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How to break through the endless catch-22 of gaining experience
Thread poster: Peter CD1

Peter CD1
Dutch to English
Dec 2, 2008

You try and register with an agency and they say "we only want you if you have experience". are you supposed to gain experience if you can't register with any of them?

That said, what is the merit of doing volunteer translations? Are there any recommended sites for offering your services as a volunteer translator?

Other than volunteer translations, are there any other ways of gaining experience which are to be recommended?

Logic says that many people are going to have started with no experience - gaining it can't be rocket science, surely?


Harvey Utech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:04
German to English
Try a museum! Dec 3, 2008

I share your frustration in finding translation opportunities on the ProZ website. A member since August 2008, I have earned only 60 euros here.

However, I got into translations three years ago by offering my services to a museum, a booth for which I came across while visiting a travel fair. The woman in charge of press relations and publicity for the museum happened to be manning the booth, one thing led to another (e.g. my question: do you ever try to attract English speakers to your exhibitions?) and within a couple of weeks, I had an invitation to a press dinner and my first translation to do. The first couple of jobs I did for them were "pro bono" but they were so pleased, that I asked if I could start charging. They agreed and I offered to work at 50% off my regular rate (1 euro per 55-character line). They have given me quite a bit more work over the past three years and recommended me to the town's tourist information office for whom I did additional work at the reduced rate. (I have grossed over 2,000 euros this way from these agencies combined and the work is quite interesting as well.) They recently recommended me to the county; there, I quoted my full rate and did not land the job--at least not yet.

I translate part-time and luckily have steady income from other sources. Also, I do not market myself actively at present, except via ProZ. So I may not be the best of examples for you. But I would recommend building credibility in this way.

Good luck!



Sonja Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:04
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Don't lose heart Dec 3, 2008

Unfortunately, there are no details in your profile and you do not write what else you can offer (specialisms, non-translation related experience, certificates, etc). So it is hard to give an answer or recommendation. But in general, we all started with no or little experience and somehow got our first jobs by applying to hundreds of agencies. Most of them will ignore you, but in the end there will be one or the other wanting your services and from there you build up more and more experience and clients. Just keep on applying. Find your Unique Selling Point and highlight it in your application. Maybe gain some other experience (I got my first translation experience in a customer service job where occasionally I had to translate a client letter) or do some work placements. I know it's hard and frustrating in the beginning, but just be patient.


Rebecca Lowery  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:04
French to English
I had the same problem when I first started Dec 3, 2008

I left university with a degree in Law with French and an MA in Translation but no translation experience. Everyone wanted experience but no body wanted to give it! So I found a job in-house which paid a pittance but gave me the experience I required. I haven't looked back since...


Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:04
German to English
Come at it sideways Dec 3, 2008

There are a number of things you can do now that will help you to be better prepared for those first jobs when they start rolling in. If you have time on your hands, use it to:

Polish your profile and your CV.
Answer Kudoz questions - they develop your skills and help you to get noticed. Eventually people will start sending you enquiries simply because they have noticed your activity on the site.
Think about what your specialisms are and how you can advertise and promote them. Read as much as you can in your specialisms and start building up glossaries.
Get used to using a CAT tool (you could start with the trial version of Wordfast, for free).
Carry on reading and studying to enhance your skills - however much you know already, there is always room for more. Studying other people's translations and deciding what you think of them can be a valuable learning process.
Carry on applying for Proz jobs in your language pair.
And so on .... while the process may seem slow, it will eventually pay off.


Rod Walters  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:04
Japanese to English
Experience or evidence? Dec 4, 2008

Damn, I had resolved not to post any more, but I have some advice.

Don't be dismayed by the word 'experience'. Certainly experience in the business of translating is valuable, but more compelling perhaps is evidence that you can actually translate.

So spend some time preparing a portfolio of sample translations that you've done in your chosen fields, and hawk them about. The translations can be of any relevant text, and it doesn't have to be something that's been submitted to a client. Make a website and showcase the translations on there. Put them in a PDF and send them to agencies. Print them out and hand them to people. This is evidence that you can actually translate, and this is more convincing in many ways than experience.

After all, many sources of translation work will still demand that you do a trial in spite of 12 years of experience...

Show 'em the goods, that's the way.


Silvia Koch  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:04
English to German
Offer to do a sample translation Dec 5, 2008

From my experience, a lot of agencies rely on sample translations. So you could offer to do one in your application. That's how I got most of the jobs, even though I didn't have much experience at that time. Good luck!


Helena Cuñado
Local time: 02:04
English to Spanish
+ ...
I have just posted the same thing Dec 6, 2008

I may be a little jerk, because I have posted the same question but have not seen yours. I apollogize for that.

I have the same problem as you have, can't find someone to give me a chance due to my lack of experience. But I have found a christian site where they are looking for voluntary translators to translate from English into any language. I think the rules of Proz forums do not allow me to post the name of the site, but if you want, contact me and I will tell you the name.

I also agree with Armorel Young, you have to keep on studying and making glossaries, even if you do not do it the "official way". That would be a perfect training and will help a lot in in your future work.



Cristina Lo Bianco  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:04
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Agencies that ask for translations streight away Dec 7, 2008


One thing you can try is looking for agencies that ask you to send a test translation together with the application. This way they can find out what you're worth.

Good luck!


Local time: 04:04
Russian to English
+ ...
Free trial? Feb 1, 2009

Where can I find this free trial of WordFast? Would this be the program to get started on until one can afford TRADOS?


Local time: 02:04
Italian to Swedish
+ ...
breaking through.... Feb 9, 2009


You can get the trial-version from the Trados-website. I`ve got it, and it`s not bad at all!

I am also a beginner, luckily with an unusual language-pair and an unusual specialization, so I got my first few jobs after just a couple of days on the web. I have the feeling that before you become really established, things can get kind of slow sometimes. Personally, during slower periods, I try to work on other, translation-related things like research, networking, my website, creating a standard-contract, administration and -of course- lots and lots of reading in all my languages.

/Christina Hildebrand


Local time: 09:04
English to Tagalog
Experience... Feb 12, 2009

All great things start from small beginnings...

Experience is gained, so it must be seek, produced, however by ounce.

Being here at is a good start.


Ellis Jongsma  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:04
Member (2006)
English to Dutch
WordFast on Trados-website? Feb 17, 2009

Christina Hildebrand wrote:


You can get the trial-version from the Trados-website. I`ve got it, and it`s not bad at all!

/Christina Hildebrand

The trial of WordFast is not on the Trados-website. Trados is a translation program by SDL, WordFast is not. You can find WordFast on


Local time: 02:04
Italian to Swedish
+ ...
sorry about the mistake.. Feb 19, 2009

Of course I meant that there is a trial version of TRADOS on the website.


Shelly Hubman  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:04
Spanish to English
Thanks for all of this great advice Feb 24, 2009

I am in the same situation of trying to break in, yet finding it difficult to do. After reading these helpful responses I feel much more encouraged and will keep at it.

Thanks everyone.

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