Translators: dos and don’ts What I learned about translators after I created a new language service and what you can do to improve your service.

Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

4 years ago I decided to create a new type of service for my customers because I figured out they would need, sooner or later, this new service. It turned out to be sooner rather than later. Within 2 months I understood that I would need help from linguists and translators. So I created tools and a portal for people to help me.  In this post I want to share what I learned about translators, and what you can do to improve your professional profile.


  1. Too many translators have no clue on how to promote themselves. I receive 50 unsolicited e-mails per day, that all look the same. If you mail a lead, don’t put him in “BCC”. Put him — and only him — in “TO”. Make it personal, and show you checked the website of the lead before you mail him. Make sure he can tell from the first line of the e-mail, you clearly did do your homework prior to writing. All messages where I’m in “BCC” are automatically marked as spam by my mail client. All attachments are marked as dangerous. I will never see them, I will never open them. So the correct way to solicit for work (not a “job”, you are looking for work to be done!) is this: write an e-mail that starts with “Hi Gert, I saw on your website you are looking for evaluators on Maori and I would like to apply for this. My CV is online (link here). Please let me know if you think I would be able to help you on one of your projects”. This is what an attractive e-mail would look like for me.
  2. Too many translators think they do not need to read the instructions, even when we pay them to read them. It is not because you know the source and target language, you can do any language job without reading the instructions. We started to track who downloads the instructions or how much time people spend on reading them online. We were astonished to see how many translators just skip them. Incredible but true. If your customer gives you instructions, please know that these instructions were the result of a long and sometimes very complex process, and that each word matters. If you don’t analyze each example and understand why it is in the instructions, you’ll screw up before you get started. If you read the instructions, and something isn’t clear: ask questions before you start the job. Really!
  3. Know your own schedule before taking a job. We usually keep a steady pace with projects and try to process them in due time. When assigning a job to a translator, he must confirm he can work on it by taking the job. Once he did this, we draw the conclusion he read the instructions, he saw the deadline, evaluated his schedule and knows he can work on it. So often people take on jobs that they really cannot work on, preventing others from working on them and then drop the job halfway through the deadline. We would rather pursue a collaboration with someone who knows his schedule than with someone who prevented us meeting a deadline.
  4. Understand how your service is going to be paid. In general, it is always like this: you get instructed on how to do a job and what will be the job value (this is a “work order”), you deliver the job that gets checked (or not), you invoice the job (or better you put several jobs on one invoice), and you get notified a payment has been done. You check the payment arrived. Don’t expect anyone to pay you because you did a job. The crucial part is always that you generate or send an invoice. Jobs are managed by people, but payments are done by accountants. Accountants don’t care about jobs. They only care about invoices and payments. It is shocking for me to see that every year in December I need to write to the translators, reminding them to send me their invoice because I see they did not yet put the job they did on an invoice. It’s not up to me to keep track of this, but I do this because I don’t want to do payments for a job that was done a year ago. You show professionalism by “minding your own business”: generate an invoice within a month after the work is done. If you keep on postponing this, you’ll forget it. Also, you have to check, within a month, if the invoice got paid. If the payment got stuck in between banks, and you only report this half a year later, you really give the impression you don’t manage your business.

In other words, be mindful, of the e-mails you send, of the details each job entails, of your own schedule and last but not least, be mindful of your own business.

Gert Van Assche

About Gert Van Assche

At Datamundi we're paying a fair price to linguists and translators evaluating (label/score/tag) human translations and machine translations for large scale NLP research projects.

2 thoughts on “Translators: dos and don’ts What I learned about translators after I created a new language service and what you can do to improve your service.

  1. Very good post, Gert! I definitely encourage translators to follow your suggestions especially concerning the ‘read the instructions’ point. In my experience in dealing with freelance translators, I’m always surprised to see that more often than I would have ever expected, many:
    1. Don’t read the instructions for applying for a job – resulting in wrong/incomplete applications;
    2. Don’t do any effort to look for solutions to technical issues caused by their own tools/environment by themselves (as if Google did not exist basically);
    3. Send out badly formatted CVs, with both linguistic and formatting errors inside.
    These are certainly the top-three worst mistakes I consider as a customer when choosing a freelance translator.

  2. This is crazy. Not the content, it’s accurate, true and well communicated. But that it’s even needed to put in writing is exceptional. To paraphrase the post in a bullet point, it’s saying that if you are going to be a freelance professional – well then act professionally.

    1) Communicate professionally.
    2) Have professional understanding as well as linguistic.
    3) Manage your time professionally.
    4) Implement a professional structure to business finances.

    Freelancing/independent trading is not for everybody, and if these four points don’t come to a person naturally, the person might be better suited for being employed rather than self employed.


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