1. “How many words does the average translator translate per day?”

This varies greatly, but I believe that most translators output between 2000-3500 words per day. This will depend on many factors such as familiarity with the subject, work environment, available resources and experience. Translators who work with translation memory tools and often have similar or repetitive texts may output more than 5000 words in a day.

2. “I’ve been asked to give a quote for a “large translation” (i.e. about 40,000 words). Should I give some kind of volume discount?”

Some translators do give discounts for texts of more than about 10,000 words, but then there are others who find that texts of that length are not unusual (they mainly seem to translate things like computer or technical manuals) and still others who feel that no discount should be given at all, given that the 33,437th word will require just as much effort on your part as the 5th word. I personally fall into the latter category, so I’m afraid I really don’t know what type of percentage might be considered standard. Certainly no more than 5%, I would imagine.

Other things to bear in mind if you’re considering offering a discount: Will you be using translation memory tools? (if so, and depending on the document to be translated, how will that affect your work in terms of speed, repetition, recovering investment cost etc?) Will the client be flexible in terms of deadline so you don’t have to risk repeatedly turning down all your other clients while you work on this project? Will the client agree to make payments in installments (and are you willing to give a discount for the convenience of having that cash in hand a bit faster?)? Do you think this could turn into a regular and interesting business relationship?

3. “Do you translate into your non-native languages?”

No. I’m an advocate of translating only into your native language (I’ve only ever met one person I would consider truly bilingual, and it isn’t me!). I know some translators with an excellent near-native command of English, say, and they might well do an overall better job than some native English translators, but I would still always recommend that if you do decide to translate into your non-native language(s), you should always, without fail, hire a native speaker to proofread your work. I personally would certainly never accept work into Dutch or French myself.

4. “I really underestimated what it would take to finish this job – can I charge the client more than what we initially agreed upon or do I make a loss?”

This is for you to decide, but I personally would charge the client what we agreed upon and swallow the rest as a valuable lesson learned. I’ve made this mistake before when quoting a direct client a flat fee for a couple of diplomas he needed to have translated. I’m terrible at estimating word counts and it turned out to be almost double what I had thought. In this case, it wasn’t major – I only underestimated by about $45, but it was still frustrating. However, I would not charge the client extra, it was my mistake after all. Just as I sometimes have an agency client who asks if I can proofread a text and says they can pay me for a maximum of 3 hours: I’m not going to stop proofreading if I’ve reached the 3 hours and have one page left, and I would still only charge for the 3 hours we agreed on. I think you have to be a bit flexible in this business.

5. When should you get paid? Some agencies keep you waiting for 60 days. Do you have to go along with that? What is reasonable?”

Only you can decide what you find acceptable or reasonable. If you agree to wait 60 days for payment, that is your choice. That appears to occur more often in Europe – in the US, most standard terms are 30 days net, in my experience. You need to take into account the standard practice of the country your client is in and feel comfortable with the terms you negotiate. Personally, I find anything more than 30 days net, 45 tops, unreasonable but others appear to be much more accepting of long payment terms. It boggles my mind when I read things like the following, which once appeared on a translators’ mailing list and had to do with an agency well known for being late payers:

“Most of the projects are very interesting, however, they take forever (up to 6 months) to pay. They do pay eventually but only after several reminders. PMs are very cooperative and nice to work with.”

?!?!? Why would you put up with that? SIX months?! Having to waste your time chasing up payment with reminders?! So, to each his own – you have to determine for yourself what you are and are not willing to accept.

6. “I don’t belong to any translator association because not having any real work experience as a translator I am a bit reluctant to do so and I don’t like the fact you have to pay for it.”

I’ve received a good number of jobs from people finding me on the Northern California Translators Association online database. The $45 annual fee is certainly worth it (to me). Many local organizations also plan events, such as talks by experts in the field or picnics, and it’s a good way to get to know some colleagues and keep in touch with what’s happening in our profession. Don’t worry about experience – that’s not a factor in whether you can join or participate. In fact, it may well be most beneficial to the “newbies”.

7. “When I look at your “library” I see a lot of translators’ books. I’m sure they’re not cheap and I couldn’t afford ALL of them instantly. Is there THE book for beginners that you could recommend?”

Books can be expensive but there’s no need to get them all right away. With a limited budget, I would suggest spending your money on resources specific to your language combination first rather than on a general translation book. To read about translation as a profession, I would get those books from the library and maybe just take notes or make copies of the sections most pertinent for you. You’ll probably read those books once, whereas you’ll refer to language-specific resources countless times for years to come.

Good dictionaries in your source and target languages are absolutely essential. Some resources, such as eurodicautom, are free on the web and very useful, but especially field-specific ones (legal, medical, technical etc) can cost up to several hundred dollars but are worth every penny when you can refer to it often and be confident that you are producing an accurate translation. I once had a teacher who said you should put at least 10% of your earnings right back into your business to invest in resources, marketing etc.