Branching Out: The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Work

Translators work in a variety of contexts, whether independently as freelancers, with an agency, or as a manager and/or editor within their own agency. The career trajectory that some choose to pursue, after entering the industry under the wing of an agency, is to branch out on their own as a freelancer. Armed with the knowledge and experience they acquired at said agency, these guys are ready to conquer the world. But what happens when things are going too well, and they can’t handle all the work coming in?

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Many freelancers worry about building their client list so that they have enough work coming in on a consistent enough basis to pay the bills. But the other side of the coin is managing that work so that you’re not inundated and turning away clients who then look elsewhere. When the risk of turning away business arises, freelance translators may choose to find other freelancers and outsource the excess work. This can obviously be a positive development in their career and can mean growth for their fledgling business. But it can also carry some risks of its own.

The immediate benefit of outsourcing extra work is that a client list can continue to grow and create more consistency of work coming in. Translators may find that they have jobs on a more regular basis, as they can accept work without having to worry about high volume times, since they have a backup translator or two to help out. It can also allow them to be more choosy regarding the types of translations that they do—focusing on particular areas of interest, and doling out the others to the people they hire.

In these cases, specialization can take root not only with the independent translator, but also with the people that he or she hires to help out. However, it is important to remember that a certain amount of time may be required to sufficiently train the freelancers in their particular area. Whenever outsourcing occurs, the person who outsources the work and maintains client relations is ultimately responsible for the quality of submissions.

Indeed, translators who began their careers working for agencies may underestimate the amount of time required to train the freelancers that they outsource to. There may be a learning curve to consider when working with others to achieve consistency in translations, especially with highly technical terminology or in cases where the client has set expectations regarding how they want certain terms translated. This is important particularly if the outsourced work is for regular clients in order to free up more time for newer clients. Any time there is more than one translator working on documents from a particular client, consistency will be an issue that is front and center and that will require some time dedication, at least initially.

In the process of outsourcing extra work, some people will find that they have a talent not only in doing translations but in managing the work of others. And if that is the case, he or she might consider hiring translators who work with other language pairs. Of course it would be important to make sure qualified and reliable proofreaders are on hand to ensure consistency and accuracy with the other language pairs.

Ultimately, the option to outsource extra work can be highly rewarding for freelance translators who have a real talent for what they do. But they should also be aware that doing so makes them accountable to the work of other people, and will most certainly end up being more time-consuming with the addition of new tasks that must be managed.

Translation: It’s History and Trends

The term “translation” hails from the mid-fourteenth century with an etymological base in the Latin word translationem, a noun of action from the stem of transferre. It also shares roots with the word from Old French meaning “the rendering of a text from one language to another.” The verb form in English, translate, is from the Latin translatus, literally “carried over.” Interestingly, the word translate replaced an earlier word in Old English which carried a similar though not exact meaning, awendan, literally “to turn, direct.”

Beyond the etymology of the word, the act of translating texts has a long history that is intricately connected with human religious, artistic and scientific expression. From the Bible to the travels of Marco Polo along the silk road and beyond, the diffusion of knowledge and cultural heritage—and, indeed, cross-cultural interaction itself—owes a great debt to history’s translators. As many would expect, the bible still holds the title of the most-translated book. But according to the Guinness Book of World Records, another book holds the title of most-translated for a living author—O Alquimista, or The Alchemist, by the Brazilian Paulo Coelho.

The First Translation of the Bible Into English – Ford Madox Brown (1847)

And if you’re interested to know what the most-translated languages are, UNESCO actually keeps a running tally in its Index Translationum. According to the index, the most-translated source language in the world (through 2011) is English, followed by a distant French. It lists German as the language most translated into, or target language, followed more closely this time by French.

You can also find a list of the most-translated authors within the index, with a few surprises. Despite being the author of the most-translated book by a living author, Coelho actually didn’t make the list of the top-50 translated authors. Coming in first on that list is Agatha Christie, followed by Jules Verne, William Shakespeare, Enid Blyton, and Vladimir Lenin filling out the top five spots. Indeed, the former USSR block makes a good showing on this list, with the region contributing a total of seven authors.


How Much Does a Translation Cost?

As the most common question that a person looking for a translation provider has, it sounds deceptively simple. How much a translation costs is the first and sometimes most important piece of information that a potential client wants to know. However, this can only be determined by a translation provider after taking into consideration a few different factors, which we’ll discuss here.


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Perhaps because it sounds like a simple request, clients will often call or send an email asking for a price quote with little or no information on what they need. In these cases, being able to look at the document—or a sample, at a minimum—will usually provide all that a translator needs in order to accurately gauge how much it will cost to complete.

If it is not possible to send the document in question or a sample, here are some things to consider:

Because of globalization, professional translation rates can vary widely, from $0.06 to even $0.25 per word or more. The languages involved affect the rate—as translations dealing with rarer languages will generally have higher rates than those of more widely-known languages. And the complexity of the text and subject affect the rate as well, which is why simply stating the source and target languages is not always enough to provide a rate quote.

The best way to get (or give) an idea of how much a translation will cost, is to evaluate the time required to deliver the translation in addition to the amount of words, the complexity of the subject matter, and of course the target and source languages as well. When counting the words, it is best to go by the number of words in the source text, so that the client has a clear idea of what his or her cost will be prior to submitting the work. The time required to complete the translation should also be taken into account, which the complexity of the text also affects, so that the client knows beforehand whether the translation can be completed by their deadline. And as mentioned above, the source and target languages will also affect the rate.

In addition to the number of words and the source and target languages, a client should also include information regarding the document format and their deadline. Providing this information up front can help a translation service provider answer that common question of how much something will cost in a more timely and accurate way so that everyone can get on with the business at hand.

Should Translators Proofread Documents Translated by a Machine?

It is becoming more common for agencies and freelance translators to get requests for proofreading translations done with a machine translation tool. As we’ve discussed before, these are tools such as Google Translate—the most widely used machine translation tool available—which use algorithms to translate text that you put into them. These tools have many shortcomings, some of which we have discussed in this blog, which can be problematic for anyone seeking a professional and accurate translation service.

Because there are some very common and obvious mistakes which these tools tend to make when producing the output, you can easily spot text that has been translated by a machine. Moreover, anyone can verify whether one of these tools has been used by simply copying a paragraph of the source text and translating it to the target language in Google Translate. But in the event that someone does decide to use a machine translation tool, they’ll have to be prepared for extensive editing prior to submitting the work.

And for those who have tried this method, thinking it would save some time, it quickly becomes clear that editing machine-translated text actually uses significantly more time than just translating the document from scratch. With the lure of a potentially time-saving aid, it might just be a process that each person needs to go through, and an option that understandably would tempt a client. But in the end, a professionally-done translation is just a much better option.

Are you a translator? Click on the image below and tell us if you would accept to be paid a proofreading or editing fee to correct this translation made with Google Translator.


Should translators be paid by the hour or per word?

It is far more common for translators to quote a per-word rate to their clients than an hourly rate. Yet hourly rates still persist in some particular cases. There are many reasons why per-word pricing is the norm and preferred by both clients as well as translators and translation agencies. Chief among these is that clients can better calculate costs. It’s much more difficult to get an idea of how much a translation will cost when all you know is an hourly rate, and not necessarily how long it will take to finish. And it’s particularly helpful when comparing the rates of one translator to another, when it can be difficult to accurately gauge how quickly each would complete projects relative to their rates.

Per-word rates also provide an incentive for translators to work quickly and efficiently, which is also better for the client. But it benefits the translator, too, as they can ultimately be more productive and earn more with their work. It may also encourage the use of tools to help increase efficiency. Yet despite the benefits, there is still another side to the coin for translators. Some documents may take much longer to complete, due to legibility issues or a higher difficulty level of the content. Charging by the word, in these cases, can benefit the translator less as their per-word rate undoubtedly would have taken into account how quickly they can translate. In these cases, some people choose to include a rate specifically for editing which is per-hour rather than per-word.

One thing that newbie translators, or those branching out to do independent work, should remember is that there is a difference between source word and target word rates. The former refers to a rate based on the number of words in the original document, while the latter refers to the number of translated words upon completion. Different agencies and freelancers may choose to go with one or the other. But it is ultimately more convenient for the client to be quoted a per-source word rate. Why? It lets them know exactly what the cost will be before you even get started.

The final thing to take into consideration when deciding how to charge your clients is whether to go with a per-page rate. It is not uncommon to receive a fax (even these days) or a scanned version of a document that cannot be easily converted into text. This kind of rate is less common than the more popular per-word rates or hourly rate. Which rate works for you will depend on the type of work that you typically receive.

However, charging per page is different than the page rate that some agencies and freelancers quote, which often is a way of referring to a set amount of words (for example, 200 words per page.) So it’s always important to be clear what you mean by “per page” (physical page or predetermined number or words) and “per word” (source word or target word) when negotiating rates.

Social Media, Latinos, and the New Marketing Environment

As the marketing atmosphere changes and evolves faster than ever with new technological developments and new ways for companies to connect with their customers, we are seeing more companies reach out to their Spanish-language audiences. One way that they are doing this is by translating their web pages into Spanish. But they’re also going further than simply providing information to the Latin American and Caribbean markets in the Spanish language.

Marketers tend to follow media use among groups very closely in order to know where they need to be marketing their products, and how they need to be marketing them. So it’s natural that they have taken note recently of a marked increase in social media use among Latino populations in the U.S. as well as throughout Latin America itself. While some social media sites that are obscure in the U.S. have a wider audience in the Latin American region, like High 5, the most popular site globally—Facebook—has become far more popular among Spanish speakers just in the past year or so.

Even a disappointing IPO earlier this year has not detained the growth that Facebook is currently experiencing in the Latino market, nor has it watered down the interest that companies have in reaching its user base. The social media analytics company, Socialbakers, published a new infographic a few months ago which shows that this user base has increased by 47% over the past year, reaching 168 million active monthly users in the region. In a word, it’s transforming the way products are marketed to Latinos.


Source: Socialbakers

And as this population becomes more and more the focus of companies with an international or regional reach, various kinds of information will increasingly be available in the Spanish language. Now, it is not only that Google and Facebook are available in Spanish, but the content which they disperse is, too—in the form of advertisements, web pages, videos and more. As a result, the companies that will most successfully manage this new environment and use it to their benefit, will be the ones that can seamlessly go from an English-speaking audience to a Spanish-speaking one, and back.

As with so many other professions, localization professionals and Spanish translators may very well find their new home in marketing and social media in the months and years ahead.

The Importance of Providing Written Translations of Company Policies

While US labor laws require that employers provide translations of certain kinds of information regarding company policies to Spanish-speaking employees, the laws which are currently on the books do not necessarily cover all of the information that these employees require. As a result, it is not unheard-of for employees with limited English abilities to be unaware of their rights as workers, or unable to exercise them to their fullest capacity.

The most intuitive area that affects these workers are policies regarding anti-discrimination. Unfortunately, discrimination in the workplace is still something which occurs and which is a topic of concern among labor advocates. And while companies usually provide some form of translation of their policies, as required by law, the information is sometimes incomplete. Further, the form which those translations take can also complicate matters.

A relevant case which reached the federal court in Colorado dealt with a sexual harassment complaint which a Spanish-speaking employee brought against some co-workers. Although the company had provided a Spanish-language video explaining some of the information in the companies pertinent policy, the actual policy itself—with complete information—was never provided to the employee in Spanish. In addition, the interpreter that was available at the work premises to foster communication between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking employees—including between the employee who filed the lawsuit and those she was accusing—was implicated in the complaint. As a result, the employee felt that she could not resolve the issue directly with the parties involved.

In situations such as this, it behooves an employer to provide written translations of company policies in their entirety to workers who speak Spanish. It may be the case that if these translations were provided, beyond what the law requires, a costly escalation of the case could be avoided—a benefit to everyone involved, including the company itself. Even if a similar situation never arises, the company can rest assured that they have taken sufficient measures to anticipate any possible issues, and know that they have covered their bases. Written translations also offer the additional benefit of being evidence that Spanish-speaking employees have indeed been informed of company policies and their individual rights.

Communicating for Life: The Language Barrier in Health Care

Learning a foreign language for the purpose of living in another country goes beyond mastering the basic conversations one might have on a street corner. With the complexity of life, comes the wide variety of situations that a person must know how to navigate in their new language in order to get by. But even for those who are conversational or, indeed, fluent in the language of their host country, communication in the context of health care can prove to be a daunting challenge. Because it comprises a highly technical vocabulary, a simple conversation with a doctor or nurse can easily call for a number of words that the patient may never have come into contact with before.

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Unfortunately, this has the effect of preventing some groups of people from even seeking the care that they need. A recent study conducted by a team of researchers at Northwestern University found that non-English speaking Latinas in the US are less likely to receive an epidural during the birth of their first child than English-speaking Latinas and non-Hispanic patients. The language barrier that these women experience in the delivery room, for example, actually prevents them from knowing what their options are and making an informed decision regarding their health care. And that’s only one example. The ramifications of this barrier extend to anyone who has limitations in English and has ever required medical attention.

The stress that an immigrant can experience in a doctor’s office comes from all sides: unfamiliarity with common local medical practices, differences in attention to patients, even the appearance of health care facilities may be quite different from what the person is used to. Add to all of that the language barrier — amplified by a highly technical context — and the result can be a very intimidating experience.

The benefit of studies such as the recent one from Northwestern is that healthcare providers can start to understand the difficulties that Latinos and Latinas face in seeking and receiving care in the US, which can begin the process of finding ways to mitigate them. Whether it’s having a Spanish-speaking employee on hand, or creating issue-specific pamphlets in Spanish with basic information to get the conversation started — institutions and health care providers have a number of ways they can respond to this need.

FUNDEU and RAE: Two Essential Sites for the Good Use of Spanish

Spanish, like most modern languages, is suffering from a lack of care and a candid disregard for the correct use of grammar, punctuation, spelling and tense.

Indeed, it is particularly concerning when members of the press, media and communications also fail to possess a clear understanding of how the language is correctly constructed. Fortunately, Fundéu (Fundación del Español Urgente) and RAE (Real Academia Española) are two sites that can be relied on.

As the world becomes more focused on technology, as we continue to send text messages that read, “Toy en el trabajo” or “Q hacés dp?,” and as we grow to accept the use of anglicized terms or “Spanglish” phrases such as marketing, pen drive and marketa, it doesn’t seem so important to know what the correct version should be. Understanding Spanish grammar, placing the tilde in the right place and knowing the difference between “a ver” and “haber” is growing out of fashion fast.

The rising issue today is that even amongst journalists, a group of professionals which, by nature, should be devoted to the delivery of flawless written material, also contribute to the production of grammatically correct written documents. As journalists tweet and post about their press releases all over the Internet, there is little concern for grammar and for the enrichment of the Spanish language.

This is why the work undertaken at both Fundéu and RAE is so important. Individually, both Fundéu and RAE act as guardian angels, working to promote, maintain and support the constant production of grammatically-correct Spanish across all spectrums of society.

A brief overview of RAE
The primary mission, the backbone off of which everything hangs, at RAE relates directly to the common union of all Spanish speaking societies through the correct use of the Spanish language. Even though Spanish is a language which changes, sometimes radically, from place to place, the roots of the language are fundamentally the same.

RAE aims to promote and maintain the use of these common traits in order to encourage Spanish speakers to pay more attention to the correct production of texts, for whatever purpose, in their native language.

One of the most impressive elements of the work done at RAE is the language guide, accessible via its website This incredibly complete digital guide / dictionary covers all kinds of doubts and queries that the Spanish speaker might have about how to correctly construct a text in his or her native language. What’s more, the team at RAE is on hand to respond to these inquiries whenever possible.

RAE is also responsible for the publication of two texts. The first is entitled La Nueva Gramática de la Lengua and the second is an update of Spanish orthography. At 700 pages long, the text is particularly dense, but this is why RAE has also produced a reduced version, which covers the most important elements and a pocket book version to always have easily to hand.


A quick peek at Fundéu

Fundéu is a non-profit organization and was created by Efe and BBVA. Its prime objective is to ensure that the media and other forms of communication contribute to the correct use of the Spanish language. Indeed, the foundation believes that the media, the Internet and journalists in particular have a responsibility to produce quality, well-written texts at all times.

Thanks to the development of its website, Fundéu has been able to spread its work all over the world and it has been able to make a positive impact in a very short space of time. In fact, Fundéu, with a Twitter following of 126.321 (at the time of going to print) shows just how helpful technology can be in the repairing of language rules that have been lost in time.

Add to that number by following its tweets @Fundeu when you get the chance.

The use of correct Spanish, Spanish which obeys a common code of grammatical rules, does not have to continue down the road of destruction and indifference. The work of RAE and Fundéu provides two clear examples of institutions who still care about and value native language structures.

Fundéu’s channel in Youtube:



How do you find the perfect Spanish translator?

Finding someone to translate from or to Spanish won’t be a difficult task. There are plenty of people willing to offer their services in this area. However, finding the perfect Spanish translator, finding someone who is actually going to do a good job, is not so easy and there are many pitfalls that the inexperienced in this field can fall into.

What follows is a basic list of the most important factors to take into consideration when looking for the perfect Spanish translator. Ignoring the following essentials is the best way of wasting money on poor translations, so take heed and place emphasis on what counts.


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Native Speakers
95% of the time it is imperative that the translator is a native speaker of the target language so that he/she is able to effectively translate the nuances and subtleties of the source language into a target language document of equal tone, meaning, and quality.

Translation Studies
Naturally, the translator will need to have excellent knowledge of both the source and target languages to be able to offer his or her translation services, but it is difficult to know how good a person’s language skills are before employing them and working with them for a while. This is why it is sometimes useful to the stick with translators that have earned formal qualifications from recognized translation study programs.

Getting Specific with Spanish
If you are looking for a Spanish translator, which country are you going to be targeting? The Spanish that is spoken in Mexico, for example, is very different to the Spanish spoken in Venezuela or the Spanish spoken in Argentina. If you are targeting a number of Spanish speaking countries at the same time, you will need to find a translator who can write for you in neutral Spanish. The important thing to note is that not all translators will be able to translate in neutral Spanish, but instead will lean towards one or two dialect in particular.

Communication Skills
Above and beyond their translation skills, it is likely that you will be communicating with your translator from a distance. Therefore, they need to exhibit excellent communication skills, quickly respond to their emails, understand what you need from them and ask for clarification when they have doubts.

Specialist Translations
It is foolish to think that you can use the same translator for all your translation requirements. There are times when you might need a specialist translator (for instance a legal, medical, or political translator) because the translator you normally work with might not even understand the meaning of the documents that he or she needs to translate in his or her native language.

Samples and References
Always ask for samples of past translations and for references from past employees for obvious reasons.

Bear in mind that it is not always the most expensive translator who ends up providing the best service and the best translation. When translators are just starting out they might charge less, but this doesn’t mean that the quality of their work will be less reliable.

Translation Agencies
If you are finding it difficult to make a decision and hire a translator by yourself, seek some help from a translation agency as they will have lists of translators for every language, every country and every specialism. Most agencies also include a proofreading of the translations that their translators provide at no extra charge, which is another added benefit from going down this route.