Having worked in the language services industry for 10+ years, one of the questions I get asked the most by multilingual friends is “how do I apply to be a translator?!”.
The application process is simple enough but we, along with most reputable translation agencies, require at least 2 years of professional translation experience.
This can be disheartening to those who approach me eager to join our industry and work with us.
You are fluent in multiple languages, have a degree in translation, and are ready to work.
But how do you get started when most agencies require professional experience? Is there such thing as an entry level translation job to gain experience?
To answer these questions and more, we reached out to our network of professional, experienced translators. The responses we are featuring are from translators we have personally worked with for many years and those we have connected with on social media who have proven to be active in the industry and are successfully making a full-time career out their profession as a translator.
We asked them one simple question:
“If you could give one piece of advice to a new translator, what would it be?”
Boy oh boy, did they deliver! We were overwhelmed and gracious with both the amount of responses received and the amount of time put into them. While competition is healthy and omnipresent, one thing I personally love about the language industry is the support and collaboration among all players (agencies, freelancers, associations, etc.).
To all the new translators reading this, don’t be discouraged by agency requirements. There are plenty of opportunities to grow and succeed in our ever-expanding industry. Below are the responses from translators across the globe.
Take some notes and study up! 😊
"It takes time to develop a clientele. Be patient and don't give up. Being a translator is a stimulating and rewarding career that is well worth the effort you put into it. Join the ATA and any local translator organization in your area. You can learn a lot by networking with other translators. Take advantage of their experience and every opportunity available to develop your skills.”
– Spanish Translator, USA
“Stay within your field of expertise or background boundaries”
– Spanish Translator, USA
“Research! Not only learning how to research terminology properly, but also research potential clients that you wish to approach, continuing to research around your specialist subjects, and researching the answers you need to any other business issues that may come up, such as tax, software, social media, etc. It'll help you feel more prepared to tackle whatever comes your way!”
- Be available. When you are starting, you need to build your relationship with your clients. If you are available when they need you, they will start having you in mind more often.
- Always reply to your emails as fast as possible. Even if you cannot accept a project, it is good to let your clients know that you care and that you are there for them.
- Learn how to use as many translation tools as possible.
- Ask questions. When you are not sure about how to translate something, or when you don’t understand, it is better to ask than to assume. This way, you will avoid mistakes and you will show your clients that you care.
- Be proactive. Always try to anticipate to any issues that may arise. Offer solutions.
-Spanish Translator, Argentina
“Always use a cheerful, kind tone to communicate with clients. They’ll want to keep working with you!”
“Specialize and choose a field you really like!”
– French (Belgium) Translator, USA
“Figure out a subject matter you like and work in that field before becoming a professional translator. Real-world experience is key in so many different ways”
“The way I started and that helped me a lot, was to get the certification with the provincial association and then for the whole of Canada; it also allows you to be part of an association, to meet other people, as when working as a freelancer you work from home and get sometimes lonely ;-) So, to get certified is the best way to start and to be able to work with translation agencies.”
– French Canadian Translator, Canada
“Apart from working on translation skills and translating every day, I encourage new translators to get involved in a local or national translation association. This will give so much in return through networking, meeting colleagues and clients, plus learning new skills.”
“My best piece of advice would be: develop a sixth sense that will tell you when to stop and do your research. I've seen so many texts where translators were completely unaware that they were facing something not obvious, like an industry-specific meaning of a word, or an obscure idiom, idiom, and just plowed through it with disastrous results.”
– Polish Translator, USA
“Over fifteen years ago, when I was starting out, there was not much business-related information for newbies. While some seasoned translators were very helpful and generous when it came to giving out business advice, others would often meet our questions with judgment. Fortunately, those days are over and newbies now have tons of information online. But it’s not all business and soft skills. Though translators need solid business training and soft skills development to land good clients, they need hard skills, profound subject-matter expertise, and exceptional writing skills to keep those clients happy, coming back, and recommending our services to others. So, train hard, study hard, and never stop learning.”
“I believe newcomers to the profession need proper training and qualifications. And you also need to specialize. You cannot present yourself as a translator of many fields and still be credible. If you have a degree and/or work experience in a particular area, you need to do an MA in translation to gain the skills they need. Other options are studying for the DipTrans and/or becoming a qualified member of the ITI by taking the exam.
If you already have a degree and/or MA in translation, then you could pursue another course (by doing a MOOC, for example). The future in translation belongs to those that know their subject inside out and who also write well. On my blog I have a number of pages that can help people find courses to study and improve their translation and writing skills. Finally, membership of a translation association helps make your profile look more professional and connects you with like-minded colleagues you can network with and learn from.”
“Be entrepreneurial. You are a business first and a linguist second, so be sure to become an entrepreneurial linguist”
“To any translator who just began the exciting career, rest assured that your success will depend on the choices you make. Do not choose to become a translator because you are fluent into specific language(s).
Becoming a professional translator requires years of studies in the field of written translation reinforced by guided practices under the supervision of qualified academics. Once you achieve a university degree in translation, you should already have a field of expertise. While it may be tempting to be an expert professional translator in different fields, ideally one filed may be more rewarding to your professional career; translation cannot be seen as a mass production of every expertise. If you feel comfortable in being a medical translator, I would advise that you stand clear from legal and financial translations as an example.
Once you begin to excel in your field and start getting recognition and respect from peers of the same field and clients, the reward is unlimited.
You can decide on the type of clients you want to have; the rate per word that will generate a decent income for your desired lifestyle. Please refrain however from embarking into very ambitious projects or technically impossible deadlines. Always learn to say NO to projects for which you will not have enough time to do research.
Never be tempted to accept a project whose deadline is not doable -10,000 words of a technical manual in 2 or 3 business days- even from your best client. Remember that translation is also a word to mouth career; therefore, always make sure that you can deliver a professional translation that will meet your clients’ and peers’ satisfaction.
Even when you know that pour client will hire a proofreader, it is your imperative that you proofread and carefully spell-check your translation. Nothing can burn your career faster than returning an accurate translation but with a plethora of typos or omissions.
Becoming a translator is an ongoing career; it does not stop with the diploma. New technology is added constantly. Make sure that you remain on the loop. Imagine a professional translator who is still using a typewriter!
Being a professional translator with a portfolio of successful translations may not be very rewarding if you communicate arrogantly with your clients. Simple rules like using “please” and “thank you” may open more doors for you than you can imagine. You do not have to flatter but show gratitude to your clients who sign your checks. Meeting your clients face to face will give another dimension to your business relation. When invited to a business meeting or a party always remember your boundaries, your good manners and watch your language.
These advices are not exhaustive, but they may help you to get a good start in your new career. Welcome aboard!”
– Haitian-Creole Translator, USA
- Get familiar with the process of the translation industry through internship in translation agencies or reading relevant books that describe the industry in general.
- Know how to deal with business and people. Be well organized and good at communication.
- Master your native language. It is as important as proficiency in the source language, or maybe more important, when you translate into your native language.
- Chinese Translator, China
- Newcomers on the translation market should clearly define their services. Do they offer translation services, interpretation services, both, subtitling services, DTP services, etc.? Also, it's very important to specialize in selected fields in order to become experts. It's a real bonus in the marketing process and, most importantly, it conveys a professional image towards the clients and helps create long term collaborations. There is no need to specialize in numerous fields. Only a few is necessary as becoming an expert in one field and maintaining this expertise take time. To do so, we can take advantage of the subjects we studied or even in which we graduated but also our professional experiences, our interests and our extra-professional activities.
- It is highly essential for any translator to be part of a professional association, whether it's an international (like ATA, ITI) or national translators' association (like the SFT in France) or even a regional/local entrepreneur group. Networking is a key part of our business: it gives us visibility and credibility on the market; it helps us by meeting colleagues and even prospects that can become clients; it brings us a valuable support and it enables us to keep informed on our industry and its events.
- Finally, to gain experience in translation, it is possible to work as a volunteer translator either for well-known organizations, like Translators Without Borders, or less-known/regional/local ones. It helps any translator (and not just newcomers on the market) building a portfolio, optimizing their skills and reinforcing their expertise while helping a good cause.
- French Translator, France
"Cultivate your knowledge of your native/target language and your writing skills, as these are the most important tools of the trade."
What did I tell you? Golden nuggets or what?! Big thank you to all the translators who took time to contribute to this post. To summarize a few recurring themes for new translators:
- Specialize, specialize, specialize!
- Join associations to grow your network and skills
- Know when to do your research on a job
- Maintain open lines of communication with your clients. Being courteous will take you far
Are you an experienced translator with something to add? Or are you a new translator doing research? Leave us a comment below, we would love to hear from you!