Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Colleague or Competitor?

In about 5 weeks I'm going to Austria. This time, the trip is wrapped around my sister's 50th birthday and other family obligations. Another part of the trip, however, is dedicated to meeting with colleagues. Some of these colleagues work in the same language combination in which I work: German to English. In some ways that makes them competitors, I suppose.

I have encountered other translators who see anyone working in the same language combination and direction as they do as a potential competitor best to be avoided and/or trumped in the race for projects from translation agencies. I am fortunate to be working in a relatively large language combination and have health insurance through an employed spouse (not a minor point in the U.S.). Even so, it's not always easy to get enough projects.

But if we view each other as competition, rather than colleagues, each of us will struggle alone to get paid a living wage while upholding quality standards. Plus, there is something to be learned from -- and sometimes taught to -- colleagues working in our language pair.

The fear of competition seems to keep many of us from getting together to demand better conditions and pay. Yes, we are not unionized employees. But as I explained in my previous post, unless all of us demand to be treated as the independent business people we are, some agencies will use the age-old "divide and conquer" tactic and treat us as quasi-employees without benefits or rights.

I, for one, enjoy meeting with my colleagues in Austria and elsewhere to compare notes, talk about the industry, and maybe share some knowledge I may have gained during the last decade or so. This increasingly interconnected world needs translators. If we all talk with each other -- including about pricing -- and stick together we may be able to carve out a reasonable niche for our profession. If each goes it alone, we will simply be played against each other. So talk to your colleagues -- they are your colleagues, not your competitors!


  1. I could not agree more -- we are all colleagues, and the vast majority of us are friends. We are stronger together and can only grow from interacting with each other and exchanging ideas. No translator is an island, so it's all about the colleagues. Synergy is an overused term, but that's what we create when we support each other and work together.
    Speaking of colleagues: when in Austria, be sure to check out UNIVERSITAS Austria, the national association. Dagy is the Secretary General and they have tons of great events all the time. Might be a great way to meet some additional Austrian colleagues. Safe travels! Be sure to stuff yourself with Sachertorte.

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