7 Tips for Starting a Career as a Translator

Each year, many people review their career options and decide to either side-step into a new role or embark on something completely different from what they’re used to doing. You’re likely reading this today because you’re seriously considering forging a translating career.

Translation is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding career choices available. Each day is different, and you get to work on all kinds of exciting projects as part of your work. For example, you might be translating legal documents one day and the next, marketing flyers.

Whether you’re planning to start a career as a translator and working for yourself or a translation agency, the following are some tips you can follow to get your new career off to the right start:

#1: Master Your Chosen Languages

Let’s face it: you can’t offer your services as a translator if you don’t fully understand your chosen languages. So with that in mind, it pays to have professional tuition so that you can read, write, and speak each language fluently.

For instance, if you’re planning to offer Spanish translation services, you should learn Spanish from a professional tutor or enroll in a formal language course at your local educational facility.

Don’t assume that growing up around specific languages means you are fully fluent in them. You will likely still need to understand and grasp some language concepts that may not have got taught to you through informal learning.

#2: Determine Your Proficiency Level

Next, you’ll need to find out how proficient you are at your chosen foreign languages before you can call yourself a translator. One way to do that is by translating a document and having that translation reviewed by a professional editor or experienced translator.

The idea behind this step isn’t so much to prove to yourself how capable you are of translating text; it’s more about knowing how to verify your translation work to others – especially if you’re going to do legal document translations.

If you’ve had several years of experience reading, writing, and conversing in your chosen foreign languages, you shouldn’t have any problems confirming that you’re more than capable of doing the work correctly.

#3: Decide if You Want a Degree

It’s worth noting that you don’t need a college or university degree to offer your services as a professional translator. Knowing that you’re proficient in one or more languages is enough to get started in the industry.

However, you should keep in mind that having MA in Translation can give you more credibility in the industry, both to prospective employers, your peers, and, of course, your clients.

Degree courses can be expensive and take a long time to complete, but you could open up doors for working with specific organizations once you have that certification.

#4: Freelance or Employee?

When you’re ready to become a professional translator, you need to ask yourself whether you should become a freelancer or an employee. Both options have their pros and cons, and one of them might better suit your requirements than the other.

For example, freelancing means you have the freedom to pick and choose your clients, the translation projects, and set your rates. But, working as an employee for a translation agency offers you better job security and workplace benefits you wouldn’t get as a freelancer.

If you’ve never done freelance work before, it’s worth learning more about the pros and cons of both options before you make your final decision. That way, the choice you make will be an informed one.

#5: Think About Your Niche

As you can imagine, there are many niche areas where you can offer your translation services. Examples include:

  • legal documents, such as contracts and court paperwork;
  • business documents, such as marketing material and product instructions;
  • historical records, such as personal letters and local or regional records;
  • government documents, such as confidential contracts and notes.

Some translators even worth for the media, providing literal translations for international versions of daily newspapers and magazines, and even providing the text for subtitles of movies and TV shows.

You should choose a niche (or a selection of niches) where you feel your services and previous knowledge and commercial experience align. For instance, if you have a law background, you might prefer to stick with legal or government translation services.

#6: Consider Your Pricing

If you’ve decided to work as a freelance translator, one thing you will need to do is think about how much you will charge for your work. There are many different pricing models you can consider, such as:

Hourly Rate

One of the most common ways to charge your clients is by the hour. It doesn’t matter what you need to translate; charging per hour means you’ll always get paid a fair price for the work you do, as you’re charging according to your total time spent on each project.

Project Rate

Some freelance translators prefer to charge per project as it can be more appealing to clients with lots of work to cover instead of paying an hourly rate.

A project rate is more likely to attract repeat business from existing customers, as they understand how much a translation project is expected to cost.

Daily Rate

Lastly, you could also consider charging by the day. One advantage of this pricing model is your daily rate doesn’t have to mean 24 hours of work; you could decide to work just five hours per day, for example.

Also, if you only did 30 minutes worth of work on the final day of any translation work, you can still charge the total daily rate to your client.

#7: Market Your Services Consistently

One final point to keep in mind is that you should consistently market your services, irrespective of whether you’re a freelancer or an employee for a translation agency. A LinkedIn profile is arguably the best way to make your services known to others.

Another idea is to create a website where you describe your services and perhaps offer sample projects for visitors to review. A website can be handy if you’re an employee but are considering setting up as a freelancer.

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