Should clients pay for proofreading?

Whether it’s software coding or writing: Quality assurance costs money. Somewhere between 30-50% of a decent translation’s price are costs of review.

Some reasons include:

  • You need a second pair of eyes – or you have the author spend more time on correction, both of which cause higher costs of labor.
  • You want the proofreader to be more experienced than the translator. A rookie will either overcorrect perfectly fine writing (and cause huge cleanup costs) or not catch real errors.
  • To find a professional, you need to pay a professional. Some agencies charge clients too little (or pocket a too high cut), skew their budgets towards translation over proofreading, and end up not really knowing what they’re buying or selling.

Clients can insource the proofreading by having their staff do it, provided someone speaks the target language. So it’s best suited for jobs involving your country language and English / a world language.

Even if your staff are not native-level speakers of the target language, they should be able to check the translation for consistency with the source and correctness. For the linguistic quality, you have to rely on the translator.

Some of the benefits of in-house proofreading include:

  • Clients know their job best. A translator should be able to produce a well written text, but technical details might escape them. The best proofreader is a subject-matter expert, not a native linguist.
  • Direct communication produces better results. You can clarify all questions with the translator without having a third party involved. As a side effect, you improve your working relationship with your supplier and the quality of future jobs.
  • The translator will be prepared to rework their translation in detail. But be aware that you won’t find any translator who puts in this extra effort at or below the market rate.

Whether you choose to insource or outsource the proofreading, ask the translator specifially what portion of your project’s time and budget they allocate to it. Ask them who will do it.

If you want to save costs and improve your control over the final product, offer to have your people do the proofreading.

Mehrseitige beglaubigte Übersetzungen richtig verbinden

Was tun, wenn eine Übersetzung mehr als 5 oder 6 Blätter hat? Hier ist das Problem, das wir nicht einfach die linke obere Ecke tackern und umknicken können, wie gewöhnlich bei Übersetzungen mit wenigen Blättern üblich. Auch mit einer Ösenzange wie der beliebten Regur EP 30 hört der Spaß bei 30 Blatt auf.

Anders als die Notare („Schnur und Prägesiegel“) haben wir ermächtigten Übersetzer keine gesetzliche Grundlage für die Verbindung von längeren Übersetzungen. Anekdoten von KollegInnen können da hilfreich sein.

Die Leitlinien des BDÜ behandeln das Thema nur vage: “[Blätter] sollen so miteinander verbunden werden, dass der Zusammenhang nicht ohne äußerliche sichtbare Beschädigung aufgehoben werden kann.”

Das mag daran liegen, dass jede Behörde andere Präferenzen hat. Im Zweifelsfall können wir also immer den Adressaten anrufen und mal nachfragen, welche Bindung bevorzugt wird. Bei Gerichten ist das oft die Apostillenstelle. Bei Personenstandsurkunden fragen wir das Standesamt oder die Ausländerbehörde.

Da diese Menschen häufig mit unseren Produkten hantieren, haben sie meistens auch eine genaue Vorstellung von dem was sie wünschen und was nicht.

Für alle die es mal im Detail sehen wollen, hier eine Bildanleitung. Die Vorgehensweise wurde mir von der Apostillenstelle meines Landgerichts empfohlen und wird auch von anderen ÜbersetzerInnen angewandt.


Wir lochen das Dokument ggf. in mehreren Schritten, falls das Konvolut zu dick ist.


Wir führen Notarsgarn oder ein ähnliches Garn zweimal durch die Löcher und knoten es auf der Rückseite zusammen. Dabei etwas Überstand lassen.


Dann kleben wir ein saugfähiges, quadratisches Etikett auf die überstehende Schnur. Notaraufkleber mögen manche Behörden nicht, weil unsere Übersetzungen nicht den Anschein notariell beglaubigter Urkunden erwecken sollen.


Nun nehmen wir unseren Stempel und bringen ihn so an…


…dass er das Dokument und das Etikett abdeckt. Es wird und muss auch nicht 100% lückenlos sein, es geht eben um die “Nichtaufhebbarkeit ohne äußerliche sichtbare Beschädigungen”.


Bei kleineren Konvoluten ist die Schnur schwer zu straffen, daher sieht es nicht ganz so toll aus. Es empfiehlt sich, die Urkunde zusätzlich mit Ösen zu versehen, das sieht schicker aus und erhöht die Fälschungssicherheit.

Falls Sie den Artikel hilfreich fanden oder weitere Fragen haben, hinterlassen Sie mir gerne einen Kommentar.

How not to get cheated as a freelancer

In 10 years as a freelancer, I’ve only been screwed twice. If you deduct the time I got my money back with interest, it’s once only.

My clients range from private individuals, small businesses to large organizations. Of my approx. 100 invoices a year, 99.99% are paid on time.

Maybe I’ve been lucky, because I read a lot of bad stories from colleagues. Some get far too low rates for far too long, others get cheated by agencies somewhere on the other side of the globe – or right in their own town.

That’s happened to me once a couple of years ago.  When four-digit projects were still unthinkable to me, I fell for a scam offer from an East Asian company.

Worked my ass off for 1 or 2 days on some crappy text about car tires, didn’t get paid. When I googled them (after sending them the work of course!), the company didn’t seem to exist. You only make that mistake once, and then you start working for real companies with things like offices and websites.

My clients and agencies treat me the way I treat them – with respect. No matter what goes on in my life – whether I’m evicted, having bad sleep, or straight up ready to leave this planet – when it’s about business, I do my job and deliver my service as if nothing ever happened.

I usually find if a client will respect me by stating my conditions clearly right away. No need to pursue a relationship on the wrong terms, but no need to argue and get upset either.

There was only one particular agency – whose name I won’t mention – that really got me pissed, because I’d done about a month’s wage worth of work for them. They didn’t answer my e-mails at all or put me off for a year. Then I did some research, found out how to file a small claim in the UK from Germany with only my credit card (it’s easier than finding a good headset) and got my money back plus processing fees. Mind you, this an established European company, not some lonely scammer in an internet café.

I shared this experience with other translators on the ProZ BlueBoard and until now I get e-mails all the time thanking me or asking me how to get your money back. Invest the 50 cents or whatever it costs to read the BlueBoard entry on ProZ or at least Google their name.

Remember: It’s weird to just go up to a complete stranger and offer them one or two thousand dollars worth of work (even if they’re as handsome and qualified as you are). Normally you’d ask a friend if they know a friend… So anyone recruiting this way is desperate, at least.

With private clients I’ve never had to wait long for my money. It’s just as safe as any online retail business nowadays. Just make sure you know their address. Very few consumers would risk bad credit ratings for having a claim filed against them.

Some colleagues only take cash from private clients, especially if they’re not permanent residents in their country. I have yet to be cheated by one, so I don’t see why I should treat small clients different than big clients in this sense.

Oh yeah, and if a client should complain and you messed up (two factors which rarely coincide), give them a discount, send them a nice e-mail, whatever. Don’t be like those agencies who try to weasel their way out of paying you 😉

Translate small websites and broaden your services

This post is for translators who want to expand their skill set and offer new services.

I’ve been offering some simple content management services to small organizations who want to have their websites localized from German to English.

If you know a little WordPress, it’s no big deal. The clients are happy for not having to copy-paste your translation into their website, or having to bother their developer, and you can see how your text is going to look on the final website and fix tiny errors – after all this could be a valuable reference.

But there are some things to think about:

  • First of all I recommend that you charge at least twice your regular translation word rate. It’s way more service intensive, because the client will request all sorts of tweaks after the translation is long done.
  • Specialize in one or two CMS and stick with these. A lot of sites use WordPress, so you could start specializing here. You can check which CMS a website is using here.
  • If the site uses a more newbie-friendly system like Jimdo, stay away and just translate the text offline. Marginal CMS are poorly documented and take forever to figure out. However Jimdo has the benefit of offering bilingual websites without requiring a business plan.
  • If your client uses WordPress, they need a business plan so the plugins will work. Without plugins like WPML or Polylang, you can’t make a WordPress site multilingual. If they’re on the free plan, they need to switch or stay monolingual.

So these are things to think about before you offer this extra service. It will cost more setup time, whether you already know the used CMS or not.

On the other hand, it’s a good way to save your clients some work, learn a new skill that blends in with what you already know, and make more money. You could also team up with any web developers you know and share the job. It’s a good way to build a small team.

If you have any questions on the issue, please leave a comment!

Olifant TMX editor portable version

All translators who want to edit their translation memories (TM) for maintenance purposes or whatever might have come across the handy open source tool Olifant (click for original version and documentation).

The benefits of Olifant:

  • Uses open-source TMX format
  • Advanced features compared to CAT tools (such as regex search)
  • Loads quickly; fast TM editing
  • Lean application and completely free

I’ve compiled a portable version that you can run without installing.

It’s very handy if you want to exchange TMs with clients who don’t own expensive computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools and just need a quick way to check out the TM.

Download the portable version of Olifant here.

Issues in technical English

I recently visited a seminar on technical English. It targeted German native writers of English and mentioned some tricks on how to “sound more native.”

Most of the rules are known to anyone who has studied style guides:

  • using a verbal style instead of the nominal style so widely used in German
  • avoiding the passive voice
  • addressing the reader directly (aka including a subject in each sentence)
  • using simple verbs and prepositions

Still, many writers, especially academics, ignore these rules, whether they’re native or not. So to me it’s not about being or sounding native, but about writing well. And there are universal rules.

Some German tutorial writers of the YouTube generation are even starting to write in “anglicized” German, which has become familiar to readers through software translated from English into a foreign-sounding kind of German.

One characteristic is the inanimate agent. The English “The screen opens a window” would be, in “proper” German: “Ein Fenster öffnet sich auf dem Bildschirm / wird auf dem Bildschirm geöffnet.” (“A window is opened (or opens itself) on the screen”) because  a screen is inanimate and therefore cannot “open” something. So you need to make the window reflective (opens itself) or add an invisible subject (is opened). However, English influence has made the literal translation “Der Bildschirm öffnet ein Fenster” almost acceptable.

Some of the suggestions from the seminar seemed odd to me, such as using English jargon instead of writing jargon-free. I mean on the linguistic level, not the terminology. Apparently, some English writers still prefer fuzzy blanket verbs such as “include” & “visualize” or  prepositions such as “in conjunction with”, “with regard to” or “via”.

I prefer simple words in every case for 2 reasons:

  1. Finding a simple word forces you to understand the text. Translators in particular need this step to understand what they are reading. Our target group are the readers, so we need to simplify.
  2. Your default reader should always be an end user with no idea about technical stuff. If you use jargon, experts may know from context or experience what you mean, but it’s not obvious from your words. This means that a translator may even write out implicit information which is not obvious to an amateur.

There are tons of great references. Unfortunately, translators and other writers rarely read and apply them.

I use mostly monolingual style guides, such as the Microsoft manual of style. Their “for dummies” approach leaves no user behind. Also check the style guides of other major content publishers, such as Wikipedia or even the EU.

What normal translators can learn from theory

For my first 8 years as a translator, I never read a shred about translation theory. After passing the state exam with some markdowns, I started to wonder. I also did an M.Sc. in Software Localization, which required basic theory courses.

I’ve always seen myself more as typist than theoretician. To me, easier language means fewer keystrokes, so more money for the same work. I hardly know the difference between Perfekt and Plusquamperfekt, because I believe using any tense but the simple present is snobbery.

Coincidentally shorter, simpler texts are also easier to understand, and isn’t that what all clients want? And if the clients don’t, isn’t it what their readers want?

Translation theorists, like all humanities scholars, just like to fill pages. It’s all Judith Butler to me; why do I need read treatises on shit even animals can do? I much prefer reading user manuals and style guides if I have a concrete problem to solve.

It’s no coincidence a lot of the leading theoreticians come from places with a strong faith in big words, like Germany or New York. Fortunately, this also means the basic ideas are so banal, no ordinary person would ever think them worth writing down. You can learn all the buzzwords from Wikipedia.

Theory offers some guidelines you can refer to when selling your work. For example the idea of functional translation (Reiss/Vermeer).

We all adapt our message to the reader/listener in some way. But did you know it’s a selling point?

Prof. C. Nord says you can classify the information in a source text into various functions (phatic (social), appellative, informational, etc.)  So if you have an informational function like “this bottle of Coke contains only 200 grams of sugar”, the 200 grams are informational, the only is appellative (or propagandistic). The 200 grams has to be translated, it’s clear. But how and whether you translate the only depends on who’s paying you: Coca Cola or a consumer health organization.

Questions like these are called “translation problems” and your agility with these problems shows how good of a translator you are. Many buyers don’t care. If they don’t pay for your extra brain power, don’t squander it.

But when you write a quote and add a sample translation where you comment on the difference between foreignization and domestication, the raging debate and ask the client on their opinion – it really makes you look like you know what you’re doing. (Maybe add that foreignization is linked to a wider criticism of hegemony and that the debate has roots in the Soviet school of translation.)

These questions concern not just literary translators. Such random knowledge also helps stand your ground in the face of unhelpful edits from overzealous proofreaders.

So even if you’re a total noob and have no Feingefühl, some brute theory helps smash all criticism of your substandard translation of a soft drink advertisement.