Everyone knows you can’t get something for nothing…or can you? These days, it seems that many big name Internet properties, particularly those involved in social media, are trying their darnedest to get users to contribute their knowledge and expertise with no promise of remuneration, a practice commonly referred to as crowdsourcing. But as a professional translator, should you offer your services for free? Are there situations where it’s worthwhile to work without expectation of payment?
Translators devote significant amounts of time and effort to research terms, compile glossaries, and craft the language of their translations, and most are adamant about being paid a fair wage for what they do. Many translation professionals see crowdsourcing and the like as exploitation, preferring to work on personal projects or other endeavors if they have extra time on their hands.
Although not alone in the hunt for unpaid volunteers, the social network LinkedIn really managed to ruffle a few feathers two years ago when it asked members who are professional translators if they’d be willing to translate the site “for fun” or in exchange for nothing more than a profile badge. This move generated a great deal of controversy, with members noting that such requests devalue the translation profession—a vocation that already struggles for recognition.
Others argue that if one is keen on working for free, it’s best to do so for a non-profit. Translating for a non-profit organization can help translation students or recently graduated translators gain experience and build their resumes, all while working for a good cause. Many seasoned translators volunteer their time or charge a reduced rate as a means of giving something back to the community.
There are, however, certain instances in which it may be beneficial for linguists to donate their time and skill to profit-making ventures. For newly minted translators looking to build a name for themselves and get their foot in the door, collaborating with large websites may prove worthwhile.
For example, in May 2010, TermWiki was launched. The site encourages users to contribute translations with the goal of “collecting every single term in every single language, to be made freely available to the world.” In addition, the site’s “My Glossary” feature allows users to build glossaries for sharing with friends and colleagues.
The advantage for translators looking to gain a bit of name recognition is that TermWiki links the users’ names, the companies they represent, and their professional details to each entry submitted to the site. The company promises exposure to participating users as their contributions rise to the top in the search engines.
For experienced translators with limited free time, these types of projects are not terribly sensible from a business standpoint. Whether one enjoys participating on a personal level is another matter altogether; however, it’s wise for professionals of any stripe to think twice before offering their services free of charge.