So, You Want To Be A Translator?

This post originally appeared on The Detail Woman blog and it is republished with permission.

There are two main things I want to do on this page: first, I want to say a few things to people considering entering the translation profession. Mostly I want to clear up some misconceptions, but there are also some things I just plain think everyone who’s contemplating or practicing translation needs to hear. Second, for people interested in what kind of background you need or steps you can take to become a kickass translator, I want to talk a little bit about the skills needed and how to go about getting them.

I write this page not with the assumption that I am The Kickass Translator of All Time, but with the knowledge that I am still growing and that every single thing I say still applies to me and always will. In fact, I hope I’ll always be growing as a translator. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. But in my career I’ve had the opportunity to be on both sides of the process: on one side the translator being evaluated and working under supervision, and on the other side the person evaluating translators–both making recommendations on hires and quality checking other people’s work. It’s a somewhat unique set of experiences and it’s let me see a lot of things about the translating processes of myself and others, and about new translators I see entering the field.

Part 1: Opening Comments – On Translation

Over the last decade I’ve been asked a lot of questions about translating and being a translator. Some have come from aspiring translators, some from current translators, some from anime fans, and some from people who were just interested. I’ve seen remarks about translation in anime reviews, fan forums, and the like. I’ve also corresponded with people seeking translation jobs.

All these experiences have taught about some of the ideas people come into the translation field with–and some of the ideas they don’t. And I’m seeing some gaps between the expectation and the reality of translation that I’d like to address.

1. Your Work Is Not Your Work.

To translate means to deal in the borrowed or the stolen, never the owned. Everything that you are handling belongs to someone else. That show you are translating, that novel you are translating, it’s someone else’s work. This may seem almost insultingly obvious. But there are a lot of implications that you need to think about. The act of translation necessitates an extreme degree of respect. Surrender any impulses of “he should have.” Fight off any thoughts of “making it better” than the original. The greatest artist is great because of what you see testified in his work, but the greatest translator is great because of his invisibility. You must not insert your own ego. You must not change lightly. You don’t have the right to. It’s the same principle as the man assigned to guard another man’s wife: your job and your moral duty are to return her in the same condition you found her to the furthest extent possible. Because whether you love her, you hate her, or you find yourself indifferent to her–it’s your job, and she’s not your wife. You need to be thinking that seriously. If you’re not prepared to live with the constant moral responsibility that translating entails, you shouldn’t be a translator.

2. Some Types Of People Make Good Translators, Some Don’t.

Because translation carries such a high degree of ethical responsibility and there are so many cracks through which meaning can slip, a translator absolutely must be meticulous. The kind of person that makes a good translator is the same kind of person that makes a good librarian: someone who’s a little (or a lot) obsessive-compulsive. Now, of course you don’t need an OCD personality to be a translator. But if it’s not your personality, it’s got to be your attitude. Translating requires intense concentration for long periods of time and attention to the very tiniest of details. Either you need to get through on sheer meticulousness, or you need an all-absorbing passion for the work. What you’re like in your personal life, who cares (hell, my apartment looks like a nuclear disaster site). But if you’re a “don’t sweat the details” person about your work, if you skimp on research, if close is good enough for you, this is not the right career choice for you. I don’t say this out of the desire to lecture and I’m not trying to scare you off; I’m merely trying to lay out the truth so you can make an informed decision. I don’t sit in front of my computer every day shaking like a leaf under the burden of a soul-crushing responsibility and the effort of superhuman concentration, and you shouldn’t either. But we all need to understand the gravity of what we’re doing and be serious about it and honest in our evaluation of whether we can do it well.

3. Knowledge Is Less Important Than You Think.

Don’t think that just because you never remember what that one really common word you always forget means, you’re never going to be a good translator. In fact, don’t think that forgetting what those ten or twenty words mean will make you a bad translator. Translation is you in a room with your computer; you don’t have to talk to it in real time. Of course vocabulary is important. But what’s way more important is knowing what you know and what you don’t. In fact, that’s the most important thing. Because if you don’t know and you realize that, you can always find out. If you can research as appropriate and you can figure out how to find out what you don’t know, remembering the word for “farming” isn’t important. You can always look it up. ^_^

4. Knowledge Is More Important Than You Think.

Don’t think that you can translate TV shows with an A in first-year Japanese class and a dictionary. It just doesn’t work that way, for Japanese or for any language. Yes, a dictionary can–usually–define a word for you, but language isn’t just a bunch of definitions strung together with elementary grammar. You need to have both a good grounding in Japanese grammar and a good idea of how it’s actually spoken and written out there in the real world. There’s always going to be some weird sentence you need help figuring out no matter how good you get, but if you don’t have subtle and nuanced enough understanding of Japanese syntax to understand what the grammar of most every sentence you encounter is doing (it’s okay if you have to sit and ponder it for a while first or remind yourself somehow), you’re going to misinterpret and your dictionary cannot save you.

5. You Need Good English.

Whatever language you’re translating to, you need to be really damn good at that language. Say you’re translating from Japanese into English. If your English skills aren’t good enough and you can’t make appropriate choices for how to express something in English, it doesn’t matter how masterful your Japanese is.

6. “I Speak Both Languages” vs. “I’m a Good Translator.”

For some reason a lot of people seem to think that a native speaker of one language is going to be better at translating from that language (actually theorists agree that it’s best to be a native speaker of the language you’re translating into), or that someone who’s bilingual is going to be good at translating from one of their languages to another. That’s not true. Translation is a skill and an art. Speaking multiple languages doesn’t make you a good translator any more than being able to see multiple colors makes you a good painter. Just like with any craft, becoming good at translation is part talent, part attitude, part education, and part practice.

7. The Native Speaker Is Not An Oracle.

This is partly an extension of #6; as we’ve said, speaking a language doesn’t make you a good translator. So it follows that speaking a language doesn’t necessarily equate with being able to answer questions about that language well. Some native speakers are great resources for word meanings and other linguistic issues; some native speakers are horrible resources for those things. And many are somewhere in between: it depends on how good you are at asking the right questions. It’s important to have native speakers as resources if you’re not native in the language you’re translating from, but it’s equally important to choose your advisors wisely–and then use them wisely, respectfully, and kindly. Finally, keep in mind that no one is infallible. All of us make mistakes, and all of us have things we’ve got the wrong idea about or just don’t know. I’m a native speaker of English with a B.A. in linguistics, and there are certainly English words I don’t know or have wrong ideas about. ^_^

Part 2: What You Need – On Developing the Skills

The Monterey Institute of International Studies has a ten-point list of ways to prepare for being one of their translation and interpretation students. Highly-paraphrased (so much so it’s not even ten points anymore), it basically says:

-Read extensively in your native language and in the language(s) you translate from.
-Pay attention to the news in all your working languages.
-Take steps to make yourself a more knowledgeable and well-rounded person.
-Spend time abroad.
-Develop your writing, research, analysis, and (for interpreters) public speaking skills.
-Get computer savvy.
-Don’t stay up for days at a time and live on junk food.
-Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I think this is a great list that applies to any translator in any field–although in the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that as an anime translator I don’t generally feel compelled to read the newspapers in Japanese. However, that is something I feel is important to me, because I’m looking ahead to if/when I ultimately transition to working more on projects that aren’t pop-culture. At that point having that experience will become as critical as everything else on that list. So take MIIS to heart, but also know what your own goals are. There’s good solid reasoning behind everything on that list and everything will power you up. Now to flesh that out and add some things born of my personal experience, here’s my shot at a ten-point list:

Ten Ways to Become a Kickass Translator

1. Get good at the language you’re translating from.

This is the obvious one that everyone knows. But hey, it’s obvious because it’s true. To be a good translator of any language, you need to have strong skills in that language. I translate Japanese, so I need to have strong skills in it. There are many other webpages out there which can tell you better than I how to develop your skills in your chosen language. So I’ll just be short and sweet and say “use it.” Read, write, study, research, speak, listen. Also, one thing other places won’t necessarily tell you: I find my background in linguistics has allowed me to synthesize a lot of my language learning faster than my peers with other academic backgrounds.

2. Get good at the target language.

The “target” language is the language you’re translating into. So for me, my target language is generally English. You need to have intimate understanding of the language you’re translating into. I can’t stress that enough. To craft a truly fine translation you need to have truly fine skills in English (or whatever your target language may be). Otherwise you won’t be able to communicate your ideas as clearly and you won’t be able to make appropriate or inspired choices that capture the spirit and texture of a literary text. Your skill in the target language is even more important than your skill in the language you’re translating from.

If you don’t speak your target language natively: read, write, and study it extensively, become acquainted with its high literature and its use in pop culture, and make sure you have trustworthy people to advise you on language choices. Also see my tips to native speakers below.

If you’re a native speaker of your target language: good, because that’s ideal–but that alone isn’t enough. You also need to have skill in wielding the language. The best way to develop it is to read extensively and write different kinds of things (articles, essays, etc.). Also, if applicable to the kind of translation you want to do, practice poems and stories–they don’t have to be publish-me good; you just have to work with them enough to get a grip on what’s involved. It’s best if you can get some constructive criticism on them as well. If you’re still in high school or college, you’re in the best possible position to get your English (or whatever) skills up to snuff: take courses that have a heavy writing component. Try to take at least one literature-type course and at least one technical or scientific course that make you really exercise your writing, and really pay attention to the feedback from your professors and peers. (Often it helps to do a little asking around about instructors before you sign up for the courses; upperclassmen can usually tell you which instructors will be truly helpful and which won’t.)

3. Research, research, research.

Many kinds of translation, especially of books, movies, and TV shows, are about knowing a little bit about every single thing that’s ever happened everywhere. In the course of a typical week translating anime, I might have to search for information on rainforest spiders, Pakistani names, a 1960s Japanese TV drama, the Reformation, aerospace technology, and the daily habits of Tibetan monks. And then it’d be Tuesday. Obviously, you’re never going to know all that plus everything else (Norse mythology, the Koran, Italian…). So you need to get good at finding stuff out. Not only that, but the answers need to be from reliable sources where possible. So one of the most key things to develop as a translator is research skills. If you’re in high school or college, try taking courses that will help you in this, or attend a library orientation day. (In most colleges the main campus library will hold an orientation day, often including research tips, once a semester. The only trick is that you’re probably only going to find out when it is by going up to the librarian in charge and asking.) Hell, try to get a work-study job at the library; you’re bound to learn something (I did), and make money too. If you’re not in school and/or don’t work at a library, don’t worry. Many college and public libraries offer sporadic courses on research methods; you can find out and try to take one. If that’s not a possibility, you can go to a college or public library and find that mythical figure called the Reference Librarian. The Reference Librarian’s job is to know how to find out stuff. If you’re a student, your school/college Reference Librarian is fair game. If it’s a public library, try to go on a slow day or make an appointment. Then go up to him or her, introduce yourself, and ask for help learning good research skills both online and in print (if you think you’ll need to be doing most of your research online, let her know). TIP: It will help if you bring some sample questions/areas of research so that s/he can help you by example. You can kill two birds with one stone by bringing research questions that have come up in one of your translations. CAUTION: Remember, the Reference Librarian is not a research monkey. S/he is not a research assistant. S/he’s there to help you do your own research. There is nothing that will alienate a Reference Librarian faster than expecting him/her to know or find all your answers for you.

Now, it’s worth taking a step back and saying that if you’re an anime translator and you already have some experience researching things, even if you’re not the Research Queen you may still be okay. Most–but certainly not all–of your research needs can be met by developing a passionate love affair with Google (both Japanese and your home country’s). However, watch out! Do not think for one moment that Googling isn’t a skill. There are ways to utilize search engines to find out esoteric things or get helpful, reliable results. There are also ways to take three hours getting completely useless results. Maybe you want to get some tips, or maybe you just want to set yourself a long list of hard questions and try to get better and better at finding the answers. Maybe you’re the Google Queen already. No matter which it is, the fact is good research takes practice.

4. Make friends.

Remember how I said translation was about being an expert on everything ever? Well, knowing an expert on everything ever is the next best thing. Networking is the way to go for a translator. When I need to be an expert on Latin for five minutes, I call my friend who teaches Latin. When I need to be an expert on Buddhism, I call my friend who’s an expert on Buddhism. When I need to know something random about flesh, fowl, or good red herring I call my dad. There are some things where all the Googling in the world is not going to deliver the goods as well as a consultation with someone who really knows the stuff. And if you don’t have someone to call, you’re going to have to spend a day at the library. You don’t want that to happen if deadline is tomorrow! So keep the various expertises of your friends and family in the back of your mind. Remember people you’re introduced to and be nice to them. And remember, when you call one of your people in the middle of the day and say “I need to know all the Biblical implications of this Greek word right now,” ALWAYS thank them before you hang up. They save your life, so be sure to show your appreciation.

5. Have an idea of what your goal is.

It’s my belief that someone who’s thought about what her theory of translation is, what translation means to her, and what she’s really trying to do overall as a translator is going to be better at her craft. So I would read a little bit on translation theory, and then spend a little time pondering what you think and what your philosophy of translation is. As an added bonus, reading other people’s writing about translation can give you ideas for how to handle problems you encounter. I suggested some books to start with on the Translation Resources page.

6. Get in-depth knowledge of the relevant field(s).

This may sound like a no-brainer. If you’re going to spend your career translating court documents, duh, you need to learn about law. But in less cut-and-dried fields I find people don’t always think about this. For example, a literary translator needs to have a strong literary background, with in-depth knowledge of major literary works and schools of literary thought. And an anime translator absolutely must have good knowledge of anime. You need to actually study it in a disciplined way, because it’s your field. You need to learn about the animation process itself (it’ll come up in interviews and extras if not the actual show), and about anime and its history in general (to get started, see the Becoming an Anime Expert page). Finally, the cultures and histories of the relevant countries are necessary fields of knowledge for ALL translators. I don’t care if you’re translating a great work of literature or a restaurant menu, you absolutely must have some foundation in the cultures behind all the languages/locations you’re working with. Yes, that includes your own.

7. Get a little bit of knowledge about the irrelevant fields.

Hey, like we’ve said, we’re the five-minute experts on everything. So pretty much anything you learn about in any capacity will probably come in handy eventually. Take the opportunities to learn about things, and just generally pay attention to what’s going on around you (especially the way people are talking) and file it away for later.

8. Have awareness of popular culture.

If you’re like me you find keeping up with popular culture and current events kind of a pain. But the fact is, it’s going to come up. Anything the world is preoccupied with works its way into everything. So keep your eyes open. Listen to the radio on your drive to work. Just find some way to pay a little attention to what’s going on. I always end up failing to read the newspaper, so I read TIME magazine–cover-to-cover so I get the news and the random.

9. Get creativity (yes, it can be a skill).

Scientists have been telling us for a while that creativity is a learned behavior, and it’s true. The more you practice brainstorming new and different language-play ideas, the more creative you are in your translation work. What are the common problems for every translator? What are the common translation problems in your specific language? When you run across examples of them in your daily life, take a moment and try to brainstorm ways to deal with them. Sometimes you do even better in this daily-life brainstorming than on your actual work, because there’s no pressure. What I’ll do is, when I’m reading comics in Japanese and I come across a really thorny issue, I’ll ask myself how I would’ve handled it. If I think of a joke in Japanese, I ask myself how I could make a translation of it work in English. Another thing you can do is look at other translations to/from your languages. Maybe you always handle puns in the same way. Does another translator handle them differently? Maybe that can break you out of the box and get you thinking in new ways.

10. Put thought into your work setup.

Translation is inherently uncomfortable because it often involves sitting on your butt for long periods of time, crouched over your desk peering at text. It can also be extremely inefficient if there’s a problem with your workspace or your equipment. You need to futz around with various different setups physically, to make sure sitting in that chair isn’t killing you, or to find out that moving your computer monitor up a few inches saves your life. And for goodness’ sake, get up and take a walk once in a while. It’ll save your spine and reboot your brain. You also need to futz around until you find a comfortable mental setup on your computer–if you’re translating from video, maybe there’s a video playback program that fits your habits better, for example. Little changes like that will boost your efficiency. Whether you’re a religious computer user or you’re one of the few holdouts who translates with pen and paper, you need to become very proficient in computing in all the languages you use. Clients will expect that and demand it. And there will be times when it’s just the only way to be efficient. There are all kinds of complications in computing in other alphabets, especially Asian alphabets, and the issues vary from operating system to operating system, program to program. Make sure that if nothing else you figure all of that out in whatever internet browsers you’re likely to encounter and in Microsoft Word.

Well, that’s about the size of it. If I were to say anything else, I think it would be that you can’t go wrong to take a linguistics course. Any aspiring translator still in college can probably benefit from some background courses in ling. Learning about language as a general system has greatly helped me develop my skills in all areas of translation, from as basic as language learning to as advanced as finding the intersections and deviances between languages and everything in between.

Author bio

Sarah “Alys” Lindholm is a Japanese to English translator of audiovisual media, academic papers, and other fun things. In addition to her freelance business, she is currently the Translation Manager at Funimation, where she spends her days acquiring new gray hairs and making sure your anime launches on time.

So You Want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Tech and Tools

This post is the fifth and final (first post, second post, third post, and fourth post) in a series of posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received. Sometimes these questions have come from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to start.

—–

So You Want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Tech and Tools

When an artist sits down to begin a new project, he collects his paints and paintbrushes, selects the right canvas, sets up an easel, and sits down at a chair that’s just the right height. He also chooses the right setting to work in. What about translators and interpreters? What tools do we need to be prepared for the task at hand?

Technology

If you’ve started researching technology for translators, you might think that the only software a language professional uses is a CAT, or “computer-assisted translation,” tool. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! While a CAT tool is an advisable purchase and a time-saver in the long run, a number of other software tools exist that can be useful and beneficial to translators and interpreters. However, we’ll start with translation-specific software and work our way to other types of software you may not think to consider when equipping yourself as a translator or interpreter. The links included for each category are a non-exhaustive list—I’ve selected a few ideas to suggest based on what I have used myself and options that my colleagues and other Savvy team members have used.

Hardware: First things first! You need a device or devices you can trust. I personally prefer my ultrabook laptop over a desktop computer for quick, quality performance and mobility—be sure to select a machine with a strong processor and plenty of ram to handle many applications at a time and still operate quickly (8 or 16 GB is ideal). Other translators may use desktops and store their files securely in cloud-based storage so they can access them anywhere (say, from a tablet while on the road). Multiple monitors are also a good idea for translators, since much of our work involves comparing two documents (the source and target) or doing research in a web browser while working in a CAT tool. Having additional monitors helps reduce eye strain and the time it takes to open and close documents repeatedly, among a host of other benefits.

CAT Tools: A variety of vendors sell CAT tools from open-source to thousand-dollar project management versions, but the three I see most often are SDL Trados, MemoQ, and Wordfast. It’s important for beginner translators to be aware that a CAT tool is different from machine translation—CAT software helps you translate more efficiently and consistently by offering suggestions based on previously translated text from a “translation memory”. It can also aid your work by breaking down large chunks of text into more manageable pieces or sentences called “segments”. The makers of the various CAT tools available on the market will also offer terminology and localization tools, either paired with their main products or at an additional price.

Editing or QA Software: Editing software isn’t only for copyeditors and reviewers—it’s great for helping to check your own translation work as well. PerfectIt and Xbench are two favorites for proofreading and QA.

Invoicing: Some translators use a basic Excel spreadsheet to track projects and invoices, but you can also consider paying for an invoicing tool like QuickBooks, Translation Office 3000, or Xero to record your financial information, send invoices, and run reports.

Speech-to-text: Translators often find it useful to use speech-to-text or text-to-speech in order to dictate translations or proofread their own writing. Free versions of text-to-speech tools exist on most word processors, and Dragon Naturally Speaking is a popular speech recognition software that can help save time during translation.

OCR Software/PDF Editor: Clients will sometimes provide files in flat PDF format, which can make it challenging to estimate a word count or use the source file in a CAT tool. Software tools like Adobe Acrobat and ABBYY FineReader can help translators edit PDFs or run optical character recognition (OCR) in the course of their work.

Security: In order to comply with independent contractor agreements and government regulations, translators and editors should secure their files against viruses, hackers, and hardware problems. See this post on antivirus software for some helpful ideas. As for a backup solution to restore your data in the event of loss, options include cloud storage services, cloud backup software, and network attached storage (NAS) systems. Last but not least, don’t forget about encryption software.

Other Tools

Office supplies: Don’t worry about going to Staples and buying the latest standing desk right away, but make sure that you are comfortable in your office environment. You may not be concerned about health problems now, but if you plan to make a full-time job of freelance translation, you’ll want to invest in equipment that’s good for your health at some point! An ergonomic computer mouse and keyboard is a great addition to your office repertoire, and even if you aren’t ready to purchase an adjustable desk or exercise ball chair, you should be sure to elevate your computer screen(s) so that you won’t have to crane your neck to view it. Some companies, like Contour Design, for instance, will even offer a free trial so you can see if their products are right for you.

Then there is the matter of desk organization preferences. If your desk is too cluttered, invest in a file organizer. If you edit best by reading printed materials, buy a printer and some paper so you can make hard copies when reviewing documents. If you expect to be translating a lot of official documents that need to be notarized and mailed to clients, get yourself some stamps and envelopes. The bottom line is to purchase what you think you’ll need. Many office expenses are tax-deductible, so don’t stress over buying these small-ticket items for your office that make your work life easier or more efficient.

Print resources: Dictionaries may seem a thing of the past to anyone outside our industry, but they can be of great value for specialized translators in certain language pairs. You don’t need to have a library-sized collection when you’re just getting started, but keep an eye out for online sales or conference bookshops that offer the types of print resources you may want to reference depending on your specialty area and language.

—–

So you want to be a translator or interpreter…what do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge? We hope this blog series has helped to answer some of your questions about getting started and put you on the path to a successful career in translation and interpreting. Here are a few more ideas of steps to take as you get started:

  • Join ATA and get involved by attending the annual conference, joining divisions, etc.
  • Join your local professional association and attend their events
  • Take a course or courses (see GALA’s Education and Training Directory, one of the courses offered in the ATA Member-to-Member Program list, etc.)
  • Read blogs or books by translators and interpreters (The Savvy Newcomer is a great start!)

As you take your first steps into translation and interpreting, keep in touch with us at The Savvy Newcomer. We would love to hear your advice for newbies to this profession.

Image source: Pixabay

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Money Matters

This post is the fourth (first post, second post, and third post) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

In the first post in this series, I alluded to a question I’ve been asked several times since I began freelancing—sometimes more subtly than others: “Do people actually pay you to do that?” Some days it feels surreal that, yes, people really do pay me for this and I get to read in Spanish, write in English, and sometimes even correct other people’s spelling and grammatical mistakes (Grammar Police Alert!), but the underlying question is whether translation and interpreting are viable career options for bilinguals. The short answer is yes—if you have the right skill set.

If you’re just beginning to consider whether a career in T&I may be for you and are asking the same question, you are not alone. Some of the biggest questions many beginning translators and interpreters have about getting started also revolve around money: How much do I charge? What kinds of expenses will I have? How do I make sure my clients actually pay me (on time)? I’ll do my best to cover these tricky yet essential questions in the following lines.

What should I charge?

Translators often charge per word (source or target) or per hour, while interpreters may charge per hour, half day, or per diem rates. Rates can vary significantly in different segments of the market, while your specialization and language combination can also play a major role. Quoting too much relative to the importance and budget of a particular project may make it hard to secure enough work. However, quoting too little could put you in a vicious cycle where you work long hours at low rates. Long-term business prospects and finances can be affected by your choice of rates because it’s difficult to make time to find higher-paying projects and invest in the skills development and training needed to qualify for them if you are too busy with smaller or lower-paying projects and clients. And on top of all that, you could end up undercutting your colleagues.

While newer translators and interpreters may logically earn less than more experienced professionals—like in any other industry—you can earn fair compensation for your experience and education level, if you are putting the right amount of time and effort into your work and business development. But again, this begs the question: What should I charge? There are a few good ways to figure out what that means in terms of specific numbers.

First, the American Translators Association (ATA) has conducted and reported on a survey of professional translators and interpreters regarding their compensation and rates. The results of this ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey, Fifth Edition can be accessed for free in summary form or in full form (free to ATA members, $95 for non-members). The results cover information on rates, language pairs, and annual income.

Calpro is another resource you can use to determine what rate you should charge in order to bring in your target income, taking into account working hours, holidays, and other expenses. This spreadsheet was first developed by the Spanish association of translators, ASETRAD, and was adapted by ATA volunteers for use in the U.S.

Tracking the time you spend on each project is a great way to generate data that can help you figure out how much you actually are earning and which projects are more or less worthwhile for you. Start by using a time tracking tool like RescueTime or Timecamp and then use an Excel file or other method to compile your data and divide the total fee for a project by the number of hours spent on it to see how much you earned per hour. This will help you determine whether you might need to charge more next time for a similar type of text, or whether you would be better off rejecting a project that you will likely earn less on in favor of a project that would earn you more per hour, or even in favor of spending time on business development to grow your client base.

How do I make sure I get paid?

Two common issues when it comes to getting paid for freelance work are scams (where a fake client orders work from you and either never pays or scams money out of you by means of a fake check) and late payers. Several resources exist to help freelancers avoid these issues, including Payment Practices and WPPF (and check out this article on the topic).

How do freelance finances work?

I could write pages upon pages about freelance finances, but at the end of the day, the important thing is to understand that earning money as a freelancer (what we would refer to as “1099 income” in the U.S.) is vastly different from earning money as an employee of a company (“W2 income”). Freelancers need to send invoices to request payment from their clients, pay their own taxes (usually there is no withholding and you make estimated payments throughout the year), manage their own retirement savings, cover their own business expenses, and meet their own insurance needs. All of these are things that employers will often handle for their employees, while freelancers need to build them into their time and finances. I won’t go into detail about each of these topics, but I do want to provide a resource or two on each topic in case you need somewhere to start looking.

  1. Invoicing and Expenses

Some freelancers choose to create their own invoicing processes and others prefer to use software to help manage the process for them. The following are a few popular invoicing tools for freelance translators and interpreters: Xero, Translation Office 3000, Express Invoice.

  1. Taxes

Some freelancers choose to do their own taxes, but many prefer to outsource this service to a professional accountant or accounting firm. Since there are so many extra factors that go into freelance tax filings (e.g. multiple 1099’s, a Schedule C/1040, possibly other business filings depending on your setup and location, and deductions for business expenses), options like TurboTax and TaxAct would probably make for a stressful springtime… So unless you want to forego a lot of afternoons going crazy trying to decipher the tax code, I would suggest reaching out to other translators in your area to get recommendations for an accountant you can trust to take care of your tax needs.

  1. Retirement

Employers generally contribute to your retirement savings when you are a W2 employee, so it is extra important to start early if you’re a freelancer. Options for freelancers include traditional or Roth IRAs and SEPs, whether through financial planners or using online options like Vanguard and e-Trade.

  1. Insurance

Another expense that is often subsidized by employers for W2 employees is insurance (health, vision, dental, life, etc.) As a freelancer you’ll need to take care of this yourself, but you won’t be alone! Many options are available outside employer-sponsored health plans. For instance, Freelancers Union offers a private marketplace for members to connect with insurance companies (and Union membership is free!).

We hope this information has helped you get a better idea of what to expect as you consider a career as a freelance translator or interpreter! Stay tuned for the fifth and final installment in this series: Technology and Tools.

Image source: Pixabay

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Services and Specialization

This post is the third (read the first post here and the second post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

What services should I offer?

Many translators provide more than just translation services. Since many are self-employed, it can be helpful to offer related services in order to differentiate yourself, serve customers’ needs, and bring in extra income.

Here are some of the many ancillary services translators may offer:

  • Bilingual editing: Reviewing another translator’s work by comparing the source and target texts for accuracy and consistency, and checking the target text itself for precision, structure, and flow.
  • Monolingual editing: Reviewing a non-translated document for all of the above-mentioned characteristics.
  • Transcreation: Translation of a text that involves recreating part or all of the document for use in the target language and culture.
  • Proofreading: Reviewing a monolingual or translated document for proper writing conventions, including grammar, spelling, sentence structure, agreement, and punctuation.
  • Transcription: Creating a written transcript from a spoken audio or video file (may be mono- or multilingual).
  • Interpreting: Orally rendering communication from one language to another (https://najit.org/resources/the-profession/).
  • Content/copywriting: Writing text (creating new content) for advertising or marketing purposes.
  • Localization: Adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market (https://www.gala-global.org/industry/intro-language-industry/what-localization).
  • Copyediting: Reviewing raw text for issues such as errors and ambiguities to prepare it for publication in print or online (https://www.sfep.org.uk/about/faqs/what-is-copy-editing/.
  • DTP (Desktop Publishing): Formatting and adjusting the layout of a document for publication in print or online.

When deciding what services to offer, you may want to consider tasks you have performed in the past—perhaps a previous employer had you interpret, or colleagues and friends have asked you to provide summary translations of newspaper articles or other documents. You may have been the go-to proofreader for your office or done some desktop publishing as a side job or for other purposes. Along with your past experience, think about particular strengths you may have that could pair with certain services: If you are a good creative writer, then transcreation may be up your alley. If you have a keen eye for mechanical errors and grammar, perhaps you are well suited to proofreading and copyediting services. If you prefer to work with the spoken word, then interpreting is more likely to be for you.

You may also want to consider your current software and hardware setup when deciding what services to offer. Translators often use an array of software tools to assist them as they work. These will be addressed at length in a later post, but translators often use CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, editors may use computerized proofreading assistants, and transcribers often use audio editing software and transcription applications to aid in their work.

What should I specialize in?

The first question to ask yourself when it comes to specialization is, “What area do I know a lot about?” Many translators focus on just one or a limited number of areas of expertise rather than attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades. Having and stating specialization(s) gives your clients confidence that you are knowledgeable about the material you are translating, and it can even help you command higher rates as a result.

Specializing can be as simple as having had a previous career in the legal field or volunteering as a candy striper in the hospital for many years. Some ways to develop your specializations or continue to learn about them include attending university classes (online or in person), following journals on the subject matter, and reading in order to develop specialized glossaries.

A few common specializations in the translation industry include:

  • Medical (e.g., clinical trials)
  • Legal (e.g., partnership agreements)
  • Business (e.g., sales proposals)
  • Marketing (e.g., brochures)
  • Software (e.g., computer programs)
  • Tourism/hospitality (e.g., guidebooks)

When you are just getting started, you can choose to indicate your preferred subject areas by listing specializations on your business card, résumé, and/or LinkedIn profile, or you can choose to work with more general topics until you have gained more experience and feel comfortable stating a specialization.

Readers, do you have any other services or specializations you offer that weren’t mentioned here, or tips on how to decide when you’re just getting started? We’d love to hear them!

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, Money Matters.

Image source: Pixabay

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Starting from Scratch

This post is the second (read the first post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

Starting your freelance translation business from scratch can be a daunting task. Below are a few of the most fundamental questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about building your business.

Do I need further training to become a translator?

There is no one “right” way to become a translator, but most professionals feel it is important to have at least one of the following two qualifications: a) experience (could be from a previous job or volunteer position), or b) training (from an academic program in translation or at least education in another language).

If you are interested in becoming a translator but do not have much experience, taking a course may be a good place to begin. You can find translation courses at many major colleges and universities, some of which are offered online. If you enjoy the first course and want to pursue a career in translation, it may be of benefit to you to meet other translators and get a feel for what it takes to become one. You can even ask them how they got started. If you decide academic training is the best route for you, checking out the schools we have featured in guest posts here at The Savvy Newcomer may be a good place to start.

Academic programs in translation and interpreting range from certificates to PhD’s, and may be either online or in person. No gold standard exists for individuals entering the translation field, and some translators start off with a few years of experience from other sources and then get a degree in the field later on in their careers. It just depends on your situation! Getting a degree or certificate in translation can help to develop your skills, lend credibility to your resume, and give you a network of colleagues and classmates to support you as you get started with your career.

How can I get experience with translation?

There are several ways to get experience when you know another language but have no experience. One is to work with another translator who has at least a few years of work under his or her belt. If you know someone who is willing to work with you and edit your work, this is a great way to learn the ins and outs of translating without worrying about making a big mistake! You could act as a sort of intern or apprentice for this translator, who would provide you feedback and ensure the translation is accurate and ready for delivery.

Another way to get experience as a translator is to volunteer. Some charities and non-profit organizations may have small and low-risk documents that need to be translated (for instance, letters from a sponsored child to his or her sponsor, or brief and informal messages to connections in other countries). It can be hard for these organizations to afford translation of this kind, so they will often seek volunteer translators to help out. Groups like The Rosetta Foundation work to connect organizations with willing translators. Another volunteer opportunity exists in conjunction with the well-known TED Talks, which recruits volunteer translators to subtitle videos into other languages to help inspiration and ideas spread across borders.

How do I find clients when I am ready?

Once you have some experience or training in translation, you are ready to begin looking for clients. For the most part, translators who are just getting started will work with translation agencies that receive requests from a variety of different companies and source each project to the right translator for the job. You may eventually work directly with companies that need your services, but this involves a different level of client education and collaboration. To begin working with translation agencies, consider some of the following techniques for finding clients:

  • Cold emails/form submissions: Find the websites of different translation agencies and search for instructions on submitting your resume to be considered for freelance work. Each company will probably have different instructions—some may ask you to submit a form online, while others will provide an email address where you can send your resume and cover letter.
  • Directories: After you join professional associations such as ATA, NAJIT, or local associations (see a list of local associations here: http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/index.php), you can usually list your services on the association’s membership directory. This is an opportunity for clients to find you and contact you about your services.
  • Conferences: Many associations hold annual conferences attended by both freelancers and translation agencies (for instance, ATA is holding its 58th Annual Conference at the end of October 2017: www.atanet.org/conf/2017). Oftentimes you can meet agency representatives at booths or networking events and make a personal connection that could lead to freelance work in the future.
  • Contacts: One of the most common ways to find clients is by word of mouth. Translators may refer other translators for work they think suits them, so networking with contacts of all kinds (colleagues, classmates, friends, and family) can help spread the word about your services and let people know you are open for business.

We hope you have learned something new from this post about starting from scratch! Stay tuned for the next article in this series, Services and Specialization.