Should we share our personal problems with the client?

Courtesy of picjumbo, by Viktör Hanacek

If you are on Facebook, you must be familiar with its groups. And if you are an active user, chances are you are a member of at least one group of translators. Translators groups on Facebook usually generate great discussion topics. I myself am a member of one of the largest (if not the largest) translators and interpreters group there is in Brazil. As such, people post all sorts of comments, doubts, complaints, etc. The other day, a translator who works at an agency commented that one of their best translators (in quality, on-time deliveries and trustworthiness) accepted a project one day and on the next day returned it unfinished claiming he quit working as a translator. Just like that. No further explanations. The members of the group started wandering about his reasons to do so: “Maybe he had a serious personal problem and didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with the agency?”

Yesterday, based on this story, another translator raised this discussion: “When we have a serious personal problem, like the death of a parent or sibling, is it worth it to come clear with the client? Wouldn’t they think it’s a lame excuse?” A few members declared having already tried to be sincere with the client, but the consequences weren’t pretty. Besides showing no empathy at all, they even stopped consulting the translator. On the other hand, other testimonies showed some agencies do understand and even show concern for the professional.

My take on the subject is quite straightforward: we should always be sincere with the client. If you feel you might delay the delivery, tell the client and check if it’s possible to have an extension. If you’re sick in bed and there’s no way you can work properly, tell the client and see if you can find a way out – a deadline extension or a friend you can refer. If someone close to you is really sick or has died and you are in no condition to work, talk to the client. If you both have a good long-term relationship, there’s no way they will not understand you. However, if you usually let them down for any reason, of course they will not believe in you when you do have a serious reason for returning a project.

Two years ago, I felt a horrible muscle pain that wouldn’t allow me to work. Actually, I couldn’t move at all! So I had to take some strong muscle relaxant that made me feel really sleepy 22 hours a day. How could I think properly and even work? I did do my best, trying not to leave them in the lurch, but they were totally aware the quality would be compromised. I worked about two hours a day in the first couple of days – it was the most I could do. After that, they tried to reallocate the rest of the project.

Last year, my dad was hospitalized with suspicion of cancer. I had to travel to my hometown last minute and, therefore, had to return two projects I had taken for the next couple of days. I communicated the project manager and she totally understood my situation. Actually, she even sent constant emails, always checking how my father was feeling. He died 10 days later, but it was on a Friday, so it didn’t influence on my ongoing projects. But I wouldn’t think twice in returning any project to the client if I had to in this case. And I wouldn’t even be worried with what the client thought of it, because my family needed me, I needed to go through the grieving period and I knew there was nothing else I could do. If the client hadn’t understood, well, not my problem, really.

We should do our job and always deliver on time; help the client when we can; always be clear, inform any issues and try to find a way out that suits both parties. However, we should never forget we are freelancers, and as such, we shouldn’t be afraid of refusing projects if we can’t work for any reason and of returning a project in case of any real emergency. If you are an example of a translator and if you have a good relationship with the client, they will understand. If they don’t, fire them! I personally don’t want to work with people who do not value pain, grieving or other human issues. Neither should you.

Have you gone through a similar situation? What happened? Even if not, would you like to share your opinion on the topic?

How to Establish Rates


This was one of the topics I already had in mind for one of my weekly posts. I decided to talk about it today after I wrote my contribution to the The Bright Side e-book, a lovely initiative by Nicole Adams and Andrew Morris that celebrates everything that is right in freelance translation, with stories of real successful translators.

This is a quite controversial topic in freelance translation because there are clients offering extremely low rates and translators who accept working for peanuts. More experienced translators, however, despise this kind of translators and think they are a disgrace for our profession.

I disagree.

I, myself, have started working as a freelance translator for an agency for R$ 0.03. Please note that the price is in Brazilian reais, not in dollars, which is even worse, taking into account that US$ 1 is approximately R$ 2.3 nowadays.

You know what? When I was offered that, I was bubbling with happiness. After all, I was able to work as a freelance translator the way I had always dreamed of and would earn some good money. I had just finished my MA and returned to Brazil; had been looking for a job for two months. That was my very first job as a translator.

After one month of “experience” (yeah, right, I was a freelancer and I had to go through an experience period; go figure!), my rate was raised a bit. After one year, it was raised a tiny bit again. However, after this period, I was beginning to be aware of the market. I read blogs, followed experienced translators on social media, talked to translator friends. I started looking for other clients and establishing my own rate.

I believe that our profession is just like any other. Nobody starts earning the same as a senior employee, right? Why should we be different? Besides, there is no such a thing as the right rate. There is, of course, a basis, such as the table of reference values suggested by Sintra (Brazilian translators’ union). Each translator should be able to establish their own rate based on this table, on their educational and professional background, on their experience, on the market, on their specialization, on the language pair, etc. We many have different rates for different clients, but we must have a minimum rate and not settle for less.

My suggestion is that you take all the above points into account when defining your rate. If you’re a newbie and/or has absolutely no idea of the price you should charge, do some research. Ask some translator friends/colleagues who are pretty much in the same level as you are, or a bit more experienced, if they would mind telling you how much they charge.

Do you have a similar or different experience with rates you would like to share with us? What’s your take on this issue?

Learning the Hard Way


After a 4-day Carnival break traveling, I come back home eager to go back to work, with 3 projects to deliver the next day. I feel relaxed and ready to work on my best client’s projects. Only to find out, when I turn my computer on, that it is plain, with absolutely no configuration: no wallpaper, only a few links on my desktop, no Outlook, no FTP, no documents… as if it had just been formatted. “Well,” I thought, “I’ll see what happened later on. Let me work on my projects first.” No, no, no! This client’s CAT, Trados Studio, wouldn’t work either!

I called a colleague. He had never heard of such a thing before. I then called my cousin, and we stayed awake until 5 am (from 11 pm) trying to figure out what happened and to fix it. He was able to find all my documents in a hidden folder. Phew! (I had a backup, but not a recent one.) But I still couldn’t open Trados. A friend of mine came over later that day and also tried to fix it. Nothing. We were only able to create another user, in which I could at least work on Trados. Apparently, my Windows crashed my user in an update, all by itself.

Consequences: I had to do something I dread: cancel all my projects. I felt terrible, desperate and miserable. It was a huge volume to allocate last minute and it was my best client, after all. While there was nothing else I could do because the situation was far beyond my reach, we can’t help it, right? We do feel horrible.

Bottom line is we learn some quite important things when catastrophes like this one happen. My lessons this time were:

  • There is no way a professional translator can have only one computer. We must have at least two! I was already planning on buying another laptop. No plans anymore. I’m buying another one right now!
  • Our backup computers must also have all the programs, software, etc. we need and have on our main computer. That is, I will have to buy another Trados license. This may be obvious for some of you, but it wasn’t for me.
  • Needless to say backups are a must. But they take time and we end up doing them less frequently than we should. So I got an idea from a colleague: send important files we use daily  to the cloud, and do it every day. And then we do our overall backups every week or month.

If you, like me, hadn’t thought of the points mentioned above before, please start considering them now. It’s better to spend some money now than to lose important clients (and our heads) in the future.

Has anything bad ever happened to you that taught you quite a lesson?

Guest post: Freelance versus in-house translator

Here we are again, with yet another guest in our series. Today, Mariana Sasso will talk about the differences between a freelance and an in-house translator. I hope you enjoy her writing as much as I did.

Welcome, Mariana!


Working in-house or from home: A few insights

When I graduated from university a few years ago, I had no idea what my future professional life would hold in store for me, but I was pretty sure I wanted to translate for a living. And that’s what I have been striving to do ever since, but not without a lot of support of colleagues and friends who’ve blazed the trail of living as a professional translator before me. Carol is among the dearest of them, so, when she asked me to share my take on in-house and freelance translation with her readers, I was more than glad to oblige.

However, the first thing that crossed my mind was my awareness that my professional experience is still so slender that I was not completely sure I’d be the right person to write about the perks and bereavements of these two ways of working as a translator. But, then I thought of all those who have taken their time to share their own experiences with me and how good it was to just listen and learn from them, no matter how much or how little their professional experiences related to mine. So I figured that it would still be worth (and fun) sharing my ever-under-construction experience here, however small it may be now. So I selected four aspects about working as an in-house and/or a freelance translator that I feel most comfortable exploring (and that I have been experiencing with greater intensity on a day-to-day basis over the last years) to share with you. I hope you enjoy the ride!

So, the first one is PRODUCTIVITY. When it comes to how much a translator can actually produce in a given workday, it goes without saying that too many a variable are involved, so let us focus only on the environmental one here. From working in-house, I found that there are certain things that can be inconvenient about being inside an office, surrounded by other people or professionals from different areas. Concentration breakers, such as overhearing talks and whispers of people around you or being interrupted by a fellow colleague who has a question (or just a comment on the weather) or by the door opening for mail delivery (without mentioning the telephone ringing almost non-stop) are less likely to happen at home. Not that these examples are necessarily bad things (I actually happen to enjoy them and find them important at times!), but, in the silence of your own home office, these things tend not to happen just as much. However, at home, for those living with stay-at-home family members (such as retired parents, siblings, children, spouses) we just can’t say that there’s unbreakable silence, right? In any case, being interrupted or having the train of thought lost by whatever reason it may be is something that people may consider as the primary factor to influence production, so if your productivity is significantly impaired by noise and distractions, you might find a lot of comfort working from home.

WORKDAY FLEXIBILITY. Some people tend to mention the working hour flexibility as the major perk of being a freelance translator. Schedule flexibility can be a reality, but that is not necessarily true every hour of every day. For instance, if you have few clients and are not near consolidated in the market, if you are at the initial stages of your career and still haven’t reached a somewhat fixed number of jobs a day, then you will probably be stuck at working when there’s work to do (nights, weekends or holidays too). But if that is not your case, yes you can have a very eventful life during weekdays and business hours, as long as you arrange your schedule and plan ahead of time. The word of order here is organization. One’s got to be extra, extra organized if they want to work from home and be self-employed. Remember: there’s no one pushing you forward, so you’ve got to do that yourself. If you have, say, a 9-to-5 job at a company, you’re usually guaranteed at least eight hours of work a day and you’ll stay there doing what is needed of you until the end of your work shift, when, more often than not, you will be “free” to go home and do your things. When you’re a freelance translator, however, those regular, specified and guaranteed working hours are not always a reality, so your schedule flexibility will depend on the jobs you have and their deadlines (and, if you have bills to pay at the end of the month, odds are that your expected schedule flexibility will be secondary to your dues).

BEING A REGULAR EMPLOYER versus BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR. I believe that this is the real deal-breaker for a professional translator to decide whether they can live as a freelance service provider for the long run or not. When you work for a company, its HR department will manage pretty much every aspect involved in the bureaucratic part of the employment relationship: collection, preparation and filing of documents; awareness and compliance with labor laws; collection, payment, deposit and transfer of fees, salaries, taxes, bonuses, vacation pay and rights, including the ever-so-needed FGTS (Brazilian Government Severance Indemnity Fund). When you are self-employed, you have to take care of all those things yourself and/or with the services of an accountant. On top of that, self-employed professionals will only “be paid” if they have work to do and, in order to have work to do, they need to develop their entrepreneurial side and literally go after the job; promote themselves and their work; explain and prove why they should be chosen over other professionals; advertise their services and, not rarely, almost literally dig the job from the mines. However, one might argue that this is no different than the reality of every other professional looking for a job. And I agree, but for self-employed translators, that’s the reality in most days, if not every day! There is an undeniable and material difference between working for a company and being the company yourself, in which case, you would need to take entrepreneurship to a whole new level. While some professionals will find this reality a bummer and extremely hard to deal with, others will find it challenging, stimulating, interesting and rewarding. I believe there is no real way to actually know for sure what suits you best unless you’ve experienced both ways. Believing you can be an effective entrepreneur may be proved right or wrong once you’ve experienced the real deal.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP. Oh, the wonders of having co-workers by your side, keeping you company, interacting with you all day… (or not! :)). Even though this aspect interfaces with the first one mentioned in this post, this is not about productivity, but mainly about human interaction and being comfortable at your workplace. Some people simply enjoy the company of others as they work, while other people prefer to work by themselves, in the quietness and peacefulness of their own offices, where they can turn the music on, up or down, eat at their desks, not worry about wearing fancy clothes and tight shoes, enjoy the comfortableness of using their own bathrooms, remain quiet if they don’t feel like talking or chatting, and, of course, inevitably revving-up their concentration into full blast productivity. Other people just can’t stand the quietness and solitude: they need company and, sometimes, even noise; they like arriving at the office and dispensing heartfelt “good mornings”, sharing a cup of coffee and cookies in the company of the next-desk friend, gossiping over the latest facts, hearing the latest news, well, ultimately bonding with others during their working hours. That full dose of every-day human interaction at work can be really important and necessary for some (most?) people. Having in-house co-workers can make it easier for people to exchange opinions, experiences, questions, problems, excitements, achievements, frustrations, discoveries; improve and increase their network; learn from other people’s mistakes, you name it. However, in spite of being able to do all that in person, face to face and fairly instantly in an in-house environment, that absolutely does not mean you can’t have most any of those things working from home and using real-time technology to connect you with other people. It all depends on your needs and approach as to how efficiently and productively you want to establish your interpersonal relationships and build a solid network. It is undeniable that there are ups and downs to both ways and that they are not perfectly interchangeable, but I believe that having healthy and productive interpersonal relationships is just as possible at home as it is in the office, if you make it.

Well, there are so many other issues to explore on this topic that I could just go on forever, but Ithought it was best to focus on these four aspects of the topic at hand (Libra as I am, you might figure how hard it was for me to actually make the choice). Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below and/or contact me at

Best of luck!

Thanks a lot for accepting my invite and for dedicating your time and effort to writing this wonderful post, Mariana! I loved it! 🙂

Our next guest will be Sara Rivera, talking about translation traps between Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. Stay tuned!

Any in-house/freelance translators who want to share their takes?

About the author
537306_505047499518394_307875091_nI graduated in Translations in 2005 and, soon after that, I moved to the USA where I lived, studied and worked as an AuPair for two years. I completed my specialization in Advanced Studies in English Language in 2012 and I have been working as both an in-house and freelance Eng-Por-Eng translator since 2008.

PROFT 2013 – Part II


In August 2013, I started a series of blog posts about a symposium I participated here in Brazil – PROFT 2013 (III Simpósio Profissão Tradutor). Due to the event’s interesting topics and the interest of my Facebook followers who could not attend it, I decided to write a summary of the presentations I liked the most. After a long break between them, here’s the second part.

The first one, on the different possibilities of interaction between human and machine translators, by Reginaldo Francisco, was written in Portuguese. However, I decided to write this next topic in English, but please keep in mind the original presentation was conducted in Portuguese.

Comfort Points: Ergonomics, Furniture, Habits
Maria Lucia Cumo


If you work with a laptop, make sure you have a separate keyboard and mouse. The keyboard must be directly in front of you (the letter “B” must be the central point) and the mouse should be next to it, on the same level. Make sure the screen is at eye level (you can easily adapt the computer/laptop’s height with a support or some books), but at a comfortable distance from you. Sitting properly is also important: your shoulders and hips need to be aligned; your knees should be slightly below the hips; the seat height must be slightly below the kneecap; your feet can rest easily on the floor or on a footrest. The translator’s line of sight should be parallel to the window and rows of lights to avoid glared and direct light into the eyes.

These two interactive videos show you a few tips on the right posture of your body in the office and on the move: Part I and Part II.



Having an appropriate ergonomic office chair is also a must for people who work in front of the computer. You need to make sure your chair has a comfortable cushion with breathable fabric, adjustable arm rests and seat height, and lumber support.

Ergotron has a Workspace Planner to help you plan your workstation, indicating the right positions, distances and heights of your body and desk components.


Working in front of a computer all day long can cause damage to your eyes, wrists and body in general. In order to counter the effects of sitting for a long time, stand once an hour and practice some sort of physical activity for about 30 minutes per day (divided in 5 minutes throughout the day). If you want to prevent eyestrain, damage to your wrist and the negative effects of sitting all together, get away from the computer every half hour. You can use this time to walk around the house, do some stretching exercises, have some snack.

The EyeDefender, a freeware eye rest reminder, helps you prevent CVC (Computer Vision Syndrome), among other problems related to computer use, by reminding you when you need to take a break. It also offers four options to enjoy your break. The f.lux is a software that adapts the color of your screen according to the time of day. Besides those resources, here are a few simple steps you can take to “stretch” your eyes:

  • Look away from the screen for a few seconds every few minutes and focus on distant objects
  • Look around
  • Blink several times

It is extremely important not only to rest your body, but also your mind. You do not necessarily need to leave the internet to do so. Here are a few websites that can help you de-stress, and remove anxiety and tension.

It allows you to choose whether to relax for 2, 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes. You can also choose a nature scene that accompanies a relaxing background noise. If you prefer, you can opt for the guided relaxation, in which a relaxing voice instructs you on how to relax. An iPhone app is also available for download.

It allows you to freely draw using the cursor. Everything you draw is mirrored, creating patterns that draw in the eye. A background song follows your interactive art creation. An iPhone and iPad app is available for download.

Do Nothing For 2 Minutes
As soon as you open the link, a 2-minute countdown starts, followed by the sound of waves and a calming background image of the sea. You should not do anything else, besides enjoying the moment. If you do as much as move your mouse, the countdown starts from the beginning again.

It allows you to choose from different sounds: rain, thunderstorm, wind, forest, leaves, water stream, seaside, water, bonfire, summer night, coffee shop, white noise, pink noise and/or brown noise. The background color also subtly changes.

The Pomodoro Technique can help you schedule your breaks and stay productive for 25 minutes in a row.

In a nutshell, it extremely important to define your work hours, taking regular breaks throughout your business hours to rest, stretch, relax and eat. Do not forget a good diet, eating something every 2-3 hours and drinking at least 2 liters of water per day also help us be more productive and healthy.

Here are some other related articles on the topic that may help:
The Health Hazards of Sitting
12 Yoga Poses to Undo the Damage of Your Desk Job
How Sitting All Day is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It

Do you have any other tips and/or suggestions to add? Feel free to comment on your routine as well. 😉