Working with languages online: value your knowledge!

This post will be more of an invitation to reflect on a certain issue that I have been thinking over and over, and it is quite important for any person who works, is willing to work or wants to hire someone in the language and writing business, whether as a translator, copywriter, proofreader or teaching a language: money.

One of my future goals is taking a certification on teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, thus I am already taking baby steps towards it: I moderate a Spanish practice group, I have been reading about my own language’s grammar and other aspects. I do think I have a good background from both school and university, since I always ranked best in such skills in different assesments. I feel the same thing with English. I feel at ease writing in this language and I hope to write more elaborated texts in Polish soon. However, I still get some messages from random people hoping to learn Spanish or getting long texts proofread… for free and at their own schedules.

My biggest concern is actually having a fulltime job and other responsibilities to attend, thus working for free and at a schedule that might interrumpt my job or other responsibilities is a personal problem. Those kind of jobs do take time. In order to be a teacher, you need to devote time to planning your classes (an ignored reality by many people), creating and evaluating assesments for your students, looking for the best methods to engage them and create rapport, among other valued skills (in fact, teachers in Chile are now fighting to get those hours they spend at home marking and planning paid or do them, at least, on work hours). In order to translate or proofread, you need to have a great command of at least 2 languages and in technical fields. You need to compenetrate the author’s mind and see what he or she really wanted to write, compare and contrast different words in technical dictionaries, know the target of your audience well, among other factors. All of those preparations need time and knowledge. Thus, whenever I get such offers, I must put a price to my spare time from work. Some people, especially in my country, do not acknowledge the hard work people put on learning languages: the money my parents or I have spent on professional teachers, traveling, books, dictionaries and of course, staying up to date with the latest language trends and spelling reforms which are time consuming. In fact, they think languages aren’t real professions in comparison to others that have more relevance.

The Internet has in fact revolutionized the access to knowledge, indeed. You can start learning languages on the Internet for free, up to a level in which you can begin to understand how it works and so. There is plenty of educated native and fluent speakers willing to be your language partners for free (keeping in mind you both have lives and that you have to schedule your meetings yourselves). People all over the world share their tips and motivate other people to learn languages. However, that does not mean they can do anything else for free. Most of the time, they do it because those are things you already know or they are of general knowledge, but they spice it up and add a personal value or experience to it, enough to make you connect and motivate yourself. It is not rocket science, but contribuiting to create or spark interest out of a blogpost or so. Plus, be aware of tempting free methods that may be either faulty or that they have limited functionalities that can be unlocked by paying extra. As much as we would love to, some things aren’t paid with Facebook likes or nice words. Of course, as Kerstin and Brian have written, you do not have to spend millions on learning, but look around and compare and contrast. You don’t have to be a penny pincher in your learning.

As for people working with languages who are reading this, graphic designers have already created awareness about how valuable their knowledge is, thus it should be paid ethically in case you are working for a business who will profit from your work (heads up to the No!Spec campaign). This post was made to create awareness about your preparation and thinking it is okay to charge for your work, since you have invested not only money, but valuable time on your knowledge and preparation. It is not something you got out of a hat or Google Translate. Of course, internships and voluntary positions at NGOs are another thing.

Have you had a bad experience with people asking you to do a professional job for free? How we can create more awareness about how valuable language-related jobs are?