Lesson 35: Translation competition, co-operation, or both?

Lesson 35: Translation competition, co-operation, or both?

Translator is not only and not always just a translator. We take on different professional hats, we are flexible and we look for opportunities around us. This is my excuse for this long gap in posting, but also a good starting point for today’s discussion.

I always try to differentiate my services, and to take part in a number of language-related endeavours. Be it a local Polish library, a traditional restaurant serving pierogi, or a Toastmasters event, I’m there ready with my elevator pitch. And I do meet other translators and interpreters, quite a number of them, to be honest. It is in my nature to talk with colleagues and suggest having a cup of coffee to discuss business issues.

On the last occasion I was confronted with a surprisingly honest answer, translated roughly as: “You’re the first Polish translator I meet who’s not turning her back away, looking down at me, or rushing away scared of competition.” In this particular translator’s experience, it was normal to treat every other colleague as a dangerous competitor. My only reply at that time was: “Why would I do that?”

Obviously, I know many reasons to be scared of competitors, even more if they work in the same language pair. I can imagine people being scared of others taking their jobs, or having their skills confronted with another professional. But I was still shocked.

I asked for your opinion on my Facebook page, and I got some reassuring answers. So how is it, really? Do we compete or co-operate? Or both?

Co-operating can take many forms: from sharing posts that help other translators, through posting info on Twitter, to presenting and giving webinars on professional topics. Co-operating is also the support we give to each other, both emotional during tougher periods, and practical when problems arise. Co-operating also means joining our forces for the whole profession, as opposed to working on our own and discrediting colleagues.

And competition? Have you ever witnessed or experienced competitive behaviour from your colleagues? Or maybe competition is not always bad? What do you think, translation competition, co-operation, or both?

PS Many thanks to everyone who voted for me in Language Lovers 2012. I’m among 25 Language Twitterers and 25 Language Facebook Pages. Badges on my website soon!


  1. Berenice Font , on Jun 18, 2012 at 15:04 Reply

    Hi Martha! This is a very interesting post and I would like to say that even though I do believe translators mostly cooperate, when it comes to competition, the only type of competition that really worries me is lower rates (MUCH lower rates…). I have faced this specially with my direct clients in Mexico and have lost projects because other translators would agree to do for less than half my rate. My rates are not high, I have to be realistic and this is Mexico, but some people just work for nothing. That is the kind of competition that I find hard to fight back. What do you think about this?

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 29, 2012 at 22:23 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Berenice, and sorry about the delay in replying: holiday period!

      Low rates are problematic, indeed. But, as everywhere and with every professional service, you get what you pay for. All we can do is to try to educate our colleagues and make them aware that low rates are bad for them in the long term. I try to fight this competition with superb quality and flexibility.


  2. Carolyn Yohn , on Jun 18, 2012 at 15:56 Reply

    Maybe it’s just my experience as a younger translator, but I never really see colleagues as competition. I love to talk with them, discuss business strategies and languages alike, and learn what I can. They might have more regular work than me, but I am still capable of doing what they do. I just need to keep building up my name.

    As for rates competition, I never worry about that. I price my work at what it is worth to me, and with confidence. I trust my colleagues do the same– if they think their work is worth less, that’s their financial loss, not mine!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 29, 2012 at 22:21 Reply

      Dear Carolyn,

      Thank you for your comment. I love your approach and I’m very happy to see that translators are so co-operative!


  3. Sara Hernández , on Jun 18, 2012 at 16:10 Reply

    You’re so right, Marta! I’m convinced that co-operation is the way of the future, and not only in our field, and not only in business affairs. I hope we’ll be the “sharing generation”.

    And regarding your question, I must admit I experienced a disgusting situation when I was just in the first term of the first year of my translation studies: a classmate stepped into the classroom and said aloud grinning from ear to ear: “Hi, competitors!” I hope it was an ironic greeting…

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 29, 2012 at 22:20 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Sara!

      I experienced a lot of competition as well, but I believe that a true and self-confident professional knows that there is always more work than hands to type. I’m totally a part of the “sharing generation”!


  4. Luciana E. Lovatto , on Jun 18, 2012 at 20:18 Reply

    As a whole I think translators are great cooperators rather than competitors. Only in a few situations, I have experience competitive attitudes, such as reluctance to share knowledge, certain information or tools.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jul 29, 2012 at 22:18 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Luciana! It’s great to hear that you’ve experienced more of co-operation than competition. Thumbs up for the whole profession!


  5. Adebomeyin Oluwatosin , on Apr 6, 2013 at 13:51 Reply

    We live in a world where survival of the fittest is the name of the game but despite that, we should know that even in the circle of competition, you can share knowledge and work.
    No one is an island. If you share knowledge today, the people you think you are competing with might become your best allies tomorrow. It has happened to me severally and I now learn to share with others and not see anyone as competing with me.
    Marta, I always fall in love with your articles. Keep it up.

  6. Aldana Michelino , on May 27, 2013 at 14:03 Reply

    Hi, Marta! I wrote an article in Spanish some months ago which deals with more or less the same thing. My personal experience is possitive though. I have always found someone who’s willing to give a hand. I know there are some professionals who lack the cooperation gene, but as Luciana said, I guess we, in general, understand that, in order to success, we need to be cooperative. We’re not islands after all!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 15:03 Reply

      It’s a shame I don’t speak Spanish as well as I should – I’d given it a read. I feel raising awareness it a very good thing 🙂

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