How to Land Your First Gig as a Freelance Translator

The rise of the internet, globalization, and social media has led to a surge in the demand for translators.

As Statista reported in their global language services review for 2009 to 2021, the industry has grown by USD 5 billion in the past two years alone. This means limitless opportunities for freelancing if you know how and where to look.

While setting up for your first gig as a newcomer may feel like a daunting task, here are five tips to help you get started:

1. Determine how you want to receive jobs

For starters, you can be an independent freelancer working for direct clients, translation agencies, or even both. The main difference is the initial setup required before you can start receiving jobs.

Agencies usually administer a test like this that you must pass in order to begin working with them. Once you’re accepted, they will match you with jobs that fit your skillset.

The whole process saves you the hassle of preparing an extensive portfolio and pitching to potential clients yourself.

Do note that some agencies (and even clients from larger companies) use translation software to manage the projects they assign to their translators.

On the other hand, if you decide to go the independent route, you don’t usually need to worry about software. However, you do need to play a more active role in seeking clients, bidding for jobs, and promoting your services.

2. Build a diverse portfolio

To kick off your career as a freelance translator, you need a strong portfolio to showcase your translation experience.

Initially you might need to do some volunteer translation work to build a portfolio, but remember to be fair to yourself, your time, and your efforts before taking unpaid jobs.

Consider your personal interests or those of the people around you, and look for opportunities there instead. Here are some ideas on where to start:

  • Translate subtitles for your favorite YouTubers
  • Offer to translate the website of your friends or family members for a small fee
  • Translate magazine articles and share them on forums for special interest groups (for example, interviews with athletes are interesting to the users of relevant sports forums)

More information on how to create an effective portfolio can be found in this article.

3. Identify your strengths and specializations

Over time, you should develop a few translation specializations based on your strengths and interests.

Otherwise you might feel compelled to accept any offers that come your way, even if they undersell your time and skills. Being a specialist rather than generalist may help you land clients who value quality over quantity and are thus willing to pay the appropriate rates for it.

In fact, this research by Inbox Translation reports that freelance translators with one or two areas of specialization are generally able to charge higher rates than those who are not specialized.

Remember that not everyone is your potential client. Start by asking yourself three simple questions:

  • What industries do I want to work in?
  • What kind of companies do I want to work for?
  • Will this project add relevancy and value to my portfolio?

4. Check out online translation communities

The internet is a great place to socialize with other freelancers and professionals who have been in the trade for longer.

Some of my favorite online forums and social media groups dedicated to translators include:

They’re informative, entertaining, and more importantly, allow you to build meaningful relationships with other translators which increases your chances of finding new projects to join.

5. Create a profile on freelance marketplaces

Businesses that are not within the translation industry themselves are likely to look for freelancers using channels they are familiar with. These include ProZ, Upwork, Fiverr, and even LinkedIn.

To make the best use of them, you should:

  • Create a profile on several marketplaces (as many as you can handle)
  • Complete a profile with your relevant skillsets, experience, and portfolio
  • Indicate your specializations to ensure the right people can find you
  • Update your availability to “open for work” or anything along those lines
  • Establish a routine of checking your inbox and bidding for jobs on freelance marketplaces

On certain websites, you may have to pay a fee to prioritize your profile in recruiters’ search results. I generally do not recommend using this method, because this can be achieved for free by optimizing your profile for certain specializations, language pairs, or industries.

6. Don’t underestimate LinkedIn

LinkedIn is not just a professional platform where people share work anecdotes and announce major career developments.

Being on LinkedIn as a freelancer allows you to use the job search function and build a profile that highlights your top skills so recruiters will notice you.

To do so use specific keywords in your headline and descriptions, like “German to English Translator” or “Gaming Translator,” so that you’re more likely to appear on internal search engines.

However, since there are many head-hunters on LinkedIn recruiting for full time positions, be mindful of how you brand yourself to ensure that the right job invitations land in your inbox.

For more tips on how to craft a good LinkedIn profile for freelancers, check out this video by Freelanceverse.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Author bio

Shu Ni Lim holds a degree in linguistics and freelanced as an English to Chinese / Malay translator, mostly working with social media marketing content. Now a writer at Redokun, Shu Ni hopes to create useful content for translators and businesses by utilizing her experience in translation, marketing, and discourse studies.

Savvy Diversification Series – Don’t be scared! How to Add Ghostwriting to Your Portfolio of Services

“It was a dark and stormy night. A strange figure appeared in the window of the haunted house on the hill as a bloodcurdling scream echoed in the distance…”

Let me start with the bad news: today’s blog post is not about how to craft a spooky story to tell around the campfire. Instead, we are going to look at the other kind of ghostwriting. And there’s plenty of good news to go around.

Behind the Scenes

Put simply, ghostwriting is where one person writes a piece of copy that is published under another person’s name. It’s long been standard practice in the world of celebrity memoirs. But more managers and thought leaders are also outsourcing their writing to professionals, commissioning anything from press releases and blog posts to opinion pieces and speeches. These extremely busy executives might not have the time, the writing skills, or the inclination to put pen to paper. And that’s where ghostwriters come in.

Perks and Pitfalls

As a type of copywriting, ghostwriting is an attractive field for translators looking to diversify their business. Before we dive deeper into the skills that successful ghostwriters need to master, it’s essential to know some of the benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s get the biggest downside out of the way first: You do all the work but get none of the credit. Not only does your name not appear on the final copy, but you also generally cannot use this work in your portfolio or to build your business. Many clients will have you sign non-disclosure agreements so you cannot claim any connection to your brilliant piece of writing, either. Like translation projects, ghostwriting assignments often require quick turnaround, and time is of the essence.

On the upside, though, ghostwriting is usually better paid to compensate for the fact that you don’t get any of the glory. Ghostwriting projects help you forge close relationships with executives. If they are happy with your work, they might well refer you (discreetly) to other big names in the industry. And you will also build soft skills, such as asking good questions, listening with empathy, and understanding different viewpoints.

Write Like a Chameleon

Beyond crafting outstanding prose, good ghostwriters master two main skills: They fully understand the topic they are writing about and can nail the client’s voice. Specialized translators with subject-matter expertise are ideally positioned to work as ghostwriters. If you spend your days translating about contract law, you probably know enough about recent landmark rulings to write an opinion piece for a legal expert. If logistics is your niche, you could likely knock out a blog post about the latest trends for a shipping company’s CEO in no time.

Capturing the client’s voice is a different cup of tea, though. To be a good ghostwriter, you have to have empathy, put yourself in the client’s metaphorical shoes and walk around in them for a while. Just like a chameleon changes color to blend in, you need to take on the client’s persona and perspective. The bottom line is that whatever you are writing, it must sound like something that could have come from their mouth or keyboard.

Get (and Craft) the Message

Executives who use ghostwriters are busy people. Nonetheless, it is important to arrange a phone or video call to learn their voice. Email just doesn’t cut it. Ahead of the meeting, you should have received information about the brief: what will you be writing, what is the topic, how long should the piece be, and when is the deadline?

The call is the time to listen and ask questions. If possible, ask to record the meeting. If that’s not an option, make sure that you take copious notes and sum up what they have said before the call ends to make sure you have understood properly. Be curious and dig deep to learn more about their opinions and outlooks. Ask if there are any words or phrases that the client does not want you to use.

After the call, you can identify themes and consider how to structure the piece. And then it’s time to write. Think about the wording the client might use. Would they use longer or shorter sentences? Would they inject humor or keep things prim and proper? If it’s a speech or narrative piece, you should also read the copy aloud to see if it ‘sounds’ like the client. Once you have submitted your work, it is not unusual for the client to change things here and there. That is part of the process of creating copy that the client can literally put their name to.

Next Steps

If this sounds fun, you might be wondering how to land your first project. As with translation, it’s all about building your brand. An excellent way to begin is to author well-written articles in your specialist field (for the above examples, perhaps an essay on the impact of a ruling on contractual law or a blog post on the top 10 logistics trends in 2021). Nowadays, anybody can showcase their writing on LinkedIn and platforms like Medium, but you should also consider pitching to magazines in your area of specialization.

Don’t forget the importance of word of mouth, either: add the phrase ‘ghostwriter’ to your social media profiles and consider creating a separate page on your website dedicated to ghostwriting.

If this sounds interesting, try and take one small step today. I’m sure it won’t come back to haunt you later.

Author bio

Abigail Dahlberg is a German-English translator and writer specializing in environmental issues, primarily recycling and waste management. She has completed a number of ghostwriting projects (but she can’t tell you who for!). After completing an MA in Translation in 2001, she worked as a staff translator in Germany before relocating to Kansas City and launching a freelance business in 2005.

Over the past 15 years, she has helped dozens of direct clients in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland communicate with an English-speaking audience via her business, Greener Words. You can reach Abigail by emailing her at hello@greenerwords.com or visiting http://www.greenerwords.com.

Savvy Diversification Series – How I Became a Translation Editor

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!

I was born and raised in Panama. My exposure to foreign languages began at an early age. From kindergarten through high school, I was taught in English, Spanish, and French. I went to university in the United States and graduated with a degree in Languages and Linguistics. My career as a translator began in Panama and continued overseas in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. I had just started working for an LSP in the United States when an unexpected move overseas threatened to derail my nascent career. It actually turned out to be quite the opposite and I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime! As it turned out, the LSP I had been working for in the U.S. reached out to offer me a job as Managing Director of its new translation division in São Paulo, Brazil. In hindsight, I have no idea what they were thinking when they hired an ill-prepared 29-year-old to run a startup operation… But somehow my boss in the US thought I was the right person for the job and it all worked out in the end. At the time, I had been contemplating the idea of returning to school but this seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Over the next six years I would work for this LSP in Brazil, Canada, and the United States. I will always be a linguist at heart but working at an LSP taught me the hard lessons of running a translation business. It taught me to be efficient in producing simple as well as very complex multilingual projects. I remain incredibly grateful for this experience and to this day I feel that most translators starting out could benefit from a stint as in-house linguists.

Some life/work lessons I learned along the way that have served me well over the years.

  1. Understand the business, even if it’s difficult.
  2. Be a good communicator with your clients, your team, and your colleagues. You can never have enough patience!
  3. Mistakes happen. Own them, fix them, learn from them, and move on.
  4. Success takes flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

After six years, my company decided to sell its translation operations. I wanted to return to freelance work but I felt my experience no longer fit the role of a translator. I wanted to remain a linguist but in a different capacity. I wasn’t sure what exactly I would end up doing, so I needed to take stock of what I loved best about my job. I knew that I wanted to stay in the production side of the industry (as opposed to the business side). There were two production aspects that stood out: the quality assurance process we followed and training sales and production personnel. Could I turn these two aspects into a career? It took many years and many ups and downs to develop my niche specialty.

I currently work as a translation editor and a production consultant for small to mid-size LSPs.

Some of the tasks I perform as an editor are:

  1. Review translations to ensure they meet client specifications.
  2. Post edit MT output.
  3. Work with the client’s internal reviewers to make sure that their changes are appropriate.
  4. Website Language Testing (not functionality testing) that involves reviewing the target language screens in a static or live website and then either reporting or correcting errors.

As a consultant, I found my niche in production consulting for small to mid-size companies. I discovered that smaller companies often have difficulty growing because they don’t have production processes in place to handle larger projects without additional personnel. I help them in the following areas:

  1. Training in project management, costing, and editing techniques. I provide training for sales and production staff.
  2. Internal Process Manuals. I write procedure manuals for internal use by production staff.
  3. Preparing complex documents for translation, writing specs, style guides, and glossary mining and creation.

Developing a niche specialty as an editor

If you are thinking of developing a niche specialty in editing, first determine if this is something you truly enjoy and have a knack for. Good editors possess the following skills:

  1. The ability to analyze a text critically and efficiently and separate oneself from stylistic preferences one may have.
  2. Excellent language skills (grammar, style, punctuation, etc.)
  3. Good communication skills in order to work in collaborative environment (as part of a team).
  4. Superior organizational skills and a detail-oriented nature.
  5. Curiosity and eagerness to learn. Become a proficient researcher.

So where would you start?

  1. Research the current “need/market” for editing services among your established and potential clients.
  2. Trade editing services with a colleague to test your abilities. Compare your approaches.
  3. Sometimes it may be good to have a specialty within a specialty. In my case, about 80% of my editing work is in the field of Life Sciences. Research a few sub-specialty fields that might interest you and determine the demand in this particular domain.
  4. Identify your resources in those fields. They can be your colleagues, local, national or international associations. Attend trainings, webinars or courses to learn more about your new specialty and to network.
  5. Develop an editing methodology (step-by step process).
  6. Start by working on small assignments for the clients you already have.
  7. Make sure you understand the specifications and time involved.
  8. Certifications bring prestige and recognition. Get certified in translation, interpretation, project management, etc.
  9. Grow your network. Opportunities can come not only from your clients, but also from colleagues, joining your local ATA Chapter (or translation organization), attending industry conferences in your niche field and using social media.

Having a niche specialty does not guarantee smooth sailing!

Freelancing in a niche specialty has kept me humble at times.  The translation industry is dynamic, fascinating, and volatile. Clients can come and go through no fault of your own. Their needs change, they can be bought by other companies that have alternate language providers or they may decide to outsource cheaper translation providers overseas. These issues are all beyond our control. The onus is on us to be ready to face these challenges by keeping abreast of trends, technology, and anything that might affect our business.

Resources

Society for Editing (ACES)

Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)

Center for Plain Language

Author bio

A native of Panama, Itzaris Weyman is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Languages and Linguistics and an ATA-certified translator from ENG>SPA. She served as Translation Production Director in São Paulo, Brazil and Multilingual Production Manager in Toronto, Canada for Berlitz Translation Services. Her most recent article “Preparing Documents for Translation” was the feature article in the Sept/Oct 2020 edition of the ATA Chronicle and was also reprinted on-line by the Colegio de Traductores de la Provincia de Santa Fe, Argentina.

Ms. Weyman has served as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of FLATA (Florida Chapter of the American Translators Association – now ATIF) and on its Nominating and Bylaws Committees. Contact: itzarisweyman@americaslanguagebridge.com

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