Transitioning from Student to Freelance Translator

Reblogged from the SDL Trados blog, incl. the image, with permission from the author

In November this year at ATA’s 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco, Meghan McCallum and Sarah Puchner, both French to English translators, co-presented a session on “Transitioning from Student to Translator: Strategies for Success.” After the conference we reached out to Meghan to discuss this topic with her.

A student has just finished their translation degree. What is the first piece of advice you would give them?

I would tell them it’s never too early to start preparing for their freelance career! Even if you’re not planning on freelancing right away, there are many things you can work on in the meantime to prepare. For example, you can build a professional online presence through Twitter and LinkedIn, create a personal website, and attend educational and networking events such as webinars and conferences. You can also use this time to research potential clients and learn what kinds of requirements they have for freelancers in terms of software, education, experience, testing, etc.

What are the main challenges for a student transitioning into freelance translation?

A hot topic that Sarah and I addressed in our session was the vicious circle of “no work without experience and no experience without work.” I think a lot of new freelancers are concerned with experience requirements; if every agency you want to work with is requesting two years of prior experience, how are you supposed to get those years under your belt?

While there is no single “right answer” to this question, Sarah and I provided a few ideas to help these freelancers get over the hurdle. First, there are some agencies that do not require a certain number of years of experience. Interested translators are vetted based on their work on the agency’s translation tests, regardless of how many years they have under their belt. This is a great way for a new but good translator to get their foot in the door.

Another route is to consider the translator’s experience with translation tasks in graduate school, internships, and volunteer work. Even if these weren’t full-time freelancing gigs, many potential agency clients will consider this work as valid towards the experience requirement.

Should a student looking to become a freelancer join associations such as ATA and purchase membership?

I highly recommend joining the ATA and attending the ATA conference as a student—there’s a great discounted rate to encourage students to attend. Of course, hopefully you’ll renew your membership even after you’re no longer a student, too! The ATA conference is a valuable educational and networking opportunity, and it’s a lot of fun as well. Since the majority of our work is online, the ATA conference is also a rare occasion to meet colleagues (and potential clients!) in person.

As for a membership, I certainly recommend starting with a free account and setting up an online profile for potential clients to find you. From there, you can explore the features and decide if a paid membership would be right for you. In any case, I highly recommend taking advantage of any online profile you can have out there—the easier it is for potential clients to find you online, the better!

How important is creating your own website and the role of social media for a freelance newbie?

Again, I strongly believe that freelancers should take advantage of any free online platforms they can. In our ATA session, Sarah and I focused on Twitter in particular. Twitter is an easy way to have “water cooler” talk with colleagues, keep up with the latest industry news, and practice writing skills. After all, narrowing your messages down to 140 characters is a sort of writing exercise. Our bottom line was to keep tweets professional (use a separate account for personal use, if you like); keep in mind that potential clients and colleagues can see everything you put out there!

As for a website, some new freelancers might find the task a bit daunting, and in that case I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily required right away. I do think it is something you should have on your radar for the long term, though. It’s another great way for colleagues and potential clients to find you, and it really solidifies your professional online presence.

Before getting started on a website, decide whether or not you’re comfortable building it yourself. I built my own website during nights and weekends when I was still working at an agency, and when I launched my freelance business it was actually really exciting to have the website ready to go right away.

Networking is more important than ever for a translator. What advice would you give to a student who might find it daunting?

If you’re feeling particularly shy about putting yourself out there, I recommend starting small; see if there are any local translator meetup groups or events in your area. The ATA also has many local chapters covering various regions of the US, and these chapters host networking events and conferences as well. This is a great way to meet colleagues without feeling overwhelmed by a huge number of attendees or multi-day travel.

Of course, I can’t stress online networking enough! Meeting colleagues at a conference is actually a lot easier if you’ve had some online contact ahead of time. This is where Twitter can come in handy yet again. Sarah and I encourage following translators with the same language pair and/or similar fields of expertise. When you run into each other at the conference, you’ll be able to easily transition from an online conversation to a face-to-face one.

In your opinion, how important is it for a student moving into freelance translation to learn about computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools?

It really pays to put in the time to learn all necessary technology, from social media to e-mail to CAT tools. These days more and more students are learning and practicing CAT tools in translation programs, which I think is great. Technology should be included in all translation programs; it’s a great way to give the students a feel of what skills they need to succeed beyond translation and writing.

CAT tools aren’t cheap, but they are necessary. Before buying, translators should test out various tools to compare them. Most tools offer free trial periods or demo versions that allow translators to try before they buy. And translators can ask their potential agency clients which tools they use; most agencies do have a preferred tool and require their translators to work with it.

Year-one chronicle: My first twelve months as a professional translator

A few days before Christmas I got a thick, imposing envelope in the mail from the Washington State Department of Revenue.

“ACTION REQUIRED: Business Tax Return due January 31” it shouted in bold, red font across the front. Yikes! What have I gotten myself into?

Inauspicious beginnings

Two years ago, I didn’t even know that document translation was a real profession. I still remember where I was in late August 2016—surfing the web in a friend’s living room in Manaus, Brazil—when I stumbled across a blog post describing the qualities of a successful translator. I thought, People actually make a living doing this? From then on things kind of snowballed.

I immediately began digging deeper. It didn’t take long to discover Corinne McKay’s award-winning blog about all things translation, and the podcast she co-hosts with Eve Bodeux. I soaked it all in.

By mid-November I was back in the U.S. and taking Corinne’s course, Getting Started as a Freelance Translator. I had found my calling and I wasn’t looking back.

Baby steps

I formalized my business, Language of the Americas, in Washington State in January 2017.

Aside from a one-off gig for a neighbor when I lived in Colombia, I had never translated for pay before. I felt like a high school freshman on the first day of class all over again. Undaunted, and with Corinne’s counsel, I began prospecting for work by:

  • verifying potential agency clients on Payment Practices;
  • sending out warm emails or—my favorite—paper letters to those prospects, including a polished resume;
  • fine-tuning my LinkedIn profile; and
  • creating a business website.

I also started a blog about trends in Latin American agriculture, thinking that would attract clients while keeping me current on terminology in my niche of agriculture. It was a fun exercise, but it wasn’t catching anyone’s attention, or so I thought. But more on that later.

Peaks and valleys

Initial email and snail mail prospecting was overwhelmingly successful—at least in terms of engaging prospective clients. My response rate was around 50%. This was starting to look easy!

But nobody wanted to send me work. A few “saved my resume for future reference,” but, as the days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months, my inbox was still empty. My problem seemed to be a lack of experience. But how do I get that experience?

I had been knocking on the virtual door of one of the larger agencies out there, as I knew they had loads of work and a lower bar of entry. I finally heard back from them after my third application in as many months, and tested onto their roster as a translation editor in the life sciences department. This was my chance to get the experience I needed. I thought of it as an apprenticeship.

As time went by, I learned how to communicate with project managers, how to negotiate bids, how to make tight deadlines, and how to invoice. Everything was so new.

As an editor, I also learned how to research hard terminology, and I found out a lot about the mistakes translators are prone to make, and how to catch them. As a bonus, I was being exposed to Spanish from all over the world, and that, along with floods of technical terminology unique to the life sciences, kept my language skills moving forward. I worked my way up the pay scale within the agency by doing thorough work and being dependable.

Work was steady (by jerks) and interesting, and I was learning lots. That’s when I decided to revisit South America.

Remote (im)possibility

Twice in prior months I had successfully travelled with my office on working vacations, visiting family on the other side of the state. On these trips, I had a nice table to work at in a relatively quiet setting. I was digging the ‘free’ in ‘freelance’.

Soon, I had visions of doing the same in South America. In July 2017, I flew to Peru and began what would become a two-month stay in the southern hemisphere. But I soon found I couldn’t work reliably.

I needed at least a full day of preparation to get in the ‘zone’ and a space to call my own, with minimal distractions. During those two months spent in Peru and Brazil, I was simply on the road too much and too often to be able to buckle down and do quality work. And, except in bigger cities, internet was sparse.

Thankfully, my project managers at the large agency (almost) didn’t bat an eye when I came back online two months later, and work picked up faster than ever. But it started feeling like time for a change.

The time is write

The Latin American agriculture blog languished while I was away. In a lull after my return, I hammered out a new post about the need for collaboration between the world’s agricultural researchers.

As I sometimes do (to ensure that somebody reads my blog!), I emailed the post’s URL to the sources whose work I had used to write it. This time, I was in for a surprise.

One of these sources shared the post with his colleagues, one of whom happened to be a communications coordinator for a large, international organization. She read the post, liked my style and grasp of the subject, and asked if I’d like to write freelance for them on an ongoing basis. I thought, People actually make a living doing this?

Ah yes. And so it’s back to the freshman books for me.

Goals for year two

In 2018, I’d like to achieve the following:

  • Secure at least two additional quality clients, both for translation and writing. Diversity in work activities and revenue stream is always a good thing.
  • Develop a better portfolio of translations that I can share with potential clients to prove that I know what I’m doing, even though I’ve only been doing it for one year.
  • Keep learning and keep improving! I’ve got some good books to read, in addition to staying current on the top blogs and podcasts out there on writing and translation. (I have benefited much from Carol Tice’s blog for freelance writers.)

Over to you…

What were some of the notable highs and lows in your first year of translating or interpreting? Do you have any tips to share with readers (and me!) for making that second year a bang-up success? Please comment below!

Image source: Pixabay

Author bio

Paul Froese is a freelance Spanish to English translator and writer specializing in agricultural and life sciences content. A native of Walla Walla, Washington, he holds an undergraduate degree in plant science and biotechnology and a graduate degree in crop science focused on plant breeding and genetics. He enjoyed the challenges of his first year (2017) as a freelance translator and writer and is looking forward to continued growth in 2018!

You can visit Paul’s website at and his blog about trends in Latin American agriculture at E-mail him with any thoughts at

ATA’s First Virtual Conference Has Arrived

Did you miss out on ATA’s 58th Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.? Or maybe you attended but weren’t able to make it to as many sessions you would have liked. Don’t fear! The ATA Virtual Conference is here.

What is the Virtual Conference?

The Virtual Conference is a collection of 49 sessions given at ATA58 in Washington, D.C. There are sessions for both translators and interpreters, covering a wide range of topics in finance, law, medicine, science, technology, and more. All 49 sessions are available on-demand, and the recordings are accompanied by the speakers’ original PowerPoint presentations in video format. You can view the full list of sessions offered here

How Much Does It Cost?

3-day attendees of ATA58 have free access to the Virtual Conference. To access the sessions, go to and log in with the same username and password provided to access the ATA58 App and Certificate of Attendance. All 3-day attendees were sent their usernames and passwords in an email with the subject line “ATA58 Virtual Conference is Now Available for Attendees.” If you are able to search your email, you can find your username and password there. If you cannot find your username and password, please contact ATA at ATA members can also access the Virtual Conference by simply logging into their account at and clicking on “ATA58 – Access Virtual Conference” under “Membership Information.”

If you did not attend the conference and would like to purchase access, go to and click on “Purchase It Now.” The Virtual Conference costs $79 for ATA members and $129 for non-members. You can watch a free sample session from the Virtual Conference on ATA’s YouTube channel here:

How Did ATA Decide Which Sessions to Include?

Presenters did not apply to participate in the Virtual Conference. This year, ATA was limited to recording in just 4-5 rooms at a time. Their strategy was to pick the 4-5 rooms that contained session topics with the widest appeal for translators and interpreters. Therefore, the session topic and the room where the session was given were the only two items used to determine what was included in the Virtual Conference. Presenters whose sessions were chosen to be included in the Virtual Conference received no form of compensation.

What Happened to the eConference?

ATA has been selling some form of conference session recordings since 2005 (except in 2016). Below is a list of all recording packages and pricing; they are available for purchase at under the tab “All.”

  • 2005-2009: ATA Annual Conference DVD-ROM $69.00
  • 2010-2011: ATA eConference $69.00 / ATA eConference + DVD-ROM $99.00
  • 2012-2013: Recordings are no longer available for purchase
  • 2014: ATA eConference $149.00 / ATA eConference + DVD-ROM $179.00
  • 2015: ATA eConference $149.00 / ATA eConference + USB Drive $179.00
  • 2017: ATA Virtual Conference / Free for 3-Day Attendees / ATA Members $79 / Non-Members $129

Please note that ATA plans to discontinue all sales of past recordings in the near future.

What Can We Expect for ATA59?

ATA’s 59th Annual Conference will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana from October 24-27, 2018. ATA expects to receive approximately 1,800 attendees from more than 60 countries and at this time has not determined whether or not the Virtual Conference will be offered again.

About the author

Molly YurickMolly Yurick is a Spanish to English translator specialized in the tourism, hospitality and airline industries. In the past she has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a B.A. in Spanish and Global Studies and a Certificate in Medical Interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. You can visit her website at:

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Frieda Ruppaner-Lind

English-to-German and German-to-English translator Frieda Ruppaner-Lind is among those intrepid linguists who count their experience not in years, but decades: in her case, three of them. Indeed, translation has existed for at least as long as the Rosetta Stone, but few would disagree that the act of translating itself has never changed more than it has over the past few decades. For that reason, there is a certain respect for our colleagues who have experienced the rapid evolution firsthand.

Frieda, whom we interview in this third installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” series, may not have chiseled her translations in stone, but she did once use a DOS-based CAT tool!

Read on to hear her thoughts on the importance of research in translation, why we could all stand to read more, and a sometimes-overlooked resource translators should secure before working with direct clients. You can also learn more about her specialization in technology, medicine, and business in her 2015 interview with Caduceus, a publication of the American Translators Association’s Medical Division.

On finding a career in language and going solo

Growing up in Germany near the Swiss border, not very far from France and Italy, it was taken for granted that people spoke at least French, understood Swiss German, or spoke some English. Throughout secondary school I studied French, Latin, and English and discovered that my talent for languages far exceeded the one for math and sciences. Several years later, with a degree in translation and after moving to the US, I worked in-house for a large manufacturer for one year and then embarked on a freelance career.

Her favorite thing about translating

Doing research! This is one of the most interesting aspects of our work—not only does it help us produce quality translations, but we also learn so much about new technologies, procedures, and broaden our horizons.

Advice for newcomers: learn, network, and plan ahead

  • Learning never ends. Keep your curiosity for learning new things and be a voracious reader—you never know when and how your work can benefit from that. And don’t forget—network with colleagues, join groups, chapters, etc.
  • If you are looking for direct clients or already have some, have a game plan. Learn about them and their products and make sure you have a couple of qualified colleagues that can cover for you and/or edit your work.

Ways to improve one’s translation skills

I love to read, whether books, magazines or online. I also subscribe to a medical newsletter in German to learn about the latest procedures and technologies. In addition, I attend ATA and regional conferences and workshops.

How she gets clients, or the value of being visible

I have long-standing relationships with a few agencies and network with other English-German colleagues—I either recommend them or they recommend me. My best direct client found me in the ATA directory, as have most of the agencies I work with.

Her favorite venue for networking and why

It’s still the ATA conference and our chapter conference. You meet both colleagues and agencies and get out of your comfort zone.

The value of belonging to professional associations

I am a member of ATA, a regional ATA chapter, and the German BDÜ (German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators). The main benefit is networking and exposure to potential clients.

Translation tools of the past and present

I have had many favorite CAT tools over the years. My first one was XL8 and it was DOS based! Now I am dating myself. In fact, the first translation I worked on in the US ended up being the first and last I ever did on a typewriter; I then purchased an Apple III and had to go to Germany to get the German version of Apple Writer III. This was in the early eighties. (Without computers, I probably wouldn’t have remained in this line of business.) I am now happily using Trados Studio and sometimes memoQ and love the additional apps for Studio.

Image credit: Pixabay

Frieda Ruppaner-Lind has been a full-time English-German freelance translator for three decades. She is a graduate of the Translators and Interpreters Institute at the University of Heidelberg with a degree in translation for English and Spanish and is ATA-certified from English into German and German into English. Her main areas of specialization are technology, including medical technology, and related areas. She has been active in ATA both on the regional and national level for many years as chapter president, ATA committee chair, and ATA board member in addition to giving presentations at regional events and the ATA conference.

The Greatest Challenge Facing Translators

Reblogged from Academic Language Experts blog, with permission from the author

A friend, wishing to polish his translation skills, recently asked me the following question: “if you had to give one tip to a new translator, what would it be?” Without hesitation I answered “avoid literalisms.” As editor of Academic Language Experts this is the most frequent issue I encounter when reviewing translations: texts which, while comprehensible, are markedly literal.

Let me explain. When I say “literalisms” I do not mean a text that is translated word-for-word. I am actually referring to a more subtle problem: a translation which is technically “correct”—definitely not “Google translate”—but still closely emulates the form, order, and linguistic idiosyncrasies of its source.

There are of course cases when a literal translation may be preferable (legal and medical texts for example) and this is certainly an issue translators and clients should discuss explicitly before a project begins. But generally speaking, clients want their texts translated so their message or research can effectively reach audiences who are only familiar with the target language.  A text fails at this task when it reveals its foreign origins, gives the impression of an imperfect rendering, and challenges readers to clamber over awkward, disjointed formulations.

There is a reason this problem is so widespread. Avoiding literalisms is THE most difficult part of being a translator. It requires employing many different skills simultaneously: reading comprehension, writing proficiency, language knowledge and more. It requires a translator to extract the meaning from the source language, while at the same time escaping its stylistic-linguistic influence. It is the writer’s equivalent of trying to whistle a song while another one plays in the background. The ability to juggle these skills is truly a rare talent.

The first step to cultivating this talent is to develop an explicit awareness of one’s natural tendency to translate literally. Once a translator has identified these pitfalls, they can consciously adopt strategies to overcome them. With practice this can become second-nature, and markedly improve the quality and readability of one’s translations.

This subject requires a more thorough treatment, but for now I will provide a few examples of strategies I personally have adopted to improve my translations. While my examples will be from my area of expertise—Hebrew to English translation—the principles behind them are equally applicable to all language pairs.

1) Liberally switch up verbs, nouns, adjectives, and even different verb forms (passive and active and different tenses).

Whether a noun, verb, or adjective is most appropriate is often language-specific. For example the phrase: “She had fear of the upcoming battle” is technically correct but is probably not how a native speaker would write it. Consider, turning the noun into an adjective  such as: “she was afraid of the upcoming battle.”

To give some examples from Hebrew to English translation: consider translating zeh lo me’anyen oti not as “this does not interest me” (verb) but as “I do not find it interesting” (adjective). Similarly, consider translating higia lidei maskananot as “he reached a conclusion” but as “he concluded.”

The same goes for positive and negative formulations. If the source reads “not complicated” consider: “simple

Use this strategy to pick words and phrases which sound their best in the target language, while still preserving the meaning of the source text.

2) The unit of translation need not be the sentence.

Sometimes faithfully maintaining the sentence boundaries as dictated by the source will result in unmanageably long and convoluted formulations (a common issue when translating from terse Hebrew to wordy English). Translators should consider splitting up sentences, rearranging their order, or even sprinkling in some semi-colons, em-dashes, and parentheses. Your goal is to convey the text’s meaning; convoluted run-on sentences fail to do this.

3) Play around with syntax.

The order of words in a source text is not always a function of meaning. Often it reflects the idiosyncratic style of a certain language. Translators should liberally move clauses around, moving a verb phrase from the beginning of a sentence to its end or moving the subject of the sentence from the end to the beginning. An almost ubiquitous example in Hebrew to English translation is rendering the Hebrew particle shel as in hahatul shel yehudah. Literally this reads “the cat of Judah” but English, unlike Hebrew, allows a much more elegant formulation: “Judah’s cat.” It is far more important for words to be in an order that sounds natural and clear to the intended reader than to accurately emulate the syntax of the source.

4) Avoid copying idiomatic language.

While I think it goes without saying not to render literally incomprehensible idioms, even less egregious examples can also make a text sound awkward.  Here are two examples from Hebrew:

In Hebrew, the expression be’eynay is a perfectly acceptable way of saying “in my opinion.” But rendering this literally, “in my eyes,” sounds awkward and archaic.

Ner leragli. While “A candle to my feet” clearly sounds like a translation, even a more oblique translation such as “lighting my path” still may be better rendered as “my inspiration.”

5) Think beyond dictionary definitions and try to capture a word’s connotation and not just its meaning.

Dictionaries are very good at helping you understand a language. However, they are not always the perfect tools for translation. For example, the Hebrew pulmus and hitpalmes are translated as “polemic” and “polemicize” respectively. While these translations are accurate, in English they carry a scholastic, medieval connotation which may be inappropriate depending on the context. Think around the concept of pulmus and consider words such as “controversy,” “attack,” or “dispute.” Translators may even consider keeping their own private dictionaries of such oblique definitions to assist them in future translations.

6) Read it over and over again.

This is important for all writing but I believe it is particularly important for translation. It is often hard to appreciate how “foreign” one’s translation sounds while immersed in translating it. Therefore it is important to read a text more than once, even the next day if possible, in order to properly evaluate its problems, as an impartial observer removed from the act of translation.

Image source: Pixabay