In order to keep up with the latest translation trends, we follow several social media feeds, including Reddit (which is our favorite!). Every two weeks or so, a post pops up asking how to become a translator. The post generally says:
“Hello! My name is John Doe, and I am interested in becoming a translator. I speak Spanish and English, but I am wondering how I can start in the translation field. Would you recommend that I get a degree in translation or a certificate? I’ve translated for my family several times, and I really enjoy it. Thanks for the feedback!”
The posts vary and include other questions such as, “Is my language relevant enough?” or “Should I specialize in a specific subject to make myself competitive?” After a while, I noticed that members of the group have stopped answering or answer shortly, “Search this feed for answers.” As the information varies from post to post, we have compiled the info in one, quick easy blog which links to some great resources.
To begin with, are you aware that translation is written, whereas interpretation is spoken? These are two separate jobs, and language professionals usually specialize in one over the other, rarely both.
Attention to Detail
Assuming you have decided you are interested in the written form, here is what it entails: First and foremost, attention to detail. Likely, if you are a translator, you are a perfectionist and have a “type A” personality. Translation professional, Corinne McKay, talks about how these characteristics are necessary to meet deadlines and ensure a high quality of work. Being a freelancer, you set your own standard for quality work, and you will probably be the hardest boss you ever have.
Know Your Worth
As a freelance translator (which most are), you have to be comfortable setting your own rates, which can be intimidating. You must know your worth (learn more about setting your rates). As a nonprofit, this is one of the issues close to our heart, and we have initiatives to ensure translators get paid fairly. While speaking to a marketing advisor, they said, “Translation seems to be a commodity, so it makes sense to offer the lowest price possible, unless you can demonstrate value for paying more.” Once you have decided your worth, you will need to demonstrate your value through constant training, maintaining memberships, certifications, exams, and acquiring high profile clients.
One of the hot topics in translation is work-life balance. Being a freelancer, it reasons that the more hours you put into your work, the more money you make. Except this is never-ending, and will bring you to the inevitable and ubiquitous “burn-out”. As a freelancer, you’ll be “director of marketing, IT person, customer service rep, accountant, bookkeeper, office cleaner, general admin person, AND doing the actual translation work.” (thoughtsontranslation). Its up to you to set healthy and sustainable boundaries.
Another important point is that, compared to interpreters who spend all day with people, translator spend a lot of time alone reading at texts. If you are a person who needs to be around others, this may not be the job for you. However, one of the benefits of being home alone all day is that you can live anywhere. Translation occurs primarily over the web, so you can basically work for any company in any location. You might live in Colorado, but you don’t necessarily have to work only there, and we recommend that you don’t limit yourself either.
Do your research and find companies that you respect, agree with, that already provide your language, and are willing to pay you fairly. Follow them on social media, read their posts and ENGAGE. Comment on their posts and blogs, and get your name known to them. If you are looking to work directly for clients and skip the middlemen agencies, do the same thing: Follow, read, and engage.
Also, follow some translation blogs to keep up with trends (check out this complete list of translation blogs). Start to learn about the industry and what professionals are talking about. What are their complaints, daily thoughts, and processes. This information can be used to further decide if this is an industry you want to get into. Blogs will also advertise potential jobs and upcoming professional development opportunities, including the annual American Translators Association (ATA) conference.
Another question that posts often contain is about certification, and is it worth it? We would say yes from an agency point of view, but several freelancers would tell you otherwise. For TinCan Translations, we understand that there are translators who would do amazing translations with experience alone. However, a certification is a way of standardizing the field and demonstrating to clients that our translators are qualified. ATA acts as the main translation body in the U.S., and we recommend getting certified through them, though there are other bodies that also certify.
A degree is also widely recognized and is a way to set yourself apart, though our experience is that a certificate combined with experience is equally valuable. One way in which a degree can really set you apart though is if you specialize. In fact, specializing in general is a good idea to make yourself more marketable in translation. Check out this article for tips on how to specialize.
If you are having trouble breaking into the field despite your qualifications, we would recommend volunteering your services. You can do this two ways: You can offer an agency to complete the first translation free (up to a certain amount of words); Or you can volunteer your services to a charity that works with a multilingual population. After you do a few jobs, ask them to be your reference.
Some other small tips from an agency point of view:
- Be Responsive & Accessible. As an agency, we already have several regular translators that we know are reliable and produce a quality product. Additionally, we have several more applications per language than we need. The only time we contact new translators is when all our regular translators are all unavailable. If you fail to be immediately responsive, then we are moving on to the next application.
- Follow Up. Since we have so many applications, it is easy to fall off our radar as a potential translator. Don’t be annoying about it though. One of our favorite translators received a job after consistently sending short us emails for holidays:
“Merry Christmas! I hope you all enjoy the holidays! Just for your records, I am still available for projects. -Thanks”.
We remembered her name after a few emails, and she was the first person we contacted when we were short a translator.
- Format. If you get a job, always send a formatted translation that mirrors the original document as closely as possible (though without adding work in the case of extreme formatting needed). That is something all agencies should do anyway, so if you format the document, you can bet we will be in contact with you again.
- Check Your Email After Project Delivery. Check in to see if there were any issues with the project. This is especially important for rush projects, as we will want you to be available for any questions immediately. If you aren’t available, it is likely we will not use you again for rush projects.
- Demonstrate Interest in Projects That Interest You: Duh. But seriously, make sure agencies know when you particularly enjoyed a project. We had one translator who loved translating medical documents. She said she learned so much from them, and she made sure we knew. In turn, we made sure she received all medical translations. We want you to professionally develop, so show your enthusiasm for areas where you want to specialize.
- Don’t Fold Snail Mail: For legal translations, we always ask the translator to forward us the original notarized Certificate of Accuracy. This is a professional and legal document which is required for immigration and other legal purposes, and it is extremely unprofessional to receive a the certificate folded to squeeze into a card envelop. Worse is that we forward the document on to clients, so you are not only ruining your image but also the agency’s.
We hope this post gives you a better idea as to what you should expect from the translation industry. This is only the beginning though, as there is so much more to learn as you enter into transcreation, localization, and other segments of translation that require higher skill. It is an extremely rewarding field, and we absolutely adore the translators we work with. However, it is not for everyone, and you should carefully consider if this profession would work for you. If you have any additional questions about translation, feel free to send us a message.
Good luck in this endeavor, and Happy New Year!