with my own “chevaux de bataille” 🙂

Terena Bell, @ineverylanguage - January 25, 2012

No, go for it, Celine. If there’s another reason behind why people like this man think they have the right to take one agency’s behavior out on another agency, please do explain; as an agency owner I earnestly want to know how to better work with freelancers. But the general understanding in the industry according to everything I’ve read–including a few of the comments on this post–is that (step 1) certain freelancers are wronged by bad agencies, then (step 2) these freelancers are therefore weary of working for agencies in the future. If this isn’t stereotyping, I don’t know what is. It’s when this stereotyping turns to negative actions or hate (ie, the “f*ck you” comment) that we get prejudice.

Maybe it’s because my language pair involves French that I think this way. The French phrase for “to be prejudiced toward” is “avoir prejuges”–literally translated as “to have pre-formed judgments.” If a bad experience with one agency leads you to say “f*ck you” to a second without even asking why they need the sample or seeing if the situation could be handled another way, then, in my opinion, there are definitely some pre-formed judgments going on here.

I can’t tell you how many times we have freelancers be rude with us in the first interaction. Just last week our brand new project manager was introducing herself to ATA members working in our area. One man wrote her back, informing her multiple times that he had a PhD and insisting that he doesn’t work with agencies because agencies don’t pay enough for his PhD-awesomeness and in case we didn’t believe how wonderful and PhD-stupendous he was, he was attaching a picture of his favorite client. Scroll down and the man had attached a stock news photo of Bill Clinton getting out of a car. We had never worked with this translator before. He has no idea what we will or won’t pay. He didn’t have to be such an @sshole to my brand new employee who was honestly and earnestly just trying to reach out to him.

If there is another reason why many freelancers behave poorly toward agencies they’ve never had encounters with, I’d love to hear it. But the only excuse I’ve ever heard for behavior of this type–other than the translator being clinically off his rocker–is that agencies are bad & he’s probably sick of it, etc. And that, my friends, whether we want to admit it or not, is prejudice.

céline - January 25, 2012

To keep it simple, I don’t agree that someone is a racist or a homophobe because they’ve met one black person or one gay person who treated them badly, and subsequently decide that all black people and all gay people behave in the same way, which is what you say happens with freelancers and agencies. In fact, in my experience, a lot of the time, people who are racist or homophobes don’t know any black or gay people – their beliefs have very complex historical and societal roots, which I wouldn’t presume to know or understand fully. This type of deep-seated, historical prejudice leads to extreme consequences, like genocide and murder.

This is why your comparison with the way agencies are treated doesn’t sit right with me. Some freelancers don’t like agencies and are needlessly offensive and rude, which I find inexcusable and wrong, but not at all for the same reasons or prejudices that fuel -isms, and the end result of their behaviour, however upsetting, can hardly be compared.

I think that seeing their reaction for what it is, an idiotic and rude behaviour, could maybe lessen the upset that it causes, i.e.: “F*ck off agency!” >> “Wow, calm down you crazy idiot” instead of “I’m so upset that we’re being prejudiced against in this way”.

41. Charlie Bavington - January 25, 2012

Cripes, Wenjer, you trying to bludgeon me into submission through some kind of death by hyperlinks? 🙂 As you’ve said, I’m a fantastically successful man, and my butler has driven over to the hunting lodge in the Bentley to tell me he thinks I should probably respond. I’m gonna have to cut to what I assume is the chase (ba-doom tish) here:

“He may be rude replying a cattle call without a good justification, but his reasons for doing it can be understandable. Agencies who do such practices (cattle-calling, offering peanuts, etc.) mindlessly shall respectfully avoid him ”

So, after all that, we agree?
You agree he’s rude (I’m taking “may be” as a reluctant acknowledgement!).
I said I “understood” it back in my first post.
Just to clear – I understand why racists stab black people. I understand why distressed wives murder their husbands. I don’t agree with it – I just understand how it happens (I think!).

I still like to know what exactly anyone who replies to anyone under the circs with what is likely to be taken as fairly offensive language is hoping to achieve, but I guess that will remain forever a mystery.

I’m only quoting the last bit there so I can laugh and point and say “respectfully”? Really? Are you shitting me? 🙂

Unless any fresh information emerges, my further participation in this thread is likely to be minimal. That said, short points are more likely to provoke a response than pointing me in the direction of hours of videos. (Which I won’t watch anyway!)

42. Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

Thanks, Charlie, for the explication of your stand and for showing your attitude more clearly.

In fact, we agree a lot. We agree to understand such rude behavior and we agree to disagree racists stabbing colored people or distressed wives murdering their husbands. I am not apologizing for his “f*** off” or Jesus’ turning over business people’s stands and tables. I just say, I understand the reasons why. And believe me, none of the reasons can be put as “embittered at one man because of another man’s actions.”

What I don’t understand is why people should demonize him. He is just a man, imperfect, like Jesus. Their rudeness is forgivable when we understand the reasons why, while we don’t have to agree with their rudeness. Or should a Christian agree with whatever Jesus did? I don’t.

It’s all right, Charlie. We can stop the discussion here. And thanks for your honest opinions.

Anonymous - January 25, 2012

Okay. Could we seriously stop talking about Jesus on here? This conversation is turning sour when we stop talking about the topic and start interjecting our own religious beliefs or lack thereof. When I read your comment and all I want to respond to is that Jesus WAS perfect, we’ve gotten COMPLETELY away from the topic. The topic is professionalism, which I believe is missing here because Instead of agreeing that saying “f*ck you” is something you shouldn’t really say in a professional construct, the two of you are bashing Jesus and making religious statements that some of us may vehemently disagree with. I mean, honestly. Jill, can we not cut this conversation off at the pass before it gets even more offensive to those of us who DO believe in the Biblical Christ?

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 25, 2012

I have a feeling this is going to end soon. Otherwise I will turn the comments off. I am loathe to censor people though. Although Wenjer, most people avoid topics like politics and religion in a professional setting. Just saying…

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

@Anonymous: It was not “f*ck you,” but “f*** off.” It is about PROFESSIONALISM, not about on the street. And I CONDEMN such language in TRANSLATOR PROFESSION, all right?

Charlie Bavington - January 25, 2012

“the two of you are bashing Jesus and making religious statements that some of us may vehemently disagree with” – if I may interject, I tihnk only one person mentioned Jesus, and I deliberately made a very conscious decision not to respond to those particular elements of his posts.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

Jill, I would suggest that you censor irrelevant comments and wait for Angela’s reply before you turn the comment off.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

By the way, it’s never been about religion or politics. It’s about power and money. The discrepancy between translators and agencies is about power balance and just distribution of money. Think of this and we find the reasons why he wrote “f*** off” in reply to a cattle call of an agency.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

Charlie, you know what, I used to say that it is easier to love the mankind than to love our neighbors who compete against us for resources or popularities – that is why Jesus tried to teach us to love our neighbors. Love your translation colleagues, no matter they are agencies or fellow translators.

43. patenttranslator - January 25, 2012

I missed most of this discussion and now there are too many comments to go through them.

But I do want to respond to people who say that “it is never appropriate to use such language”.

I disagree. Under certain circumstances, it is the only appropriate response. Here is an example:

Shortly after I arrived to San Francisco from Germany in 1982, I was on a date with a girl I just met. Her name was Nanette. We went to see a movie and then as I was walking her to the metro on Market Street which is pretty dark at night, a dirty, stinking bum approached us and asked for change in a somewhat threatening manner.

Because I was new to this country, I did not quite know how to react to something like this. But Nanette sure did: She gave him a fierce look and said:”F**k off! It worked like magic, the bum quickly disappeared to wherever he came from.

Nanette was absolutely breathtaking when she was uttering those simple, yet so eloquent words.

Perhaps the translator in question felt something very similar to the rage that Nanette felt at that bum years ago.

Wenjer Leuschel - January 25, 2012

I like the story, Mr. Vitek.

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 25, 2012

Apples and oranges, Steve. This was not a professional interaction. It is never okay to be acting on behalf of your company and use this language. On the street, sure. But in an e-mail to a colleague, potential client or agency? Never!

Charlie Bavington - January 25, 2012

I agree entirely that there are plenty of occasions when a spot of industrial language is precisely what is required. Not that it is necessarily the only option, but a perfectly valid one.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that when using an unexpected register, shall we say, the kind of situations when that register can be appropriately used and the relationship may therefore be implied is just as much part of the issue as the actual words used.

44. patenttranslator - January 25, 2012


A professional does not ask another professional for spare change or a free sample.

Stinking bums do the former and agency operators the latter.

Do you see the similarity now?

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 25, 2012

Steve, I’ve stated from the very beginning that I have no problem with being asked to do a test translation. We should just agree to disagree.

45. Jill (@bonnjill) - January 25, 2012

I don’t know about you all, but I am stressed out with a big translation. I don’t have time to moderate this discussion. Can we please just stop now?

RobinB - January 25, 2012

Hi Jill,
I think when somebody starts comparing a translator (and not just any translator, but the one whose unacceptable outburst started this whole thread!!!!) with Jesus, and somebody else compares unpaid translation tests with panhandling by unwashed streetdwellers, it does rather tend to confirm my impression that there are probably too many people in our industry who have so much time on their hands that they’re willing to argue about just about anything.
Do you have the ability to switch off this thread before somebody gets really hurt?
Like you, back to work (and please regard comments on this post as being switched off).

46. Jill (@bonnjill) - January 27, 2012

Reply from Angela:

I just had a chance to catch up on the blog comments and wow! I wasn’t expecting people to get so heated about it. In the interest of fairness, I thought I’d e-mail to tell you that I work for Surrey Translation Bureau. I don’t want anyone to think that I just wanted to call him out for his rudeness and make his life difficult — far from it. He is never going to change, certainly not because of something I do, anyway, and I see no reason to beat a dead horse.

But I do believe in accountability which is why I’m telling you the agency name, so that all the cards are on the table for your readers.

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