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.
In medieval Europe, a freelance was a mercenary soldier or adventurer. Today, life as a translator bears a thrilling resemblance to both of these things. If you’re just starting out or are thinking about a career in freelance translating, here, in no particular order, are my personal top ten reasons to keep doing what I love.
1. Location Independence
Even though I’m based in South Africa, I’m able to do business with clients from all over the world. This means I’m not restricted to the pool of locally available jobs and can scout further afield to find new contracts.
I can also work from home in my office, outside on the porch overlooking the river or sit at a beachside café. All you really need is a laptop and a reliable connection. As long as you’re consistently providing an excellent service, there’s no prescribed place to do your work. This thrills me to no end and if you’re anything like me, I’m pretty sure it’ll thrill you, too.
2. Working with Words and Language
Loving words and language is a prerequisite in this industry. Or at least, if you’d like to make a success of it, because that’s what we get to do – all day, every day. Whether it’s the continued learning of your source language, or making sure it’s rendering in the target language turns out just so, working as a translator is extremely satisfying.
As an aside, I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that many translators are also writers at heart and translating allows us to fulfil this need of twirling the pen.
3. Research, research, research
Translating includes a lot of research and if you enjoy it, this might be a good career choice for you. Whether it’s looking up precise terminology or learning exactly how something works, there’s plenty of time spent reading up online and in books.
4. The Art of Translating
Translating can be quite creative and it’s an art. It’s not about ‘making things up’ when you come across a sticky problem, though. You need to be extremely precise – a lot can be at stake. Nevertheless, there are many instances when an exact translation is impossible. Finding the most faithful solution that stays true to the original tone and intention of the message can fulfil the need for creativity in one’s professional life.
5. The Money, Honey
There are no two ways about it: freelance translating can be extremely lucrative. In fact, earning six-figures (in dollars for those of us with the not-so-hard currency) is not merely pie in the sky. As with most freelance careers, however, it’s up to you and how much you’re willing to further yourself, find financially rewarding jobs and put in the hours. Corinne McKay wrote a great follow-up to her original ‘six-figure’ article. You’ll find plenty of information on how much you can expect to earn, as well as a rather lively discussion in the comments.
6. No Obligatory Watercooler
Many translators are quite a private bunch who like to get on with their work in relative peace and quiet. I happen to be one of them. Not having to mingle is a real bonus for me, unless of course it’s for a specific event or job. That said, in my daily life, I can choose to be as chatty as I like, because there are many virtual watercoolers where it’s fun to come up for a breath of fresh air when things are getting a bit lonely at Translator HQ.
7. No Jacket Required
Yes, you really can work in your pj’s if that’s what you fancy. I choose not to, because I’m lucky enough to have my own separate home office and generally like to get up at a reasonable hour, have a shower and get dressed into something that feels professional. No jacket, of course. But this is something I learnt early on. It helps me to distinguish between work time and ‘normal life’ time. But not having to span the gamut of full hair and make-up saves a lot of time and is a definite plus.
8. It’s a Good Choice For Night Owls and Early Birds
Keeping your own hours is another big advantage. I’m a big believer in working according to one’s natural rhythms and cycles to boost productivity and, quite frankly, help us keep sane. Time differences in other countries may sometimes mean that you need to change your availability, but this can often be worked out by finding a mutually convenient time.
9. Stationery ‘n Things…
This is my wildcard reason, which may only apply to me. It’s the stationery: the-pens-and-pencils-and-highlighters- and-dictionaries-and-notepads-and-files-and-folders ‘n things. They all give me a rather cheap thrill. I’ve always been a bit ‘bookish’ and these things just make me happy. Go figure. My guess is, I’m not the only one, so if you also have this quirk, please feel free to pipe up.
10. The Stimulation of Running your own Business
As a freelancer, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re entirely responsible for making sure your business succeeds. Besides the actual translating, there’s marketing and admin and all the other corollary aspects to running a business. It’s the crossroads where the mercenary soldier and adventurer meet. It’s a thrill, because no two days are the same, but you also need to know how to stick up for yourself and look after your professional and financial wellbeing.
So these are my Top Ten and I’m sure many other translators do what they do because of these very same reasons. Let me know what else you enjoy in the comments or via email, maybe we should try to get to a Top Twenty?
Someone gave me a handy little diary recently. I was particularly pleased because I’m not always that quick on the draw and in South Africa, diaries are sold out by the 15th of January. This usually means that I have to ‘maak a plan‘* and find a suitable alternative, or depend on kind-hearted friends to pass on freebie corporate diaries to ensure my year unfolds in a neat and orderly fashion.
So when the aforementioned diary arrived out of the blue and had a useful set of extras, I was quite thrilled: maps, country dialling codes, weight and measurement conversions and all the other standard ‘diary’ fare.
Things were looking up.
Until I tried to fill in my contact details in the event of the dreaded misfortune of actually losing said diary:
Suddenly, all the added extras weren’t looking so attractive. So I checked out the size chart, the conversions, the dialling codes and all the other value-added bonuses.
And I no longer felt confident.
Nor was I that thrilled anymore. I’d lost faith in the accuracy of not only the content of the diary, but also in the brand of the company that provided the diary.
And this is why (good) translators are important. Because we offer a certain dependability, and this is passed on to not only our clients, but also to their brands.
That, and also because we all need a good diary.
For other (hilariously funny) marketing mistranslations if you’re not yet entirely convinced, take a look at this article.
*Maak ‘n plan means ‘make a plan’ in Afrikaans for those who couldn’t decipher its cryptic trickery
Kevin Hendzel, spokesperson for the American Translators Association, says the translation industry is growing.
In a recent Fox Business article (“The ‘Great Invisible Industry’ That Speaks Your Language“), Hendzel said: ” This is the only industry that grew through the recession, because globalization continues to accelerate and demand continues to grow.”
As a freelance French to English translator based in South Africa, I couldn’t agree more. With Francophone Africa being seen as a final frontier by many investors, having an ‘in-demand’ language pair and being well placed from a location point of view has meant not only surviving tough economic times, but has in fact helped to expand my business.
That said, location and language pairs are not the only two important factors and Hendzel mentions this in the article. The key is specialisation. Providing a niche service concentrating on legal translations has allowed my business to grow. I’ve been able to set myself apart and obtain new business contracts, and this is only because I offer a complete set of services to potential investors
That said, there are other important points to consider, especially when competition is tough. Marketing, of course, is one of them. But that’s a subject for an entirely different post.
However, the following points in the article are worth remembering, because they offer positive reminders of the opportunities available to us as translators:
- According to the ATA, there are 13.5 million translators and interpreters (I would of course assume this is in America alone) and the industry is growing at 13% per year
- The federal and local US governments collectively spend almost $2 billion per year on translation services
- Freelance translators earn between $25 000 and $175 000 annually, with UN translators earning up to $200 000.
What I especially like about the article is where he says, “”It’s one of those great invisible industries, and a great enabler of international commerce.” I quite like officially living out Mr. Adam Smith’s idea of la main invisible.