Language Career Options for Amateur and Professional Translators

If you graduated with a language degree, you’ve heard this:

“So, what’s your major?”

“Spanish.”

“Oh, what are you going to after you graduate? Teach?

I got that all. the. time.

From my family, friends, people I didn’t even know, and even my own professors.

It is the most annoying dialogue to anyone who is graduating with a degree in language or something similar.

And while I don’t advocate language majors for translators, plenty of people want to study languages in college.

Fine.

But if you do, know that there are more options for you than becoming a translator.

In addition, if you’re a professional translator, there’s a chance you might get burned out from translating and want to pursue another profession.

If so, you need to know where you can go with the skills you currently have.

That’s what happened to me.

I started translating professionally around 2000.

I’m writing this over 15 years later.

I’ve enjoyed translating immensely, but I’m too interested in other things to focus the rest of my life on translating.

So I’ve branched out.

I’ve started writing.

I haven’t given up translation completely, but I am pushing myself in other directions.

And maybe you’re going to want that in your life sometime.

If so, here are some opportunities you might want to consider.

1. Translation Broker

If you like the business side of the translation industry more than the actual translating, take a look at owning your own translation business.

Instead of being a one-man show doing everything, you would hire out the actual translation work to subcontracting translators while you would focus on everything else, like finding clients.

Translation agencies tend to have a bad reputation, especially among old crusty translators, but they aren’t all the devils they’re made out to be.

In fact, most translation agencies are trying to do the same thing as freelance translators: being profitable in a tough industry.

If you fault them for that, you’re a hypocrite.

Sure there are some you have to watch out for because they like to scam translators, but those are the exception, not the norm.

So, how do you become your own translation agency?

The process isn’t all that different than the process you went through first of all to become a freelance translator.

For a translation agency to become productive, you need the same things a successful translator needs:

  1. Language skills
  2. Expertise in specific areas
  3. Clients willing to pay

As owner of a translation agency, you still have to have these, but for #1 and #2, you will rely on outside translators.

You’ll still be responsible for #3.

So first, you need to decide the scope of your agency.

Do you want to focus on a single language pair or do you want to go the complete opposite route and offer the whole gamut of languages?

If you go with languages that you don’t know intimately well, you’ll have to come up with a QC process to make sure you deliver top quality.

In addition to deciding on the language combination, you’ll need to decide what kind of speciality area you want to focus on.

Do you only want to do legal or medical translations?

Or do you want to specialize in an even smaller niche, like patents, or literary translation?

No matter what language or speciality you choose, you need a way to find expert translators that fit the mold of the agency you are creating.

Finally, you’ll need to be creative on finding clients.

As a freelance translator, you keep %100 of the money you make from direct clients.

As the owner of a translation agency, you’re only keeping a portion of that. So in order to survive, you’ve got to come up with ways to find even more clients so that you can make money while also paying your translation providers.

The biggest way to do that  is to make sure potential clients see you as a person or organization that can solve their problems.

If you can do that, you will succeed.

2. Foreign Language Instructor

If you want to get completely out of the translation industry, but still be involved with foreign languages, a foreign language teacher could be a good fit.

The great thing about teaching a foreign language is that there are a ton of opportunities out there in all sorts of places and in all sorts of professions.

You don’t have to be limited to teaching 7th graders at your local junior high Spanish words to get them through their first semester.

You can teach anywhere.

A. Language Schools Overseas

If you like the idea of teaching a foreign language to kids in high school, but want a bit more adventure to go along with it, teach overseas.

I don’t know the number of American schools overseas, but according to its website, the State Department provides assistance to nearly 200 schools overseas.

foreign language teacher

In fact, if you look at the fact sheet provided by the State Department for 2015-2016 you’ll see that the schools that receive assistance from the department employ nearly 20,000 teachers and administrators.

overseas language schools

And that doesn’t even count all the British-affiliated schools or U.S. Department of Defense schools.

Now, granted, not all of these positions are language-related, of course. However, if you made sure you focused on a specialty area when you got your degree in college, you’d be a lot more marketable and employable than if you just tried on the merits of your language skills.

B. Government Language Positions

Maybe teaching high school kids isn’t your thing.

Maybe you’d rather stay in the states and enjoy the comfort of home and not venture out beyond the borders.

If so, teaching adults who want to learn might be what you need.

And one place to look for those types of people is the U.S. Government.

Surprisingly (to some), the government employs a fair amount of language instructors to to teach government workers.

These workers are employed by various government agencies, including the State Department that I mentioned above.

For example, if you go to USAJOBS.gov and search “foreign language,” you’ll get back a whole host of results for languages from Urdu to Chinese in places all across the country, like this one in Hawaii:

foreign language teacher

The application requirements are pretty straightforward for jobs like these, and you don’t have to have a Ph.D. just to get interviewed.

For this posting, in fact, you can have a Ph.D., or a Master’s Degree, or a Bachelor’s.

foreign language teacher requirements

Most translators I know would fit into one of the above categories.

C. Online Language Instructor

If you like the freelance lifestyle but still think that teaching might be something you want to try, life as an online language teacher could fit the bill.

This kind of teaching is pretty self-explanatory.

You teach people language over the Internet.

If you’re doing it yourself, you’re setting the hours, the pay, and the length of time for each class. You’re also the one finding students to teach.

While I’ve taught language courses in person, I’ve never taught online.

I did look into it once, but ultimately felt that it wasn’t for me.

The reason was the hours.

I was looking at teaching people English, which there is a huge market for.

But the people that want to learn English live overseas, with a lot of them living in China.

I didn’t want to alter my schedule so much that I was teaching throughout the middle of the night and then trying to catch up on sleep during the day.

It didn’t work for me, but it could work for you if you don’t mind the hour change.

Also, if you’re more interested in teaching a foreign language to an English speaker, you normally won’t have the same time zone problems I had since a lot of your students will be from the United States.

If you want to pursue the online language teacher/tutor route, you’ll need to invest in some equipment.

For example, you should invest in a proper microphone/headset combination.

Sure you might be able to get by with your external computer speakers and built-in mic, but your life will be much easier and you’ll provide much better value to your clients if you are more professional in your approach to language instruction.

You’re clients will get much more out of your sessions and you’ll come across as a much more professional instructor.

3. Freelance Writer

Another career option you could take if you want a break from translating is to become a freelance writer.

And really, there are only two options when it comes to doing that.

You can either write for other people.

Or.

You can write for yourself.

Writing for Others

Writing for other people mean that you write words for other people’s property. That can be magazines, newspapers, websites or newsletters, to name a few.

Here’s how it works if you’ve never done it.

You come up with an idea for an article and then submit that idea to places that might like to print it.

They accept your idea.

You write the article.

They print the article.

They pay you.

Rinse and repeat.

If you want a good book to show you how to do this, buy Write. Publish. Repeat.

The good side is that there are plenty of people in this world that need stuff written for them.

You just have to find them and offer them what they need.

It’s no different than your work as a freelance translator.

I’ve done this and have had my work published on My Outdoor Family,  Earthtalk.org, Devozine, Guide Magazine, and USA Triathlon Online.

You can also do this for print magazines, which I’ve also done. I had my very first article published in a regional runner’s magazine, Texas Runner and Triathlete.

This type of writing can be pretty lucrative.

But just like translation, it’s all a numbers game.

Find one client, use them to find a second, and keep the process rolling.

Writing for Yourself

The big difference when writing for yourself is that you control where/when/what is published.

You decide what you want to write about and instead of getting paid by someone else for something you write for them, you get paid by people interested in what you’re writing for yourself.

There are a couple of ways to do this.

One way is to sell books you write yourself.

If you have a big enough audience and enough interest in your subject, you can make good money.

I’ve done this on a small scale with a Spanish/English dictionary I wrote containing basketball terms.

I sell it on Amazon.

writing for yourself

It doesn’t sell well as it was my first foray into the world of online publishing and I wanted to see how it worked.

Another way is to give away loads of knowledge other people are interested in through your own website, and then monetize that content by selling premium material.

This takes awhile but it can lucrative.

That’s what this site is.

I try to write stuff for translators that can make their lives easier as they work towards becoming professional translators.

All my stuff is free.

I’m giving it away.

But I’m also working on premium content in the form of a book that can take you even further along on your translation career.

If you buy it, awesome.

If not, that’s fine.

Either way, I’ll still be here giving away 99% of my content for free.

And that’s how you can make money writing for yourself.

Whether you decide to stick with translation your whole life or venture out in other projects, remember this: Only you can make it happen.

Once you decide what you want to do, do everything in your power to make it happen.

And if you want to try something new, start the process over again.

If you do, you’ll succeed.

Until next time.

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