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Are there texts that you won't translate for any money?

When you read translation blogs, especially advice from more experienced translators to their less experienced colleagues, the most popular topics are: setting your rates and keeping them, defining your fields of specialization, working on your quality, productivity and marketing. But I think there's one more thing we need to think about from the very first days as translators: topics that we won't cover, no matter how much money we are offered for our services.

Those things differ from person to person. What you will or won't do really depends on your personality, views, religion, life experience and a lot of other factors.

I don't translate texts that promote any occult practices, pornography, abortions, prostitution, smoking, drinking or any illegal actions. Please don't think that I am trying to impose my views on you! I don't work with such texts because of who I am and my priorities. My goal is helping people with my work, not doing them any harm.

If you are a translator, could you please share what topics you would never ever agree to work on?


  1. I wrote about this on actually - under being true to your values. I basically say the same thing, that it is normal to refuse certain jobs, and even better for your business to do so, for a variety of reasons.

    Similar to you, I refuse certain things. I refuse texts that promote smoking, drinking, prostitution, animal farming, animal testing, weapons and the military, pornography, worker exploitation, state oppression, and certain big companies that I know are associated with environmental destruction, human or animal health abuses, or any of the above. I would think twice about all of the areas you list, too. I stick to the fields I do partly to avoid these issues. It comes hand in hand with something else I know both of us do - giving to the causes we support.

    I am curious though, have you really been asked to translate texts relating to illegal actions?

  2. There is an interesting discussion of this issue on ProZ at: Out of the areas you mention, I would probably accept verbal pornography (not visual, though) and texts about smoking/drinking (except where these practices are praised). I would not accept: terrorism, racist/homophobic texts, bomb manufacture, paedophilia, texts in favour of the drug trade, among others. So far, I have not had to refuse a text on moral grounds.

  3. Rose, Paul thank you for your valuable feedback. And thank you for the links! I will study them carefully. I haven't so far been asked to translate something that directly opposes the law. But there have been some cases when I was asked to translate texts on occult practices, hypnoses and even a couple websites for pseudo-spiritual sects just because I have "religion" on my list of priorities. So that's why I have also put Christianity there to show what kind of "religion" I mean :)

  4. In general I do not translate the same kinds of texts, but I'm very rarely asked to do something like that. Perhaps customers somehow feel I won't do it.
    Recently I was asked to translate a school leaving certificate into German and to change the 2s (the worst marks in Russia) into 3s, meaning I had to translate 'unsatisfactory' as 'satisfactory'. I was just wordless...
    I definitely won't translate anything connected with promotion of cigarettes. Recently I am very reluctant to translate something about unhealthy food, e.g. something containing allergens, harmful substances, etc.

  5. Dear Olga, thank you for your feedback. I can understand your feelings when you were asked to change the grades in the certificate. I don't do those types of translations since it's not exactly one of the fields I am interested in, but I can imagine how tempted some people may be to ask a translator to change their grades just to make the results of their studies seem a little better...
    Wow, the list of topics gets longer and longer!

  6. Very delicate topic. I wrote about it on interpreting, and there was also an #IntJC tweetchat on it. This is indeed something you need to be clear about when you start working, and also always think about. Thank you!
    My blogpost:
    The tweet chat: See session five.

  7. Dear Tolken, many thanks for your comment and all the links you shared! I didn't know about this hashtag before, but I will surely follow it on Twitter. Yes, this is a very delicate question, but also a very important one. I am so happy that more and more colleagues are joining in the discussion and sharing different resources that will surely be helpful to many translators and interpreters.

  8. AS to interpreting, it's also a challenge in many cases.
    In October there was a conference in our city and I was invited to interpret, and it turned out that the topic was 'juvenile courts' and so on. This topic is very urgent now here in Russia and many people feel negative. So do I. When I was looking through the presentation I had to interpret the next day, I felt uneasy and very sorry that I had agreed to work. But the conference turned out to be a positive one, and I even felt a bit relaxed after that. But still...


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