Freelance Translation: Do You Have What It Takes?

A friend of mine is thinking about making a career change and she recently asked for some tips. The 2012 Blogathon is the perfect opportunity for writing up a few pointers.

In the beginning, like with most things in life, you’ll probably be feeling your way around in the dark. You might also learn some very hard lessons. I know I did.

The best advice would be to read as much as possible and remember that Google is your friend.  There’s the old question of “How do you eat an elephant?” and the answer, of course, is “one bite at a time“. This is fitting for any new endeavour. It’s also the African take on things – and why I love this continent.

As for me, I fell into translation, and was lucky enough to have a mentor, as well as a ‘built in’ specialistion, since I studied law in France. I’d highly recommend finding a mentor, if you’re able to.

There’s no magic formula, but over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting articles for new (and established) freelance translators.

What does it take to become a Freelance Translator? 

First of all, you need to decide on your language pair. Your target language is usually your mother tongue – the language you were raised in, whilst your source language is your second (or third) language. Translators only translate from their source language into their target language ( unless you had a bilingiual upbringing, and are comfortable either way). You need to be fluent in at least two languages, and by fluency I mean that you’re able to fully understand, read and write a second language. And I don’t mean merely getting by – you need to understand your second language on a professional level.

Secondly, you need to have above average writing skills in your target language. After all, translators are writers, and you need to have an excellent grasp (and feel) for your target language. Many translators are in fact closet writers (even though translation is incredibly stimulating all by itself).

Over and above the nitty-griity, and the technical details, what are the essential qualities of a freelance translator? Answering the following questions might give you a better idea:

– Do you love languages and new cultures? Are you fluent in another language (so much so that you’d feel comfortable speaking to the president of a foreign country in this language?)

– Do you enjoy language-related challenges and are you a stickler for detail?

– In fact, are you at times a bit pedantic when it comes to grammar and spelling?

– Are you an eternal student (ie. are you thrilled to learn about new ideas and study new subjects)? Do you enjoy learning new things? Do you love researching?

– Are you an entrepreneur? Are you comfortable wearing many hats? Are you okay with doing admin and marketing and actual translations? In fact, do you crave variety in your work and environment?

– Are you brave enough to stand up for yourself, even when your business is still growing?

– Are you okay with spending time alone? Do you enjoy working independently? Are you inspired by a quiet work environment and would you be content with filling this time with research? Do you enjoy cracking ‘codes’ or figuring out puzzles?

If so, you might be the perfect translator. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be posting on the technical aspects of becoming a translator. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts, and thanks for stopping by.



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