Starting at square one as a translator or interpreter: What does it take?

From time to time we at The Savvy Newcomer receive questions from our readers that make for great blog post topics. This is one of them! Here’s a question from one of our readers who’s just starting to pursue an interest in languages and wants to know how to get started.

Q: Is there any advice you could give for someone who is starting out at square one, wanting to learn another language, with the end goal of interpreting? This may be a wild question, but I have always had an interest in other languages, and cultures, so interpreting and translation work are very attractive vocations to me. How would you recommend someone starting to make that career shift?  And do you happen to know what languages are in demand, or the most useful to know?  Are there any language schools you would recommend?

A: Thanks for asking! The Savvy Newcomer has a couple of posts that may be of interest (How to become a translator or interpreter, Translation/interpreting schools, Interview with student interpreters) but it sounds like you need a bit more direction on the front end as you consider learning a language and go about getting started.

One of the key requirements is a very strong language background. Interpreting and translation, based on quite a few testing results I have seen, require skills beyond the minimum requirements of Advanced High on the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) scale.

To reach that level, people usually have to get far beyond what can be accomplished in the institutional setting in the US. It generally involves at least a year in a foreign country, immersed in the language, not spending their time with the other US students who are there doing immersion programs but going to local choirs, doing some kind of local volunteer work, etc. beyond their academic work to get into the community.

However, even a very high ACTFL score is not a guarantee of translational action skills (the ability to convert the message from one language to another, whether orally or in writing). Interpreting and translation both require congruency judgment, which is an extra skill on top of that. It goes beyond being a walking dictionary. Asking any of us translators what a word means would leave us flummoxed. However, when we are given a problem to solve in context, our brains start clicking and we can be helpful.

Language proficiency is an essential prerequisite. Without language proficiency, there is not much basis for cultural understanding, according to the ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable) guidelines, and culture is part of the written code. For example, Americans have a tendency to sign a business letter “Pete”, but that would never fly in Argentina. It would be “Mr. Peter Brown,” and the letter would be in the formal usted (you). Anything else would just not go. So you need to understand the culture it is going to as well.

Interpreting and translating, though they purport to leave the person who does the language transfer invisible and not change the message at all, by necessity have to make these minimal adjustments so the message reaches the audience the way the original speaker or writer intended it to get there. Otherwise, it is disrespectful to the speaker or writer. We understand that and generally are doing what I would call “transcreation very light” invisibly. Clients do not like translations where this does not happen.

For example, if a client were to accidentally write “the ocean is full of fresh water,” they would call me out if I translated it that way. They would say I made a mistake in my translation. So I translate it as “the ocean is full of salt water.” I also send them a note, saying I translated it this way, and if they want it to say “fresh water” I can put it back but I would like them to be aware of the issue in the source text.

Of course, this does not apply to some translations submitted to the court as evidence. But even then, we translate so the courts can understand the writing. We typically do not reproduce grammatical mistakes to make the text illegible. It’s very hard to do, and we run the risk of overdoing it and making it a caricature… and getting sued.

So translation is more complicated than it looks. We have to consider a lot of things when you look under the hood, and we carry a lot of responsibility in the language transfer. We take it seriously. These are the opinions I’ve formed from years of experience and from conversations about these topics with my clients.

Readers, what questions do you have about getting started?

Image source: Pixabay

Freelance Beginner Tips: The Pitfalls to Avoid

Reblogged from Hongkiat, with permission

If you’re still unsure whether or not to pursue freelancing, chances are you’ve contemplated what life is like as a full-time freelancer. You’ve probably heard of the many splendid perks of freelancing, but you’re still dying to know if it’s really all sunny and greener “on the other side”.

Like most professions, freelancing has its own downsides. How you manage these problems on your first year can dictate how successful you’ll be in the long run.

In this post you’ll find out the common pitfalls that trip freelancers up during their first few years on the job and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Getting stuck with low rates

Setting your first rates for your freelance business can make you feel uneasy. Charge too high and you risk losing potential clients – charge too low and you’ll have a hard time paying your own bills. So how do you make sure you’re being paid for what you’re worth?

IMAGE: Freepik
What to Consider:
  1. Experience – The best way to determine the value of your services is to look into your experience. Did you go to university or took up an online course to obtain the skills you have? How many years have you been freelancing? What is the quality of work you can deliver?
  2. Competition – Freelancing is a lot like starting your own business. You need to be updated with the highs and lows of your industry. To set fair rates, you have to look into your competitions. How are other freelancers acquiring clients? How much are they charging?
  3. How Much You Need To Earn – Calculate the annual salary you’d like to earn on your freelance business. How many hours would you like to work a week? Make sure that your rate will help you earn enough to pay the bills and fund your lifestyle.

2. Freelance Burnout

Many freelancers work more than they should. Because of lack of time management, they find themselves working all day and all night. And because they don’t want to run out of projects, they’ll probably say YES to any gig that comes their way.

If you overwork yourself, there’s going to be a time soon where you’ll reach your breaking point. And even without a boss to fire you, you’ll still have clients who you’ll disappoint.

IMAGE: Freepik
What to do:
  1. Take copious amounts of break – After long hours of working, move away from the computer and refresh your mind. Even machines bog down if they are pushed beyond their limits. Designate times for break, and stick with them.
  2. Don’t stay on the same project for too long – It can be exhausting to work on the same project for weeks. As a freelancer, you have all the freedom to pick your projects. If this isn’t possible because of your commitments to the client, you can try to vary the repetitive work with something interesting once in a while.
  3. Schedule work wisely – When you’re an established freelancer and get many work requests, the next challenge would be finding time for everything. It’s going to be hard if you don’t schedule everything in a doable time frame. This also means you should know when to say no to a client who wants you to slave away for work with little pay.

3. Isolation

Depending on your personality, experiencing isolation due to your freelance career can affect your mental and emotional health. If you’re not an introvert who pretty much enjoys alone time – chances are you’ll find yourself starved for human interaction. And unless you rented a coworking space, most of the time, you’ll be working alone.

IMAGE: Freepik

Even when you’re working at home, sometimes because of your hectic schedule you’ll hardly have time to talk and spend time with family.

What to do:
  1. Set days off – Don’t let your social skills take a hit just because you’re working from home. Lack of human connection can cause depression which can affect your work performance. So stop working once in a while, and make time for your personal pursuits.
  2. Co-work with other freelancers – Today this is possible with the help of various sites which allow freelance meetups that host events and designate working environments for different kinds of freelancers. Co-working spaces made just for independent contractors can minimize the effects of isolation a freelance career can bring.

4. No Union or Laws to Fall Back On

Unlike full-time employees who can remind their managers its payday or are entitled to file a wage-theft complaint, freelancers don’t have enough legal recourse. Part of this is because work is done remotely and most contracts don’t have binding jurisdictions accompanied with them.

In fact, according to a 2014 survey commissioned by the Freelancers Union, about 70% of freelancers reported that they have experienced being stiffed by a client at least once in their freelance career. So how do we make sure that no projects go unpaid?

What to Do:
  1. Research the client or company – Before saying yes to a job, do a little background check on the client. Hopefully, you’ll see good reviews and not stories of freelancers who were left unpaid by said company.
  2. State payment terms and contracts early on – Do not ever commit to a gig without a written contract. Your contract should include a detailed outline of the project, your rates, and delivery dates. You should also highlight payment schedule, along with interest charges for late payments.

5. Distractions

When you’re working from home, every day may seem like a holiday. If you don’t have self-discipline, it’s easy to fall into procrastination and waste valuable hours of work. Soon you’ll find yourself chasing deadlines and feeling so tired you’ll feel like giving up.

The success of your freelancing career will ultimately depend on how good you can keep away from these distractions in order to stay focused.

What to Do:
  1. Find quiet space for work – Distractions usually come in places where there’s lots of background noise such as TV, conversations, and music. When setting up your home office, pick a room or corner at home where you can achieve full concentration.
  2. Gamify your productivity – Applying game mechanics to your productivity strategy can make work a lot more fun. You can create your own game where you set your rules and prizes OR you can use the help of applications like Habitica or SuperBetter that turn each completed tasks to points and rewards.

A Bright Future Ahead

“Freelancing isn’t for everyone – but it will be soon“. The global marketplace is emerging with institutions and policies which make it more viable for people to pursue a freelance career.

“The old system, which ties people to a job for 40 years so they could afford retirement, is slowly fading.”

Now, there are more and more ways to earn money with the use of your skills and experience. By avoiding the pitfalls mentioned above, and maintaining good work ethics there’s always a good chance you can succeed in your freelance career.

Editor’s note: This post is written for Hongkiat.com by Armela Escalona. Armela is a blogger and writer. She writes about technology, work, and productivity. She enjoys playing chess, scrabble and watching history documentaries. Follow her on Twitter.

6 Reasons Why New Translators Should Specialize

When you’re starting out in the translation industry, you hear a lot about specialization. People tell you to find your niche and become a specialist, not a generalist. Why? This article will give you six reasons why new translators should consider developing their specialist fields.

Becoming a specialist isn’t an overnight process. There’s nothing wrong with being more of a generalist at the beginning of your career. But, as a new translator, specializing in a few related fields over time will help you in the long run. Here’s why.

  1. Work faster

The more you know about a subject, the faster you can translate texts related to it. If it’s an area where you have expertise, you can work more quickly without this affecting quality. You don’t spend as much time on researching terms because you already understand them.

Maybe this field has a particular jargon or terminology and you’re familiar with it. Perhaps there’s a certain style that’s often used and you’re already up to speed. Compare that with translating in a field you don’t know about; you’d be much slower.

Specializing might allow you to work faster because you’ve worked in the field before, or it might be because you’ve translated a lot in that area. However you get there, expertise and familiarity with the subject will mean you can work more quickly than in areas you don’t know as well. Specializing can help you become more productive.

  1. Earn more

Being more productive (while still ensuring quality) means you can be more profitable. It’s simple mathematics. If you can produce good quality work quickly, you have time to accept more work. But it’s not just about volume.

Specializing or becoming an expert in your field changes the kinds of customers you can attract. Think about it: Your car breaks down. Do you call in a qualified mechanic or try to fix it yourself with the help of YouTube? Most people will choose the person with expertise and/or experience.

Customers want someone they can trust. They want an expert. By being a specialist in their field, you can position yourself as their go-to person. It’s all part of building a relationship of trust. Specializing makes you more productive and a more attractive proposition to potential customers, both of which are very important to new translators.

  1. Find clients

Become a specialist to find customers. Part of specializing means you start to make contacts with people in the same field or industry. Maybe you used to work in that field and these are connections from your time in the industry.

Offering translations in a particular niche means you can use your contacts to meet potential customers—people who might need translations. Because these potential translation buyers work in niche areas they may also be prepared to pay more for a translator they can trust to do a good job.

  1. Develop profitable relationships

Become your customers’ trusted collaborator and develop long-term relationships. Being the customer’s go-to person and someone they can rely on means you can use your specialism, not only to attract these clients but also to keep them.

  1. Grow your business

New translators need to grow their business. If you’re already offering translations to a particular industry, then you can use that expertise to begin to offer other services. Maybe your clients need a related service, like copywriting.

Tourism expertise might lead you to gain contact with industries like beauty and wellness. Starting from a position of knowledge about one area can gradually lead to opportunities in other areas. You might need to do some further study or team up with colleagues, but the opportunities are there.

  1. Enjoy your work

Last, but not least, specializing means you can concentrate on doing what you enjoy. Many new translators become specialists simply by gradually doing more and more of the work they enjoy most. They might go on and do some further study to back that up, but it’s often how a specialism begins.

I specialize in tourism and fashion and both have developed gradually as I accepted more and more work in those fields. These specialist fields can be quite varied and encompass many types of customers and projects. That means I’m never bored; working on projects and with customers I like means I enjoy my job.

First steps to specializing

Think about the skills you already have that might help you decide where you could specialize. Perhaps something you have studied? An industry you have experience in? Maybe a particular field you are interested in? It might be possible to do some further study and use this to leverage some opportunities. For more information about how to specialize, read my article How to Choose a Translation Specialisation. Good luck!

Image source: Unsplash

Author bio

Lucy Williams is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer. She holds the IoLET Diploma in Translation (two merits) and has been working as a translator since 2009. Lucy specialises in fashion, tourism, art, literature and social sciences. She is also a copywriter/blogger. You can read her blog at translatorstudio.co.uk. Twitter: @LucyWTranslator.

Top 10 tips for new freelance translators

Reblogged from Translator Thoughts blog, with permission, incl. the image

If you’ve never worked in the translation industry independently before, it can be quite a daunting world to step into. How do I find work? Where do I advertise my skills? What competition am I facing? But do not fret! Help is at hand. Read our top 10 tips for new freelance translators below to get yourself off on the right foot and create the best possible base for your new career as a freelance translator.

  1. Structure Your Days

When I began freelancing, I found it difficult to settle into a “normal” routine. One of the benefits of being self-employed is that you can set your own hours. If you want to work 12 hours every day for 2 weeks so that you can have a couple of extra days off, you can! However, just make sure that you don’t become inefficient. One of the traps I started to fall into was getting up late, sometimes missing out on work and then having to work until the wee hours to complete projects. I would NOT recommend this! Try and be strict with yourself; get up early, have a decent breakfast, exercise, get some strong coffee and then start a productive day. On the other hand, if you are a bit of an over-achiever, make sure you don’t end up working 24/7. You have to allow yourself breaks as well and spend time with your friends and family. Find a healthy balance and you’ll feel all the better for it.

  1. Set Your Rates

One of the most difficult things about starting out as a translator is figuring out what to charge. Try and think about how much you (realistically) want to earn and how many hours you are willing to work per week. This will help you decide what a fair rate to charge your employers could be.

  1. Don’t Undersell Yourself

However, in relation to the above point – do not undersell yourself! Although it is tempting to charge almost nothing at the beginning, most companies will be happy to pay for high-quality work rather than pay peanuts for something that is not up to standard. If you charge a decent rate for your work, you will be more highly respected and as a result, will be more likely to get more work.

  1. Figure Out Your Niche

A great way to get more work as a translator is to have a niche market that you are experienced in. Indeed, the most highly paid translators usually have a degree in another subject such as engineering, medicine or law. However, not all of us have experience in these fields and if, like me, translation and linguistics has been your main field of study, think about what you want to specialise in and work on pursuing that goal. Maybe our previous article about how to choose your specialisation could help.

Keep in mind that to identify your niche you might want to define first who your target clients are.

  1. Study, study, study!

When you’re constantly working and trying to get new clients, it can be easy to forget about what you’re actually offering. Make sure you keep your language skills fresh and up-to-date so that the quality of your translations does not suffer. There are also lots of other blogs (here we listed for you the top blogs in the translation industry) out there specifically designed for freelance translators like us, and these can be a great way to expand your knowledge of the translation industry.

  1. Invest In Your Career

As mentioned above, it can be highly beneficial to specialise in a chosen subject when offering your translation services. Why not invest in some new courses? This will show employers that you are taking your career seriously and want to improve yourself as a translator. Furthermore, a lot of companies want translators to use CAT tools, which make large projects a lot easier and faster to complete. The majority of these are pretty pricey, but when you’re starting off why not try Omega T, which is free. You can then invest in more expensive software when you are more established.

  1. Provide High-Quality Work

When starting out, it can be tempting to take on as many jobs as possible in order to get paid and build up your portfolio. However, it is much more beneficial to take your time in order to provide your best work and please your employers. One thing about the translation industry is that you get back what you put in. So, if you provide a rushed translation that hasn’t been researched properly, you will gain a poor reputation and could even miss out on payment. However, if you provide a high-quality, professional translation, it is highly likely that it will lead to more work and will certainly help you move forward in your career.

  1. Market Yourself

One of the best ways to get work when starting out is pretty simple: get your name out there! Companies can’t hire you if they don’t know you exist after all. Yes, it takes a while and yes, it can be pretty tedious. But spend some time to identify your target clients and contact them. Learn how to use social media to be found by your prospective clients.

It’s essential that you build a blog in order to start building your online presence as a freelance translator (it is so important that we’ve build a free guide for you here). Your clients cannot find you if you’re not out there!

And in the meanwhile, you can also send out letters and CVs to translation agencies until you have some direct clients. Remember, you’re investing in yourself and your career so it is definitely worth putting in the groundwork.

  1. Freelance Websites Are Your Best Friend

So, you’ve sent out hundreds of CVs, studied hard and are ready to work. Sometimes, it will take a while for companies to get back to you so in the meantime why not try out some of the freelance websites that are available. Check out our blog post here to learn about the best ones.

  1. Don’t Expect Overnight Success

For the vast majority of people, full-time translation work does not become a reality for at least a year, and a lot of us actually have to get part-time jobs to pay the bills in order to be able to pursue our dream job on the side. Don’t let this get you down. It takes a while to establish yourself, find the right clients to work with and build up a portfolio of translation work. However, if you’re willing to stick it out and work hard, you will reap the benefits in due course.

 

Focus on: New Translators (Part 1)

Reblogged from Silver Tongue Translations blog, with permission

You know, the title of this blog post is a bit misleading (arrrgh! I’m breaking my own rules!) I’ve aimed it at “new translators”, but really, these tips serve any translators, be they fresh as daisies or been-around-the-blockers, the only requirement is that they want to improve. (This is all of us, right?)

I got asked to mentor two new translators over the summer, and, once I’d finished my bulk order of anti-aging cream, I decided to view it as a positive thing. I also started to think about how I could be of best service. What would my “tips” be? What did I wish I knew at the start of my career? The video at the end of this post, lovely colleagues, is what I came up with.

In a nutshell (as I’m aware that my videos are more coconut shell than pistachio in size), these are my top ten tips (if you can’t be bothered scrolling to the video):

  1. Translate every day

It doesn’t matter if it’s the back of the shampoo bottle you bought on your last trip to your source language country, or whether it’s an extract from an article you loved (I know what I’d go for), translating every day sharpens your translation skills, makes you a better writer and keeps up your source language proficiency (this last one is especially important if you don’t reside in your source language country).

Translating every day has the added benefit of increasing your productivity because, usually, the more you practise, the quicker you get. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that if you’re working quickly and accurately you’re able to complete more work in a shorter period of time (which leaves you more time for checking, of course!). Whether you pass these savings on to your client is up to you though….

  1. Work out how much you must earn

….then how much you want to earn. Only you know your essential outgoings every month (I’m thinking rent/mortgage, utilities, phone, food….) so only you know how much you’ll need to cover those expenses. Don’t forget to pay yourself a salary! Then have a look at how many days a week/month/year you’re going to be working. Be realistic.

It is simply not feasible to work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, so don’t pretend that it is.

Use these calculations as a basis for working out how much you need to charge. Don’t forget to take into account the total time for a translation – from initial contact, through to translation and then on to editing and checking. It all counts.

  1. Find your “I’m special because…”

Do you have a hobby that you’ve enjoyed for years? How about a part time job or family business you’ve been a part of?

Don’t discount all past experiences which aren’t obviously related to translation as irrelevant.

You have skills, knowledge, experiences and expertise (we all do, we’re not one-dimensional creatures). It might not be sustainable to only work in an area that relates to your interests and pastimes, but if it can form a part of your business it’ll sure make a 25,000 word document more pleasant to pull an (occasional) all-nighter for.

  1. Get yourself a buddy

Friends are important. We know this. In your professional life, it’s no different. I recommend two courses of action for buddying up with a translator:

  1. Find a colleague (perhaps of similar experience to you) who is willing to check your work.

Another set of eyes is always helpful, and you will feel much happier submitting to your client if you know that it hasn’t just been your coffee-fuelled brain working on the document.

  1. Find a mentor.

By mentor, I mean a more experienced colleague who is willing to share some of their knowledge and experience with you. They don’t have to have the same specialisms as you (although that is enormously helpful), their experience in translation and running a business will more than suffice.

  1. Keep moving

It’s easy to stay at our desk. Eat lunch over the keyboard (gross, but we’ve probably all done it), slurp coffee (and probably spill it) over the aforementioned keyboard and generally only get up from our desks when our bladders are threatening to stage a walkout. Take breaks, get outside for fresh air (and perspective, inspiration and Vitamin D). It’s easy to play the role of martyr and say things like “I’ve been translating for 9 hours straight.” That’s not something to boast about. It’s just unhealthy.

Keeping moving means something else too. Keep your business moving. Every day, make some form of forward motion. Some progress. It could be setting your goals for the year. Doing a bit of marketing. Sending out some pitch emails. It might seem that it’s not getting you anywhere, but it is.

Momentum will make a difference.

  1. Give and receive help

I talk about being helpful a lot. I’m a big believer in it. The translation community is open and responsive. Just last week I was having Trados issues and several colleagues (Sheila, Caroline and David to name but a few) jumped in to help me out. David even ended up testing out my document on his version, re-saving the target file for me to use and then later that evening, converting it back for me, just in case I’d had more technical issues. When I thanked him, he said,

“No problem. You shared something months ago and I am a great believer in “pass it forward”.”

This isn’t encouraging you to help people only to get something in return, it’s to say that we’re an appreciative, helpful bunch. And we don’t forget.

  1. Systems are your friend

It might seem like a lot of hassle to have spreadsheets for everything right from the start. It can feel like Excel is mocking you, with your client list filling up only two lines of the cells on the worksheet of your grandly titled “Clients_Master Database”. Equally, calendar reminders for when to invoice may also seem a little…unnecessary for new translators at the beginning. I faithfully set them up and by the time they pinged to remind me to remind the client to pay I had already done it (it’s not hard to remember when you only have one client…)

But you will get more clients.

And when you do, you will be happy to have a list of invoice references, so you don’t have to faff around finding the last one you sent. There are even systems that do this all for you, and link up to your emails and take away the coffee cups from your desk before they walk away on their own (I made that last bit up.)

  1. Sort the essentials

I hate to break it you, but you have to pay tax. You’ll probably also want to retire at some stage with some form of savings and/or a pension. These are two items on the “essentials” list for everybody, not just translators. The difference when you’re self-employed (or even working in a self-employed capacity on a part-time basis) is that you don’t have someone else, i.e. an employer, to handle it for you. Sort this stuff early.

As in the tip above about systems, I know it feels silly to be putting money away for tax when, at the beginning, you don’t feel you’re earning much, but getting into good habits at the start of your career is so much easier than trying to adopt good habits when you’re a more established translator.

  1. Don’t stop learning

Read widely in your source and target languages. Subscribe to magazines in your niche. Talk to fellow translators. Take advantage of CPD offered by colleagues and institutions. Attend events. You never know when a piece of knowledge or a chance encounter will give rise to an opportunity. Apart from the potential business benefits, don’t forget what we all knew as children….

Learning is fun.

  1. Integrity is everything

It’s tempting at the beginning to try and be all things to all people. Accepting that impossible deadline might curry favour with a PM, but it probably won’t be conducive to producing high quality work. Changing your CV to say you’re an expert on quantum physics is only a good idea if you’d somehow forgotten studying for that PhD back in high school.

Some jobs are worth going the extra mile for, some jobs are worth pushing yourself beyond what you’d previously thought you could achieve. But don’t push yourself too far away from what is possible and practical.

Your reputation is worth much more than a single “impossible” job.

Do you have any tips for new translators? Would you be interested in mentoring a colleague? Let me know in the comments!

Image source: Pixabay