Transitioning from Student to Freelance Translator

Reblogged from the SDL Trados blog, incl. the image, with permission from the author

In November this year at ATA’s 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco, Meghan McCallum and Sarah Puchner, both French to English translators, co-presented a session on “Transitioning from Student to Translator: Strategies for Success.” After the conference we reached out to Meghan to discuss this topic with her.

A student has just finished their translation degree. What is the first piece of advice you would give them?

I would tell them it’s never too early to start preparing for their freelance career! Even if you’re not planning on freelancing right away, there are many things you can work on in the meantime to prepare. For example, you can build a professional online presence through Twitter and LinkedIn, create a personal website, and attend educational and networking events such as webinars and conferences. You can also use this time to research potential clients and learn what kinds of requirements they have for freelancers in terms of software, education, experience, testing, etc.

What are the main challenges for a student transitioning into freelance translation?

A hot topic that Sarah and I addressed in our session was the vicious circle of “no work without experience and no experience without work.” I think a lot of new freelancers are concerned with experience requirements; if every agency you want to work with is requesting two years of prior experience, how are you supposed to get those years under your belt?

While there is no single “right answer” to this question, Sarah and I provided a few ideas to help these freelancers get over the hurdle. First, there are some agencies that do not require a certain number of years of experience. Interested translators are vetted based on their work on the agency’s translation tests, regardless of how many years they have under their belt. This is a great way for a new but good translator to get their foot in the door.

Another route is to consider the translator’s experience with translation tasks in graduate school, internships, and volunteer work. Even if these weren’t full-time freelancing gigs, many potential agency clients will consider this work as valid towards the experience requirement.

Should a student looking to become a freelancer join associations such as ATA and purchase membership?

I highly recommend joining the ATA and attending the ATA conference as a student—there’s a great discounted rate to encourage students to attend. Of course, hopefully you’ll renew your membership even after you’re no longer a student, too! The ATA conference is a valuable educational and networking opportunity, and it’s a lot of fun as well. Since the majority of our work is online, the ATA conference is also a rare occasion to meet colleagues (and potential clients!) in person.

As for a membership, I certainly recommend starting with a free account and setting up an online profile for potential clients to find you. From there, you can explore the features and decide if a paid membership would be right for you. In any case, I highly recommend taking advantage of any online profile you can have out there—the easier it is for potential clients to find you online, the better!

How important is creating your own website and the role of social media for a freelance newbie?

Again, I strongly believe that freelancers should take advantage of any free online platforms they can. In our ATA session, Sarah and I focused on Twitter in particular. Twitter is an easy way to have “water cooler” talk with colleagues, keep up with the latest industry news, and practice writing skills. After all, narrowing your messages down to 140 characters is a sort of writing exercise. Our bottom line was to keep tweets professional (use a separate account for personal use, if you like); keep in mind that potential clients and colleagues can see everything you put out there!

As for a website, some new freelancers might find the task a bit daunting, and in that case I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily required right away. I do think it is something you should have on your radar for the long term, though. It’s another great way for colleagues and potential clients to find you, and it really solidifies your professional online presence.

Before getting started on a website, decide whether or not you’re comfortable building it yourself. I built my own website during nights and weekends when I was still working at an agency, and when I launched my freelance business it was actually really exciting to have the website ready to go right away.

Networking is more important than ever for a translator. What advice would you give to a student who might find it daunting?

If you’re feeling particularly shy about putting yourself out there, I recommend starting small; see if there are any local translator meetup groups or events in your area. The ATA also has many local chapters covering various regions of the US, and these chapters host networking events and conferences as well. This is a great way to meet colleagues without feeling overwhelmed by a huge number of attendees or multi-day travel.

Of course, I can’t stress online networking enough! Meeting colleagues at a conference is actually a lot easier if you’ve had some online contact ahead of time. This is where Twitter can come in handy yet again. Sarah and I encourage following translators with the same language pair and/or similar fields of expertise. When you run into each other at the conference, you’ll be able to easily transition from an online conversation to a face-to-face one.

In your opinion, how important is it for a student moving into freelance translation to learn about computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools?

It really pays to put in the time to learn all necessary technology, from social media to e-mail to CAT tools. These days more and more students are learning and practicing CAT tools in translation programs, which I think is great. Technology should be included in all translation programs; it’s a great way to give the students a feel of what skills they need to succeed beyond translation and writing.

CAT tools aren’t cheap, but they are necessary. Before buying, translators should test out various tools to compare them. Most tools offer free trial periods or demo versions that allow translators to try before they buy. And translators can ask their potential agency clients which tools they use; most agencies do have a preferred tool and require their translators to work with it.

Finding good translators

By Kevin Lossner
Partly reblogged from Translation Tribulations with permission from the author

Finding good translatorsOver the past decade I’ve spent many hundreds of hours helping clients and colleagues find suitable translators to collaborate on their projects, mostly involving German and English, but occasionally venturing into other languages such as French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese or even Vietnamese and Sinhalese. Unfortunately, it can be said that “many are called [translators], but few… [should be] chosen.” For various reasons.

Many clever translation buyers (translation agencies, corporations great and small, law offices, and individuals) know the open secret to finding a better class of translator: professional association directories. Sure, you can find rotten eggs in those nests too, but on the whole, these are far more serious professionals, most of whom actually make a living as translators and perform to standards that will enable to keep them doing so as long as they like. Not the desperate unemployed, the frustrated actors or journalists who can’t get enough work to pay the rent, starving studentZ or bored house hubbies.

Where do you find contact lists for these professionals to find the “right” one with the special knowledge you need? Here. I’ll keep a running list of professional organizations around the world and links to their online directories. I know only a few myself, because my interests are limited to a few languages and countries; some of these have been kindly provided to me by international professional colleagues who know the organizations intimately and are in some cases involved with running some part of them. If you are looking for competent people, certified or otherwise, these are very good places to start your quest. It is more likely to have a happy end or a happy working relationship for the years ahead.

Note that while I list these organizations by country, most or all have international members and language combinations that go beyond those one might expect from that country, so even if you are in Mexico, it might pay to browse a French directory for a Russian to Italian translator 🙂

AUSIThome pageonline directory search
NAATIhome pageonline directory search
WAITIhome pageonline search directory

Universitashome pageonline directory search (in German)

CTTIChome page
Here there are links to the regional organizations and their directories (print or online). It’s a bit fragmented; the group in British Columbia, for example, has separate directories for “certified” and associate members. Too bad they can’t offer a nationwide directory in this modern age, but as they say, “seek and ye shall find”, and the findings are surely better than what one would typically turn up at a commercial portal without standards.

SKTL home pageonline directory search

SFThome pageonline directory search

BDÜhome page (in English here). National scope. The site’s programming is primitive (still uses HTML frames!!!), so the directory will have to be accessed from the home page. You can’t miss it though: a link with a big magnifying glass at the top of the page and large, bold words that say “search online for interpreters and translators“. The cream of the German crop will usually be found here.
ADÜ Nordhome page (in German). More focused on the northern region. The online search form for translators is on the home page, impossible to miss. There are great language service providers to be found here.
VÜDhome page (in German) with an integrated search form for translators and interpreters at the top

ITIAhome pageonline search form

AITIhome pageonline directory search

home pageonline directory
Bureau Wbtvhome pageonline register search for sworn and certified translators (in English)

New Zealand
NZSTIhome page with a search box at the top 

Asetradhome pageonline search with specialties (in English)
MET – home pageonline search (this organization includes language specialists for all aspects of English)
APTIC – home pageonline search – the English pages for the association of translators working with Catalan

SFÖhome page with online search form by language combination & subject (in English)
Kammarkollegiet (authorized translators) – info pageonline directory search (in English)

ASTTIhome pageonline directory (the links here are to German pages, but the site is available in Italian and French as well)

United Kingdom
ITIhome page
IoLhome pageonline directory

ATAhome pageonline directory search

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