The Cabinet Office job satisfaction survey I mentioned in my last post ranks “Authors, writers and translators” at no. 42, with an average income of £26,207. The Adzuna survey lists average pay for translators as £39,900. That’s quite a gap, and there are plenty of variables that might explain it: in-house or self-employed status, level of experience and/or specialisation, for example. But I suspect the £26,207 figure is nearer the reality for most self-employed translators. If you think it’s way off the mark, let me know and we’ll run a poll.
Focusing just on the income side of the surveys, here’s an exercise to do.
Step 1 – consider translators’ career paths
Read this description of the translator’s career path, by Lanna Castellano (I first saw it in the 1992 edition of Mona Baker’s book “In Other Words”, published by Routledge):
“Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator, not until fifty do you start to be in your prime. The first stage of the career pyramid – the apprenticeship stage – is the time we devote to investing in ourselves by acquiring knowledge and experience of life. Let me propose a life path: grandparents of different nationalities, a good school education in which you learn to read, write, spell, construe and love your own language. Then roam the world, make friends, see life. Go back to education, but to take a technical or commercial degree, not a language degree. Spend the rest of your twenties and your early thirties in the countries whose languages you speak, working in industry or commerce but not directly in languages. Never marry into your own nationality. Have your children. Then back to a postgraduate translation course. A staff job as a translator, and then go freelance. By which time you are forty and ready to begin”.
(Lanna Castellano, 1988)
Step 2 – compare that with other people’s career paths
What do other people need to do their jobs? A degree? A post-graduate qualification? An apprenticeship? On-the-job training? Life experience? A vocation? Natural talent?
Step 3 – consider translators’ pay with respect to other people’s pay levels
Next, take a look at the income levels for other jobs, trades and professions included in the survey. How does translation compare? And don’t forget that some of the jobs listed are “cash in hand, on the nail”, where actual earnings are far higher than those stated.
Step 4 – examine your job: what does being a translator actually involve?
How difficult are the texts you translate? What are your specialist subjects? How did you gain your expertise in those subjects? How much research do you do for your translation projects? How many training events do you attend each year? How much do they cost (in time, as well as money)? How much reading and on-going learning do you do? Which software have you had to buy and learn to use? How many hours do you work? How much marketing and business growth activity do you do? How much is your service worth to your clients?
Step 5 – ask yourself this question
Are people in higher paid professions significantly cleverer than translators? If you re-trained (say a one-year post-graduate qualification or equivalent) and/or gained the relevant experience in a given profession, could you do their job? Could they do yours?
Step 6 – ponder the question: what does all of this say about translators’ pay?
This topic provoked quite a discussion on Twitter the other day (featuring Sarah Pybus, Nikki Graham, Claire Cox, Karen Netto, Steve Woods and Jonathan Downie) about pay levels, not just for translators but for people in other jobs and for students, graduates paying off their loans and anyone having to get by on a non-stellar salary.
More thoughts and views welcome – let us know in the comments!
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By Marian Dougan