5 Questions to Develop Your Career
and Skills as a Professional Translator

See also: Communication Skills

Not everyone knowing more than one language has what it takes to be a language translator.

We'll look at what it takes to get paid for translation and how to become a professional translator, either as a freelancer or as part of a translation agency. We'll discuss how to prepare your profile and portfolio, and how to price your services, as well as how to market yourself.

1. How Do You Find Work in Translation or Interpretation?

The question often arises whether an academic degree or certification is needed to become a professional translator for a translation company. The answer goes something like this: a degree in linguistics or a translation certificate doesn’t hurt, and a translation agency may choose a certified translator in head-to-head competition with those who lack certification. But the direct answer is no, it’s not required. If you can prove that you do a great job, then lacking pieces of sheepskin, or their digital equivalents, won’t stop you!

The internet is the great equalizer. There are general freelance marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer.com and Fiverr, each with active translation categories, where anyone with skills can compete for translation work. While the selection of freelancers is selective, there are thousands of professional translators out there competing for jobs. There are also translation-focused marketplaces like TextMaster and MyTranslation. Register and see the jobs roll in.

2. How Do You Present Yourself to Potential Professional Translation Clients?

In all marketplaces, you create a professional profile, set rates, earn rating and reviews. The usual business model is for the marketplace to take a percentage, usually 10 to 20%, from the income you earn. They also collect money from clients, holding it in escrow until the client approves your work. Some also provide time-tracking mechanisms, though most translation jobs are priced according to the number of words in the source document.

You need to create an attractive and substantive profile, then exemplify your best works in a portfolio. It’s a good idea to keep your rates highly competitive until you build a sustainable client base or a strong trust relationship with a translation company. You can then increase your rates as your ratings improve. Translators start at $0.01 per word or even lower and go up to $0.10 per word or even more with the range depending on the language pair, and your specialization.

A third source of jobs are translation agencies. They are on the lookout for translation talent to join their on-call networks. They can supply you with steady work, though the compensation tends to be lower because you are their subcontractor. However, they take on the burden of finding customers, collecting and disbursing funds, and dealing with clients. You focus on translating, reporting only to your agency.

3. Do You Have the Skills It Takes to be a Professional Translator?

The market for professional translators is growing as organizations come to recognize that translating content for additional markets is more cost-effective than creating content for existing markets. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, employment for professional translators and interpreters is expected to grow by 19% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than most other professions.

Who needs professional translation services? Practically any company that goes beyond activities in a single language and wishes to communicate through interpreters. With current trends like globalization, that’s a huge client base!

Do you have a place in this growth curve? Let’s break down the industrial grouping cited above. What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter? The answer is straightforward. Translators work with documents. What are interpretation skills? Interpreters work with speech. What skills does a translator need? In short linguistic skills, but also concentration and attention to detail. A love of language and word play doesn’t hurt either!

If you like to take your time converting from one language to another, translation may be preferable. Interpretation, especially simultaneous translation, requires on the spot presence of mind and the ability to listen and remember as you are rendering the spoken speech into a different language. While skills can be learned, some people have this knack while others don’t.

4. How Do You Prepare and Practice Your Professional Translation Skills?

Preparation and practice are two keys to success. First, you need to decide the languages and language pairs on which you will focus. Translators rarely can do more than one or two pairs exceptionally well, and usually go in only one direction with the requisite skill level. If you grew up in a Latin American country, and Spanish is your mother tongue, you may well be able to translate English to Spanish, but it might be much harder to translate in the other direction. It’s a rookie mistake to claim bidirectional translation skills when your skills in one direction are sub-par.

How to get professional translation experience? That one’s easy! Pursue many jobs, focusing on quick wins and exposure to a variety of opportunities.

5. Getting Found in Professional Translation: How Do You Market Yourself?

If you possess specialized knowledge in law or medicine, for example, this can give you a leg up to be a legal translator or a medical translator. If you are focusing on an industry, you’ll want to keep up with books, publications and websites in your field, so you stay on top of the latest trends.  Better still, publish articles about yourself in your field of specialization, mentioning your role as translator in the bio.

Create an impressive profile and portfolio on LinkedIn, the go-to site for first-stop references. Promote your translation capabilities on a Facebook page, or create a YouTube channel.  Twitter is a useful social media tool for getting your name and links out there. Re-Tweet!

Market yourself directly to translation agencies. There are a dozen or so top translation agencies in the world. Look for coverage that corresponds with your own professional translation skills. Present yourself in a concise pitch letter linking to your online profiles.

Good luck getting found in translation and developing your newfound profession!

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and Running Your Own Business

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and
Running Your Own Business

If you are thinking about running your own business, or already do so, but feel that you need some guidance, then this eBook is for you. It takes you through self-employment in easy steps, helping you to ensure that your business has more chance of success.

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and Running Your Own Business is the guide no new or aspiring entrepreneur can afford to be without!

Based on our popular self-employment and entrepreneurship content.

About the Author

William Mamane is Head of Marketing at Tomedes, a global translation and localization agency supporting more than 100 languages and 1,000 language pairs, and serving more than 50,000 business clients throughout the world.

The company manages a network of thousands of skilled linguists so that it can provide on-demand, fast-turnaround services worldwide.