As anyone who has visited Turkey in recent years knows, the cost of goods and services in that country is very low. One of the main reasons for this is the low cost of labor in Turkey. The GDP per capita in Turkey is about US$8,500. A bit less than 20% of the GDP in Germany and about 13.5% of the GDP in the USA. People in Turkey live on a lot less than the people in the industrialized, Western countries. Wages are low in Turkey. They were driven even lower due to steep devaluation of the Turkish Lira in recent years.
As a result of this, the fees which are paid to translators in Turkey are very low. But for other reasons that we’ll get into shortly, the price for Turkish translation services may not be as low as you would expect.
Paying translators in Turkey can be challenging
Following the 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt, the Turkish government clamped down on foreign currency transactions. As a result, several leading digital payment systems like PayPal were shut down. Restrictions on money transfers into Turkey were put in place. SWIFT transfers to Turkey are still allowed but the bank fees can be exorbitant, making smaller transactions not worthwhile. This has made payment to individuals in Turkey challenging. Since working with freelance translators became more difficult, the cost of Turkish translation services increased.
Turkish translation companies pay their translators peanuts
Since the options which are available to accept foreign payments has been limited, Turkish translation companies have taking advantage of this situation to pay their translators extremely low wages. One of the translators we spoke with says that a fee of 10 Turkish Lira ($0.73) per 1,000 characters for English-Turkish translation is typical. That is extremely low.
Translation companies in Turkey usually introduce themselves to clients as freelancers and after they start getting jobs, they assign them to their own translators whom are underpaid terribly. I’ve seen this more than 10~ times, of course there are some companies who respect their workers, but even they offer their workers a fixed price, which is unacceptable for this industry. (EAY, Turkish freelance translator registered with GTS)
Many Turkish translators don’t pay taxes
To compensate for such low fees, many translators in Turkey work off the books and do not pay taxes for their income as translators. Turkish translation companies abet their translators in this practice by classifying the fees as “gifts.” International translation companies that operate in Turkey will not resort to this practice. As a result, many translators prefer not to work for these companies.
Some Turkish translation companies also engage in other tax-dodging efforts. One of these schemes is to operate under several different names in order to circumvent tax ceilings. As a result of this, there are thousands of translation agencies registered in Turkey.
Moonlighting in Turkey is huge
There are many, many translators in Turkey. Although in 2020 there were only about 8,000 registered translators in Turkey, the number is thought to be much higher. Since wages in Turkey are so low, many citizens work second jobs. A popular second job in Turkey is to work as a freelance translator. The work can be done from home after the person gets home from her/his daytime job. Despite the low fees paid to translators in Turkey, the additional income comes in handy for many people.
The common practice of moonlighting has brought many non-professionals in the field. Many students work in translation. Other professional academics such as teachers, engineers and civil servants work in translation as well. Because of this, some of the translations that come out of Turkey are not at the highest level of quality.
Translation Languages in Turkey
English and Turkish are the language pairs with the highest demand. German is also in demand since over 6 Million Turks reside in Germany. Turkish-French is another language pair which is in certain demand. Prices for Turkish-German and Turkish-French are several times higher than for English-Turkish.
Turkey has a 25% Kurdish population. But the demand for Kurdish translation services is low, due to the underdeveloped state of the regions in which the Kurds live. Illiteracy is rampant among this population, so the need for written communications is low.
Ottoman is a language that still has relevance in legal matters. Although the Ottoman empire ceased to exist about 100 years ago, the significance of this empire that ruled in Turkey for about 600 years is still felt. Real-estate documents such as title deeds are still used in courts for ownership rights disputes, probate and such. There are translation companies in Turkey that provide Ottoman translation services.
Big Tech and Turkish Localization
All of the big tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Samsung localize their products into Turkish. These large scale localization contracts are carried out by international companies like RWS and Transperfect who have branches in Turkey. Some of the localization work is done abroad (e.g. in the USA) by teams of Turkish translators.
Sworn Legal Translation
There is a system in Turkey for sworn translation, when such translations are required by the courts. There are public notaries in Turkey who are government-appointed lawyers. The notaries can verify the authenticity of a document, including translated documents.
Here are some websites which will provide further insight into the Turkish translation industry and about professional translators in Turkey.
An association setup by translation companies:
http://ceviridernegi.org/ (web site is not in English)
An association which brings together translation companies, translators and academicians.
Conference Interpreters Association
https://cevbir.org.tr/ (web site is not in English)
Book, subtitle, theatrical work translators’ association: