Common Mistakes of the Beginner Translator II
November 2, 2017

The first part of “Common Mistakes” has become quite popular, judging by the number of visits. Today, I’ll share a few more common traps lying in wait for beginning translators.


Everyone who has an account on translator marketplaces, whether it’s ProZ or any other website, has received a message requesting them to send their resume, a copy of their diploma, recommendation letters, and other documents. “Our company is taking part in a tender and we’d like you to help us with this,” says the project manager. If you’ve already worked with this agent before and know for sure that this job will be assigned to you, you’re within your rights and can send the documents listed above. However:

  1. The agent is using your degree, your skills and knowledge, and your experience to get the project for themselves.
  2. Most often, agents use the resumes of experienced translators to get a project and distribute it among those of our colleagues who ask less for their work than you do. Don’t think that your rate is low enough for them to give you the job. There’s always someone can ask even less for the job. This is an extremely unethical approach, but I don’t see any other way to influence the agent except to notify the parties involved in the tender. P.S.: This is solely at your risk and peril.
  3. Before agreeing to indirectly participate in the tender, a few questions should be clarified. You need to clarify whether you’ll actually participate in the tender. You should definitely find out the terms of payment. Can you participate independently or with colleagues in the tender? (All this information can be found on the following sites: European Union tenders, The Republic of Belarus’ tender platformIceTrade, the GosZakaz tender platform, the Russian Federation’s GosZakupok tender platform, and RosTender).


Many translators agree to work with proprietary-format files that require using specific programs or working in different windows, which isn’t also easy to do when working on a laptop or small monitors.

Working with PDF files and images is fairly difficult, although there are tools for that, too. You’re probably already familiar with Abbyy FineReader, which is a very reasonable investment in your own business. Of course, it’s not a panacea, since you’ll have to spend time teaching it to recognize the areas you need, although it’s worth the hassle. It’s obvious that the time and money spent on any software requires compensation.

In most cases, if you tell the client about the price mark-up for text recognition, then a document in an editable format magically appears at your disposal. Of course, the text can be recognized by some shareware programs, but the quality leaves much to be desired. In this case, you have to make a decision: either you accept poorly recognized text for translation or you negotiate with the client further.

In any case, you should ask for compensation for the hours spent on converting the file into an editable document (especially if it has images, tables, hand-written text, and links).

Sometimes direct clients and agents ask you to keep editing the original document. I usually keep simple formatting without it, but any formatting that goes beyond bold or italics/underlining should still be paid for. In addition to that, pre-press documents require special software skills, so don’t hesitate to say that you don’t have these skills (if you really don’t have them).


A lot of people want us to work for free. I’m not sure that we should provide our services for free even to non-profit organizations, but this is another topic for discussion.

In any case, the decision is yours alone. If the organization really is a non-profit, if its goals coincide with yours, if other people, not just translators, work at the organization for free, then you can help a worthy cause without asking about payment.

Most importantly, don’t forget that a lot of for-profit organizations will also ask you for a free translation. The most common request these days sounds like “We’re a startup, help us translate/localize/write…”. But the thing is, startups have the money to hire a translator and pay them for quality work.

If you have no experience at all, offer your help to international non-profit organizations. I believe they’d be happy to use your services and provide you with recommendations afterward.

So we can summarize the topic this way. Volunteer work is good when you feel that a nonprofit organization can make the world a better place (in your judgment). In other cases, take the money.

That’s all for now, but there’s another part with a pretty lengthy topic. You can find the first part of “Common Mistakes” here.

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