Translation in Israel and its hardships

Translation is a profession that has always been sought after, these days even more. But those who need translation do not see it as something to plan ahead for and do not give it much thought. Most companies start looking for professional translation services exactly when they need it. This puts translators in a difficult position, but they always come out on top. And then, there’s Israel.

Considering that Israel has a language that isn’t used outside of its borders, this profession is not taken seriously. There is a need for translation for cross-border business opportunities and official documents, but the profession is not regulated by any official entity and there are no official rates. A native translator from Israel says that anyone who spends some time abroad and learns a foreign language, can decide to become a translator, even though they are not a professional.

The same translator says that this profession is a moonlighting job for single mothers, doctors and lawyers. There is no criteria for working in it and anyone can do it as long as they know the targeted language. There are also examples that show how dangerous it is to rely on translation from someone other than professionals.

In the summer of 2013, a large financial firm in Israel was about to sign a business deal with a similar company in Brazil. The Israeli firm hired a translator to translate its documents, which were in Hebrew, related to the business and strategy of the company into Portuguese. The documents were translated and sent to Brazil. Several days later, when the Israeli firm noticed no activity from the Brazilian company, they called and asked why didn’t they respond. The Brazilian company told them that from what they have read in the documents they received, the Israeli company had serious financial issues. Obviously, this was not the case. The financial status of the Israeli company was strong, the translation however, was not.

The Israeli could’ve lost millions of shekels in lost business opportunity because they entrusted their documents to a translator that had no experience in this field. Because there is no organisation regulating translators in Israel, this scenario happens quite often.

Making ends meet.

Around 95 percent of the translators in Israel, which are in the thousands according to an unofficial report, are self-employed. The peak of this profession in Israel is literature translation. These translators have their names published on the book cover together with the authors. However, don’t make an awful lot of money. The on-going rate for literature translation is around 50 Shekels (8.50 GBP) for 250 words.

The translators that make the most are those who translate technical documents for large businesses like banks and insurance companies. These pay around 100 Shekels (17 GBP). The worst rates are those for subtitles. For an hour of subtitling, no matter if it’s technical or not, a translator receives 25 or 30 Shekels.

The low rates are due to fierce competition between translation companies, which have taken over the translation market in Israel. Some say that the public sector is to blame because of the way that translation tenders are assigned. The Government tenders were designed for translation companies and not freelancers. This leaves freelancers to look for their own clients and accept low rates in order to have work to do.

On top of that, professional translators have to deal with delayed payments or no payments at all. Some people rely on acquaintances for translation, as long as they have a clue about the targeted language, it will do.

As long as there are a lot of publishers and healthy companies active in a country, the translation profession will thrive. But when a country is in financial distress, such situation may occur.


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