Work as a Freelance Translator – January 2017 FAQ Edition

Finding work as a freelance translator is question numero uno for every translator I know.

Below are a series of questions and answers I’ve received about this topic.

FYI: The answers aren’t mine. They come from fellow readers, most of them translators themselves.

Feel free to comment on the questions (or answers) in the comments below.

Question #1 – Finding Work as a Freelance Translator Using Translation Agencies

Question: My question is about how to get hired by a translation agency. I’m a Spaniard, educated in Montreal, Canada where English and French were taught in schools. I pursued languages including Spanish in college. Today I live in California working as an RN. I translate quite often since the majority of the patients are Hispanic. As for as certification, I have none, but I took a simple Spanish translation test at work. It was not mandatory but was simply to get a little more pay for the additional skill. I really enjoy translating and would like to focus on that more than nursing now.

Answer: A lot of translators rely on translation agencies to get translation jobs, so if you’re just starting out marketing yourself as a freelance translator, agencies are a good way to go. Probably the hardest part in applying to translation agencies is actually finding the agencies to submit your resume to.

Once you find translation agencies, it’s time to submit your resume. Usually the agency wants to get information about who you are and what kind of translator you are, and they’ll do it one of two ways. One way is by asking you to mail in a resume with your information. If this is the case, you’ll want to be sure and submit a resume that is geared towards translation and the work you’ve previously done in translation.

While some translation agencies will ask for your resume, other agencies ask you to fill out a form outlining your experience as a translator. It will take some time to fill out the information requested from each agency, so you’ll want to set aside about an hour each day to to send your information to the agencies. It might take a while for you to hear back from some of the agencies, and you might not hear back from some of them. However, if the agency is interested in working with you, they might either email you right away for more information, or they might even ask you to take take a translation test in order to assess your skills.

Also, it’s important to remember that while translation agencies are an important place for translators to find work, they are not the only place. Be sure and use the local connections you might have in the area where you live to find clients. You mentioned that you already to medical translation at work. You might look around at other hospitals or clinics and see if they have a need for a translator. You could offer your services to them, and since you already have credibility as a medical translator, it might be fairly easy to find some more translation work that way.


Question #2: Finding Work as a Translator Without a Degree

Question: Hi, I’m Marcello from the UK. I’ve lived, studied and worked for 16yrs in Italy and 17yrs in England. I can speak, read and write excellent in both languages and have a very good understanding of anything from legislation, politics, economy, housing ect. in both countries, but I have no relevant degrees in translations. It’s been impossible for me to find work as a translator and I was wondering if any of you knows of any companies that recruit or freelance out work to people like myself.

Answer: Post ads in newspapers, in Craigslist and create a log in www.wordpress.com, it’s free. Place flyers everywhere, make business cards and hand them out, make phone calls to public notaries and offer yourself as a translator.


Question #3: Preparing in College to Find Work as a Translator Later

Question: Can I just get a check list on the things that I should do in college because this is the career path that I have chosen but do not know where to begin?

Answer: First of all, that is great that you have already decided that you want to be a professional translator and are now looking for ways you can make that happen. A lot of people don’t start translating until later in life, sometimes as a second career, so it’s good that you’ll have a little more time to figure things out and chart the best course for you.

As of right now, most colleges in the United States don’t have dedicated translation programs or departments, so it can be hard for students who want a career in this field to get the right advice on how to go about becoming either a freelance or in-house translator.

Most universities that do offer some sort of translation curriculum usually offer it through the Linguistics program, or foreign language department. While this is better than nothing, it usually isn’t very focused on the business of being a translator, which is just as important as the art behind being able to translate, so translators that train at these schools oftentimes feel unprepared to face the translation industry upon graduation.

If you are lucky enough to be at a school that offers a dedicated translation program to its students, be sure and use the resources you can find there on how to best prepare yourself for the translation field. There are many opportunities for translators, and a good translation program at a university will usually be able to provide you with all sorts of resources to help you on your quest.

Now, I assume that in your particular case, you don’t have access to a dedicated translation program, or aren’t in college yet, and are preparing. In that case, let me give you a list of what you can do to prepare while you’re in college:

1. Know a foreign language. Seems obvious, but there are a lot of people that speak only one language who desire to become translators. If you want to translate, you have to know two different languages. Most people know English and one other. If you don’t know another language, it’s time to learn. And just taking Spanish classes at the university isn’t going to get you to the level you need to be at to make it as a professional translator. I would recommend that in addition to formal classes, you also spend at the minimum one year abroad in a country where the majority speak the language you are learning. So if you want to learn Spanish, you better spend some time in Latin America. And don’t be one of those students that goes down there and then spends all of his or her time with English speakers. That is not going to help your Spanish at all.

2. Decide what kind of translator you want to be. Lots of people don’t think about this, but you should realize that you can either be a freelance translator or an in-house translator. There are more freelance translators out there than the in-house variety, but deciding this will change your approach.

3. Decide on classes. There are two different kinds of translators: specialized and general translators. Specialized translators are more in demand and can charge higher prices than general translators, but also might be limited in the material they feel comfortable translating. Whatever type of translator you decide to become, however, make sure you get the knowledge that goes along with it. For example, if you want to be a medical translator, maybe you should do a pre-med curriculum of classes while in school. If you’d rather translate engineering material, do an engineering major. If you prefer to be a general translator without any specialization, make sure you take classes that will give you a wide exposure to lots of different things, both in the foreign language and English. The more knowledge you have of the world you will be translating, both in English and the foreign language, will prepare you better and more effectively.

4. Finally, understand the business side. Especially relevant if you’re going to be a freelance translator, you will need to know how to run your own business. A freelance translator spends a lot of time not translating. He or she has to know how to market their services, do accounting, and everything else that comes along with owning your own business. Take some beginning business classes in college just to get an idea of some of the things you’ll have to deal with, that way they aren’t a surprise when you finally start translating.

5. One more thing. Start translating as soon as you can. There’s no need to wait until you graduate to begin a career as a translator. Once you feel comfortable with the language, go ahead and start putting it to use by translating. There are lots of opportunities to do pro bono translation work in the community, and that’s a great place to get started and see what it’s like to be translator.


Question #4: Work as a Translator and Translation Competence

Question: What is the best way for determining translation competence?

To give a little background: I had been translating for different law firms in the Bay area, but I’m looking for a different environment of work, and I’m very interested to work in the health industry where my language skills may be an asset to the company that I may be representing and most important to the people that may need my services.

Answer: Determining translation competence is something that translation theorists have been debating for a long time, and I’m sure will continue debating for the foreseeable future. There are so many different ways to determine how competent a translator is but sometimes the methods are contradictory and do not allow for practically implementing the appropriate methods.

But often when a translator decides to add another area of expertise to his/her bag of skills, it is definitely important to know how to determine their skill level in the new translation area. I assume that is what you are referring to by pointing out that you want to switch from legal translations to translating for the health industry.

I think the most important thing to do is really assess your abilities by doing practice medical translations. You can find plenty of medical texts online and I would take a few, translate them on your own, read them over and do a personal assessment, and then finally, give your translations to a native speaker and ask them to really critique the translations. If you truly go through this process, you will really understand your translation competence and know if you are ready to do medical translations for clients.

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