They finally got me

“They” are the translation agency. How did they get me?

Sneakily, if you ask me.  They wait until I have done the following before requesting a scanned or faxed copy of “my degree”:

  1. Purchased the most economical version of a CAT tool (as a prerequisite to working for them) about one year ago;
  2. Completed the trickiest translation test I have ever had the pleasure of doing, in which I believe I translated “Weiterbildung” and minor variations thereof at least six different ways – both because the context required it, and because of my innate desire to confound TM tools to the utmost;
  3. Submitted my curriculum vitae, informed them of my preferred subject fields, registered online to get a name (my own, what luck!) and a password.
  4. Read, signed, scanned and returned a confidentiality agreement, a non disclosure agreement, and a language-provider-or-something contract;
  5. Shut my mouth tight about my Outer Hebrides Connection and the large multinational who has employed them as their translation agency;
  6. Absorbed and remembered acronyms, special terms, and in-house style manuals –  including, most painfully, punctuation conventions;
  7. Translated for the last ten months a rough average of 10,000 words per month and edited quite a lot too.

Before I started saying arrogant things like “Which degree?”, let me first say that the Outer Hebrides Connection is very organised. I like knowing that I am likely to receive work from them every week. I like having a file full of printed-out purchase orders. I like knowing that I will be paid within the stated 30 days of presentation of my invoice, and often sooner than that. I like knowing what the time is in the Outer Hebrides, any time day or night.

But today, they got me.

It was an innocent little e-mail really. One and a half lines long. It simply said that they would like to complete their records and please could I send via fax or e-mail a “copy of my degree”.

If you are a translator, this is when you start to rant.

Or as a much older friend commented, you “may very likely have a serious conniption”, as if faced with an entire yoga or aerobics class wearing muscle leggings:

Warning: The sight of muscle leggings (made by blackMilk Clothing) may cause “a serious conniption”. (Thank you, E.)
Similarly, requesting an experienced professional translator to send a copy of a degree certificate may give rise to convulsive fits.
The author of this blog rather likes the muscle leggings by the way.

Why do we rant?

Some translators will say we rant because that is what we like best. Rubbish. We would rather not have anything about which to rant. We rant because we are obliged to rant.

I have always ranted in private.

I am ranting publicly now. Here is why:

  • After twenty-five years or so, don’t you think it is about time?
  • So many agencies want a pile of paper from you, in addition to the details so minutely described in one’s curriculum vitae, profile on a professional translation group website, and profile on LinkedIn. I make a point of not quoting on jobs which require me to do anything more than attach my curriculum vitae, and then only if I am really, really interested in the work. So many agencies never send you any work, even if they have got your date of birth, port of entry, number of freckles on your right forearm, and documentary proof of all tattoos in duplicate, or the absence thereof.
  • I have devoted a whole section on my website explaining in nice words where the agency can shove their request for additional credentials and letters of reference.
  • This constant demand to give academic evidence of one’s bona fides is, quite frankly, insulting to one’s integrity as well as to one’s experience.
    • It is insulting to one’s integrity because one has already given details of one’s degrees and ancillary qualifications in one’s curriculum vitae. Where I come from, no one lies about such things. On mine, I have even under-estimated my typing speed, for Heaven’s sake!
    • Does the average agency have any idea how much more expertise the average translator has gained since acquiring these scholarly pieces of paper? Let’s assume that every year, at one thousand words per day, a translator manages to translate 250,000 words per year. If a translator does this for 25 years, he or she will have translated, more or less, 6.25 million words. All by themselves. This equates, roughly, to one-seventh of the volume of the 2002 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. That is ridiculous, you say. Impossible! Not really. There are translators whose output (as if they are machines, note) has been far greater for far longer. Even if you have only translated 125,000 words for 12.5 years, you have still worked your way through an astounding 1,562,500 words, or 3.5% of the aforementioned Encyclopaedia Britannica.
    • Since “qualifying”, most translators have specialised in areas they did not even know existed on the day their degree was conferred upon them. They have, as their job demands, constantly broadened and deepened their knowledge – not in one language, but in two or three, and sometimes more.
    • Most translators will admit that they consider themselves better translators now than they were ten years ago. This is only because they have worked at it, and worked at it, and continue to work at it.
  • This annoying request has disturbed the lovely translation I was busy doing.
  • I thought it was a request to do another assignment. The thrill of getting another job to do on a Friday afternoon fizzles into a grunt.
  • I have already translated and/or revised/proofread in excess of 100,000 words for this agency, surely I have “qualified” by now?
  • They want “my degree”! I cannot get this thought out of my head. The language pair I am translating is different to the primary language pair I work in for the Outer Hebrides Connection. Now, I am thinking in one language (mentally drafting my reply), and trying to translate from a second – which has a completely different pattern, into a third. My wheels, effectively, have come off.
  • But the agency now wants that yellowing piece of paper, which –.let’s not knock it –.was worth getting, but has lost some its shiny relevance, if the truth be told.
  • What earthly good will their having my bits of paper do them?
    • Actually, I know the answer to this last question. In all likelihood, this agency is complying with some standards certification they have which states that unless they extract every last bit of relatively worthless piece of paper from the freelance translators on their books, then they are not doing their job as an agency and cannot lay claim to that fancy badge on their letterhead and/or website. Comply or die, in other words.

Now that my wheels have come off, there is nothing for it but to set about doing something productive at least: Sending the agency what they have requested, calmly and professionally.

I determine that they need both my degrees (because the first mentions “translation”, whereas the second does not, yet it is the most advanced one I have), and the accreditation certificates for two of my three language pairs.

My two degrees are almost as big as the standard A3 page size. I have an A4 scanner. No problem, I think. I will simply take a photo of each of the degrees hanging on my wall. Yippee, a shortcut, I think. Not so. The smaller print on the resultant .jpeg files is illegible. The 25 year-old photocopies will have to do, after all. Luckily, there is a lot of white space on these degree certificates. I feel a twinge of guilt as I chop the head off the coat of arms of my alma mater, whose motto is “Vis, Virtus, Veritas” (strength, courage, truth). Yeah, right. Who needs a saluting rider on horseback anyway? With all the folding and re-folding, the certified copies of my degrees which have now been successfully scanned look a bit like, well, kitchen paper towels after draining berinjelas fritas. We do not make our fried aubergines like that, but at least you get the idea of what my certified copies of my degrees now look like. Two down, two to go.

The accreditation certificates, thankfully, are printed on A4 paper. Except, I do not have photocopies in my file. They are both hanging in cheap frames on the wall. They are very cheap frames. They were – as I use the word in its literal sense – literally thrown my way years ago. Yes, tossed in my general direction. I had some glass cut to fit them (from offcuts found) and fashioned a backing out of thick, stiff cardboard. To secure the backing, I used far too many panel pins pressed into the soft wooden frame. I covered the panel pins with a generous but neat dose of duct tape.

Let me tell you that after eleven years, duct tape loses some of its adhesive properties. This makes it easy to rip of without damaging the surface to which it once stuck so faithfully. I removed the panel pins with false patience – and with the same pair of pliers I used eleven years ago to press the panel pins into the wooden frame in the first place. Isn’t that remarkable? I scanned the accreditation certificates, and returned them to their frames on the wall. I now have a surfeit of panel pins. Does this qualify me for a job at Ikea, I wonder?

While dying of panel-pin monotony, I remember that this whole Outer Hebrides conundrum began originally with what I will call the Inner Hebrides Connection which predates this current inconvenience by a full fifteen months.

Some fifteen months ago, I received an out-of-the-blue enquiry from an agency (in the Inner Hebrides, obviously) who had taken the trouble to address me by name, and had certainly read one of my profiles. But they had ignored the bit where I said I do not provide copies of certificates or letters of reference.

Here are the requests from the e-mail which got up my nose:

Copy of Diploma
Copy of professional membership – if possible
Copy of any reference material – if possible (in the form of reference letters or invoices issued by the third party, including information about the language combinations and volume of translation)

My reply was rather stiff and formal. This is an English trait, I believe, used chiefly when you are “so angry you could spit”, which I discovered recently, was a phrase often used by my paternal grandmother whom I never met, but which has been passed down through the generations of all four of her children.

This is part of what I said:

All my details are available from the links on my Proz profile, my LinkedIn profile, and my website. I have gone to considerable trouble to provide all the information and credentials anyone would require. I am honest. So if I say that I have been accredited for French to English and German to English translation with SATI (the South African Translators’ Institute) since 2001, then this is true. You are welcome to come and look at these certificates and my degree certificates on my home-office wall for ultimate proof – and I may even share a cup of coffee or a meal with you whilst you are here – but I will not be sending copies to anyone. You can also come and page through a pre-publication copy of the 125,000-word De-En translation of the book I mention on my website.
If nothing else, this book will give you a very good idea of the excellent quality of the work I produce. My only reference is the fact that I have been translating freelance since 1989, and continue to do so, despite having moved from one continent to another three years ago, and having learnt an additional language since then (Portuguese).

I do believe that the chief impediment to your sourcing qualified translators for this project is your insistence on all this paperwork. There are many at ProZ who are much more distinguished than I, and who are better translators in my language pairs, just as there are many more who are not. I would guess that there are those who feel much the same way I do about proving long-established credentials in this manner.

Nevertheless, I do wish you success in your venture.

Love and kisses, etc.

To the woman’s credit, she was most gracious with her reply:

Thank you for your email. It would be great to be able to have a cup of tea in your office but I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it, at least not now. 😉

The diplomas are not required in the case of the coming project, as the most important will be your translation experience and test results.

I bet you like the way I have highlighted in bold text what this project manager wrote!

I had withheld my curriculum vitae from our previous correspondence, but then sent it as a mark of conciliation with a friendly remark saying that I had noted her preference for tea. If I ever travel to the Inner Hebrides and meet this person, I am sure we will get on very well. I have not pursued the Inner Hebrides options, mainly because before I knew it, I was very busy with the Outer Hebrides lot.

I should just add for the discerning readers who are also translators among you that this e-mail exchange took place two weeks after I had completed a demanding five-month project, and work had not yet picked up by then: I had time on my hands for this sort of indulgence, so I indulged.

This was not the case today.

This was the day they got me.  This was the day I was scanning certificates for an agency who is very well acquainted now with my capabilities. This was the day, after wasting my valuable time with such nonsense, I sent a ZIP file with scans of 4 certificates, together with a polite note which said that the A3-format of my degree certificates meant that the copies were not very good, and this was why I had also included a photograph of the two hanging on my wall for good measure.

Of course, I trusted the above was satisfactory, or some such.

They got me. They finally got me. But they did not get a copy of this (also on my wall, normally):

Not a certificate, but on the wall.

Hey, it was 1997, and printers did not align paper so well. 🙂


15 thoughts on “They finally got me

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    1. I am quite happy. I have complied with the agency’s request, and included a cheeky photograph too.
      I am not nearly as hot under the collar as I might initially appear. I mean, we all know the Earth is flat, so there’s is not real point in insisting it is round, innit? Paul J Meyer has made a lot of money from his Success Motivation (R) Institute, with various programmes along the lines of “The Dynamics of Personal Goal Setting”. I used to read these things while queueing in the banks in Zimbabwe, when I got tired of memorising poems.


      1. One unfortunate aspect about motivational phrases is that, although I believe that they deliver results if adopted, this is only true for those on whom circumstances have conferred the luxury of options. Others, for example those mired in poverty, can aspire all they like, but are unlikely to see any benefits.


        1. It is true that those in poverty have more stacked against them in many ways, but the same principles apply. I have seen real life examples where persistence combined with the four magic ingredients in the saying above have resulted in relative success and prosperity. I remember the three individuals who immediately spring to mind as being pains in the neck, but I did have to give them credit for their tenacity in holding on to their dreams, and achieving them!


  1. Rant or not, it’s beautifully written, in any case.
    Normally, I would advise myself not to take things personally, because, as you say, in all likelihood they are trying to comply with some standards. I just hope these are not standards of their own making.
    A couple of months ago I translated many thousands of words of corporate compliance programmes for a major multinational in the pharma sector. Sometimes, as freelancers we don’t realize we should be happy just to be outside.
    But this is just a translation agency, so you know the answer. Or, if you feel their standards ARE of their making, why not use/invent your own standards like providing the information requested only in case the other party guarantees a certain volume starting from… Also starting with “you are welcome to…“


    1. Thank you, Valerij, for the compliment, and also for commenting here.
      I, too, tend not to take these requests personally, especially in this case, since the request was addressed to all freelancers who translate for this agency, and the e-mail implied it was part of some standard procedure to which the agency is obliged to comply.
      Taken in conjunction with two other e-mails received this week, one of which was a request to indicate one’s availability over Christmas and New Year, and the other, indicative of the agency having recently had a review with their principal client but requiring no action on my part, I see these measures merely as being an effort on the part of the agency to maintain the high standards upon which their reputation of many years is built.
      It is, however, jolly inconvenient! It still amazes me that the agency has survived without my certificates for almost eleven months, and I do confess to gloating just a little over having “slipped through the cracks” for this long. I sense the agency is experiencing a bout of pre-audit jitters.
      The feelings you had about being glad to be at one remove from having to deal with all the procedures necessary for your pharma sector client are well worth the mention. As freelancers, we do have certain freedoms; as you correctly point out, we have the freedom to decide what our own standards (e.g. regarding the divulging of information) are, with whom we enter into contractual relationships and on what basis, and even whether we apply those standards across the board or to individual clients only.
      Glad you like the “you are welcome to view my art gallery in person” phrase. Of course, you are welcome to use it yourself any time you like!


  2. Ally – I must be virtually entrained in your energetic field…for the following reason –

    As I read your blog with greater and greater compulsion to reach a relieving resolution and praying like crazy that you were somehow going to hold out and not send your crumpled credentials, the following cartoon started taking shape in my minor- muscled inner yogic mind: (visualize noting that I don’t do cartoons as a rule but know that you do). Hence sense of being entrained in your verbal vibrational field….

    Black and white sketch of a row of translators – variously sized, shaped and coloured across a flat-earthed globe, in some ascending or descending order with a percentage reader reflecting where on the Britannica scale their accumulated translation numbers would fall – all pissing letters of the alphabet into a tornado like wind being blown from bellowing cloud-like lips entitled “agency beauracracy” (or similar). One translator in this multitude (the one representing you with mob of brown fringe hair over face) pissing a rainbow-coloured stream at the volume you would see if you were watching a donkey piss…. And a small observer type character witnessing this scene from an in the wings-like position talking to self saying “Looks like something was found in translation!”

    Love your free-falling word shower to describe this “pissing against the wind” experience. Having recently been “audited” by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA ) and having to show slips of paper proving that I have accumulated the requisite Continuing Adult Education credits to remain viable as a professional – I give a similarly wet handshake ( image, hand shaking well pissed dick in strong wind) in solidarity. My silent prayer is that all the well-healed and wonderfully creative and functional clients who share in my practice and who produce the off spring that will one day govern the world, will wage the kind of irreverent and deliciously intelligent war on mediocrity and stupidity that will have made all of this worthwhile….in the meanwhile, the world turns and the words wax lyrically and otherwise.

    Have a groovy weekend sista!




    1. jackie, I do so love your cartoon description! Much self-castigation going on, since I would need to practice drawing and awful lot before being able to pull off something like that with anything like the degree of accomplishment it deserves! I am reminded, however of Toni LeBusque, who has, in her own words, a fondness for drawing “cows shitting rainbows”. I do hope I have copied the link over successfully here:
      It does translators good to know that other professionals struggle with the idea (but not the actual doing) of having to prove their worth over and over again. I believe my sister, as a senior school art teacher in Australia, also has to endure the same rigorous process of validation every year or two.
      As you say, one hopes that at least some of those on the receiving end of such expertise actually get the message – take the baton, and run with it!
      Take care, lyrically or otherwise. (all known emoticons fail me).


  3. Perhaps they imagine you to be the holder of a Delhi Degree of the dodgy variety, or paid for a Bombay Best degreee. Perhaps they visualise you burning the midnight oil over a Google of Babelfish translation programme, then getting into a huddle with friends to rearrage the words to make sure they read in a logical way. Oh my imagination is running away with me with thoughts of you working with an ancient (like Zim 1980s) computer and scribbling on scraps of paper (like newsprint), drops of sweat dripping from your fevered brow ….. and so on.

    I haven’t forgotten the work you have done for them and all that has gone before – I’m just trying to lighten the mood. It almost certainly is a case of having to comply with regulations from someone sitting at the top of the tree who really has no idea of size, relevance or current value in the work-place. After all, for the millions he earns he has to keep coming up with new ideas to keep the staff buzzing.

    Now you may laugh again and I hope you feel better.


    1. Laughter over the 1980s (I did not have a computer on my desk at home until 1995) translator picture. You forgot to mention singeing one’s hair on a candle flame trying to read a definition in a dictionary during one of the many power cuts. I used to use a little towel to wipe the sweat off my brow in the humid heat of November – and to keep the perspiration off my hands. Ah, what a life!
      You are right about having to differentiate one’s own honestly acquired bona fides from those in possession of the Dodgy Diploma from the International School of Fraud. This is the main reason none of us really want copies of our certificates bandied about in cyberspace like so much candy at Christmas.
      I find the world such an immensely interesting and varied place that it truly is hard for me to stay even mildly cross for long. I would make a terrible activist. Luckily, I prefer being a translator. 🙂


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    1. Hello Hi-chan

      The caption of the picture explains why:
      “Warning: The sight of muscle leggings may cause a serious conniption.
      Similarly, requesting an experienced professional translator to send a copy of a degree certificate may give rise to convulsive fits.”

      Another way of saying that something “causes a serious conniption” is that it “causes someone to freak out”. A lot of people would freak out if they had to look at those muscle leggings.
      After thirty years’ experience as a translator, I could freak out if someone insists on a copy of my translation degree (which I obtained in 1985).

      I hope that helps!


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