12 Things You Should Never Say to a Translator

Danilo Coviello

The world of translating has changed over the years, but no matter how long you’ve been doing it, there are common questions that you’ll be asked as a translator. To start with, it may really irritate you but eventually, you will find it pretty humorous and get a good laugh out of it. We hope you can enjoy the humour in it like we do!

1. We just had a student write 113 pages of this document. Can you quickly proofread it for us?

Ummm…. Sure. Are you planning to pay me? I’ll get right on that. And define your use of the word “quickly”, I can already tell we probably have vastly different definitions of the word!

2. You said you are a translator. You only speak three foreign languages?

Excuse me? I’m fairly sure that’s three more than most!

Don't Say to Translator

3. My Aunt speaks French and she looked over your translation and says it’s absolute rubbish.

Well…if that’s the case, then maybe you should have taken it to your Aunt in the first place.  It sounds like she is in a much better position to translate for you than I am as professional translator with years of experience!

4. What does (insert random word here with zero context) mean? You are a translator, right? You should know it.

Yes.  You are right.  I am a translator and I probably do know the word you are referring to, but at risk of having to explain the nuances of entire languages to you, it may be helpful if you could give me some context so I know which word you are trying to land on.

5. Hey, I studied Spanish in high school. I’d like to work as a translator. Do you think you could help me get into the industry?

I guess we make this job look so effortless and easy that anyone could do it. If all the translating business needed were people who may or may not have attended a Spanish class or two in high school, then why would there be a multi-billion dollar industry built around this need?  Sheesh.

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6. What? You are going to charge ________ (fill in the blank) to translate a 4500-word legal document? That’s absurd. I’m just going to use Google translate instead.

Having your time wasted and business criticised never feels great but we suggest you consider the source.  If they really think they’ll have better luck with Google translate then, by all means, let them have it.  It probably won’t be long until they come running back to you begging you to do their job for them.

7. I need this 45-page document translated and I need it yesterday! You need to give me a discount.

Oh, you need a discount on your rush job?  That’s nice.  Let me know if you find anyone willing to do your that for a discount.  If anything, we’re pretty sure you should be paying us a premium to take on the job!  Unrealistic expectations by clients are maddening – unfortunately, it’s all part of the job we love.

8. Wait, you do translations from home? Is that even a real job?

What?  Where would you prefer we do our translating?  Does it make it more legit if we translate in a bus station or a church or a parking lot?  Last time we checked a legit job was a legit job.  Yes, it’s a real job.  *Shakes head*


9. There’s no way it can take that long! The document is only 30 pages, it shouldn’t take you longer than a day.

Let’s look at the maths: a 30-page document is probably around 15,000 words in length.  The average translator can accurately translate around 300 words per hour – so that’s about 50 hours in total, without considering basic human needs such as eating, sleeping and bathroom breaks.  Hmm…

10. We need you to translate this super confidential document. We can’t send it to you because it’s secret but we need to know how much you are going to charge.

Well, as long as we are throwing ridiculous requests out there with zero information on the task at hand, let’s set a price of £50,000 for this project!

angry linguist

11. The file I need translating is a JPEG scan and I absolutely need the formatting to be maintained.

Yes, because being fluent in a language isn’t enough. I also need to be an expert in technology and graphic design!

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12. Please can you provide me with a quote for the translation of my website? It’s about 150 pages and no, I don’t know the word count.

Oh, yes. Absolutely!  There’s nothing I love more than spending hours copying and pasting the entire content of your website, URL by URL, into a Word document to calculate the word count, only for you to then tell me your budget won’t cover the cost.

To Conclude…

As a translator, you will definitely have heard some variation of these from some well-meaning individual that clearly hasn’t thought things through before asking. Just know you are among friends here.  These types of comments and questions are very common and we’ve all heard it before – though it doesn’t make it any less annoying!