How to become a professional freelance translator
Does a career in translation speak to you?
No matter where you are from or what languages you speak, there has never been a better time to consider a career in translation.
For those of you who are interested in putting your linguistic skills to good use with this flexible and potentially highly profitable trade, we have compiled this quick guide to help you discover if you have what it takes to succeed as a professional translator.
Eight steps to becoming a professional freelance translator
1) What languages can you offer?
It should come as no surprise that you need to be fluent in at least two languages. Translators work in language pairs, such as English into Ukrainian or Ukrainian into English. The universally accepted rule is you translate a source language into a target one.
NOTE: Unless you have native-level proficiency in more than one language you always translate into your mother tongue. Translating into a foreign language is only possible if you have lived in the country and have developed an extremely high level of competence. Even so translating into your mother tongue is always better than translating into a second language.
2) Your experience
The more experience you have, the better the pay. So it’s important that you have a well-presented translator’s CV which demonstrates your education, qualifications, experience, your areas of expertise and most importantly, the language pairs that you offer.
NOTE: If you have over 3 years’ experience you may be qualified to join our fast-expanding translation agency. For more information visit our page: Join Our Translation Agency.
3) Specialist areas
Identifying your own areas of expertise is a must. You may well prefer to translate your favourite book, but the fact is that the greatest demand is for technical translations, especially in the engineering, automotive, oil & gas and IT industries. So take some time to identify the areas that you can demonstrate your experience; this will enable you to show potential clients that you already have a working knowledge of the terminology used by a particular sector.
It is possible to work as a translator with little or even no formal qualifications, but a degree in translation/interpretation studies, a foreign language, linguistics or a technical degree with languages on top will stand you in good stead when approaching companies.
There is also an increasing requirement for certified translation services in which case you would need a professional accreditation such as the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) exams which are necessary if you want to work for the European Union.
5) Translation tools
At the very least you will need a computer with word processing software, a dictionary, an internet connection and… a desk.
Today’s translators are increasingly investing in Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools such as Trados or Transit. These state-of-the-art tools are required by nearly all translation vendors including Translators Family.
While CAT tools require a degree of investment both in time and money, they will enable you attract much better work from the established translation agencies and will ultimately pay for themselves. At Translators Family, we are committed to helping our translators to master these invaluable tools.
NOTE: CAT tools are not to be confused with machine translation. A CAT tool is a software package that supports human translators in the form of spell checkers, grammar checkers and translation memory tools. Whereas a machine translation is a form of translation whereby text is translated solely by machine and as a result is no substitute for human input.
6) Where to find work
While it is possible to pick up work through personal contacts, if you don’t want to spend your days translating restaurant menus, the vast majority of the best jobs are handled through professional translation agencies.
Another excellent source of work is with translator or general freelance portals such as proz.com, translatorscafe.com, elance.com, and upwork.com. These dedicated sites not only offer thousands of jobs every day, but also have all the resources you could need to help your voice to be heard. However, be prepared to invest time and effort promoting yourself in order to stand out from the competition.
NOTE: At our translation agency we offer regular, ongoing work for professional freelance translators. So you need spend less time marketing your services, as your work will speak for itself!
7) Translating it all into money
The rate per word is often dependent on the subject matter, with technical translators generally earning more. It’s also worth noting that some language pairs are more sought after than others. For example, there are far more English into Russian translators than say Icelandic into English; as a result the word rate is often lower for the language pairs with greater competition.
8) Be prepared to make bulk discounts
Translation companies and regular clients are by far the best source of work; but in return for regular work they expect to receive affordable translation services. So quote your maximum rate for single and small orders, but be prepared to be flexible with your rates for large and ongoing jobs.
This is just a brief outline of the factors you should take note of when considering a translator career. If you want to learn more about the profession of a freelance translator read our ebook The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator.