Translator vs. Proofreader

One of the things I have learned in life is that no one is aware of their own mistakes, if one were aware of their own mistakes, they would avoid making them in first place.

If you make a mistake it is because you are totally sure you are doing the right thing.

That is why in any translation the proofreading step is needed, someone else who is not involved and can see from a fresh point of view, from a different point of view. As a translator all my translations go through a proofreader to avoid those blind spots I did not see at first. There are also times when I had to become a proofreader and review a translation myself.

Out of this experience (correcting and being corrected) I have some thoughts that I want to share with you.

Purpose: the purpose of a translation is making an idea written or spoken in one language understandable to people of a different language. The better they understand the idea, the better the translation is; simple as that.

Proofreading is a step in translation, so it holds the same purpose. Therefore anything done by the proofreader needs to be with a view to improving the purpose of the translation, making the message clearly understandable for a person who does not speak the original language of the message.

This purpose unites both translator and proofreader. Unfortunately there are some considerations in between.

a) To any human being it is very difficult to accept a correction. The first reaction is to justify oneself and explain why we are right and the correction wrong, instead of taking a look and correcting what has to be corrected.
b) Many proofreading are made from the point of personal preferences and opinion, brushing aside the purpose of the proofreading and defeating the purpose of the translation.
c) A need to assert oneself, one´s knowledge and one´s importance by demonstrating that the translator is wrong, because that proves I'm right.

You will find many corrections made with the sole purpose of demonstrating that the proofreader is better than the translator, so changing a word for an equivalent or rewording a phrase which in fact does not modify the meaning. It is true that sometimes as proofreader you find things to correct, but sometimes the corrections is just a frivolous attempt to show how good you are compared to the translator.

My rule when I translate is: which words will express what it mean, not what it says?
My rule when I do proofreading is: if it is saying what it means, then no change is needed, otherwise which word or words will express what it means or would make it more clear?
The rule if I have to correct someone is, try to address the behavior to be corrected, not the person.

Everybody has a favorite set of words which hold dear; I do, but before I change anything in a translation I try to avoid a, b and c above and stick to my rules, because the translator and the proofreader are a team.


Who is killing my income?

The other day I was approached by a friend who works in a large company. He was complaining about the high prices the translation agency was charging him and mentioned he had received incredible information in an email from a brand new translation company. They claim that through the use of Internet they can reduce costs, offer a highly competitive price, excellent quality and native translators!

From the .28 cents that their current translation agency was charging to an incredible price of .12 cents from the new company. There was no room for hesitation, so they started negotiations. Because his company's policy is not to deal with translators but with companies, as they are thought to be “ more trustworthy”,I just let the incident go, I had no chance to compete.

A couple of days later I got an email from a “brand new translation company” offering me translation work.They already had my resume and where to send me a test, as it would be the first time I would work for them. I got the test and that´s when I recognized my friend's company.

I did the test, and the next email from them was to tell me that my asking rate was very high. They where located in India and the rate they usually pay is .025 per word, but considering my qualifications they were ready to offer me .03 per word, half my usual rate, and they mentioned that if the company they where representing was happy with my work, I could count on a large volume of work.

I dug a bit into information on this company, and I found that they have an address in the USA, but they are in fact based in India. They have several Indian Spanish translators for low quality translations and they search the Internet for native translators for high quality translations. When the negotiation does not work, they use only the reputation of the native speaking translator, (they have their resume and the test) and they assign the translation to one of their non-native speaking translators.

I contacted my friend and asked him about his negotiations and he told me that it was going fine, the agency had increased the price a bit (.15/W) because they were using a very reputed translator, native speaker, etc. So it was still cheap for this big project compared with the previous agency. A real bargain.

It took me a while stop laughing and then I explained to my friend what really was going on, and sent him a copy of the emails.

To me it was really enlightening. A company in the USA charges around .30/W and pays the translator .08 maximum; the average being around .06. So they charge about 5 times my rate and most of the time asks me to lower it to 0.05/W. This is a high profit gained from the hard work of the translator.This leaves a gap for smart people that have to up their income, like this “brand new agency”. So now there are Chinese, Indian and even Russian translation agencies that offer “high quality translations at very competitive prices”.

The part that did not make me laugh was finding that some of my collegues living in Mexico are accepting these bargains under the guise that “now a days profit is so thin”. But these cheap translation companies are not the ones killing my income, they are only “smart” people trying to get some money in their pockets any way they can. It´s not them I blame. I do, however, blame us translators because we are the ones accepting these rates and letting low quality translators compete with high quality ones in the same rank.

So, if it comes to the end of the month and are asking yourself who is killing your income, just look in the mirror and you might find the one to blame.



Nowadays we live in a very competitive world. As individuals we compete against each other for every piece of work available, companies do the same. For both individuals and companies alike, the aim is profit.

Investors want maximum profit out of their investments.

There seem to be two rules for increasing profit, a) increase income and b) pay less. This means earning more from the sales of our products or services and paying less for the products or services provided by others.

This has reached a degree whereby we try to sell our products or services at the highest price possible and we try to get the products or services we need at the lowest price we can. The dream of any investor is now to get maximum profit with no investment.

In an attempt to reduce expenses, companies ask to their providers for the most competitive price (the lowest price), and the result is products and services with lower prices, less material, less services and less quality.

This is not a joke. Recently I bought a pocket knife from one of the best factories. This knife is one of the finest you can find on the market. Included was their User Guide in English, with its translation into Spanish. I found that the expression "thumb stud" was translated as "husillo de pulgar"; a "husillo" is precisely a spindle, so no relation between a thumb stud and a spindle. The correct translation for stud is “botón”. Also, the “carabiner clip" was translated as "cierre tipo carabinero". You can try for eons but you will never find such a thing in Spanish. This translation just does not make any sense; the correct translation of carabiner is “mosquetón”.

One of the best knife makers in the world, with such a ridiculous translation. There´s no point complaining about the translator. We can imagine the "good bargain" of the purchase department who got a cheap translator resulting in a considerable reduction of the budget and, of course, in the quality of the translation as well as the reputation of the company.

That’s the wrong way to play this game. Anything on the market has a fair value. A good knife has a fair price. Many translation companies are trying to compete with each other offering a more "competitive" price, making their translators compete with each other to offer a more "competitive" price, and the result is less and less quality, because the only ones that offer a lower price are the ones that are less experienced or less qualified.

If you want to increase your income as a translation agency or as an outsourcer, get good translators, and pay fair, that way you will be able to deliver quality and receive fair pay too. I'm quite sure the purchaser and the agency that did the translation for the knife factory are no longer there.

When you think of a more competitive price, think that “competitive” has to address competence and not competition and you will have more chances of succeeding.


In the world of translations – just as in life – you get what you pay for...

One of the main factors in our life is economics, the main thing in economics, regarding services, is to produce something in exchange for a certain amount of money.

Part of the game is trying to get the most out of our money, but this line has twisted into paying less whilst sacrifycing the quality of the service.

Translation is a very valuable activity that enables people to communicate their ideas into a different language and ranges from the trivial to the most important matters; the undeniable fact is that translation has played a vital role in mankind´s progress; I do not think I have to explain this fact, I can sum it up with a quote from Giordano Bruno “From Translation all science had its offspring”

One of the biggest pushes of economic activities is to reduce costs, which means getting the most out of our money. In order to do this companies try to get cheaper and cheaper translations to the point where they push to pay less sacrifycing the quality of the service.

The truth of economics is that you always get what you pay for. If you pay for an excellent translation, that is what you get and if you pay for a cheap translation, that is also what you get.

The idea has been for some time – since computers can do smart tasks – automate the translation process, then reduce the expenses to a point where there is almost no pay, the dream of any investor, frequently those dreams become nightmares.

The fact is that the translations done by a computer are just gibberish, something that no one understands. Cheap translations are better but still don't make the grade.

Translations have a value in themselves, and this will remain simply because translation is a human activity, which can of course be aided by a computer, but this does not make the translation cheaper, you are not paying the computer, you are paying the human being getting your ideas across another language.

Just remember that if a professional translation is what you need, you will get what you pay for.