What it’s like to be a Lebanese Freelance Translator

If you are a Lebanese translator working on a freelance basis, the odds are at least 75% of the following happens to you:

As far as your career is concerned, you are not doing really well. The Lebanese freelance translation marketplace is not that good, with thousands of other freelance translators fishing in the same small pond as you are, and translation agencies and offices, publishing houses, newspapers, and online news sites taking advantage of that to get their work done for rates that go as low as 5 dollars a page. Better yet, if you are a certified public translator, some translation offices even have the nerve to ask for your seal in return for a few bucks per page.

In fact, the competition is so ugly that some certified public translators charge hideously low rates for legal translations (say even less than 5 dollars for the sworn translation of a personal civil status record, delivered to your doorstep. Go figure!).

So you find yourself forced to accept the low rates imposed by translation agencies and other institutions who need translation services, because if you don’t then someone else will, and you will have no work to survive off of.

To make things even worse, the self-proclaimed sworn translators’ syndicate is not helping, and only a fraction of the Lebanese translators know it actually exists (according to their website, which hasn’t been updated in what seems to be ages, there are only 169 members. Why am I not surprised?). Why you ask? Because it’s good for nothing. The last time I heard, some of the syndicate’s members organized some sort of a meeting where aspiring new members were asked to pay a $133.33 (equal to 200,000 Lebanese Pounds) membership fee.

Okay, first of all, why would any sane Lebanese translator pay a fee and be a member of a syndicate that does nothing good to the translation business in Lebanon, such as setting a minimum rate per page/word and working to make sure all translators enjoy social security benefits?

Besides, how will our profession ever evolve if there are certain scumbag translators who keep screwing the other ones over by constantly lowering their rates and/or accepting to work at very low rates?

Instead of stabbing one another in the back, why don’t we improve this so called syndicate? I believe there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but it can be done! The syndicate needs fresh blood, new and young translators who are still enthusiastic and willing to work for the better of their profession.

I think everyone is just afraid to talk about the current situation of Lebanese translators, but if no one speaks up, how can change occur?

The first thing that can be done by my fellow translators who accept low rates (and you know who you are) is to stop doing so. I mean, for the love of God, you are really affecting the career of all your colleagues when you work for peanuts. It’s a vicious cycle. Trust me, if you endure a little bit and say no to a poorly paid project, and, most importantly, stand your ground and convince your clients that, in order for you to produce a high quality translation, you need to charge a fair rate, it won’t be long before you have clients who appreciate doing business with you. As for those clients who only care about quantity as opposed to quality, you really should consider not calling them clients in the first place!

What can also be done is spread the word to other translators regarding the agencies/companies that make language service providers work for unacceptably low rates. If we put pressure on them and no longer accept to work for unfair payments, they would eventually have to raise their rates.

Bottom line is, raise your standards to raise your rates!



  • Richard

    Thanks, Rania. It’s interesting to know what’s going on in other countries; much the same that is going on in ours, and although economy structures can be different (between developed and developing countries) there are translators which establish limits to what is acceptable.

    November 11, 2014 at 5:05 pm Reply
    • admin

      Thank you for your comment, Richard. Our business definitely needs a lot of work in Lebanon!

      November 11, 2014 at 5:41 pm Reply
  • Claudine

    The problem is the Lebanese people’s mentality itself, the whole infrastructure of the country is all messed up, there are no laws (and when there are, they’re not applied… unless of course they suit someone who’s rich and famous). I don’t think that we, the Lebanese people, can unite for anything, it’s just impossible: either we’ll stab each other in the back or our projects will fizzle out because no one has the patience or foresight to carry out a long-term project like a translator’s union. I rarely work for Lebanese clients and when I do, they’re mostly Lebanese agencies working with clients from abroad (meaning people who appreciate good quality work and pay decent rates). If I had to rely on the Lebanese market alone or certified public translations, I’d have starved!

    November 13, 2014 at 6:59 am Reply
    • admin

      I couldn’t agree more, Claudine.

      November 13, 2014 at 7:44 am Reply

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