How to start as a translator?

How to start as a translator?

There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going – and it’s no different in translation industry

While establishing new professional relationships or gaining clients, majority of translators rely on their experience, thorough education and reputation. Each of these tasks can prove to be challenging when out of three abovementioned features a beginner translator has education and a general idea about the work of a linguist, usually gathered during an internship at a translation agency. No matter how enthusiastic we are about our work, clients usually demand references, sample translations or an opinion of a former employee which could help them decide whether we are experienced enough to be entrusted with a given task. The road to become a successful translator might not be the easiest – but it certainly may have some rather surprising turns.

The more you know, the better you are; focus on practical experience

As corny as it may sound, practice really does make perfect. At first, legal texts might seem to be utterly incomprehensible; with every performed translation, however, archaic words suddenly start to make more sense and we are able to grasp the general idea of a given notice or agreement way faster than before. Same applies to medical, financial or marketing translation, with the last one requiring also a dash of creativity and a pinch of innovativeness. Start preparing sample translations even before trying to make the potential clients aware of your existence; leave them for a while, come back after a week, two, a month – and see what would you change. When reaching out to business owners, publishing houses and translation agencies, offer to prepare sample translations (but bear in mind that such texts should not exceed more than three pages – when someone asks you to translate twenty pages, the chances are that by joint effort of four hopeful beginners, someone will finally obtain a complete translation by putting absolutely no money in this endeavour). During your university years, volunteer during international fairs or music festivals – it is a priceless opportunity to hone your interpreting skills and see whether you are more of an outgoing or introvert person (allowing you to decide if you would like to dedicate your further training to interpreting or translation).

young translator

Plan the formal aspects and decide upon the form of your employment

Most young translators decide that they simply want to “work freelance” and don’t spare a thought on disadvantages of such solution. It might seem very appealing – after all, who wasn’t jealous seeing the photos of copywriters or social media specialists earning a living while sunbathing at a beach in Bali? It is much less tempting when we consider that the remuneration of a freelance is largely dependent on the amount of completed work, which often requires… stability and tranquility; these two things are fairly hard to be found when you are trying to earn money where most people vacation. Several things have to be carefully considered; decide whether you are ready to start your own business and cover all of the initial expenses. In the beginning, your website, business cards and CV speak volumes about the quality of work offered – and unless you have mastered graphics, web design and typography, you are in for even more expenses related with building reliable brand image. Set up a web page, make sure that posted content is of high quality and encourages potential clients to reach out for help to you instead of your rivals. Do thorough research and see what your competition can offer; always try to stay two steps ahead, trying innovative solutions and offering the clients improved, trustworthy solutions.

The type of employment is also worth considering; depending on a country where you decide to develop the company, “freelance” might equal unbearably high taxes – therefore imposing high translation throughput and establishing cooperation with subcontractors. The job of an in-house translator seems to be a thing of the past, yet there are still people who don’t mind trading their illusive freedom for a stable source of income and lower responsibility for all of the accounting and tax-related issues.

So - is there one simple career path when it comes to translations?

Doctors, lawyers and teachers represent some of the posts where the career unfolds in a more or less predictable way; it would be hard to put translators next to them given the multitude of options and possible outcomes that this job is inherently linked with. While it offers a never-ending stream of inspiration and provides chances to fundamentally change one’s life by making just one decision, such variety might prove to be overwhelming. Those afraid of dynamic career movements, ever-changing technology involved in daily task execution and high demands might want to consider their choice of future career – but adventurous souls will surely not be disappointed.


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