Seven tips for starting a career as a translator
Translation involves much more than simply “speaking other languages well”. To start a career as a professional translator, you need several tools and a profound knowledge of other fields for specialisation; you also need to be organised and familiar with the digital world. Here is some advice for anyone thinking about taking up this profession:
Become fluent in two or more languages
Choose at least two languages and study them in detail. The market often needs translators who can work in several languages. In addition to global languages, like English or Spanish, we suggest learning some less common languages, like Japanese or Arabic, which are important in specialist sectors and certain business areas.
To obtain recognised qualifications, you ought to contact the embassies for information or get in touch with official organisations like the Goethe Institute (German), the British Council (English) or the Cervantes Institute (Spanish).
Get a degree or professional qualification
It is not enough to learn a language; you should do a degree in languages or translation. Universities offer many undergraduate and master’s degrees, while other organisations also offer courses and workshops. As well as providing language training, these courses will also tell you about the history and culture of the languages you are studying, as well as specialisation tools in areas of technical translation that are very important for your career.
Specialise in a particular technical field
Translation is increasingly specialised, with professional translators frequently specialising in one or more technical fields, such as the financial sector, science and technology or law. Find an area (or areas) that you are most interested in or which is easier for you, then contact professionals working in these fields and learn all you can about what they do and the technical terminology. Dominating a technical field is essential if you want to provide a good service.
Build a network of contacts
Contact translation agencies, attend workshops and courses, participate in online discussion and job posting forums, join one of the translation associations, such as Translators Association.
Keep in touch with other professional translators. This is important for sharing technical knowledge and for job opportunities (a colleague might have too much work or has been asked to work on a project in a language they don’t speak).
Be visible online
You must have a presence on the Internet, particularly since the current job market is very much online. Be active on social networks, especially on professional networks like LinkedIn or ProZ (exclusively for translators). If you can, create a website, and if you cannot create a professional website, use WordPress or Wix. Your online presentation must be direct and to the point and focus on your CV and jobs portfolio.
Master CAT tools
Translators nowadays must be familiar with programs such as Wordfast, MemoQ and SDL Trados Studio. These computer-aided translation (CAT) tools speed up the work, enable the creation of personalised glossaries and have powerful translation memories that allow the translator to improve their performance on complex and extended projects.
Deadlines and accounting
All self-employed people must take care of their accounts and know how to budget. Keep your accounts up to date and hire an accountant when you get busy.
Establish a consistent and clear price list that reflects your experience and the differences between language pairs and the many technical areas. The price can vary depending on the complexity of the task, the translator’s experience and the language pairs (which is why it is important to work with languages like Japanese or Arabic).
Never, ever agree to do a job when you know you cannot meet the deadline. Missing a deadline will damage your reputation and your chances of future jobs. Have an idea of how quickly you work (how many pages or words a day) before accepting a job with a tight deadline (which is not unusual when the customer is a large or multinational company).