Well. The month of April was super fun for me. Lots of time at the beach, lots of sleeping in with the cat, lots of TV shows watched online. But now I am PAYING THE PRICE. I put off this big translation I'm doing for way too long. That means 10-12 hour days in front of this godforsaken computer until I get it done!
A few people have been asking me about translation work since I've started mentioning it more on the blog. I thought I'd tell you what I actually do, since a lot of people reading are also native English speakers living in Brazil.
This particular big project I'm doing IS true translation, but most of what I actually get asked to do is to correct people's scientific articles. It started when two students (a couple) who were doing their PhDs at a local university asked me to correct some articles they'd written for a scientific journal. They were already written in English, but had been rejected for publication because the English had too many errors. So I cleaned it up, and they got published. Then they told all their friends, who told all their friends, and now I have a nice little group of clients, most of whom I've never actually met in person.
They send you the article as a Word document. You fix it. It's important to show what you changed (like use the strikethrough feature to cross out the wrong bits and put the right bits in another color), because you might have misunderstood.
In almost every article I get, there are always a few parts that I can't figure out. There's a mistake, but I don't know what they're trying to say, or it has more than one possible interpretation. So before I give them the completed article, I always send them my questions in a separate document (or if there are only a couple of lines or words, I just ask straight in the email). As a courtesy to them, all of the emailing, negotiating, and questioning is done in Portuguese.
When I determine my price, I consider the difficulty of the topic (people writing about DNA and microbiology have to pay a little more, because that stuff is confusing), the length of the article (don't consider references, but do consider charts, because you have to fix those, too), and how much time I have to correct it (If they tell me they need it back within a couple of days, they'll pay more). I charge about R$150.00 - R$200.00 per article (most are about 20 pages long). In the beginning, I was still getting used to it, and so I made only about R$30.00 an hour. But now that I've gotten the hang of it, gotten used to people's mistakes and topics of research, I'm faster, so I make about R$50.00 - R$60.00 an hour. The clients still think that my price is a good deal, and I think I'm making good money for the amount of work. Everybody wins!
Quite a few of my clients have told me that they were paying Brazilian English teachers that they knew more than they're paying me, and that the articles still got rejected, and then some of these teachers had the nerve to try to charge for a second correction! So here's my advice, for anyone thinking about doing this:
1. Your English grammar has to be flawless. These articles are technical and specific. They're also cited in future articles. You can't write something that can be misinterpreted. You also need to know MLA. You have to know your stuff. If you know your grammar is kind of bad, don't do a disservice to your clients. Just don't do this. What's going to happen? Their articles will still get rejected. You'll have to do it again for free, and they won't recommend you.
2. Your Portuguese has to be strong, too. Like I said, you want to do all the business part in Portuguese as a courtesy to your clients. Sure, they can write enough English for their articles, but it's a very specific English. Don't torture them by making them try to understand your emails or write emails to you in English, too. But more importantly, your Portuguese has to be good because you have to understand their mistakes in the articles. In many cases, they'll use an English word that seems OK on the surface, but if you know which mistakes are common and what they're thinking in Portuguese, you'll know to check that sentence twice (common words that fit into this category are observe and besides, as well as during, as, and other prepositions).
3. You have to know how to use Google correctly. Sure, you probably don't know much about the reproductive DNA of frogs. That's OK. You just have to know how to use Google to figure out how to talk about their topics. The clients do the hard part of searching for terms, but you'll need to double check them. You'll also need to check if they're using the terms correctly in the sentence. If you're deciding between two words (Example: do you say "higher levels of x" or "higher rates of x"?), you can but both phrases into Google with quotation marks and see which one has more hits. Google Scholar is also your friend. You need to really open the related articles, read a bit, and make sure the grammar is consistent in the article you're correcting. Also, make sure any article you use as a reference is from a NATIVE SPEAKER. Check the country where the article was published. Make sure it was from a university in an English-speaking country. Just because an article is published online, it doesn't mean it's reliable. (You'll learn that Brazilians tend to just copy parts from articles by other Brazilians and continue the cycle of bad English in articles.) Oh, and also, almost all of my clients use a site called PubMed (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) for references. This site is a good starting point for them, but not for you. PubMed is not a journal. It's essentially just a search engine. If you do a search, it comes up with a lot of articles published in other countries with bad English.
4. It's OK to reject an article. Some people who don't want to pay for translation think they're clever and try to put an article into Google translate, and then they ask you to correct it. Either that, or their English might just be terrible. If someone sends you an article that seems like gibberish, it's OK to say, "I'm sorry. I'm not confident that I can correct this article well enough for it to be published. If you'd like to send me the Portuguese version, I'll gladly translate it for you for such-and-such a fee." You certainly don't want their article to get rejected, and then have the author blame you and tell all his friends. (You may remember me complaining about this once before. I ended up refusing to do the correction, and later, another client/student who worked with her told me that everyone knew what she did, and no one took her seriously. Yay.)
5. You don't have to explain all of your corrections. This is rarely a problem, but once in a while, you'll get a client who wants you to tell them exactly why you made each change that you made. This is not traditionally included in the price. You do show them what you changed with the strikethrough system, but you don't have to say anything like "Oh, I did this because, in English, infinitives that function as the subject of a sentence have to be in the gerund form." I tell them that I'd love to explain it, but unfortunately, I don't have time to do it all by email. If they'd like to pay for a one-time English class, I'd be glad to sit down with them and explain everything so they can know for the future. One client actually did take me up on this, but most the other couple who have asked just realize they're pushing it a bit and let it go.
Yay! This has been sufficient procrastination for today. Do other readers correct people's articles? Do you agree or disagree with any of these tips? Do you do anything differently? Is your price similar? How do you find clients? Are you one of those people who just HATES correcting things in English?
Share the knowledge!