Category Archives: English

Save money on translations for your visa application

Are you planning to travel to an English-speaking country and need a visa?
The consulate usually requests a certified translation of your pay slip or personal documents (such as marriage / civil partnership certificate).
Well, did you know that your pay slip might be available in English already? DATEV, the cooperative that makes the software most payroll accountants use, provides the option to export the pay slip in English.
This feature isn’t available in all tools. You should ask your company’s payroll accountant (Lohnbuchhalter) to print you an English pay slip.
Also, if your child was born in Germany, you can request a multilingual birth certificate from the registry office (Standesamt). This service may also be available for other civil records, such as marriage certificates.
Multilingual documents can save you serious money. Many forms are hard to translate due to formatting and specialized abbreviations, so the translation won’t be cheap. So before you hire a translator, find out if there are foreign-language versions of the papers requested by the embassy.

Special tip for ERASMUS students

Are you going for an exchange semester? First ask your university, if they have any translated versions of your certificates. This might take some research.
Try to get a Word file. With a pre-existing translation of your certificates, you can ask a certified translator if they’re willing to give you a discount, because the right template will save them a lot of time.
Are your friends going abroad too? Team up with fellow students to get a group discount for translating university papers. After all, the translator will only have to recreate the formatting once, and the content changes very little.

Does it make sense to join a translators’ association?

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
Adam Smith

For the record: I am a member of the BDÜ, although it’s not easy to join when you start out without credentials.

I wouldn’t say that associations like the BDÜ or the ATA can do much to raise a sinking tide, but their lobbying does improve conditions not just for their members, but also for everyone else.

One example is the BDÜs work to reduce health insurance contributions for freelancers. Do note, they’re not campaigning to improve our social security per se, just to make it cheaper for us.

So lobbying / single-issue campaigning has a bad rep from a labor perspective. Still I think we laborers should organize in every possible (and impossible) way, just like the people who buy or services, be it consumers or capitalists.

Taking as an example reduced health insurance premiums: This means that it becomes easier to “start your own business,” although as a freelancer you’re not really a business, mostly because you carry much more personal and financial risk than some rich heir who’s shielded by a limited liability corporation.

If you go broke, you won’t have savings, so the public will pay for you, and you should compensate the public for this risk by paying at least your own full share to the mandatory health insurance.

No wonder that politically professional associations lean more towards liberalism (FDP) than socialism. Also, agency owners may join the BDÜ, although it’s nominally a translators’ organization.

So we’re in the same situation as prostitutes / sex workers, whose main employment type is disposable…err… freelance and whose main lobby organization is criticized for being funded by male brothel owners, while nominally the association only allow women to join.

Comparing prostitution to other freelance work actually has some merit, because it takes out the moral question. There’s nothing morally wrong with freelancing – or is there?

Paying for errors with CAT tool matches

Repetitions not only dump prices, they also prevent consistency.

I used to work a lot for agencies who served one big client, usually tech companies. They always demanded one particular CAT tool and would not pay you less for matches (previous translations stored in the database). So you were encouraged to reuse old translations, even if were really bad.

So for example, all the matches would be written in the passive voice, use wrong terms or be parrotting the source text, because obviously the previous translator had a) no idea or b) was using machine translation.

My translation would be very different, and so the output text would be an inconsistent wad that no one would bother to read.

I would even offer the agency’s project manager to batch-update the entire translation memory for free, but it wasn’t possible. Many CAT tools, most notably Across, don’t allow translators to change any entries in the translation memory. They are intended to collect work from countless anonymous contributors, who have no clue.

Many of the successful CAT tools obstruct translation processes, not just for service providers, but also for the client. So your data becomes so “secure,” even you can’t touch it anymore. The 100% matches are automatically inserted into the source text and locked, so you can’t edit bad pretranslations.

This was basically what is now happening with MT post-editing, but without the ability to post-edit. I’ve nothing against editing other people’s (or machines’) work, but it just isn’t faster than translating it right the first time.

This was around 2010. I’ve since stopped accepting high-repetition projects or projects where I have to use a specific CAT tool – even if they can pay quite well if you do it right. I do use my own CAT tool and translation memories provided by the client, but I will take the time (and money) to make the old matches consistent.

10 things to consider when speaking with simultaneous interpretation


  1. Especially for the hosts: Start off by asking if everyone can hear the translation and point out that there are headphones, because not all people notice it right away.
  2. When you’re speaking through an interpreter, it’s not one person holding a speech, but two. So if your speech is written, you need to submit your script to the conference organizers as soon as possible, so they can forward it to the interpreters. If you start holding a speech that no one is prepared for, the interpreter will have to stop because you’re too fast.
  3. If you submitted a script before the event, the interpreters will be sticking to that. If you add anything that’s not in your draft, you need to make a short pause or give the interpreters a sign.
  4. Free speeches are much easier to interpret live than written speeches and need less preparation. Don’t worry about breathing pauses, ems and errs – they’re great for all listeners, especially for the interpreters. There’s no such thing as too slow in public speaking. .
  5. If possible, the interpreters and the speakers should keep eye contact during the speech – and agree on hand signs. The alternative, especially if the interpreters are sitting in cabins, is that they ask their listeners to ask the speaker to slow down, which is not very elegant.
  6. Especially if you didn’t hand in your script before the speech, give the interpreters a short briefing before your talk about things you’d like them to highlight. Many speakers say bye and thanks to the interpreters, but if you say hi before your speech, it’s way better for you.
  7. Speak slowly and clearly – about 3 minutes per page at least. As if every sentence was a punch line and you’re waiting for an audience reaction – think TED talks. Do not mumble or rush through “boring parts” of the text – the interpreters have to interpret these too.
  8. Speak extra slowly and clearly when saying names of people and institutions, dates, numbers and figures. If the interpreters are working as a team, one of them might note down this data for the other.
  9. If your speech is longer than 30 minutes, you will probably have 2 interpreters. So they need a few seconds every 20-30 minutes to switch mics.
  10. Avoid colloquialisms and wordplay – punchlines don’t translate well. Funny stories are great though, because the joke is not in a few words but in the plot.


The total rate for a project depends on factors such as difficulty, volume, deadline, my own capacity, and the world price for coffee.

The most recent survey by the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators  (BDÜ) should help you find a realistic estimate.

Price per word

German – English €0.16 English – German €0.15

Hourly services (proofreading, editing, subtitling, transcription)

Hourly rate (DE/EN) €50


Consecutive Simultaneous (Conference)
German ↔ English €710 €750

Repetition discounts

Repetitions 70% discount
100% matches 70% discount
95-99% matches 50% discount
85-94% matches 40% discount
75-84% matches 20% discount
50-74% matches No discount
No Match No discount


Should clients pay for proofreading?

Whether it’s software coding or writing: Quality assurance costs money. Somewhere between 30-50% of a decent translation’s price are costs of review.

Some reasons include:

  • You need a second pair of eyes – or you have the author spend more time on correction, both of which cause higher costs of labor.
  • You want the proofreader to be more experienced than the translator. A rookie will either overcorrect perfectly fine writing (and cause huge cleanup costs) or not catch real errors.
  • To find a professional, you need to pay a professional. Some agencies charge clients too little (or pocket a too high cut), skew their budgets towards translation over proofreading, and end up not really knowing what they’re buying or selling.

Clients can insource the proofreading by having their staff do it, provided someone speaks the target language. So it’s best suited for jobs involving your country language and English / a world language.

Even if your staff are not native-level speakers of the target language, they should be able to check the translation for consistency with the source and correctness. For the linguistic quality, you have to rely on the translator.

Some of the benefits of in-house proofreading include:

  • Clients know their job best. A translator should be able to produce a well written text, but technical details might escape them. The best proofreader is a subject-matter expert, not a native linguist.
  • Direct communication produces better results. You can clarify all questions with the translator without having a third party involved. As a side effect, you improve your working relationship with your supplier and the quality of future jobs.
  • The translator will be prepared to rework their translation in detail. But be aware that you won’t find any translator who puts in this extra effort at or below the market rate.

Whether you choose to insource or outsource the proofreading, ask the translator specifially what portion of your project’s time and budget they allocate to it. Ask them who will do it.

If you want to save costs and improve your control over the final product, offer to have your people do the proofreading.

How not to get cheated as a freelancer

In 10 years as a freelancer, I’ve only been screwed twice. If you deduct the time I got my money back with interest, it’s once only.

My clients range from private individuals, small businesses to large organizations. Of my approx. 100 invoices a year, 99.99% are paid on time.

Maybe I’ve been lucky, because I read a lot of bad stories from colleagues. Some get far too low rates for far too long, others get cheated by agencies somewhere on the other side of the globe – or right in their own town.

That’s happened to me once a couple of years ago.  When four-digit projects were still unthinkable to me, I fell for a scam offer from an East Asian company.

Worked my ass off for 1 or 2 days on some crappy text about car tires, didn’t get paid. When I googled them (after sending them the work of course!), the company didn’t seem to exist. You only make that mistake once, and then you start working for real companies with things like offices and websites.

My clients and agencies treat me the way I treat them – with respect. No matter what goes on in my life – whether I’m evicted, having bad sleep, or straight up ready to leave this planet – when it’s about business, I do my job and deliver my service as if nothing ever happened.

I usually find if a client will respect me by stating my conditions clearly right away. No need to pursue a relationship on the wrong terms, but no need to argue and get upset either.

There was only one particular agency – whose name I won’t mention – that really got me pissed off, because I’d done about a month’s wage worth of work for them. They didn’t answer my e-mails at all or put me off for a year. Then I did some research, found out how to file a small claim in the UK from Germany with only my credit card (it’s easier than finding a good headset) and got my money back plus processing fees. Mind you, this an established European company, not some lonely scammer in an internet café.

I shared this experience with other translators on the ProZ BlueBoard and until now I get e-mails all the time thanking me or asking me how to get your money back. When you have a project offer, invest the 50 cents or whatever it costs to read the company’s BlueBoard entry on ProZ, or at least Google their name!

Remember: It’s weird to just go up to a complete stranger and offer them one or two thousand dollars worth of work (even if they’re as handsome and qualified as you are). Normally you’d ask a friend if they know a friend… So anyone recruiting this way is desperate, at the least.

With private clients I’ve never had to wait long for my money. It’s just as safe as any online retail business nowadays. Just make sure you know their address. Very few consumers would risk bad credit ratings for having a claim filed against them.

Some colleagues only take cash from private clients, especially if they’re not permanent residents in their country. I have yet to be cheated by one, so I don’t see why I should treat small clients different than big clients in this sense.

Oh yeah, and if a client should complain and you messed up (two factors which rarely coincide), give them a discount, send them a nice e-mail, whatever. Don’t be like those agencies who try to weasel their way out of paying you 😉