Earlier this year a friend said something along the lines of; “I’m too busy to take this translation job, but I don’t want to say “no” in case they never want to hire me again.”

Obviously this friend is amazing and talented and knew that she wouldn’t be shutting the doors completely, but she still worried.


I decided to take this question and ask the people who experience this first hand: translators and project managers.

You can see the original tweet and all the great responses by clicking on the image below, but I’d like to summarize and discuss some of the takeaways here!

How To Turn Down a Translation Job


How to Turn Down a Translation Job

I’ve found that sometimes you can’t physically take on any more work. It could be because your schedule is full, you’re going on vacation, or even health/family reasons!

Whatever the reason you can say no when a translation job is offered to you. 

If you don’t want to turn it down completely then you can explain the situation and negotiate an alternative.

But, the simple trick is to be honest, realistic, polite, and helpful when turning down or negotiating a request.

Here is what professional translators and project managers have said about turning down/re-negotiating work.


Respond ASAP

This might seem obvious, but try to reply as soon as you get an email. Especially if you can’t get the job done!

Project managers will appreciate your professionalism and cooperation skills if you send a reply ASAP. That way they’re able to find someone new and/or change their schedule to suit your needs, in a timely matter.

I’ve worked in both the translator and project manager roles and appreciate it SO much when someone is able to respond to my request quickly. Having to wait a few days for a response can throw off the entire schedule and delay a time sensitive project.


This applies to project managers too!

If a translator can’t get a job in by the requested deadline and sends you a counter offer. Don’t just accept the changed date without telling them!

A translator cannot confidently put 4 weeks of full-time work into a project they haven’t got the green light for!


Always be Polite and Positive

To maintain a healthy professional relationship between project manager/translator, it’s always good to keep things pleasant: be polite and positive.

Apologize if you’re unable to complete a translation to the time/price they’re asking. Give a brief explanation why, then offer an alternative.

Don’t just say “No, I can’t.”, offer an alternative solution to the situation. A project manager will appreciate the honesty and assistance and may keep you in mind as a priority for future projects.


If you’re rude or short with someone because you can’t get a job done then they’re unlikely to request you for future projects.

Likewise, if you have an unpleasant experience with someone then it doesn’t help to be unpleasant back to them. That’s how unnecessary drama works its way into your life when all anyone wants to do it get a translation done, and done well.

Being unpleasant can also be risky because this is a small industry and people talk. I’ve certainly warned translators off certain people or companies I’ve had unpleasant experiences with, and I’m sure project managers do the same.


Be Honest

Especially be honest about you availability. People aren’t stupid, and even across email there are those who can tell when someone’s lying. Or will find out that you lied later on.

A prime example (that I’ve done myself) is say I was able for a rush job when I wasn’t. This resulted in a poor end product which was flagged for a number of simple mistakes. Then I had to explain that I had rushed it due to time constraints.

It happened and I learned to turn down or re-negotiate projects that I know I won’t be able to get done without pulling all my hair out.


You don’t need to give a page long explanation, just a short sentence or two.

Even just saying “I would love to do this translation, but unfortunately due to other commitments I won’t be able to complete the project to a quality I would be happy with.”

Then let them know your schedule/next availability. It always helps to offer alternatives…


Offer Alternatives


If you still want to do a project but can’t right now then be honest and explain that.

Offer the project manager an alternative schedule for when you can complete the job. If that doesn’t work for them they might select someone else, but in most cases they will work their schedule around yours.

Remember when re-scheduling a project to give yourself plenty of time!

You need time to get the work done and give yourself time to, you know, live. Also, the project manager would probably prefer a good job over a rushed job. We are all human and a good project manager understand that you can’t be there ready to work for them 24/7.



Offering alternative translator(s) can save a project manager a lot of time and headaches, as well as make yourself look good!

I’ve had a few instances where my schedule has been full so offered another translator that I thought was a good fit.


Or (more likely) I would get a job offer for something I have no experience or expertise in (i.e scientific document on fishing, or English to Japanese translation).

In those cases I often don’t know someone who would work so I direct the person to the Japan Association of Translator’s database of translators. (Which is a useful trick if you’re a new translator and don’t know anyone who would be a good fit for a job.)


You Are Human!

You are a human being with needs that need to work in balance with your job.

General self-care, physical and mental health, being able to pay the bills, etc., are all pretty important. Sacrificing those to rush a job is not good for you, the work, or your relationship with your client.

When you turn a job down or re-negotiate the conditions always be honest, polite, and offer alternatives to help your client out.

If you worry about turning down a client too much then keep a note of who to prioritize next time. And don’t worry, whether with the same client of not, there will always be a text time.

How To Turn Down a Translation Job

Check out more articles on freelance translating here!


How To Turn Down a Translation Job
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