Most professional translators work extremely hard to improve at their craft, from attending training and seminars, reading voraciously and networking to even relocating to another country. But even expert translators are still guilty of harbouring one big misconception about the translation industry, and it’s not doing anyone any favours. What is this one big mistake? Simply put, it comes down to how you see yourself.
It's always very easy to undervalue your own skills, and translators are often guilty of this. Perhaps this is the reason why so many of us are willing to work for less than market rates. Being a freelance translator means the product you’re selling is you, so it's understandable that this makes people uncomfortable. But it's important to remember that translation is actually a refined and highly specialised skill, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you. Not everyone who speaks two languages can smoothly and seamlessly render a text in a new language, taking into account the context, topic, tone and intent of the text. The ability to translate fluently is the product of a lifetime of building competencies that most people just don't have, so don’t underestimate yourself.
If even translators struggle to understand their own worth, it's no wonder that the industry is plagued with problems relating to this. More and more translation companies are expecting you to turn around greater quantities of text in less and less time for lower and lower prices. End clients and even some suspect translation agencies are even signing on for machine translation, as if anything a computer can produce could ever match the finely honed skills of an expert translator. All this is not to mention the dubious agencies that outsource their translation work to a ‘translation team’ in India or China: unqualified, underpaid workers who use machine translation and an outdated grammar book, producing a terrible product. Often these companies use the CVs of real professionals to win work in the first place before finding the cheapest, lowest-quality outsourcers to carry it out. Given the relative anonymity of the internet, these unscrupulous companies can go bust multiple times before popping up in a new incarnation with a new name and a new office address.
So what's the solution? Clearly freelancers must stick together in demanding a fair rate that recognises our considerable skills and abilities and allows us to earn a living wage. We must be vocal and clear with clients about the value of truly professional translation services. And we must not tolerate any attempts to undermine the integrity of the industry. It sounds like a big ask, but in our day-to-day working lives all this actually boils down to one simple task: valuing ourselves and our fellow translators enough, and having enough confidence in our skills and worth, to stand up for fair treatment.
As another famous polyglot, Mahatma Ghandi, once said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Soon enough the world of translation will have no choice but to follow.