One of the most common questions I get as a language service provider is this: What are the steps on how to become a translator?
I love answering this question because usually, the person who asks it is generally interested in making a change in their life. A change to become a professional translator and they just don’t know where to begin.
I just got an email the other day from a reader about this.
In part of her question, she asked: I was wondering if you had any tips on where to start; I mean the basics.
A lot of people who want to become translators just don’t know where to begin.
Well, that’s what this post is for.
So, without taking up more time, here is the basic list.
How to Become a Translator: The 10 Basic Steps
(Remember, these are the basic steps. Each person who follows these steps will have different results because we’re all different and live in different situations. But if you are diligent and put in the work, you will have success.)
Step 1: Pick a Language
Remember that I said we were going to start at a basic level.
Some would-be translators already speak a second or third language before they decide they want to become a translator. Other people have an idea that they want to become translators before they’ve even decided on a language.
Either approach is fine. But either way, you need to have a decent command of two different languages. You also need to know your relative strength in each language. Translators mostly translate into their native language. This isn’t always the case but is generally the path that beginning translators should follow.
If you are a native English speaker and have learned Spanish as your second language, focus on improving those two languages. You don’t have to be perfect in them. But you do need to have a certain command of both of them so that you can transfer ideas correctly from one to the other.
Step 2: Decide to be a Translator or an Interpreter
Again, remember that this is a basic list. A lot (you’d be surprised at how many) don’t know that there is a difference between becoming a translator and becoming an interpreter.
Those are actually two different jobs.
Two different positions.
Translators work with the written word while interpreters deal with the spoken language.
So once you know which languages you will be working with, it’s time to decide whether you want to focus on translation or interpretation. Translators and interpreters follow different paths and should focus on different steps to become successful.
This list is meant for translators (although there are some things even interpreters can learn from this list).
Step 3: Choose a Specialization
In the history of translation, choosing a specialization seems to be a relatively new addition. When I was in college studying to be a translator, for example, nobody talked about the importance of gaining specialized knowledge.
Now it’s a basic step that every translator should follow.
Most translators can translate basic jargon. Translators really earn their money when they can translate expert material or specialized documents that require in-depth knowledge of the subject, not just of the language.
Don’t neglect this step thinking that you’ll be able to become a successful translator without it. It’s not going to happen.
Step 4: Build Your Platform
Again, this is one of those steps that wasn’t widely taught 20 years ago.
It’s probably because online platforms weren’t as widely accessible back then as they are now.
Everyone has multiple social media accounts
In addition, it’s super easy for anyone to build a basic website.
That means there is no excuse for you. You need to decide what your platform of choice is going to be. I always recommend that translators build their own website so that they have full control over that property. I use Bluehost web hosting which is about the best you’ll find.
They are affordable and easy to work with.
If you’re going to build a website, go with them.
However, if you don’t wan to build a website, at least have a professional presence on social media somewhere. You need to be able to point potential clients towards your platform. Choose one and go with it.
Step 5: Advertise Your Services
OK, now that you’re ready to go with your platform of choice, it’s time to find jobs because finding your first paying translation job is what separates you as a professional from you as a hobbyist or amateur.
And in order to find your first job, you’re going to need to advertise your services.
You can do this a million different ways, as I’m sure you can guess.
Some of those ways might work for you; some of them might not.
Whatever method you choose, though, be sure to not forget the most effective method.
Tell your whole family and all your friends that you are a professional translator and have some openings in your schedule to now accept translation clients.
That’s how I got my first translation job, and I’m not the only translator who has ever gotten a freelance translation job that way. It works, so you should do it.
Step 6: Apply for Jobs
The last step and this step can come in either order. The key is to do them both. In this step, you want to apply to as many jobs as you feel comfortable with.
It’s a numbers game.
If you don’t apply to very many places, you’ll have less of a chance of scoring a translation job, especially if you’re just starting out.
So apply everywhere you can.
Translation agencies, social media sites like LinkedIn, job boards like Indeed.com. Anywhere and everywhere.
Step 7: Find/Accept Your First Client
Keep applying until you find your first client.
What separates professionals from hobbyists is having a paying client so you want to do everything you can to find that first client.
And once you do, make sure you do everything in your power to deliver a top quality translation. More than that, make sure you deliver a top quality experience for your client so that when they need another translation, they don’t even think twice about where they should go for their next translation.
Go above and beyond what you think they need or deserve. Show them you are a professional and even their friend (gasp!). That will keep them coming back.
Step 8: Ask Questions
When you’re new, there’s a lot that seems daunting. You have tons of questions about what to charge, how to collect payment, what to do about bad clients, etc.
Questions are great to have.
The bad thing is when you remain silent and don’t seek to answer them.
There are plenty of translators that have gone through the same things you’re going through that are more than willing to give you their opinion.
I don’t have all the answers. No translator does.
We all have gone through different paths to get where we are.
And that’s a good thing because those experiences we’ve had can help others, like you, who might be going through similar things.
But you can’t be afraid to be humble and recognize that you (nor anyone) has all the answers.
Step 9: Repeat Steps 4 – 8
And the cycle continues.
Keep doing the same steps over and over again. Practice makes permanent, and continually doing the right things over and over again will eventually lead to success.
You can’t give up or walk away or say things aren’t working.
Most success takes time.
Keep working hard and you’ll get there.
Step 10: Give Back
Finally, when you’re successful, give back to other people that are asking you questions now. Be cognizant that your wisdom and knowledge can empower the lives of others, just as yours was when you started on this journey, when you asked that first question to yourself:
How to become a translator?
I have to warn you, though. If you’re anything like me, this step might just become your favorite of the whole bunch.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to read the rules on how to become a successful translator.