You may have fantasized about quitting your job and starting a translation business, but before you take the plunge or do anything drastic, you may want to ask yourself the following five questions.
5 questions to ask yourself before becoming a freelance translator
Are you linguistically and culturally literate?
There are two types of fluency and language translators must be versed in both. First, there’s language fluency: the ability to speak, read and understand another language as though it was your native tongue.
Second, but equally important, is a translator’s cultural fluency. Language does not live inside a vacuum; it is constantly changing and evolving with the culture that speaks it. Translators need to be language experts, of course, but they also need to speak the cultural language and be able to translate and accurately convey all of its diverse and complicated nuances.
Be honest with yourself: Are you motivated to run your own business?
Odds of you finding an in-house position at a translation agency are slim, particularly in the States, which, as translator and author Corinne McCay points out, “is heavily geared toward independent contractors.”
As a business owner, you’ll have to wear many hats. In addition to translating and managing the expectations of your clients, you’ll also be in charge of marketing your business, managing the finances of it and the list goes on and on.
What is your translation specialty?
As with most professions, it helps to have a diverse skill set. Many of us envisioned ourselves seated in a high-back leather chair, plugging away at translating a classic novel for a big New York publishing firm. Few—if any—translators earn their living translating literature.
Like any profession, translators are more likely to succeed when they have a broad skill set, when they can genre hop and translate in variety of fields. You don’t need a law degree to work in legal translation any more than you need a medical degree to translate medical documents. What you must have, however, is a natural curiosity and a drive to acquire the language used in those fields.
Did you plan for your startup phase?
One of the great myths about freelance translation is that it’s quick money. Building a steady stream of clients and earning your reputation takes time, so plan on making a gradual transition from your day job to translation—or look for creative ways to supplement your freelance income.
Since you already speak another language, use that skill as a source of income. There are several online communities where you can teach language learners and many of them do not require teaching certificates. To learn more about these communities, click here.
Do you have the training?
Here’s one final thought: Before becoming a freelance translator, honestly ask yourself whether or not you have the necessary experience that will help distinguish you from all the other freelance translators. One way to do this is through 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.