[Research] Freelance translator survey 2020:
5. Freelance translator profile
Personal profiles & answers to your comments
Published on 30 November 2020, Last updated 7 December 2020
Freelance translators – lifestyles
The final section of our survey questionnaire explored a range of factors relating to the circumstances and lifestyles of our sample of freelance translators.
Of the 1,027 who answered the question, 33% said they had dependent children living with them.
40% of the 1,026 who answered reported that they have pets. This is in line with the general UK population, where around 41% of households own at least one type of pet according to a study.
We asked these respondents what type of pets they have, and the percentages owning certain types of pets are shown in the below chart. This shows that 63% of those owning pets have cats, while 41% have dogs. As a comparison, the dog is the most popular pet in the UK, followed by the cat, so the other way round than in the case of translators.
The respondents were next asked how often they exercise, and the distribution of responses shows a wide variation in terms of frequency of exercise. At one extreme, 14% said that they exercise every day, while at the other extreme 12% reported that they exercise rarely or never. Overall, 71% of respondents exercise at least every week, and more than half (51%) exercise at least 3 or 4 times weekly.
Compared with the findings of a WHO study which revealed that 27.5% of people do not do enough physical activity and those from a survey from the European Commission which discovered that almost 50% of adults do not exercise at all, freelance translators are a lot more active.
The figure below shows the percentages of respondents reporting that they undertake specific forms of exercise, for the 719 who said that they do undertake exercise and who answered this question (they were allowed to tick multiple forms of exercise).
Of these, brisk walking was mentioned by the highest percentage of those respondents who undertake exercise (36%), followed by yoga (32%), jogging or running (28%), and strength training (27%).
Walking is the most popular form of exercise in the world according to data from Fitbit, with 70% of people practising it.
Language(s) and dreams
[dreams are] children of an idle brainWilliam Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
We next asked translators to specify which language they dream in: their native language, non-native language(s), both or neither (or have no idea) and the distribution of responses is shown below.
The findings revealed that more than half (55%) of the respondents who answered the question say that they dream in both their native and their non-native language(s). 28% said that they dream only in their native language, and only 2% reported that they dream in their non-native language(s).
I have been interested in the language choice (in a subconscious context such as dreaming) of bi- or multilinguals for a very long time. There is very little literature available on the topic and more research is needed in the field before definitive conclusions can be reached. However, there are a few studies that looked at this and I would like to thank Prof. dr hab. Danuta Gabryś-Barker from the University of Silesia, who was kind enough to give me access to her research (What the Languages of Our Dreams Tell Us About Our Multilinguality). In this case, the research involved language learners, and the preliminary data showed that there is a correlation between language proficiency and how often it occurs in our dreams, confirming the observation of a study carried out in 2013 by Sicard and de Bot.
There are some analogies between language activation in the thinking and dreaming ofDanuta Gabryś-Barker, 2015
multilingual language users. Both are strongly influenced by the context of language
functioning, immersion in the language, but also affective aspects of functioning in
these languages in life and interactions with other people.
Francois Grosjean Ph.D. conducted a study showing that 64% of multilinguals reported dreaming in more than one language.
One interesting aspect of dreams in bilinguals is that some people have reported speaking a language fluently in a dream when they are not actually fluent in that language.Francois Grosjean, Thinking and Dreaming in Two (or More) Languages
Optional questions and answers to respondents’ comments
As an optional question, respondents were asked ‘If you could change one thing not currently under your control, that would make your life as a freelance translator better, what would that be?’ Overall, 555 respondents took the opportunity to answer this question, and their responses were categorised as follows:
Rates (n=132) and payment terms (n=17)
“The global trend among agencies to compete on rate only, and to disregard quality and professionalism as good ways to compete.”
“Stop that ridiculous competition for rates (ProZ and similar, and quite a few agencies).”
“Stop this arm wrestling about rates when working with agencies.”
“Knowing what other translators charge so I have more confidence to push for a pay rise with my clients!”
“Agencies to have more reasonable payment terms (i.e. within 30 days, not 90!)”
“A legal obligation for commercial invoices to be paid on time”
“Receiving payment of jobs upon delivery”
“Better laws to protect from fraud. Have payment be closer to the delivery date. Usually, we are paid 30 to 60 days after we delivered the translation.”
“A steady stream of work/income”
“I would like to have a more steady amount of work.”
“Probably a more steady workload”
“[…] commissions more regularly. Often it is very much, and then nothing.”
“Only to have more certainty about the flow of projects. Can’t complain much, but it would always be nice to have a steadier flow at times”
“More regular work rather than peaks and troughs.”
“Work booked in more than one week ahead. It is always constant and usually always does come in, but my head is always doing cash flow calculations, which is exhausting.”
“More work from my favorite agencies!”
“Daily requests for translations at wonderful rates without having to lift a finger.”
Recognition and respect (n=58)
“More respect and value placed on the profession by the outside world.”
“For everyone to understand that as freelancer translators, we can’t work for a pittance as being a translator is a highly-skilled job that requires a lot of extra thinking, prep, etc. time.”
“Better public awareness that we carry out skilled work”
“That clients as a whole had a better understanding of what translators do and how much hard work goes into making something have quality without actually making it sound as a translation.”
“Clients seeing us as professionals delivering a service of great value to them.”
“I wish people would understand that my job is not an easy one and should be valued properly.”
“I’d like people in my country to understand that translation is a real job, and that you need professional skills to perform it.”
“I would love to be considered a professional like any other. We have studied at university and got a degree. Thus, our work has a value that more often than I want is not appreciated or valued.”
“Greater respect for the profession – I’d like to see us treated (and paid) in the same way as other, comparable professionals with similar qualifications and specialisms.”
“I would change the attitude of clients that think that translation is a commodity.”
“I would like the profession to be regulated so that we would be taken more seriously, and people couldn’t just decide to become a translator on a whim (and charge peanuts for bad quality work).”
“Translation agencies to establish automated invoicing systems […] which takes out the hassle of manually invoicing.”
“Raise the rates agencies are paying.”
“Direct links with clients without translation agencies”
“Faster process of payment by the agencies”
“Elimination of translation agencies that take a huge cut of the fee for your work”
“[…] getting feedback from agencies (I only work with them at the moment) regarding translation quality and payment would be appreciated.”
“I believe there should be a minimum rate that translation agencies cannot go under when working with qualified translators, so that translators can have a decent rate, and provide translation and linguistic services that remain superior to what machine translation can do now… I believe most translators are passionate about their job and not all translators are willing to only edit machine translation in the future.”
“Agencies could provide direct communication with clients under an agreement of non-solicitation; payment terms would be a lot shorter (15 days at most).”
“I would like clients to understand that PEMT is not an option to get the same quality faster and cheaper. I would like agency clients to understand that imposing particular CAT tools, especially online ones, slows us down and poses quality problems, and that you don’t get the same result twice as fast by having two translators work on the same document at the same time.”
“To have the agencies treat me like a person, with feelings, and not a machine.”
Law and taxes (n=30)
“The tax pressure on freelancers in Italy is crippling. I am happy to pay taxes, but without services in return, it’s just utter theft.”
“Romania’s sworn translators’ law”
“The taxation system in Italy is a heavy burden on freelancers.”
“Lowering the social contributions; we have to pay as self-employed people in Germany (currently more than twice as much as employees pay).”
“Less bureaucracy and lower social contributions, better state benefits”
“The Spanish tax system”
“Laws and regulations in my country”
“Currently, governmental parity of financial support for the self-employed”
“Govt admin and tax rules are very unfavorable to a small operation like mine.”
“I’m concerned about the spread of legislation in the US that severely limits the rights of creative freelancers to be self-employed rather than work for agencies, like California’s AB5.”
“Finding a steady part-time job instead of freelancing”
“To be able to plan ahead on how much work I can count”
“To have a steady job and not have to search for them so much. I spend months sometimes trying to find a job.”
“Be sure that I will always have work with the same translation agencies that have been my partners for years.”
8 respondents mentioned they would, if possible, get rid of machine translation completely.
“I would get Translation Memory vendors to either improve their algorithms or change their wholly unrealistic match statistics analyses.”
“I would like to have access to affordable technology and tools, as well as guidance on how to do my job better, get more profitable jobs, belong to a community.”
“Make machine translation disappear :-)”
“Better software to convert all texts to Word”
“Lowering the purchase price for CAT tools licences”
“I would make CAT tools disappear.”
“Better technical computer and software knowledge”
“A better tool than Microsoft Word”
“A completely indestructible IT set-up”
“I wish localization and CAT tools were mandatory subjects in my college. The lack of awareness regarding these topics leaves us completely unprepared for the real world after graduating.”
More clients (n=24)
“Figuring out how to get more clients”
“I would like to have more direct clients, but I hate looking for them. I have ideas, contact people but then don’t follow through.”
In the Other category, the respondents mentioned: COVID, deadlines, health, Brexit, learning/training, marketing, work-life balance.
“Coronavirus and Brexit (sorry, I can’t choose one)”
“Stop the COVID-19 situation and the economic crisis following it.”
“Having co-workers, X-mas parties and bonuses”
“To have more free time for reading and so improving my general knowledge”
“I would study one more foreign language while being younger.”
“Have somebody doing marketing and cold calling for me. If I had the financial resources, I would invest in a person doing business development.”
“Working in a community of freelancers (an agency only composed of freelancers for example), so that to have co-workers to talk with without the drawbacks of having a boss.”
“Elimination of chronic pain/RSI (caused by office work)”
“Make health insurance affordable for freelancers.”
“Access to translation-related course and translation certification”
“I would love to be able to focus on actual translation work rather than marketing myself to potential clients.”
“Live somewhere where I could attend translators’ conferences and training more easily. I live far from any big city where these events are generally hosted.”
“More time for reading and writing”
“I would live in the forest, far away from people.”
“The victim mentality of many of my fellow translators”
“The ability to find new clients without the need to actually talk with them :)”
Only 7 freelance translators out of the 555 who answered this question said there was nothing they would change.
“Nothing to change!”
“I am pretty content with what I do and what I have.”
Your comments and questions – answered
I will take this opportunity to thank again everyone who filled in our survey and for the overwhelmingly positive comments you sent. We really appreciate them.
Some of you wanted to know why we asked certain questions or had various comments, which we will try to address here.
Some of you asked why we decided to include questions on children, pets, exercise, or dreaming. We apologise to those who found them intrusive, that was never our intention (hence them being optional). The idea was to be able to sketch a more complete portrait of the translator, not only from a professional point of view (experience, tools, education), but also from a more personal one.
Also, regarding dreams, please see the more detailed explanation in the respective section (exploring the way the bilingual brain works).
The question on Brexit – as the results revealed, a lot of translators have been affected by it, including us (both I – Alina – and Flo are EU citizens and in the UK, and we work with clients from the EU), so we thought sharing the ways people have experienced it is of interest.
A few translators complained it was a bit long. We agree, it was (and we actually trimmed it down from the first draft :))) But it was also an exploratory survey, to see which areas are of interest to you, so we can then explore them further in future (shorter) surveys.
There were a couple of comments on gender that we’d like to address.
Some of you were happy we included transgender people (thank you), one wasn’t (“There are only two genders”) – we honestly don’t know how to respond to this. We are far from being experts on the topic, but we believe in equality and human rights, so there.
“I would suggest a separate tick box for transwomen and transmen. Lumping them together with women and men will potentially skew data. May I suggest reading Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women for an insight into why we need accurate data in these areas.” Thank you, we are always open to learning more.
More options to tick
“I could have ticked a few more boxes regarding your question about what I dislike most about working with translation agencies, as I have encountered almost all of the bullet points several times and ground my teeth accordingly. Perhaps increase the number of possible answers here in future surveys? But thanks for doing this! It feels good to be taken seriously by other professionals.”
Duly noted, thank you. We had initially designed them like that, but we discussed the drawbacks of doing so and decided to limit them. One of the reasons we asked people to tick the top three […] was to make them actually think of the most pressing issues. When people can tick all that apply, some might do it indiscriminately or just tick all available.
Issues with the survey itself
“You need to specify the unit in the question about how much we charge.”
We did. Sadly, if the survey was taken on a mobile, this may have not been visible properly in portrait mode. We were not aware at the time, otherwise we would have specified it. We apologise.
“You give no choice of type of billing! […] The standard method in Germany is by the standard 55-keystroke line in the target language; and for books et al., the standard page”
We are aware of the various billing methods that exist, and we consulted with several people in our profession. However, there are limitations as to what the software supported and be able to do so in a way that can be analysed later. The question on rates was the most difficult one to design and analyse. We will look into what other options there are that can help with such questions in the future though.
“In such surveys, I always find it a pity to have to choose only one pair of languages if there is at least one other pair that one works with just as frequently.”
“It was difficult to choose the main language, as there are periods with one language, then periods with the second one and periods with the third one.”
Definitely something to take into account for future surveys. Like with rates, it was a matter of software limitation and being able to analyse the answers in a meaningful way.
“There were required answers in a couple of places where it didn’t make sense, for example, I wasn’t eligible to vote in the referendum but had to enter what I voted for, and I have no pets but had to enter what kind of pets I have.”
A few respondents experienced this issue. This happened due to a glitch during an update from SurveyMonkey on 24 March, when some of the skip logic questions were affected, meaning some respondents were presented with irrelevant questions. Sadly, we did not know about the update until a translator drew our attention, and then SurveyMonkey confirmed it was something at their end. We apologise.
One of the most difficult choices was to decide which charity to donate to. There were so many suggestions, for so many good causes! The main themes were ‘healthcare’ (almost half of the respondents) and ‘children’, so we decided to donate £250 to a charity that combines both.
With this question, we also learnt about some charities we had never heard about. To the translator who suggested the ‘Make-a-Wish’ charity: thank you for a good cry. It helped me make the decision a tad easier.
Since there was no way we could decide on one charity, we decided to donate to three charities (£100 each): Cancer Research UK, Make-a-Wish (a charity that grants wishes to children who battle serious, life-shortening illnesses), and Dăruiește Viață (a Romanian charity that is building a hospital for children with cancer).
One person suggested blood donation instead of money. Well, we did that too. While I (Alina) don’t qualify for a blood donation, Flo did. And considering his phobia of needles and blood, that was no mean feat.
Another theme was ‘homelessness’, so I (Alina) contributed by donating my time and skills by translating for a charity that helps people who face homelessness.
If this research has whet your appetite for more (it certainly has whet ours) and you would like to contribute to further studies we will be carrying out, you can do so below.
Make your voice heard!
Are you a translator or interpreter? Do you want to take part in future research or read the reports? Your opinion matters!
We are planning to conduct other surveys (shorter and more focused) on topics such as:
- collaborating with colleagues
- best practices
- one focused on interpreting etc.
If you have any feedback or questions about this survey, or if there are certain correlations you’d like to see, please feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com.
Authors: Alina Cincan, Flo Bejgu, Lynda Joeman
Contributors: Dr Marta Stelmaszak Rosa, Rob Beswick, Ted R. Wozniak, Chloe Jepps, Dr Camille Collard, Dr Cyrille Ndjitat Tatchou, Dr Joseph Lambert, Ruth Partington, Catherine Christaki, Allison Wright, Tess Whitty, Catharine Cellier-Smart, Simon Berrill, Caroline Alberoni, Yael Cahane-Shadmi, Lloyd Bingham, Serli Varjabetyan, Valeria Aliperta, Sarah Bawa Mason, Karen Tkaczyk, Meg Dziatkiewicz, Ann Brooks, Emma Goldsmith, John Worne
Illustrations: Christian Mirra
Sections of Freelance translator survey 2020
- Key findings & demographics
- Working as a professional translator
- Working with clients
- COVID-19 & Brexit
- Freelance translator profile (current page)
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