Not so long ago, in one of my posts, I criticized the “knights of low-end translation” for defending the indefensible. In context, we were discussing a certain company that allegedly pays $0.01/word for translation. One knight claimed that if you’re located in a geographical area where conversion rates work in your favor, there is no reason not to work for such fees. Some of us pointed out that for a translator with an average output of 2500-3000 words a day, 0.01/word means working for $25-30. When asked where one can live with $25-30/day, one of the knights claimed Portugal. When we consider that Portugal has a gross domestic product per capita of US$21,733.07, the knight’s claim is just silly.
Later that week, someone messaged me saying that there are countries where one can live with as little as $1000 a month and directed me to a post from 2012 where the author claimed you can live well in Nicaragua, Malaysia, Ecuador, Panama, and Mexico with that level of income. Of course the author factored in rent, utilities, maid, groceries, maintenance for one car (though savings or credit were not considered, so I guess you’d have to steal the car, because there’s no way you can purchase it with their “equation”), clothing, entertainment (whatever they mean by that), and healthcare (contemplating four visits to the doctor per year, so as long as you don’t actually get sick, you’re covered!). I’m a hopelessly positive person, but this was too much even for me! It was like reading a diary entry from when I was 10 about what my life was going to be like at 25. Nice try… but someone needs to retake Home Ec and Math 101.
However, in said debate, quality of life was not the only strong argument against cheap translation. When someone sustained that cheap translators are inherently bad translators, that statement really struck a nerve with the knights. They immediately tried to debunk any claims that their price could somehow affect the quality of their work and denied there was any correlation between large workloads, time allotted to translation, and quality. “Who says you can’t do great work even if you’re working a billion hours a week?” cried the knights. Science! That’s who, my shiny knight friends!
Apparently, a peer reviewed study by Stanford University and IZA reveals empirical evidence of what any respectable translator already knows: working too much (perhaps to make ends meet when you work for peanuts) directly (and qualitatively) declines productivity by the hour when your work week exceeds 50 hours. The study is brilliant, but there’s a lot of math and numbers, which the knights seem to really struggle with, so here’s the gist: if your fees are too low then you have to work too much to pay for all those grown up things not accounted for in your magical $1000 a month site, the more hours you put in per week after the human burn-out point, the more your productivity qualitatively and quantitatively declines. So you basically wear yourself out for nothing. If, instead, you work for a decent fee, then you can afford to take time off to rest, unwind, and reload. This means time to read for pleasure, continue your education, have a social life, even exercise! All of which have been found to increase your productivity and make you a better translator.
Even without the science, there are strong common-sense reasons not work for 0.01/word; but while the knights prepare to comment claiming to be the exception to the rule or to know great translators that put in billions of error-free hours, just remember: inductive thinking (i.e. extracting a rule from an individual case) is a logically invalid form of reasoning. There may very well be a couple of outliers, but they will never be statistically significant enough to debunk the science. Also (and this is just a thought), wouldn’t all that time spent defending the indefensible be better off spent in strategies for increasing your fees anyway?