Is There a Future in Freelance Translation? Let’s Talk About It!

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

While the demand for translation services is at a record high, many freelancers say their inflation-adjusted earnings seem to be declining. Why is this and can anything be done to reverse what some have labelled an irreversible trend?

Over the past few years globalization has brought unprecedented growth to the language services industry. Many have heard and answered the call. Census data shows that the number of translators and interpreters in the U.S. nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for translators and interpreters is projected to grow by 29% through 2024.1 In an interview with CNBC last year, ATA Past President David Rumsey stated: “As the economy becomes more globalized and businesses realize the need for translation and interpreting to market their products and services, opportunities for people with advanced language skills will continue to grow sharply.”2 Judging by the size of the industry—estimated at $33.5 billion back in 2012, and expected to reach $37 billion this year3—it seems the demand for translation will only continue to increase.

Many long-time freelance translators, however, don’t seem to be benefitting from this growth, particularly those who don’t work with a lot of direct clients. Many report they’ve had to lower their rates and work more hours to maintain their inflation-adjusted earnings. Also, the same question seems to be popping up in articles, blogs, and online forums. Namely, if the demand for translation is increasing, along with opportunities for people with advanced language skills, why are many professional freelance translators having difficulty finding work that compensates translation for what it is—a time-intensive, complex process that requires advanced, unique, and hard-acquired skills?

Before attempting to discuss this issue, a quick disclaimer is necessary: for legal reasons, antitrust law prohibits members of associations from discussing specific rates.4 Therefore, the following will not mention translation rates per se. Instead, it will focus on why many experienced translators, in a booming translation market inundated by newcomers, are forced to switch gears or careers, and what can be done to reverse what some have labelled an irreversible trend.

The (Unquantifiable) Issue

I’ll be honest. Being an in-house translator with a steady salary subject to regular increases, I have no first-hand experience with the crisis many freelance translators are currently facing. But I have many friends and colleagues who do. We all do. Friends who tell us that they’ve lost long-standing clients because they couldn’t lower their rates enough to accommodate the clients’ new demands. Friends who have been translating for ages who are now wondering whether there’s a future in freelance translation.

Unfortunately, unlike the growth of the translation industry, the number of freelance translators concerned about the loss of their inflation-adjusted earnings and the future of the profession is impossible to quantify. But that doesn’t mean the problem is any less real. At least not judging by the increasing number of social media posts discussing the issue, where comments such as the ones below abound.5

  • “Expenses go up, but rates have remained stagnant or decreased. It doesn’t take a genius to see that translation is slowly becoming a sideline industry rather than a full-time profession.”
  • “Some business economists claim that translation is a growth industry. The problem is that the growth is in volume, not rates.”
  • “Our industry has been growing, but average wages are going down. This means that cheap service is growing faster than quality.”

Back in 2010, Common Sense Advisory, a market research company specializing in translation and globalization, started discussing technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation and analyzing potential causes.6 Now, almost 10 years later, let’s take another look at what created the crisis many freelance translators are facing today.

A Long List of Interconnected Factors

The causes leading to technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation are so interconnected that it’s difficult to think of each one separately. Nevertheless, each deserves a spot on the following list.

Globalization, internet technology, and the growth of demand for translation services naturally resulted in a rise of the “supply.” In other words, an increasing number of people started offering their services as translators. Today, like all professionals affected by global competition, most freelance translators in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Western Europe find themselves competing against a virtually infinite pool of translators who live in countries where the cost of living is much cheaper and are able to offer much lower rates. Whether those translators are genuine professional translators or opportunists selling machine translation to unsuspecting clients is almost immaterial. As the law of supply and demand dictates, when supply exceeds demand, prices generally fall.

2. The Sheer Number of Language Services Providers and the Business/Competition Model: The increase in global demand has also lead to an increase in the number of language services providers (LSPs) entering the market. Today, there are seemingly thousands of translation agencies in a market dominated by top players.7 Forced to keep prices down and invest in advertising and sales to maintain their competitiveness, many agencies give themselves limited options to keep profits up—the most obvious being to cut direct costs (i.e., lower rates paid to translators). Whether those agencies make a substantial profit each year (or know anything about translation itself) is beside the point. There are many LSPs out there that follow a business model that is simply not designed to serve the interests of freelance translators. Interestingly enough, competing against each other on the basis of price alone doesn’t seem to be serving their interests either, as it forces many LSPs into a self-defeating, downward spiral of dropping prices. As Luigi Muzii, an author, translator, terminologist, teacher, and entrepreneur who has been working in the industry for over 30 years, puts it:

“The industry as a whole behaves as if the market were extremely limited. It’s as if survival depended on open warfare […] by outright price competition. Constantly pushing the price down is clearly not a sustainable strategy in the long-term interests of the professional translation community.”8

3. The Unregulated State of the Profession: In many countries, including the U.S., translation is a widely unregulated profession with low barriers to entry. There is also not a standardized career path stipulating the minimum level of training, experience, or credentials required. Despite the existence of ISO standards and certifications from professional associations around the globe, as long as the profession (and membership to many professional associations) remains open to anyone and everyone, competition will remain exaggeratedly and unnaturally high, keeping prices low or, worse, driving them down.

4. Technology and Technological “Improvements”: From the internet to computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools to machine translation, technology may not be directly related to technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation, but there’s no denying it’s connected. The internet is what makes global communication and competition possible. CAT tools have improved efficiency so much in some areas that most clients have learned to expect three-tier pricing in all areas. Machine translation is what’s allowing amateurs to pass as professionals and driving the post-editing-of-machine-translation business that more and more LSPs rely on today. Whether machine translation produces quality translations, whether the post-editing of machine translation is time efficient, and whether “fuzzy matches” require less work than new content are all irrelevant questions, at least as things stand today. As long as technologies that improve (or claim to improve) efficiency exist, end clients will keep expecting prices to reflect those “improvements.”

5. Unaware, Unsuspecting, and Unconcerned Clients: Those of you who’ve read my article about “uneducated” clients9 may think that I’m obsessed with the subject, but to me it seems that most of the aforementioned factors have one common denominator: clients who are either unaware that all translations (and translators) are not created equal, or are simply unconcerned about the quality of the service they receive. These clients will not be willing to pay a premium price for a service they don’t consider to be premium.

One look at major translation bloopers and their financial consequences for companies such as HSBC, KFC, Ford, Pampers, Coca Cola, and many more is enough to postulate that many clients know little about translation (or the languages they’re having their texts translated into).10 They may be unaware that results (in terms of quality) are commensurate to a translator’s skills, experience, and expertise, the technique/technology used for translating, and the time spent on a project. And who’s to blame them? Anyone with two eyes is capable of looking at a bad paint job and seeing it for what it is, but it requires a trained eye to spot a poor translation and knowledge of the translation process itself (and language in general) to value translation for what it is.

Then there’s the (thankfully marginal) number of clients who simply don’t care about the quality of the service they receive, or whether the translation makes sense or not. This has the unfortunate effect of devaluing our work and the profession in the eyes of the general public. Regrettably, when something is perceived as being of little value, it doesn’t tend to fetch premium prices. As ATA Treasurer John Milan writes:

“When consumers perceive value, they [clients] are more willing to pay for it, which raises a series of questions for our market. Do buyers of language services understand the services being offered? What value do they put on them? […] All these variables will have an impact on final market rates.”11

6. The Economy/The Economical State of Mind: Whether clients need or want to save money on language services, there’s no denying that everyone always seems to be looking for a bargain these days. Those of us who have outsourced translation on behalf of clients know that, more often than not, what drives a client’s decision to choose a service provider over another is price, especially when many LSPs make the same claims about their qualifications, quality assurance processes, and industry expertise.

7. Other Factors: From online platforms and auction sites that encourage price-based bidding and undifferentiated global competition, to LSPs making the post-editing of machine translation the cornerstone of their business, to professional translators willing to drop their rates to extreme lows, there are many other factors that may be responsible for the state of things. However, they’re more byproducts of the situation than factors themselves.

A Very Real Concern

Rising global competition and rate stagnation are hardly a unique situation. Today, freelance web designers, search engine optimization specialists, graphic designers, and many other professionals in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Western Europe must compete against counterparts in India, China, and other parts of the world where the cost of living is much cheaper—with the difference that product/service quality isn’t necessarily sacrificed in the process. And that may be the major distinction between what’s happening in our industry and others: the risk posed to translation itself, both as an art form and as a product/service.

While some talk about the “uberization” or “uberification”12 of the translation industry or blame technology (namely, machine translation) for declining rates, others point a finger at a business model (i.e., the business/competition model) that marginalizes the best translators and creates a system where “bad translators are driving out the good ones.” The outcome seems to be the same no matter which theory we examine: the number of qualified translators (and the quality of translations) is in danger of going down over time. As Luigi Muzii explains:

“The unprecedented growth in demand for translation in tandem with the effect of Gresham’s Law [i.e., bad translators driving out the good ones] will lead inexorably to a chronic shortfall of qualified language specialists. The gap between the lower and the higher ends of the translation labor market is widening and the process will inevitably continue.”13

Between 2006 and 2012, Common Sense Advisory conducted a regular business confidence survey among LSPs. During those years, there seemed to be an increase in the number of LSPs that reported having difficulty finding enough qualified language specialists to meet their needs.14 Since the number of translators varies depending on the language pair, the shortage may not yet be apparent in all segments of the industry, but the trend is obviously noticeable enough that an increasing number of professionals (translators, LSPs, business analysts, etc.) are worrying about it. And all are wondering the same thing: can anything be done to reverse it?

Are There Any “Solutions?”

In terms of solutions, two types have been discussed in recent years: micro solutions (i.e., individual measures that may help individual translators maintain their rates or get more work), and macro solutions (i.e., large-scale measures that may help the entire profession on a long-term basis).

On the micro-solution side, we generally find:

  • Differentiation (skills, expertise, productivity, degree, etc.)
  • Specialization (language, subject area, market, translation sub-fields such a transcreation)
  • Diversification (number of languages or services offered, etc.)
  • Presentation (marketing efforts, business practices, etc.)
  • Client education

Generally speaking, micro solutions tend to benefit only the person implementing them, although it can be argued that anything that can be done to improve one’s image as a professional and educate clients might also benefit the profession as a whole, albeit to a lesser degree.

On the macro-solution side, we find things that individual translators have somewhat limited power over. But professional associations (and even governments) may be able to help!

Large-Scale Client Education: Large-scale client education is possibly the cornerstone of change; the one thing that may change consumer perception and revalue the profession in the eyes of the general public. As ATA Treasurer John Milan puts it:

“Together, we can educate the public and ensure that our consumers value us more like diamonds and less like water”15

Most professional associations around the globe already publish client education material, such as Translation, Getting it Right— A Guide to Buying Translation.16 Other initiatives designed to raise awareness about translation, such as ATA’s School Outreach Program, are also helpful because they educate the next generation of clients. But some argue that client education could be more “aggressive.” In other words, professional associations should not wait for inquiring clients to look for information, but take the information to everyone, carrying out highly visible public outreach campaigns (e.g., advertising, articles, and columns in the general media). ATA’s Public Relations Committee has been very active in this area, including publishing articles written by its Writers Group in over 85 trade and business publications.

Some have also mentioned that having professional associations take a clear position on issues such as machine translation and the post-editing of machine translation would also go a long way in changing consumer perception. In this regard, many salute ATA’s first Advocacy Day last October in Washington, DC, when 50 translators and interpreters approached the U.S. Congress on issues affecting our industry, including machine translation and the “lowest-price-technically-available” model often used by the government to contract language services.17 However, the success of large-scale client education may be hindered by one fundamental element, at least in the United States.

Language Education: I’m a firm believer that there are some things that one must have some personal experience with to value. For example, a small business owner might think that tax preparation is easy (and undervalue the service provided by his CPA) until he tries to prepare his business taxes himself and realizes how difficult and time consuming it is—not to mention the level of expertise required!

Similarly, monolingual people may be told or “understand” that translation is a complex process that requires a particular set of skills, or that being bilingual doesn’t make you a translator any more than having two hands makes you a concert pianist. But unless they have studied another language (or, in the case of bilingual people, have formally studied their second language or have tried their hand at translation), they’re not likely to truly comprehend the amount of work and expertise required to translate, or value translation for what it really is.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the vast majority of Americans (close to 80%) remain monolingual, and only 10% of the U.S. population speak another language well.18 In their 2017 report on the state of language education in the U.S., the Commission on Language Learning concluded that the U.S. lags behind most nations when it comes to language education and knowledge, and recommended a national strategy to improve access to language learning and “value language education as a persistent national need.”19

Until language education improves and most potential clients have studied a second language, one might contend that the vast majority of Americans are likely to keep undervaluing translation services and that large-scale client education may not yield the hoped-for results. This leaves us with one option when it comes to addressing the technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation conundrum.

Industry-Wide Regulations: In most countries, physicians are expected to have a medical degree, undergo certification, and get licensed to practice medicine. The same applies to dentists, nurses, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, and many other professions. In those fields, mandatory education, training, and/or licensing/certification establish core standards and set an expected proficiency level that clients have learned to expect and trust—a proficiency level that all clients value.

Whether we’re talking of regulating access to the profession itself or controlling access to professional associations or online bidding platforms, there’s no question that implementing industry-wide regulations would go a long way in limiting wild, undifferentiated competition and assuring clients that they are receiving the best possible service. While some may think that regulations are not a practical option, it may be helpful to remember that physicians didn’t always have to undergo training, certification, and licensing to practice medicine in the U.S. Today, however, around 85% of physicians in the U.S. are certified by an accredited medical board,20 and it’s safe to say that all American physicians have a medical degree and are licensed to practice medicine. And the general public wouldn’t want it any other way! Is it so implausible to expect that the same people who would let no one except a qualified surgeon operate on them would want no one except a qualified professional translate the maintenance manual of their nation’s nuclear reactors?

So, What Does the Future Hold for Freelance Translators?

Generally speaking, most experts agree that the demand for translation services will keep growing, that technology will keep becoming more and more prevalent, and that the translation industry will become even more fragmented. According to Luigi Muzii:

In the immediate future, I see the translation industry remaining highly fragmented with an even larger concentration of the volume of business in the hands of a bunch of multi-language vendors who hire translators from the lower layer of the resource market to keep competing on price. This side of the industry will soon count for more than a half of the pie. The other side will be made up of tiny local boutique firms and tech-savvy translator pools making use of cutting-edge collaborative tools. […] The prevailing model will be “freeconomics,” where basic services are offered for free while advanced or special features are charged at a premium. The future is in disintermediation and collaboration. […] The winners will be those translators who can leverage their specialist linguistic skills by increasing their productivity with advances in technology.21

The future of freelance translation, however, may be a bit more uncertain. Indeed, many argue that even with acute specialization, first-rate translation skills, and marketing abilities to match, many freelance translators’ chances at succeeding financially in the long term may be limited by the lack of industry regulations and the general public’s lack of language education/knowledge (i.e., the two factors that feed wild, undifferentiated competition). But that’s not to say there’s no hope.

At least that’s what learning about the history of vanilla production taught me. Growing and curing vanilla beans is a time-intensive, labor-intensive, intricate process. It’s a process that meant that for over 150 years vanilla was considered a premium product, and vanilla growers made a decent living. When vanillin (i.e., synthetic vanilla flavoring) became widely available in the 1950s, however, most food manufacturers switched to the less expensive alternative. After only a few decades, many vanilla growers were out of business and the ones who endured barely made a living, forced to lower prices or resort to production shortcuts (which reduced quality) to sell faster. During that period, the only people making a profit were the vanilla brokers. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, nutrition education and consumer demand for all-natural foods started turning things around, and by 2015 vanillin had fallen from grace and natural vanilla was in high demand again. By then, however, there were few vanilla growers left and climate change was affecting production and reducing supply significantly. Today, vanilla beans fetch 30–50 times the price they did during the vanillin era.22

For those who may have missed the analogy: professional (freelance) translators are to the translation industry what the vanilla growers are to the food industry. Those who endure the current technology- and globalization-induced rate stagnation may eventually (if the forces at play can be harnessed) witness a resurgence. In the meantime, the best we can do is to keep doing what we do (provide quality service, educate our clients, fight for better language education in the U.S., and support our professional associations’ initiatives to improve things), and talk constructively about the issue instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist, that it won’t affect us, or that nothing can be done about it. If you’re reading this article, things have already started to change!

NOTES
  1. “U.S. Language Industry Booms, Doubles Headcount within Seven Years,” Slator (May 24, 2017), http://bit.ly/language-industry-booms.
  2. Rogers, Kate. “Where the Jobs Are: Demand for Translators and Interpreters Skyrocket,” CNBC (July 7, 2017), http://bit.ly/translation-demand.
  3. Kelly, Nataly, and Donald DePalma. “The Top 100 Language Service Providers” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/Top-100-LSP.
  4. ATA Antitrust Compliance Policy, http://bit.ly/ATA-Antitrust.
  5. “Is There a Way to Prevent the Decline of Translation Rates?” (Proz.com Forum: Money Matters), http://bit.ly/ProZ-forum.
  6. DePalma, Donald. “Translation Prices: Up, Down or Unchanged” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/CSA-translation-prices.
  7. “Top 2016 Language Service Providers” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/CSA-top-LSPs.
  8. Muzii, Luigi. “Nice or Nasty? Which Translators Finish First?” http://bit.ly/nice-or-nasty.
  9. Maginot, Christelle. “Educating the Uneducated Client,” The ATA Chronicle (July 2015), http://bit.ly/undereducated-client.
  10. Brooks, Chad. “Lost in Translation: 8 International Marketing Fails,” Business News Daily, http://bit.ly/marketing-fails.
  11. Milan, John. “Why Can’t I Raise My Rates? An Introduction to the Economics of Language Services,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2018), http://bit.ly/Milan-rates.
  12. Vitek, Steve. “Uberification of the Translation Industry Is Quickly Moving Forward,” http://bit.ly/Vitek-Uberification.
  13. Muzii, Luigi. “Are Bad Translators Driving Out the Good?” http://bit.ly/Muzii-bad-translators.
  14. DePalma, Donald. “Translation Demand-Supply Mismatch” (Common Sense Advisory), http://bit.ly/CSA-mismatch.
  15. Milan, John. “Why Can’t I Raise My Rates? An Introduction to the Economics of Language Services,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2018), http://bit.ly/Milan-rates.
  16. Translation, Getting it Right— A Guide to Buying Translation, http://bit.ly/Getting_it_right.
  17. “Stepping Out On Capitol Hill: ATA’s First Advocacy Day in Washington DC,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2018), http://bit.ly/ATA-advocacy.
  18. “Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over for United States: 2009–2013” (American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, October 2015), http://bit.ly/census-home-languages.
  19. “America’s Languages” (Commission on Language Learning, 2017), http://bit.ly/Americas-Languages.
  20. Paris, Brittany. “Are All Doctors Board Certified?” (Angie’s List), http://bit.ly/doctors-certified.
  21. Muzii, Luigi. “Are Bad Translators Driving Out the Good?” http://bit.ly/Muzii-bad-translators.
  22. Bomgardner, Melody. “The Problem with Vanilla,” Chemical & Engineering News (September 12, 2016), http://bit.ly/CEN-vanilla.

Author bio

Christelle Maginot has over 25 years of experience as a professional translator. For the past 18 years, she has been working as an in-house translator for a major consumer goods corporation, where she handles and supervises the translation of corporate, technical, sales, and marketing material into multiple languages. She has a master’s degree in International Business/Marketing and English, French, and Spanish translation from the University of Aix-en-Provence, France. Contact: Christelle.maginot@yahoo.com.

Savvy Diversification Series – Online Language Teaching

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, my translation workload plummeted abruptly. With no way of knowing if and when my clients would return, I had to act fast to find more work that was compatible with my lifestyle as a freelance translator. One year of teaching online English classes in China in 2019 had opened my eyes to the world of online teaching and I was sure this sector was rapidly expanding with lockdowns in place around the world. It turned out to be the perfect industry to carry my business through the pandemic. Linguistic and cultural skills such as those cultivated by most translators are in high demand in education and are difficult to duplicate. There is clearly a shortage of good teachers, so I am constantly turning down requests to take on teaching projects outside of my already packed regular teaching schedule. This industry is likely to remain active even after the pandemic and is a stable option for translators looking to diversify. In this article, I will offer an introduction to the online teaching industry, discuss the necessary qualifications, tell you where you can find work, and go over some of the equipment you will need to get started.

What is online teaching and cultural experience hosting?

Online teaching consists of video conferencing online with one or more students for a predetermined amount of time in order to teach them something. The role of the teacher is similar to that of a traditional classroom teacher, but with everything online. One great advantage of online teaching is that teachers can work in the country of their choice. The key is to figure out which clients are frequenting the online teaching platform you choose and cater to their needs. Most of my clients are in the United States, so I offer courses on how to speak German.

With everyone stuck at home and yearning for a taste of international travel, online cultural experiences have grown in popularity over the past year. Cultural experience hosting is similar to online teaching. Instead of teaching a skill, however, cultural experience hosts strive to give attendees the experience of doing something in a different country or a foreign language. Cultural experiences can consist of courses where attendees engage in enjoyable hobbies while speaking a foreign language with other participants or courses where participants engage in an activity specific to a certain culture. Cultural experiences I have hosted include origami folding in German, German gingerbread cookie baking, art class in German, and a virtual shopping trip to a German Christmas market.

For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to both online teaching and cultural experience hosting as “online teaching” in this article.

What qualifications are required?

The most essential qualifications are life experience, valuable expertise that you are willing to share with others, and the ability to effectively sell that expertise to others. Although not absolutely necessary, an academic degree related to what you are teaching may help build credibility. You will need to have or develop teaching skills, so a teaching certificate of some sort can be enormously helpful.

Translators are generally fluent in multiple languages, have very valuable life experience from living around the world, and are highly familiar with the corresponding cultural environs. This in and of itself makes translators perfect online teachers and cultural experience hosts. Overcoming a natural tendency toward introversion has been the biggest challenge I have faced while teaching online.

Where do I find work?

There are a great many ways to teach online. Before you choose one, you should decide how much time you want to invest in finding clients, what kinds of students you want to teach, how much you want to be paid, and how willing you are to develop your own curriculum. Some platforms offer extra support with marketing and some will provide you with fully-formed curriculum. You will be able to earn considerably more if you are willing to write your own curriculum.

Create Your Own Online Language School

This is the highest-paying and most flexible option, but requires the most work. Not only will you have to write all of your own curriculum, but you will also have to bring in students yourself. In addition to collecting payments for you, online platforms in this category offer the technology required to set up your classes and offer them to the masses. The rest is up to you.

Pro Con
Pay Unlimited! You can charge what you want per student per live class. You can also create self-guided classes that bring in passive income. None.
Curriculum You teach whatever you want. It is a lot of work to make everything up from scratch.
Scheduling Work when you want. It is more time-consuming.
Prep Time Once you have taught the same class several times, there is no prep time. There is a tremendous amount of prep in the beginning.
Equipment Use what you have or buy more. None.
Students Teach whoever you want. Adults or children. You are responsible for finding the students.

Platforms to check out:
Learnworlds
Teachable
Thinkific
Udemy
Kajabi
Mighty Networks

Teach for a Flexible Online Company

If finding your own students is too much for you, teaching for a flexible online company is a good option. They will advertise your classes and enroll students, so you can focus on the nuts and bolts of teaching. You will be expected to create your own curriculum and content on these platforms. Content is subject to review and will be advertised on the site once approved. You will generally also be allowed to set prices as you see fit. Platforms in this category are often free to use, but will collect payment for you and keep a small percentage of the proceeds.

Pro Con
Pay You choose how much to charge. You are slightly limited by what others are charging. If you price yourself out of the market, no one will take your class.
Curriculum You teach whatever you want! It is a lot of work to make everything up from scratch.
Scheduling You are in charge. Work when you want. None.
Prep Time Once you have taught the same class several times, there is no prep time. There is a tremendous amount of prep in the beginning.
Equipment If you have the basics, you can create classes that don’t require additional equipment. None.
Students You may be teaching children or adults, depending on the platform. None.

Platforms to check out:

Outschool
Amazon
Airbnb
Viator
Meetup

Teach English in China

There are quite a few online English schools in China, all of which you can work for from the comfort of your own home. They usually provide you with a set of slides to use for each lesson and train you on their teaching method. These companies can have policies that are hard to fathom at times and will sometimes subtract pay for seemingly minor offenses. Demand for English teachers in China is high, making it an easy way to gain experience in online teaching.

Pro Con
Pay You always get paid what is promised. The pay is much higher than minimum wage, but relatively low.

 

Some companies subtract from your pay for silly things like being one minute late to class or having a single dissatisfied student.

Curriculum Just use what they give you. Very little work required. Sometimes the curriculum isn’t all that great and there is nothing you can do about it.
Scheduling Some companies are very flexible with scheduling.

 

Always early in the morning, so you will have plenty of time for translating during the day.

Time zone. You are usually teaching from 4 am to 8 am EST.

 

They tend to overhire, so it may be a while before you start getting students.

Prep Time Almost none! None.
Equipment None. They may require you to have some toys and physical props.
Students Usually children ages 3-12. Very cute! If you don’t get along with kids, it won’t work.

Companies to check out:
Bling ABC
Zebra English
Magic Ears
QKids

What resources do I need to get started?

No matter how good you think your built-in computer camera, microphone, and room lighting are, you are probably going to have to upgrade to be successful as an online teacher and cultural experience host. Here is what I consider the most essential equipment for online teaching:

  1. Professional Lighting

In order to cultivate a professional presence online, it is essential to be well-lit on camera. Buy a ring light or a set of those umbrella lights you see professional photographers using.

  1. High-Resolution Camera

Built-in computer cameras are generally very low-resolution and will negatively impact student experience. Low-quality cameras will also make you and your environment appear much darker on-screen than you really are. You will need a high-quality external web camera to ensure that students can see you clearly.

  1. Headset with Microphone

Students need to hear exactly how you are pronouncing things in order to learn a language well. You will also have to hear them in order to correct their mistakes. Having a good headset with a microphone is vital to ensuring that students can learn effectively. Make sure it is comfortable to wear as well, so your head doesn’t hurt after a day of work.

  1. Software

If you are working with direct clients, you may need a paid subscription to your favorite video conferencing software. You may also want to invest in teaching software that allows you to display pictures, words, numbers, and special effects directly on your camera screen.

I hope you can take this information and use it to diversify successfully with online teaching and cultural experience hosting. Translators possess a wealth of linguistic and cultural knowledge that is highly valued by learners, so it makes sense to share it.

Author bio

Carlie Sitzman is an ATA-certified German to English translator with over ten years of experience translating documents for the automotive and manufacturing industries.

She is currently learning French and enjoys painting landscapes in her free time. Read more about Carlie’s professional endeavors at: http://www.sitzmanaetranslations.com

Savvy Diversification Series – From text translator to film subtitler in just a few months

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

A step-by-step guide

I’ll resist the urge to start this article by saying how 2020 was a huge mess for us all, because we’ve heard it one too many times, so I’ll get straight to the point. COVID-19 took my translation business from a surging one to a flatlining one in a matter of days. I’m a Spanish-to-English translator specialized in tourism, hospitality, destination events, and official documents. I also do some copywriting for my clients in these sectors.

For the last few years, my stream of work has been steady enough that I never stopped to think about what would happen if people stopped traveling, eating out, and immigrating to other countries all at the same time. (Well, to be fair, who ever would have thought that would happen?). But, the thing is, it did. The pandemic took away my livelihood in the blink of an eye.

So, I moved quickly. I decided to dive headfirst into a specialization I had been dreaming about for ages, but never had the time to study, research, and actually specialize in: subtitling. I love watching movies and TV, and I love watching them with subtitles on (even in English!). I always thought it’d be the coolest gig around town, but never had the time to make it happen.

The pandemic gave me something I desperately needed: A large chunk of time and a good reason to diversify my offerings. Here are the steps I followed to save my business and quickly transition from translator to subtitler:

1) I signed up for the ATA Audiovisual Division’s mentoring program

I was lucky enough to be paired up with Mara Campbell, a seasoned expert in the field. She gave me tons of great advice on how to get started and what to expect from the audiovisual industry. She also got me really excited about the profession. She’s so passionate about what she does and her enthusiasm made me realize that this type of work could also be a great fit for me. With her help and guidance, I was prepared to take the leap into audiovisual translation.

2) I took a specialized course

At the end of February 2020, with two months of government-imposed apartment lockdown ahead of me in Spain, I decided to take an online course recommended by Mara called GoSub Subtitle. The course is designed to take beginners from “zero” to “subtitler” in just a few weeks. And it did just that. I learned the ins and outs of subtitle translation: industry lingo, timing technicalities, reading-speed and character-per-line rules… By the end of the course I felt fully prepared and confident to present myself as a subtitler to the world.

3) I set up a rigorous marketing plan

The second I finished the course, I added a subtitling page to my website and started marketing like crazy. I created a list of dream agencies I wanted to work with and aimed high from the beginning (why not?). I started by reaching out to all Netflix Official Vendors within the first week after finishing the course. After that, I reached out to handfuls of subtitling agencies and post-production studios.

My marketing plan included a rigorous follow-up schedule which consisted of sending four follow-up emails to each agency, once a week, for one month. My final email had “This is my last follow-up attempt!” in the subject line, and that’s when I got the most responses.

4) I started working almost full time as a subtitler

Thanks to my new skill set and clear marketing plan, within just one month of finishing the course, I had almost full-time work as a subtitler. By the time September rolled around, I was invited to test to subtitle for the world’s largest streaming service… and passed. My first subtitled film was released on the platform at the end of February.

What my business looks like now

I’m currently subtitling about 80% of the time and translating 20% of the time. The pandemic taught me a tough lesson. While specialization is key, it’s important to have your eggs in more than one basket. I realize almost all my eggs are currently in my subtitling basket (which isn’t ideal either), but I plan to incorporate translation back into my business as the tourism and travel industry picks up again.

I’m passionate about all the services I provide, found a niche I love working in, and also feel more sturdy and confident in my business than ever before. And I guess I have the pandemic to thank for that.

About the author

Molly Yurick is a Spanish-to-English translator, subtitler, and copywriter based in northern Spain. She specializes in tourism and hospitality translations and her subtitles can be found on the world’s largest streaming service. She serves as Deputy Chair of ATA’s PR Committee and is also a member of ATA’s School Outreach Program and PR Writer’s Group. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/

Savvy Diversification Series – Translator Training

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

We’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

Why did I diversify into translator training?

When I was asked to write about my diversification into translator training, I had to take a step back and really think about how it all came about. The short answer is that it was not a conscious decision and ended up being a natural development of my career.

Before I became a translator, long ago, I studied and worked with international marketing. After moving to the US with small children, I understood that I needed a career change. When launching and growing my career as a freelance translator, I took advantage of the marketing skills I had learned during my studies and my previous marketing career. These skills provided me with useful tools and a strategic outlook on how to market my services.

How did I diversify into translator training?

I started attending the American Translators Association’s conference every year from the beginning as soon as I began my career as a translator. I did this to learn new skills and to network with colleagues and clients. After a few years, I was encouraged to submit a presentation and share my marketing skills, so I did. That led to several more presentations at translators’ conferences, with a lot of good feedback. I also took several courses held by other colleagues on building my freelance translation career and saw a niche in sharing my marketing skills.

After pondering this idea for a while and talking to colleagues, I decided to write a book. I chose a unique format for the book – the recipe format. The book is divided into starters for beginning translators, main dishes for more experienced translators, the building blocks of a successful translation career, and lastly, desserts, the little extras that you can choose from to enhance your business. Each recipe was a specific marketing strategy, or tactic for translators, with ingredients and step-by-step instructions. That is how the Marketing Cookbook for Translators was born.

The book was well-received. Many people started to ask for my help and advice in marketing their translation services. After a while, I decided to distill my experience as a translator, my marketing skills and background, the tips in the book, and the various presentations and workshops I gave into a marketing course for translators. I have given marketing courses and workshops for translators for more than five years and genuinely enjoy helping other translators to create a system to market their translation services based on their situation.

Around the same time I started writing the book, I began to listen to marketing podcasts. There were not many podcasts for translators at that time, especially not focused on marketing and business skills. I enjoyed bite-size tips in audio format and the convenience of listening to marketing tips while driving the car or walking the dog. I decided that I could try sharing marketing tips in a podcast format, and the idea for the Marketing Tips for Translators podcast was born. In the beginning, I set a goal of 100 episodes. Now I have published over 260 episodes and have no plans to stop any time soon. Even if it is a lot of work, I love interviewing colleagues and other experts, sharing new and old marketing tips.

The courses and the podcast have increased my motivation for the translation industry. I learn a lot from the interviews and my students, which provides a nice counterbalance to just doing translations. It brings variety to my working days. However, translation is still my primary source of income, and I hope it will remain so for a long time to come. The marketing courses and workshops bring in a nice additional income, but it is more of a passion project than a business. The podcast and courses motivate me to try the new marketing strategies I learn about myself, plus I must make an effort always to practice what I preach.

How do I find clients or students?

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but despite having a marketing background and sharing marketing tips to other translators, I wouldn’t say I like the selling part of marketing. Some say that selling is the end goal or marketing result, but I tend to focus on the marketing part and let the selling be a natural result. This means that I share my tips wherever I can and consciously try to find avenues to share my marketing training, podcast, and books.

I offer many tips and advice “for free” in the form of podcast episodes, an email newsletter, blog posts, checklists, and small guides. The people who find these resources useful and see results from them tend to be interested in taking it further, sometimes as a student in one of my courses. I also continue to share marketing tips in presentations and workshops at translation industry conferences, and as an invited speaker for different translator associations. Translators learn about my services through all these venues.

How has translator training helped my business?

The courses and paid workshops have added an extra buffer of income for my business. This was particularly helpful in 2020 when I lost a couple of direct clients due to the pandemic cut-downs, and the work from agencies slowed down dramatically during the first months of the pandemic.

But above all, the courses and workshops have kept me in touch with the marketing of my translation services and the translation industry, and have motivated me to learn new things. They have also provided an outlet for me to be more creative, satisfy my passion for helping people (I once thought of becoming a nurse), and give variety to my workdays.

Tips for other translators thinking of diversifying into training

If you have a skill that you have noticed has helped colleagues or friends, you could start teaching it to others. Look at things you have helped others with. Could your knowledge or skills be shared in the form of presentations, workshops, or a course? Do you have an “audience” interested in learning more from you about these things? Then you could diversify into training. I know many colleagues that I admire who share their specific knowledge this way. If you want to try it out, my best tip is to focus on a niche or target market that you know well, just like you do for your translation business.

I am optimistic about the future for freelance translators and believe that we will continue to be successful if we are open-minded and embrace change. This includes exploring options to diversify our businesses to have secure income streams in any situation.

Author bio

Tess Whitty is a certified English into Swedish translator, specializing in digital marketing and localization. With a degree in International Marketing and background as marketing manager, she also shares her marketing knowledge and translator experience with other freelance translators as an award-winning speaker, trainer, consultant, author, and podcaster. She is involved in several translator associations as a committee chair, language chair, trainer and mentor. For more information, or to connect, go to www.marketingtipsfortranslators.com, or www.swedishtranslationservices.com.

 

Savvy Diversification Series – Monolingual Editing

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

For as long as I’ve had my freelance business, I have been a translator who is diversified within my narrow area of subject expertise. Shortly after I started translating I got my first request to edit a chemistry journal article written by an author whose native language was not English. That request came through my ProZ.com profile, where I am registered under “English (monolingual)” as well as my main translation pair. Non-native editing (also known as ESL editing) for academics who have to publish in English when that is not their native language can of course be a career in itself. Many people, especially people with degrees in a technical field like me, provide only that editing service. There is perhaps more call overall for these editing services for those of us whose native language is English, but all freelancers can provide similar services for their native language.

For a decade I didn’t market myself for this non-native editing. My website and online profiles didn’t mention it. Yet it kept coming. I had picked up a few regular clients (rather than one-offs, which are pleasant but not a big money-maker) and started getting word-of-mouth referrals. Around that time, 2015 or thereabouts, I added it to the list of things I mentioned when I say what I do. Then I prepared a talk on the topic and it became obvious that other into-English translators were interested in adding this to their skill set.

In recent years the volume rose to make up about 20% of my gross revenue—a significant part of what I do. Importantly, I have always felt that this area of work improved my translations. It improves both my subject-matter expertise, since I read cutting-edge research while editing these papers, and my English writing skills. In February 2017 I wrote in more depth about this topic, including describing how others can get into this field. You can find that piece on the Training for Translators blog. In reflecting on what changed due to the pandemic, I reviewed it and found that much still holds.

So what difference did offering this specialized yet diversified service make to me in 2020? Put simply, the editing work held strong and kept me going through many bad months. I suspected that academics who couldn’t get into the lab or the field finished off half-written papers instead, though I don’t have anything to support that hunch. My editing revenue was slightly up last year on any of the previous years, and it made up a much higher percentage of my total revenue as my translation revenue took a steep dive in Q2 and Q3. Indeed, because my success with diversification made a big difference to my year and I shared as much when people asked how things were going, there are a couple of recordings where I spoke about this topic later in the year. Multilingual Magazine’s Summer Series included this panel on Diversification. I discussed it in the Speaking of Translation podcast here. Both may give you insights into ways we freelancers diversify and how those diversified service offerings help in difficult seasons or times of change.

So yes, I am diversified, yet I am still a highly specialized subject-matter expert. Diversification takes many forms!

Author bio

Karen Tkaczyk is a chemist-turned freelance translator, specializing in scientific translation. She is an ATA-certified French>English translator and a Fellow of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. Karen earned a Master of Chemistry with French degree from the University of Manchester and a Diploma in French and a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Cambridge. She has worked as a research and development chemist in Europe and as a Quality Assurance Manager in a cosmetic and medical device manufacturer. Karen serves as the Secretary of ATA’s Board of Directors and is a member of the Colorado Translators Association.