Life as a freelance translator sounds appealing, especially for those of us who prefer to make our own hours, work from home and wear whatever we like. There’s no doubt about it, translation is a rewarding and potentially lucrative line of work, but before you dive head first into a new career as a freelance translator, you might ask yourself these five questions:
5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Freelance Translator
Do you speak the “right” language?
Before anything, honestly evaluate your skill set in both your source and target languages. Is your vocabulary (in both languages) equal to that of a native speaker? After you answer that question, consider how widely spoken the languages are. You may have expertise in another language, but if that language is Siberian Ket, odds of you finding full-time (or any) employment is going to be slim. On the other hand, if you have an expertise in Russian, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese or Arabic, you may be on to something.
Are you culturally literate?
Language does not live in isolation. It is a product of a living, breathing culture that not only fluctuates, but also has deeply enmeshed beliefs. Many folks presume that translation is a simple currency exchange, a “one-for-one” deal where one word in X language is simply changed into another word in Y language. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Translators need to be language experts, of course, but they also need to speak the cultural language and be able to translate all of its diverse and complicated nuances.
Are you able to evolve with the language?
Language never stands still; it’s always in a state of fluctuation, so translators must be able to grow with that language. Let’s illustrate the point:
After the Grammy Awards, Toby Keith, a country music singer said, "I think country gets dumped on across the board by the Grammys."
A culturally illiterate translation of Keith’s complaint could give us some very amusing variations, but it’s unlikely that they’d be accurate if the translator was unaware of the fact that:
- Toby Keith is an American musician
- Country is a genre of music with a small, but loyal following
- The Grammys are a widely respected American music award ceremony
- That the common American colloquialisms “dumped on” and “across the board” have several meanings
Language is complicated. Culture is equally complicated.
Are you able to translate in more than one area of knowledge?
As with most professions, it helps to have a diverse skill set. A graphic designer who is also a proficient writer is going to have a wider range of choices than the writer whose skill set ends with his or her own palate. The same goes for translators: If your specialty is literature and only literature, the chances of you finding full-time employment are slim to none. However, if you learn to translate in a variety of fields, your chances of finding steady work drastically improves. It’s worth noting that you don’t have to be a doctor to translate medical documents any more than you need to be a Vietnamese restaurant owner to translate a Vietnamese dinner menu. You will, however, need to have a natural curiosity and the tenacity to acquire the vocabulary used by those fields.
No translator is an island.
As a freelance translator, you’ll be working from home; this has obvious perks, but it also means that you need to successfully manage your time, network with other translators and stay productive. When you aren’t translating, you’ll probably be looking for more work, but job hunting doesn’t simple mean that you’re calling and emailing translation agencies. You need to be creative and aggressive when marketing yourself. Start a blog like our friends over at Lingua Greca. You don’t have to post every day—try updating once a week at first. Write about your translating experiences; repost translation blogs that you’ve found helpful; comment on other translation blogs. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your blog will grow and how many interesting—and potentially lucrative—contacts you’ll make.
Like any profession, translation takes practice, experience and proper training—and if you were to ask ten translators how they got into the translation profession, you’d hear ten different stories. There’s no one way to do it, but something that will give you the necessary experience and help distinguish you from all the other freelance translators is Marygrove College’s online program in Modern Language Translation. In our program, students will not only study the linguistic and cultural aspects of language transfer, but they will take a hands-on approach to translating journalistic, commercial, legal, and scientific texts.
You should also know that Marygrove College has reduced tuition rates for this online graduate program by 19 percent! This is one step—amongst a few others—that the college is taking to ensure that a Marygrove education is an achievable, financially-sustainable investment.