Every time I tell someone I work as a translator, one of the most common things I hear is something like “oh, I’m great with languages, do you know where I can find translation work?”
In each different situation, I always end up not knowing what to say. Lacking some basic information about translation as a profession, people tend to believe anyone can do it. This has been discussed over and over again all around the world, among infuriated translators who often feel insulted by such a claim. On the other hand, I don’t want to lecture people or hurt their feelings by telling them they don’t have what it takes to translate professionally. After all, what do I know? So I decided to play along and assume really anyone can do it for a living. I went so far as to create my small guide on “How to become a translator in 5 “easy” steps”.
Let’s start by understanding what motivates people to say this: I’m pretty sure what seduces them most is the fact that you can work freelance.
Ah, the freelancer life: that wonderful world where you sleep late, work from home in your pyjamas or by the window of a cosy coffee shop with a hot chocolate next to your laptop, and travel the world as much as you want, earning lots of money…
Also, people tend to think this is the kind of job you can coordinate with another one. You know. A real job. Where you work from nine to five doing some serious adult things and then you come home, do a little translation and earn enough money to indulge in a spa day once in a while or splurge on that weekend getaway you’ve been dreaming about.
Well, I’m pretty sure all this is possible so let’s get to it. Here are my golden tips to get you started:
1. Obtain perfect command of your native language
Just because you’re a native speaker of a given language, that doesn’t automatically mean you have perfect command of it. There is a common misconception that translators are fluent in foreign languages. While that may be true, the fact is that the language you really need to master is the one you will be translating into, i.e., your mother tongue. So, you must be confident that you have no problems regarding spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation. Oh and don’t forget style and readability. And don’t even get me started on coherence and consistency…
2. Get some training
In most countries, there are a number of degree courses in the translation field. If you already have a degree in some other field, you might consider doing a postgraduate course or a master’s degree in Translation. These will mainly focus on improving your knowledge of foreign languages (yes, yes, I know you’re pretty fluent already, but still…), teach you about the different types of translation (technical, literary, etc.), some techniques to deal with challenges and difficulties you are bound to come up against along the way, some resources for searching and managing translated terms and software tools to increase productivity.
3. Know your tools
As in any other profession, translators must learn the tools of the trade. There are a number of computer programs for translating different types of documents and managing translated terms so that you don’t have to keep looking for the same terms over and over again. Of course these tools aren’t exactly cheap and besides the fact that you need to invest time and money in learning how to work with them, you still need to master more than a couple as you’ll need to use different ones for different job types.
4. Know the market
Let’s go back to your original question “do you know where I can find translation work?” Now that you have perfect command of your mother tongue, accredited certification to work as a professional translator and have mastered some of the most commonly used tools, let’s find you some clients. After spending so much time investing in your training and development, I’m sure you’re starting to feel this could be a real job. And you’re invested in offering a quality service… and being paid for it. There are indeed several portals where translation jobs are posted on a daily basis and translators can apply. But maybe, just maybe, you want to be respected for your work. Also, maybe you don’t want to translate just anything that comes your way. You have preferred themes, things that interest you, that you like researching… Well, look at you thinking about specialization!
5. Understand your responsibility
I’m pretty sure that at this point you’re convinced that professional translation is not just some side gig you can do to make some extra money but something that requires skill, effort and time to ensure many problems are avoided due to misunderstanding and miscommunication around the world. People rely on translators to convey their voice in a language they do not know. A mistake in an instruction manual can result in serious injury or death, a lack of punctuation in a contract can lead to a huge financial loss… you get the picture.
So, if after reading this you’ve decided you can’t be bothered with all the hassle, let alone find the time to come up with accurate and reliable translations, leave that to someone who is crazy enough to do it and, even worse, love it. And do drop me a line if you ever need advice on finding the ideal professional for your translation needs. I’ll be more than happy to help you out.