How to Break into a Career in Translation: 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.