Lots of disputes happen between translators and outsourcers. Even if you have not heard of translators bringing their claims to court, it does not mean that disputes exist. Judges and lawyers always tell us, linguists, that if we have transactions with someone, write it down in a contract. This is standard No. 1: Write a contract!

There are other standards that need to be addressed, but the question is who sets the standards? In fact, standards for a company that seeks profit could mean getting quality service at cheap prices. For a translator, it is getting the maximum amount of money in return for the work he does. Standards can be learned from pitfalls of those who worked without standards. Here, we try to review some important ones. Even for a person with a nodding acquaintance with translation, those rules apply to all walks of life. It is not an exhaustive list, though.


Standard (1): No gain without pain

  1. Outsourcers and translators are free to decide on the price for a given work.
  2. No gain without pain. A translator should not ask for extra money, unless he explains the 'pain' for which he seeks payment. Translators should be entitled to higher fees if:

- the text has 1) tables, charts, diagrams, etc 2) pictures 3) formatting issues 4) terms difficult to find in glossaries. 

- the job turnover is short, which means the translator would lose other opportunities for this current job.

- the outsourcer requires the translator to read a previously translated work to extract terms for consistency purposes.

- the outsourcer asks to meet with the translator before, during and after the job.

- the outsourcer requires several revisions by the same translator or makes amendments to the original texts.


 Standard (2): Rights and Obligations

Many translators complain that 'the customer did not pay me well." An outsourcer could say "the translation is bad. I will ask the translator to pay me money in damages." A translator would complain 'the client has never asked me to format the document!" to which the client would say "But this is taken for granted! Everybody knows that a document needs to be formatted."

Taking a translation job without a contract is your worst nightmare. When a dispute happens, in the absence of documentation, the judge at court will rule only according to the facts he can deduct from the case. In most cases, no contract means no evidence of rights and obligations.

If you are a customer and seeks the translation of some of your documents and expect the translator to stick to the original format, you need to state that in writing. A translator will also need to say in the contract what he can and cannot do. Several years ago, I was myself involved in a translation project of PowrPoints. After the company  worked with signed a contract with the customer, I was asked to translate it. I did so. But, the customer was not happy because the pictures were not translated! When I checked the slides, to my horror I found that they were not pictures but protected flash SWF objects! The customer said he told us to translate everything, and that was the deal. On our part, the question was whether or not our job was to crack a protected material and modify it. The mistake was inadequate explanation of the required job.

  1. Customer and translator must agree to the job.
  2. An appendix must explain what the job is exactly about: time frame, fonts, format, what to translate and what to leave, etc.
  3. The contract must mention the price as negotiated by the two parties. It is important to understand that the writing of a contract means you have both finished up with negotiations. Neither of you can tell the other to change the price throughout the process afterward.
  4. Payment period. Normally, the payment period lasts between one day to 30 days. This is one area of dispute between customers and translators. Agree on this in writing!
  5. Ethics: A translator my not subcontract other people to the job the customer assigned to him, unless for a reasonable excuse with the consent of the customer. This subcontracting issue must be an exceptional case rather than the norm. If you, the translator, believe you cannot do the job alone, you need to tell the customer before writing the contract that you need a team of translators.
  6. A translator needs to respect deadlines. Never accept unreasonable deadlines. If you promise the customer to translate a thousand pages in one week, you need to fulfill that promise. If you cannot do that, never promise him to do so. Make sure in the contract to mention deadlines, grace periods and progress reporting.
  7. If the customer asks you not to use CAT tools, do not use them. You need to negotiate that and write it down in the contract if you insist on CAT tools.
  8. If the translator defaults on his promises for any reason, the customer must not go to court right away. He must, first of all, send a notification to the translator requesting him to correct his action.
  9. The translator should agree with the customer on what happens if he does not like the translator’s work. This is important to decide: 1) how much will the translator be entitled to 2) who will settle the dispute and 3) who will replace the translator and the cost of whom.
  10. In situations where the customer is already a service provider for Y company and the customer is recruiting or subcontracting with the translator to do the job, but the end customer is unhappy, the service provider and the translator shall cooperate together to face the end customer in court and try to the greatest legal extent possible to gain back their rights. The service provider cannot simply sue the translator until he exhausts all means of resolving the dispute with the main customer.


Standard (3): The translator’s ethics

As a summary, if you are a translator listed on this page, you will follow the procedures below:

  1. You receive job orders from the customer but refuse to give him your price until you review the work to be done.
  2. If you find out that you are not competent to do the job, you have to apologize to the customer and decline his offer. Your apology should be as short as possible but polite. Do not say “Sorry I cannot help you!” but say “I have had the chance to look at the work you sent me, but I am afraid it is not a field that I work comfortably with.” You can use other expressions as well.
  3. You cannot praise or trash the reputation of other translators whose names might be mentioned by the customer. Be neutral.
  4. Agree with the customer before you beign the job on the terms and conditions that apply, should the customer think that the translation is not acceptable. You need to tell the customer that he should give you some reaonsable time for correction (a correction action). Agree with him on how to decide whether a translation is acceptable or not. Progress reports can help a lot. You need also to negotiate how many times you can review the document with him after delivery.
  5. You abide by deadlines.
  6. You agree on the price suitable for you, regardless of how much other people charge.
  7. If you are asked to translate the work alone, do it alone.
  8. Never give promises that you cannot fulfill. Never accept obligations that you cannot fulfill.
  9. Agree in writing with the customer on the payment terms and conditions.
  10. Read something about the law. There is a big difference between an undertaking and a condition, for example.
  11. Deliver the translation as accurate and stylistically acceptable as possible.
  12. Most importantly, never take a job that you are not competent to do. And, never subcontract the job to other people without the customer's consent
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