If you employed a translator, what conditions would you impose?

One of the possible translators I’ve been swapping emails with has balked a bit at some of my terms and conditions.  No, not the ones specifying the transfer of his immortal soul and 10cc of blood; most academic contracts contain such terms these days, or so I gather.  No, it’s the ones about how the contract runs.  He suggested that I ask what people think. 

So … what would YOU put in as a condition of getting the job done?  Here’s a set that I sent out recently, slightly amended since I forgot an important bit!

I have to put a few conditions on this commission, as I have had some awkward experiences with people in Lebanon offering translations. These are negotiable, of course, and designed merely to avoid some awkward situations that would not arise with a reputable person like yourself.

Money: I offer 10 cents US.  Do you have a Paypal account?  That is easily my easiest method of payment, you see. 

1.  First, would you do a translation the first page of the material as a sample? I will then get the result checked by another scholar. If it is of academic standard, then I will pay for it then and there, and we will continue; if for any reason it is unsuitable then we will cancel the commission and nothing will be owing.

2.  I would like to receive chunks of the translation at regular intervals (say once a week?), so that I can see that progress is happening.  I will pay for these as they arrive.  If there is a long period of no progress or no contact, of course I reserve the right to cancel and put the work elsewhere.

3.  Delivery to be in electronic form, in Word .doc or .rtf format.

4.  Copyright of each chunk passes to me on payment.  [I then intend to place it in the public domain.  However you get a non-exclusive right to do whatever you like with the results; if you want to revise it further and publish yourself with extra notes etc, then please do.]

The last bit in brackets applies to those commissions where I don’t intend to sell a book form of it.

Anything to add?  Objections to the tone?  Anything to subtract?  All thoughts will be welcome!

12 thoughts on “If you employed a translator, what conditions would you impose?

  1. I don’t do translation, but I do hire programmers time to time. I give them a small good-will payment ahead.
    Because the amounts are so small, I have worked out other methods than PayPal to pay, as they take a percentage on business transactions.
    I would insist on RTF. Too many headaches with MS DOC formats.
    What about references, with previous work to show?

  2. I would think that if you were hiring someone who has a portfolio of previous translations you might be able to offer a little more wiggle room, like payment for the first page guaranteed. However for someone with a small portfolio I think you terms are quite fair.

  3. Hi Roger,
    If things fall through with this translator, you have my email. I’m pretty interested in the Sbath texts.. I actually have the Yale library’s copy of them on my bookshelf for the past couple-few months…

  4. Hate the tone, unsurprisingly from the other thread; I’d much rather this be drier and legalistic, because what you’re saying is “I don’t implicitly trust you” — which is fair enough, but less of a challenge without a personable tone.

    Why not a mainstream open source license like Creative Commons? That gives you an explicit legal framework and no informal second guessing.

    So:

    I have to put a few conditions on the translations I commission, as I have had some awkward experiences with commissioning translations in the past. These are negotiable, but are designed to avoid some awkward situations.

    [Kill the “that would not arise with a reputable person like yourself.” Given what you just said, it comes across as insincere. And no Lebanon]

    Money: I offer 10 cents US. I prefer dealing through Paypal; do you have a Paypal account.

    1. First, I require [request] that you do a translation the first page of the material as a sample? I will then get the result checked by another scholar. Once we have confirmed that is of academic standard, I will pay for the page then and there, and we will continue; if for any reason it is found unsuitable then we will cancel the commission and nothing will be owing.

    2. I would like to receive chunks of the translation at regular intervals (say once a week?), to confirm that progress is happening. I will pay for these as they arrive. If there is a long period of no progress or no contact, I reserve the right to cancel and put the work elsewhere. By default, I require progress or contact at monthly intervals, but this can be negotiated.

    3. Delivery to be in electronic form. I prefer .html, but will accept Word .doc or .rtf format or plain text, by arrangement.

    [Or whatever floats your boat]

    4. Copyright of each chunk passes to me on payment. [I then intend to place it in the public domain. However you get a non-exclusive right to do whatever you like with the results; if you want to revise it further and publish yourself with extra notes etc, then please do.]

    Intend? Or commit to? And the non-exclusive right has to be more concrete than that, which is why I brought up Creative Commons.

  5. Interesting thoughts, people.

    Nick: thanks for your detailed response. I had never thought of creative commons as a contract; interesting idea. One query: you say that the non-exclusive right has to be more concrete than this. Not sure I understand. What am I missing here?

    I’ve tried to avoid a legal contract because I think that they would be meaningless in this context, and — personally — I get very gun-shy when people push contracts at me anyway. As a poor man, I am not going to waste money on an international law suit to enforce one; nor is anyone else going to do it to me. There’s too little involved here. So the point of the terms is to ensure more that both sides are singing from the same song-sheet, rather than to force people to do things. That was my thinking.

  6. I felt that, after my reaction in the other thread, this was the constructive thing to do.

    By more concrete, I meant specifically things like what the options of Creative Commons clarify: does “do what you like” include redistribution? Modification? Commercial use? What attributions are expected? Creative Commons and their ilk set that framework out without having to go through contract law, and make an explicit commitment to open content—which the “do what you like with the results” (and the “intend to place it in the public domain”) do not.

  7. Don’t you think you should say “ten cents per word”?

    I mean, that’s an awful lot of translating to do for just one thin dime…. 🙂

  8. From 1974 to 1996 I was a professional translator; it’s how I made my living, full-time. The language pair I worked in, in both directions, was the most common language pair out there: French/English. At the end of that period, I was setting my rate, for most clients and small jobs (anything less than 50,000 words), at 16c a word — and I was undercutting the market. It’s true that I was accepting only highly technical material, mostly in machine tools, mechanical engineering, etc.; also the financial markets: but ancient Greek theological and historical texts are just as technical, and this is many, many years later: that 10c a word rate will very likely net you only the starving.

    And the reason translators are starving, and willing to work for low rates, is almost always that they’re not full professionals, and will not do a good job. Many times in my career I was called in a year or two or three afterwards, to repair or redo the work of such translators; and on one of the most memorable occasions of my career, an entire factory had come to a halt because of an error in makeshift interpreting, and called in on the troubleshooting mission, at one point on the floor of that factory, standing between my Frenchman and my American, it flashed upon me in an instant exactly what the translation error must have been: on me first, then on both of my people in quick succession. That interpreting error had cost the American company — I can only remember a ballpark figure — $80,000 a day.

    This is not to belittle you for wishing to pay 10c (US?) a word for technical translation in 2009: but beware, beware, and don’t be surprised at the results.

  9. Addendum: Translation review is essential, yes: but you will find your work made much easier if you let the translator know they are going to be reviewed; then if you make it clear to the reviewer that there is nothing in it for them that they do (or don’t) find mistakes; finally, if you have each known to the other, and, after the reviewer has made their recommendations, you then encourage them to work together to produce the final item.

    Otherwise, the reviewer often makes themself obnoxious by picking apart the first translator — often for mere stylistic changes, as valid one as the other; and a horrid rivalry sets up between the two based on ego, instead of coöperation with the aim of producing the best possible final result. Failure to have your two people work together merely results in the substitution of one set of mistakes for another.

    It is a bad idea, by the way, to have your translator deliver chunks of material piecemeal, especially if part of one long document. It’s OK if there are multiple small documents; but with a long document, very frequently, maybe always, the translator will find on p237 the explanation of the difficulty they had with something on p13; one section will cite another; and in general, the best comprehension of a whole document is only achieved after the whole document has been examined carefully — in practical terms, after it has been translated: since mere reading is not close enough.

  10. Bill,

    These are very useful thoughts; thank you!

    Of course I would love to pay more than 10c a word, and I suspect that sometimes the rate is a factor in the experiences I have. But of course those of us who are poor must do the best we can. Even at 10c a word, it adds up quite quickly to large sums!

    Ideally I should have been born a rich man and employed a staff of translators full time for years and years. That would be best for them and for me. Sadly my parents neglected to arrange for this, which was very foolish of them.

    The reason that I get chunks delivered bit by bit is that it allows visibility and control. If it is going to go wrong, or never appear, I shall know. The other reason, simply, is that it is easier to part with $50 every so often than to spend $3,000 in one go! All about the psychology of spending your own money, you see. But you’re right about the revision process, and I try to make that happen somehow.

    Your comments on reviewers are interesting and sound; I will think seriously about this. It’s always good to hear a professional!

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