Jon Buzi

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Every now and then I come across posts by translators (and even agencies) stating that they charge more for “difficult” source texts. Based on my discussions with - and reactions from - these translators, this practice seems to be wide-spread. 

I, however, find this practice unjustifiable.

For the purpose of this article, “difficult” means “needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand” (Google Dictionary, emphasis added) and “challenging” means “demanding” (requiring less effort).

It should be noted that because of corporate ideology, “challenging” has replaced “difficult”; however, we—the language professionals—should use the words in their actual sense. Therefore, while “challenging” means “demanding”, but not necessarily harder,  “difficult” implies “considerable lack of skill to do or understand something” (see the definition above). If a project needs more effort of a technical nature, as is the case with what I call “challenging projects”, then a higher rate is justifiable. 

Examples of challenging projects: 

  • complex formatting (as is often the case with certificates); 
  • presence of numerous relatively rare official names of organizations or institutions (which must be researched and used in their official form);
  • barely legible handwriting, etc.


It is OK to charge more for challenging projects because you will spend more time on them regardless of how experienced or qualified you are.

Taking into account the aforementioned definitions of “difficult” and “challenging”, there are at least three reasons why “difficult” source texts not only do not entitle you—the translator or agency—to raise your rates but might be indicative of your:

1. Artificially inflated rates. If you—the translator or agency—have to spend so much time researching so many terms (which you should know given that you accepted the project), then the only way you can justify your expected hourly income is to raise your rates.

2. Disrespect for highly qualified professionals. Charging more because you have to learn (on the job) a large number of terms in a field you know nothing or very little about is logically flawed. Based on this logic, a newbie should—paradoxically—be paid more because it usually takes them longer to do a job that a qualified professional would do more quickly.

New terms are encountered in almost every translation project, but a qualified professional generally spends less time on research because they know most of the terms already.

3. Low integrity standards. If a text is “difficult”, then you either lack the experience or are not qualified enough to accept it. If you are a newbie in a certain field, there is absolutely nothing wrong with rejecting projects related to that field. (I have acquired a few clients merely by rejecting medical translation projects, which I never accept.  By rejecting the projects I proved to my clients that I am indeed driven by quality rather than profit.) 

By accepting a translation project that is “difficult” (note: not to be confused with “challenging” as defined above), you will do a substandard job which, depending on the field, could have serious negative consequences.

Think about this: would you go to a surgeon who says, “This surgery is easy for my experienced colleagues but too difficult for me. However, I will learn on the job”? Would you entrust that surgeon with your life or well-being?


Recommendations for translators:

  • If a text is so complicated that your current level of knowledge makes it impossible for you to ‘feel’ when it’s time to ask for help (this being a characteristic of professionals), then you should either:
    1. reject the project as soon as you can (the client will thank you; if they don’t, you wouldn’t want to work with them anyway); or
    2. let the client know that your translation should be checked by a more experienced professional.
  • Never be afraid to learn. Ask your client to send you a final version of your translation so that you learn from your mistakes and improve in your new field. Not many clients will respond to your request, but those who will are the ones you will want to work with in the long-term.

Recommendations for translation agencies:

  • Try to avoid translators who charge you for “difficult” texts, or at least make sure their work is checked. As demonstrated above, there is no such thing as a “difficult” text/project but either a “challenging project” or “newbie translator”. 
  • Accept their revised rates in case of formatting or other ”challenging projects” as defined above. Doing so will show your translator that you care about them. In return, your translator will be more inclined to help you when you need them the most (and you never know when you’ll need your translator’s help).
  • Respect translators who refuse work which falls outside their expertise. By rejecting your project, they are saving you from headaches. They are doing you a huge favor.
  • Support those who are honest about their limitations. These are the kind of people you will love to work with.

Happy translating and networking!


M.Sc. Jonis Buzi

English Albanian translator



    • Hi Jonis,

      I undestandand mostly agree with your perspective. However, there are some very rare topics and even 8 - 10 year of experience may not involve niche areas. Do you think translators are entitled to charge more for such cases?

      Second question: Translating an arbitration case files are much more difficult than translating a user manual. There must be a rate difference. 

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      Added a blog post  

      Over the last few years, the translation industry has undergone constant changes. While the introduction of MT (machine translation) is one of the most talked about topics, project management automation is a phenomenon which is rarely, if ever, talked about.

      These days, more and more job offers landing in our email inboxes are sent via automated processes, which means that fewer project managers are needed. These changes in project management processes have brought about consequences that might prove detrimental to End-clients —those who will actually use the translation and risk suffering the consequences thereof.

      The following are some ways in which project management automation affects translation quality, and hence the lives of end-users:

      1. It removes the human factor. Translation is mostly, by definition, a solitary job during which human contact is minimal. When you take human project managers out of the equation, this job becomes lifeless and robs the translators of the opportunity to have some human interaction in the process. A bad PM is better than an automated process, although I would choose not to put up with either.
      2. It prioritizes translators based on their reaction speed, rather than their ability/qualification to take on certain projects. In many instances, the job offers sent in this manner contain expired links, which means that another translator was quicker to respond and got the job. The natural consequence here is that it will be harder for agencies to build a long-term business partnership with translators because the determinant factor will not be a translator’s quality, performance and help given to the agency (agencies know what I am talking about) but the translator’s reaction speed to job offers.
      3. It could damage the agencies themselves because they won’t be able to establish a rapport with their translators, which could be beneficial in times of need. Closely linked to the previous point: Automated emails ‘wipe out’ the translator’s history of communication with/assistance to the agency (especially in ways that can’t be quantified numerically). Sometimes we, the translators, go out of our way to help agencies and, provided that the agency is happy with our work, we expect them to ‘return our favor’ in the form of prioritization (where possible) over other translators. As an example, there was a company I helped in many instances, and when they implemented these automated processes it all boiled down to who could react faster: the quickest to respond would get the job. My favorite clients are agencies that work with highly professional human project managers who have built a rapport with me—their trusted translator—and these are the clients who always get priority over those who send automated emails. And I never mind doing them a favor or two once in a while because I know I will be appreciated.
      4. It prioritizes reaction speed to the detriment of quality. While reaction speed in responding to automatically sent job offers is important (deadlines have to be met, right?), putting translators in a position where they compete based on reaction speed rather than quality will definitely have a negative effect on translation quality, as translators will not spend time to assess whether they can take on the given project or not. In many cases, I have had to spend a few minutes to check the project in order to assess whether I could take it or not (based on my experience and qualifications) but by the time I had done so, the project was already taken. It’s very unlikely that the translator who jumped in first really had enough time to assess their ability and qualifications in taking on such a project. They just accepted it. It’s possible that the project fell within their expertise, but let’s not forget that - as is the case in every industry, not just translation—not every translator works ethically.
      5. This practice is an insult to dedicated professionals. Messages like “Hurry up” are insulting to any translator who has put his/her heart and mind in acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to perform a proper translation—a translation which, in certain cases, such as with medical materials, can be life-saving. Translators are “knowledge workers”, in every sense of the word. Such automated, lifeless and downright insulting communication could lead to less satisfaction among translators who truly value their work.

      In conclusion, while I understand that agencies try to save as much as they can on costs, if they cut corners with regard to human interaction and translator appreciation (by reducing it to reaction speed), this will be detrimental in the long-term. Profit is important, but it must be acquired in ethical ways, i.e. methods that will not adversely affect the ultimate goal of non-literary translation, which is to improve peoples’ lives.

      I hope this will be a wake-up call to the many agencies out there that have implemented or plan to implement automated processes in project management.

      M.Sc. Jonis Buzi

      English-Albanian translator

        • Hi Jon, I am in favor of technologies to support humans not to replace them. Can you think of any PM tools in this regard? 

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          • I hear you well. Thank you for this feedback because I have been partnering with a translation management platform for a while. We have been adding quality, skills and experience and I guess we should also add "rapport" as criteria of priotization. I am not in favor of removing human PMs out of the equation, please do nto take me wrong. I am exploring ways to assist people. 

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            • You can read the article again and see the points that need to be addressed. A lot of my thoughts have been carefully condensed in this article. I believe that duly taking these concerns into consideration will certainly build a better relationship between translation agencies and us, translators.

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              • Thank you Jon, appreciate your remarks. 

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