Six Outsourcers’ Mistakes in Communicating with Freelance Translators

This article is inspired by an excellent piece called ‘10 reasons why I wouldn’t hire you as a translator‘ that provides some insights from outsourcers’ point of view.  And while it precisely describes the mistakes freelance translators make when applying for a job, I got the feeling that something needs be said from the opposite side too.

Dear outsourcers and translation job posters, below is a summary of mistakes I’ve seen you making in communicating with freelance translators.

1. Your job description is vague (or non-existent)

Before I can offer you my services I need to know what the job is to be about. I need to know your requirements in advance so that I don’t send a bid for something I’m not fit for. It sure is not enough to write:

“one document need to translate from Czech to English.
Pls send me your best rate if you are interested.”


“ENG to SLK” (!!!)

I’m not a mind reader. When you’re posting, include at least a short description of your project (word/page count, document format, topic, preferred CAT tools, if any, deadline, etc.). Such postings really do not look professional and I doubt you can hire a quality translator this way,

2. You ask for the best rate

What is this? The best rate for me is surely different from what is the best rate for you. Why don’t you just ask for a standard rate? Any discounts (surcharges?) can be negotiated afterwards, I think. Without seeing the actual document, it’s really difficult for me to tell how much time and effort the translation will cost me.

3. You ask for a translation, but it’s proofreading in the end

You write you’re looking for a translator and then you email me:

“Good morning, We have already assigned the translation. Would you be immediately available for the proofreading instead?”

Well, why not, I can do that. But what I get afterwards is a poorly translated text, either done by someone who’s been staying in the source language country for a while and think they can translate to their native language (What? I’ve been au-pairing here in the UK for five years, sure I can translate into Slovak!), or simply machine translated. Such an approach just shows you want to keep your costs as low as possible, at all costs.

4.  You pretend to have a translation job you don’t really have


My name is … and I am a Project Assistant at … .
I have a new proofreading project coming up and was wondering if
you would be available for it.

The file is a … questionnaire of less than 1000
words; we get these regularly so it would be the start of a long
term collaboration.

If you are interested, please send me your most recent CV 
I would need you to sign our documentation before I can send you
anything; I hope that’s OK!

I look forward to hearing from you!”

OK, no problem with signing your documentation. Then you send your “registration pack” (or whatever you call it), I sign everything that needs be signed, send it back to you …  and you never reply! Not even a simple “thank you for signing and sending the registration pack”. Just leaves me wondering if you really had that project you advertised.

5. You ask for an unpaid test translation and don’t provide any follow-up

In a reply to my bid, you ask me to do a short, unpaid translation test for you. I understand you wish to check beforehand the quality of the services you’re about to buy, that’s perfectly OK with me. Neither I would want to buy a pig in a poke. However, I’ve spent some time and resources on the translation test, therefore, I would like to know how I scored.

6. You ignore emails with my invoices

This one is worst of all. While the job is running, everything seems to be perfect. You communicate with me nicely, answer all my queries and are indeed helpful. When I send you an invoice, you don’t even open my email (oh yeah, I can track that now).

One more thing that upsets me (though can’t be included in the above list) is that you don’t reply to my bids. Even if you don’t award the job to me, I would really appreciate a reply – at least to know that you have seen and considered my application.

Note: I wish to thank Tereza Letalova for giving me the inspiration to write this blog. All quotations made above are real life examples. No offence intended. 


12 thoughts on “Six Outsourcers’ Mistakes in Communicating with Freelance Translators

  1. Oh, yes! Sometimes some job posts are annoying too.

    You missed the “you send the project offer to 30 translators at the same time and don’t wait to hear everybody’s answer”, so when you answer to it 2 minutes later, you answer with a “sorry, it has already been assigned”. I hate when that happens, as they make waste time to the rest of the translators 😉


    1. That is so unprofessional, indeed. First of all, the PM/outsourcer should try and find the translator that best fits the project requirements, not just in terms of language combination, but also experience and specialisation. Then, a phone call to see if the translator is available, followed by either sending the documents for the translator to assess and see whether he or she can take it on, or finding another translator and call and etc. Yes, it may seem a little more hard work than the mass-email, but I think this is how it should be done. It should never be a case of first come, first served.


    1. Hahahaha. Yes! I had this one too. And then you get one translator replying to all and saying that they can take care of the task, and you just say “Hooray! Now I don’t even have to waste my time anwsering to the project offer!” 😉


  2. Very true, and unfortunately I have come across most of these pieces of communication, too (including the one Curri mentions). I especially hate No. 2, “Please state your best rate”, which is a total show-stopper for me. After I once replied to such an offering with my “best price”, the person at the other end still wanted to haggle. Since then I don’t bother to reply to such jobs anymore.


  3. Good (…or bad?!) to know I’m not alone 😉 Another good one is the assumption that I can equally work in the opposite direction with respect to my actual language combinations. Anyone else with this one?


    1. @Elisa: Unless it is a really rare language combination (I assume there aren’t many English native speakers who translate from Zumaya for example), you should not be asked to translate from your mother tongue, but it occasionally happens.


      1. Good point Alina, very rare language combinations can be a different matter. But generally speaking, I think one should always stick to translating into their native language, unless it’s a text for in-house information purposes only, where a 100% impeccable quality is not required.


  4. First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for sharing this post and contributing to this “lively” discussion. I’m more than happy to see I have inspired some thoughts. However, I feel I must make one point here. I really can’t see any reason why one should not translate from their native language if they are good at it. I mean, if you have an excellent command of a foreign language and have your translation proofread by a native speaker, translating from your native language shouldn’t be a problem. Or am I wrong? Actually, I prefer translating from Slovak (which is my mother tongue) to English over translating in the opposite direction.


    1. You rightly pointed out “proofread by a native speaker” (with excellent writing skills, may I add). Which should make for a 100% impeccable result on all levels – something you are unlikely to achieve on your own unless you’re perfectly bilingual.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s