Published On: Sat, Nov 24th, 2018

How to Establish a Career as a Translator

Do you know a second language, or even a third? Do you feel like your linguistic skills are collecting dust in the back of your mind? Then you may want to consider work as a translator. The beauty of translation is that you can work with a translation company either freelance or on staff. For greater career flexibility, you can even go it on your own and find your own clients. Working as a translator truly allows you as much flexibility as you want. So read on to discover how to start your own career as a translator.         

The Tomedes translation agency provides a good example of how easy it is to start a career as a translator. Tomedes works with translators on an on-going basis, in order to deliver translation services to clients around the world. The company covers more than 90 languages, so needs a wide network of translators. Site registration is open to anyone. Once registered, you prove your translation talent through a rating system. Many agencies around the world operate along these lines, so there are plenty of opportunities to register for work, no matter where you live.

The Benefits of Working as a Translator

There are many benefits to working in translation. To start, there’s the obvious financial reward. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for translators was between $51,970 and $45,570, depending on the industry, as at May 2017.   

Beyond the finances, translation is one of those industries that has the capacity to change and grow as your career needs do. If you want more stability, you can find a full-time job working as a translator for a company that provides professional translation. Translators also work in education, court, hospital and government settings, to name just a few examples.  

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that self-employed workers made up about 22 percent of the translation workforce in 2016. So if you find you’d like to work from home,  providing professional translation services on your own schedule, that’s certainly an option in this career.

Do You Need Language Qualifications to Work in Translation?

Starting in the translation field can seem daunting. The career page for translators on the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that people typically need a bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification to work in language translation services. Beyond that, you will also obviously need proficiency in two or more languages.  

High schoolers or others considering getting a bachelor’s degree should focus on foreign language courses, often choosing to major in a foreign language to prepare for providing language translation services. Higher education should also focus on English courses covering writing and comprehension, to help foster translation skills.  

Beyond that, there are also additional continuing education requirements centered around specialisms, like court or medical translation, which often require additional certification. Certificates often come from industry associations, such as the American Translators Association, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters

You’ll usually need these translation qualifications to work as a staff member in many translation companies. A translation agency may also want these qualifications for their freelancers. You also may be able to gain translation clients easier as a freelancer if you highlight these qualifications on your website/resume.

If you don’t have a degree or certain certifications, don’t feel like all hope is lost. If you are fluent in two or more languages, and can prove your linguistic abilities, there are still many ways to work in translation. Certain companies will work with beginners looking to build up their experience. You could also strike out on your own to prove your worth as a freelance translator.

How to Gain Experience as a Translator

There are many ways to gain experience in translation, whether you have official qualifications or not.  

One idea is to find companies that will work with fledgling translators. There are plenty of translation companies out there that are happy to give beginners a chance. As per the example above, Tomedes lets anyone register on the site to become a translator – it’s then up to you to prove your translation talent.

If you’d like to gain experience with the process of translation, you could also look into volunteering your time. You could check around with charities to see if they need translators or interpreters on their volunteer roster. You’ll want to look into charities that specialize in working with immigrants or communities that speak a foreign language. You also may want to check into programs that focus on teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESL) or boosting literacy.  

There are also opportunities to engage with crowd-sourced translations. For instance, if your second language is Japanese, there’s a huge demand online for fan-translated manga and light novels. There are also many websites that can connect you with crowdsourced translation projects, like OneSky and Crowdin. Many places see this as a good way to source affordable human translation, since machine translation still isn’t reliable enough for professional purposes.

You may also want to look into tapping your personal network to grow your career as a translator. One key way freelancers gain new clients is to ask around about who might need translation work. You may be surprised to learn who needs those marketing materials translated into Spanish or who would like a novel in a foreign language translated.  

You can use these methods to gain translation experience to put on your resume. Be sure to collect client testimonials from the people you work for while building up your experience. You can put these client testimonials on an online profile or other marketing materials for your freelance translator business.  

Where to Find Translation Jobs

Once you’ve built up a solid portfolio and resume detailing your quality translation services, you may want to find a full-time or freelance translation job. There are many ways to go about this.

Looking on job sites: The most obvious modern way people jump into looking for language translation services work is to check the big online job boards like Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter or city-specific digital job boards. You could also try bidder sites, like Upwork.

Using Google: You can also try to find translation jobs through search engines directly. You may use search terms like “translation jobs Japanese to English,” or even the more general “jobs for translators.” This can often take you to lists of companies that are looking to hire translators or sometimes directly to companies that are recruiting.

Researching translation companies: You may also want to look into researching translation companies directly, by searching for keywords like “translation agency” or “localization services.” By searching online business directories, you can pull up lists of the translation companies that are out there. Then you can go directly to a company’s jobs page and see if they’re hiring translators with your language pairing at the moment. It’s a bit more time consuming, but you may pull up roles that aren’t being advertised on the large sites with stiff competition.  

Industry networking: If you have a specialism you focus in, like medical or legal translation, then you might want to look into networking in that specific industry. You could join industry associations or go to events where people in your industry tend to hang out. Then you can introduce yourself as a translator focusing on their industry and hand out business cards. For all our automated job sites these days, many jobs are still sourced by word of mouth.    

Promoting yourself as a freelancer: If you want to do translation in a freelance capacity, there are also different ways to go about promoting yourself. You’ll want to create a website introducing yourself, explaining your qualifications, detailing which translation services you offer and showcasing some of your work. You can look for gigs on freelancer jobs boards like ServiceScape, bidder sites or general boards like Craigslist. You could write a sales letter explaining your credentials and services, and then send it to companies. Promoting yourself as a freelancer is as much of an exercise in creativity as it is in persistence.             

As you can see, finding work in translation is far from a cut-and-dry, one-size-fits-all search process. There are many ways to go about establishing a career as a translator, making this a flexible career choice that suits a wide range of individuals.    

Author Bio:

Louise Taylor is head of content for Tomedes, a global localization company that provides translation services to clients all over the world. For over five years, she has been writing about language and translation, covering a vast array of related topics.

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