Peer training, peerless value?

Translators need continuous professional development (CPD), and the best people to provide it are often other translators. You might look to a wine expert to add zest to your oenology specialism or turn to an accountant to learn about your tax system. For many other topics, though, peer training can be your best bet, especially if you need help applying the knowledge to your translation business, or simply if the subject is purely translation- or language-related.

e-learning is one of the latest big things, and more and more professionals are getting in on the act. Increasing numbers of translators are providing teaching, training and learning opportunities for other translators, from webinars to workshops and from blog posts and courses to conference speeches. Which is great, right?

Kind of.

Except for two hairy great problems – first, that some of the content simply isn’t that good. I’ve had some excellent learning experiences, but I’ve also sat through webinars with very basic content, speeches that meandered slowly along without saying anything, and presentations with crowded, ram-packed slides or no slides at all. I’ve read many insightful articles but too many vacuous, poorly written trickles of consciousness that would have been better consigned to the recycle bin. Many inexperienced translators are encouraged to put themselves out there on social media, to blog, to show what they know. Too often, though, they end up revealing just the opposite: how much they don’t know and how they can’t write yet. Might as well wait till you’ve got something to say and you can say it properly.


Quality, then. High-value content. Your customers deserve it, all the more so when they’re your colleagues. For there’s a crucial difference in the relationship: they’re not like your translation clients. They’re your peers. Your fellow professionals. Members of the same community. People you could be running into online and at conferences for years to come. Some of them might be your friends. There’s less distance between you and them than there is with a translation client. They deserve special care and respect. Best get it

A translation community is a great environment for peer-to-peer training. A true community lives from the contributions of its members: like one of Bernard’s favourite irregular verbs in Yes Minister (that was on the telly in the ’80s, kids): I contribute, you contribute, he or she contributes, we benefit. A sharing economy, if you like. Two examples of excellent, thriving communities of practice spring to my mind. MET, or the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (as Emma Goldsmith neatly explains), is one you might be familiar with; the other you won’t have experienced. Tough luck, guys, because it’s the translation team I’m fortunate enough to be part of with two estimable colleagues. A community is a great thing, but the relationships within it are special, so it can’t really be used as a tribe of prospects to hard-sell paid services to. It’s about giving, and it’s about respect (for them and for yourself).

The price is right?

Which brings me on to Hairy Great Problem No. 2. The vexed question of money. Whether to charge and, if so, how much.

Nowadays, we’ve come to expect many things for free: to read the news online without paying, to download software like picking an apple from a tree, to read experts’ content (even if it’s content marketing) without spending a bean. Should peer training be given away, too? Some colleagues at the top of the tree do just that, nobly sharing their considerable expertise for no charge or for a fee that is then re-invested in the profession, as a way of giving something back to a world that has provided them with an enviable, albeit hard-earned, career. A laudable choice.

But not the only valid one. For what is important, when translators provide CPD for their colleagues, is to deliver excellent content and excellent value. Value for money, in particular – and why not? While communities are sacrosanct, and monetising your community is a bit dubious, I think it’s fine to put a price tag on training aimed at the profession in general. As long as the material is very high quality and pitched at the right level (e.g. don’t serve up beginner content to mid-career or premium translators). As long as the trainer is angive-good-and-get-good actual expert in the field, not just a dabbler or fly-by-night. And as long as the price is right. That may be quite high, as with the Translate In … training events, where the sheer excellence of the content, I’m reliably informed, makes you forget the sharp intake of breath that precedes that click on the “pay” button. Indeed, the cost can focus the mind and help you get more from the training than you might from a free course.

Translators often stand accused, with good cause, of undervaluing our services, of charging fees that fail to reflect the value we offer. We can respond by setting – and paying – prices for translator CPD that reflect its true value, sending the message that quality is an important investment worth paying for, the same message we want to convey to clients about our own services.

So let’s walk the walk. Let’s give CPD the value it deserves.

6 thoughts on “Peer training, peerless value?

  1. Kevin Hendzel

    While I agree with you in principle, Oliver, I think there are very few people in the industry whose experience, insight or ability to train you in tangible, career-changing ways is sufficient to justify a significant price tag.

    Meanwhile, the proliferation of insta-gurus who actually charge for providing advice on services they themselves can’t even make a living at — or the recent French->English novel translation trainwreck where the person at the nexus of the scandal who demonstrated that she couldn’t translate out of a wet paper bag turns out to be one of the most well-known “trainers” in the industry, and makes a substantial amount of money doing this — points to the fact that translators need to grasp their wallets and purses like crazy and hold on for dear life.

    The best content right now is given away by people who don’t NEED to charge for it. That alone is almost a litmus test for the value of the material, as Rose has noted repeatedly.

    Not all successful and experienced translators are good trainers, but it’s a good first approximation to getting input from somebody who is at least good at what they do, and can be trusted to give you an accurate picture of what they do and how they got there.

    I wrote this on Simon’s blog, but I’m very discouraged to see the trend toward translators charging their peers for services instead of paying their own money to move the goalposts — change legislation; sponsor job fairs where their colleagues actually are hired into high-paying jobs; provide venues for solid tax and record-keeping advice from tax attorneys or accountants on best practices in running your own operation or, best of all, sponsor translation slams and hands-on, dirt-under-the-fingernails translation exercises where everybody in the room competes and projects their translations up on the wall for everybody in the room to see and work with.

    I’ve given workshops like these — some dating to the late 1990s — and several of my colleagues tell me that they still have the handouts and worksheets that we all produced during the workshops, and find them useful for improving their translations even today.

    I’m not quite sure we are yet at the point where we have hit that magic point where there are enough premium-market expert translators who can help you move your career forward in meaningful ways. I just don’t think there are enough of them yet.

    The future for the time being surely lies in the “Translate in the…” series which, incidentally, was initially paid for up front by the sponsors (translators) out of their own pockets — speculatively — because they thought it was important enough to spend their own money to set up the very hands-on training events.

    1. Oliver Lawrence Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Kevin.

      I share your belief in slams and high-quality core skills training events, and I intend to get more closely involved in those activities soon. If training is very high quality, though, it does not concern me particularly per se whether the trainer is benefitting financially from it. There is plenty of free CPD material (in a broad sense) out there – in the form of blog posts and, arguably, conference presentations – that is not of good quality and that is produced, at least in some cases, one suspects, partly as a form of content marketing intended to further someone’s reputation (although whether it actually succeeds in doing so is another matter…). That said, I think there is a certain amount of high-quality content available, if you know where to find it – e.g. the METM meetings and Translate In… (which, happily, may be branching out into another 3 languages besides French) – although training from genuinely elite peers is inevitably going to be thin on the ground, as there aren’t that many of them about.

      I also suspect that there are quite a few excellent translators who do not make a great deal of money (e.g. some literary translators and those working in the humanities in academe, possibly) and who might “need” the money from any training they might provide, so I wouldn’t begrudge them that. There is a correlation between ability and income, but, as you have observed, there are individuals at either end of the money spectrum for which that does not apply. What I do object to is lazy, indifferent-quality training and cynical attempts at monetising colleagues.

    1. Oliver Lawrence Post author

      Hi John
      Here are a couple of links to reviews of what I believe were the most recent events. One took place in Cambridge, UK, this summer; the official website should be, but at the moment it doesn’t seem to be working.—by-joan-wallace

  2. Helen Eby

    Kevin and Oliver,

    I’m launching into peer training a bit more. I just got listed on the ATA member to member page. Last year we did a pilot project of 25 sessions of distance training to study for the ATA exam. There were 5 exams taken, 3 passed. For the WA DSHS cert exam, two tests, two passed (36% pass rate). I think we did our homework.
    This year I’m doing it again. I can’t put that kind of time in for free, including 4 guest speakers. It has a cost. It comes with homework, a listserv, setting up partners for weekly review, my personal weekly review, etc.

    So I’m throwing my hat in the ring to help where it matters. To help at the certification level because I think this way of thinking helps us evaluate our daily work and gives us an objective way to improve. Last year’s participants were also court and medical interpreters. They all said their interpreting skills improved with this study!

    Just saying… when I stop providing value I will stop training.

  3. Magda


    I agree with you. The only person I go to when I am stuck or don’t know how to handle a situation is my mentor. I am very careful with what’s circulating online but I do listen and pick what I think I can use. I have to say that I was shocked to read about that translation disaster. Really?

    I cannot disagree, however, with Oliver when he says that ability and income do not always correlate. My rates are double if not triple of what some colleagues charge but I won’t be able to earn a 6 digit income. And some of those colleagues who charge less can afford a better lifestyle than mine. There are many reasons for that. We need to see the bigger picture; the country where freelance translators live, the taxes they pay, their family situation, their language combinations, the kind of clients they are able to get. You can be a good translator but not a good marketer. So your lifestyle can be modest for many reasons. If you choose to offer training, it’s up to you. If you are not fit to train, people can tell. Sometimes people try out things until they discover it wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes they just realise that more time needs to be invested in becoming a good trainer. I tried it and loved it but I have other priorities such as becoming better at translating and writing (I think you both know that). 🙂

    Kevin, those handouts, any way you could share them? You should write a book. I’d love to hear from you.


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