SUB ry
Student organization for students of English philology

Working Life



Guidelines for students and employers on job assignments

Before you send any job offers to the mailing list, it would be very helpful if you read through these guidelines. They give an approximation on the fees and contractual issues pertaining to, for example, translation work.

Translation advice for students

Translation assignments are frequently advertised on SUB’s mailing list and on the student bulletin board at the department. While work is a good thing, many students have no idea what an acceptable price for translation work is. After all, students are used to translating for free as a part of their studies. For beginning translators this can lead to a situation where they take on too much work for too little pay, often giving the student in question a negative picture of what professional translating is. Translating for significantly less than the market price is also undercuts the market for people who make their living by translating, which could be you when you graduate.

This text explains some of the basics of professional translation and will hopefully help beginning translators avoid some of the worst pitfalls. This is mostly written from the point of view of document (asiateksti) translation, and it’s worth keeping in mind that the standards for different types of translation differ to some extent (for example, AV translation or literary translation). If there’s anyone out there interested in writing a text covering these, please do. If you’re interested in getting more information or are interested in translation as a profession, MonAKO (monikielisen ammattiviestinnän opintokokonaisuus) is a good place to start. Also the homepage of SKTL (The Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters, http://www.sktl.net/index.html) has useful information and links.

Calculating time and pay

How much pay to ask for is usually one of the biggest questions students encounter when thinking of taking their first translation commission. Calculating pay is also linked to another important issue: how much time will it take to translate the text? Unlike the work most university students are used to doing, freelance translation (which is what you’re doing when you take on a commission from the mailing list) is not generally paid by the hour, but by the amount of text. This causes problems in determining how much pay to ask for, because beginning translators, as well as people in need of translation services, don’t necessarily know how much time translating takes. To start with, translation is not particularly quick work. Just think about how much time it takes to translate the assignments you get in the department’s translation courses (which are usually only 300-400 words long). Differing text layouts can also make estimating the amount of text difficult.

One method you can use to determine about how much time a commission will take is to count the number of characters the text contains, and based on that, calculate the number of “translator’s pages.” A translator’s page is made up of 1560 characters with spaces. You can use the word count tool in word to see how much this is in practice (the first two paragraphs of this text are about one translator’s page). Divide the number of characters with spaces in the text by 1560 and you’ll get the number of translator’s pages it is. A good translator, working on a fairly easy text (one with familiar terminology etc.) can manage a rate of about one translator’s page per hour. More difficult texts and/or less experienced translators take longer. If the client has not provided terminology for the translator to use, having to do terminology research will also take up more time. SKTL has a good document covering what kinds of factors should increase the translation fee and approximately how much of an increase is justified (http://www.sktl.net/pdf/asiapalkk.pdf).

So, if possible, ask the potential client how difficult the text is (in other words, is it written and intended for a specific field or professional community), how many characters with spaces the text contains, calculate the number of translator’s pages that comes to, and then base your estimate of how long the translation will take on a bit more than an hour/translator’s page, depending on how difficult the text is (remember, proofreading takes time too).

Now that you know how much text the assignment contains and about how much time it will take to translate, you can start thinking about how much you want to get paid. Anyone who’s worked as a cashier or at a hamburger joint or done other equivalent work will probably have a pretty good idea of the minimum hourly wage they want to make. SUB has put together some general pricing guidelines with students in mind, which are also available on SUB’s webpages. You are, of course, completely free to set your own prices. SUB’s guidelines are just meant to give you an idea of the ball park. SKTL has recently conducted a survey of the prices charged by professional translators (http://www.sktl.net/fi_infopiste_palkkio.html), which should also give you some idea of the prevailing market price for translations.

Working for 50% of the market price or less (which is often what students get offered) is too large a discount for work done by a student. It is important that students not sell their services too cheaply, not only because they won’t be getting a fair price for the work they’ve done, but also because this will reflect badly on the translation profession as a whole. People often equate price with quality. Translators are highly educated professionals, and university students are well on their way to becoming highly educated professionals. Undercharging for work undermines the profession by giving people the impression that anyone can produce quality translations and that there’s no point is paying much for quality work. This is not meant as self-aggrandizement, just to try and instill a healthy professional self-respect in language students.

Other considerations

If you’ve never done paid translation work before, there are probably quite a few things you won’t think to consider. To start off with what does the commissioner plan to do with your translation? Find out! Is the translation for information only or for publication? This will have an effect on how much work you will need to put in and what the commissioner will expect as the end result. Translating a text just for information isn’t as much work, because it doesn’t usually have to be quite as carefully done (though it still has to be understandable and accurate).

If it is for publication, especially if you are translating into a language that is not your mother tongue, a qualified native speaker should read and be prepared to revise your text (but you should insist on seeing the revised version before publication so that no errors creep in that you would be responsible for as the translator). Ask ahead of time who will pay for the revision: the commissioner or the translator.

Be careful to not bite off more than you can chew. Don't make the mistake of thinking that good English qualifies you to translate any text on any topic. If the text is on a specific professional topic it probably will contain a lot of terminology that you’re unfamiliar with and that will be time consuming and difficult to track down. It’s not uncommon for commissioners to provide terminologies for translators to use, but be sure to ask the commissioner for help/advice (on terms etc.) before handing in your translation. Also find out about copyright issues.

Get the translation done by the deadline. Besides being unprofessional, missing an agreed deadline can cause serious problems for the commissioner, if for example the text is going to print or is needed for a specific event. If the deadline they propose is not realistic, tell them this before you promise to do it. If they want it done yesterday, they should pay more.

Remember that when translators find themselves in court (for low-quality work), the accused is usually an inexperienced translator who took on too demanding a task. Remember that a lot of money can be involved: not just your fee but the cost of printing and distributing the publication. The SKTL website has a standard contract which is worth having a look at to get an idea of what kinds of responsibilities both parties in a translation agreement have. This isn’t meant to scare you off taking commissions, just be sure to keep an eye out for yourself and keep your limits in mind.

If you’re interested in getting into translation, you don’t necessarily have to wait around for someone to drop an assignment in your lap. Translation firms regularly subcontract to freelancers and aren’t opposed to employing students as long as your translations are good enough. Probably the easiest way to go about getting work from translating firms is to log on to the SKTOL (Association of Finnish Translation Companies, http://www.sktol.org/) website and follow the links to the members’ websites to get their contact information. Most, if not all, translation firms will ask you to do a sample translation first (for which you don’t get paid) and if it’s good enough they will put you on their freelancer list. The firms may also have other requirements (such as owning and being able to use a translation memory program), but will usually give this information on their website.

Hopefully this has answered some of your questions about translating and has helped give you some idea of what to expect and what can be expected of you. As already mentioned, SKTL and their website is a good place to turn to for more information.

Good luck and happy translating!

Translation pricing

Pricing depends on the following factors:

1. Experience of the translator/proof-reader.
2. Schedule of the project.
3. Level of the text (general or highly specific)
4. Text to be published or just for the use of the customer

For instance, if you’re a fairly inexperienced translator, you have plenty of time, the text is very general and it won’t be published, you might want to charge according to the lowest fees. On the other hand, if you’re just about done with your studies, you have very little time to translate a highly demanding text that will be published, you should probably choose the highest rates.

You should expect to translate about 1 page per hour.

It is more difficult to define the amount of time needed for proof-reading, as it depends so heavily on the level of text. If you just read through a text you could expect to read up to 5 pages per hour. On the other hand, if you’re required to make a lot of corrections, proof-reading might turn out to be as slow as translating. Therefore, it would be especially useful to see a few pages of the work before you agree to the schedule and pay.

type of work

price/word

price/page

price/hour

Translation € 0.10-0.15 € 15-40 € 15-20
Proof-reading - - € 15-20
Proof-reading with a lot of corrections - - € 15-30

These prices are based on the assumption that you are working off your tax card. If you’re working through your own business, you have to pay your own social security payments (välilliset kulut) and should increase your prices accordingly. You are, of course, completely free to determine your own prices. The suggestions above are just meant to help get you started.