Career opportunities?
Thread poster: BadlyDrawnGirl
Mar 6, 2009

Hi all! Sorry for jumping in here unannounced, I'm not very familiar with the translation business at all...

My husband is bilingual in English and French. He was born in the UK but his parents moved to Bordeaux when he was 8 years old, so he spent the vast majority of his school years speaking entirely in French. He says it's impossible for him to say which is his first language, since he speaks them both flawlessly. I never really understood how effortless this was until I visited France for the first time with him, and he would provide a running translation of what people were saying without the slightest hesitation.

It started dawning on me that he would be really good doing translation on a professional basis. He has no accent whatsoever in English OR in French (which, according to some native French speakers, is truly amazing). Both languages come equally naturally to him. He considers his spoken English somewhat better than his spoken French, and his written French somewhat better than his English. But that's not much of a worry for us, since I'm a journalism major and could easily proofread any minor mistakes if necessary.

So, I was just wondering...does sheer raw talent provide enough of a springboard to launch a freelance career? What other things will we need to develop in order for him to have a shot? It just seems silly to have such an amazing gift and do nothing with it...



James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:49
Russian to English
+ ...
He deserves a shot Mar 6, 2009

. . . Although it's impossible to be sure he can succeed without seeing anything he has translated.icon_smile.gif

There is more involved in working as a translator than being fluent in two languages. First of all, he needs to really want to do it. I notice that you are the one writing the post, not him. So the first question has to be: whose idea is this, anyway? I enjoy the work myself, but I realize it's not for everyone.

Assuming he does want to translate, does he have a feel for language per se? Does he enjoy writing? Does he mind working alone, with little human contact (except for you, of course). That's what it means to be a freelance translator. How is his business sense? Or would you be willing to handle the business side of things? (I wish I could get my wife to handle sending out invoices and reminders of late payments.icon_smile.gif) Can the two of you afford to live on the pittance the profession pays -- especially while getting established?

Or perhaps he would rather work as an interpreter? The way you describe his ability to speak both French and English fluently, that might be a good choice. Frankly, I think interpreting pays better. (I'm speaking as a translator -- my colleagues who are interpreters may disagree.)

Finally, does he have any formal training or education in his language and in translation or interpreting? If not, he might want to get some. No matter how good he is, his resume will look better if he can list a degree and/or a certificate.

Finally, if he decides to do it and registers on ProZ (which I recommend), don't expect the projects to start rolling in right away. He should spend a lot of time answering questions asked by other translators. Having a high KudoZ score will put him close to the top of the list when outsourcers come looking, but it takes time to build that up. And the exercise will help him decide if he truly enjoys the process of translating.

[Edited at 2009-03-06 21:53 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-03-06 21:54 GMT]


David Young (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:49
Danish to English
A newby view Mar 6, 2009

Nice reply James.
BDG - I've only relatively recently taken up translating myself. Starting off through teaching English, then a friend here in Denmark asked me to translate her website, after which followed a couple of other contracts and I realised this was something I really enjoyed doing. It helps to be a "word nerd". It also helps when people like what you do. But, as James says, as a freelancer you work at home which means you have to create a network for yourself, both social and business. The people on here are very knowledgeable and helpful, and the site gives one a sense of having colleagues, but I need flesh and blood contact sometimes, which means I'm going to have to get out and meet some others working in the same field soon. Take myself off to a Pow-Wow!
And it's certainly not something you're going to get rich at. Of course, you could eventually build an agency, get other people to do the donkey work (ee-ore!) and concentrate on running the business side. But there must be 101 ways to use a fluency in 2 languages. Learn a couple more and work as a TV journalist for example.
At the end of the day, you have to decide what's important for you, what you really enjoy doing and do that. Working as a translator you need a love of words, a feel for nuance, and all the other ephemeral things that make languages beautiful. I spent many years working in finance and banking - it was well paid, but I'm much happier now.


Wolfgang Jörissen  Identity Verified
Dutch to German
+ ...
The first/second language issue Mar 6, 2009

First of all, you are welcome to jump in anytime, announced or unannounced.
I have little to add to James' posting, but I do think that while keeping himself busy with translations, your husband will surely make the experience that there actually is a difference between his first and his second language. There might be a few exceptions of true bilinguals, but most of them will have an appropriate family background, with both languages being spoken at home.
I for my part did not have that, but I have spent a great deal of my life in my second language's country and people also confirm that I do not have an accent. And yet, I will always remain a German native speaker, although I might beat some of my second language's native speakers (e.g. students, housewives - with all due respect) in their writing skills, but then again they are not the people I have to compare myself with.
And there are certain nuances, especially when it comes to certain idioms, that I will never master as well as the natives do. I might in some cases be able to produce a useable text in my second language, but I would rather not guarantee for it, when it comes to publication.
So I think your husband will sooner or later find out which language he is more comfortable with, and I strongly believe, it will be the language he grew up with in his home (not necessarily school) situation.
Another question is how well a language (native or foreign) is maintained. I have seen people who spent 20-30 years abroad and I have seen their native language skills deteriorate in a dramatic way. So regular (if not daily) living contact is extremely important. Language is your vehicle in this job. And a vehicle needs maintenance.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
English to French
+ ...
I can relate to that Mar 7, 2009

I know exactly what you mean. I am much like what you describe, except that I have always had an accent in both languages. My accent in English is the stronger of the two, and my accent in French goes mostly undetected, save for very keen ears. Naturally, the accents are reminiscent of the other language (I was told I speak English with a French accent, and French with an English accent). I feel my writing skills are better in French - I went to French schools, so... I guess I am less creative in English.

Like James, I also think your husband should take a stab at it. There are a few things he should check before actually trying it. He may want to check first if there is any particular kitchen slang he knows in both languages. Lots of medical doctors became translators mainly because they knew the technical language well in both languages, and many of them are doing quite well. If your husband can speak good doctorese in both languages, he could become a medical translator, but he could also become a medical interpreter in a variety of settings (police, court, trade shows, media, etc.).

He may want to check his skills. Let him translate a brochure, a universal text (Declaration of Human Rights) or some other document that exists in both languages, and the translation of which is reliable. Then, compare his translation to the original, and see what is different. He will most likely be able to deduct what mistakes he made (use a dictionary) and how his style is different. Not only does this help to give you an idea of his abilities, this is also an excellent exercise to train yourself for translation (I sometimes do this to verify my abilities, and I always learn something new). Similarly, you can get a short subtitled video on YouTube and play it to him while he turns his back to the screen, and while you read the subtitles. Pause the video every five seconds to let him interpret without distraction (consecutive interpreting). If he is good (if you find him good, he probably is), then you can try watching a movie with him in French. You don't speak French, so you will not understand most of the movie dialogue, but your husband will do the voices in English. The catch is, he will be interpreting the movie in real time - no pausing the movie. If you enjoy the experience (he didn't hit pause every five seconds to explain, the jokes were funny, you could follow the story from beginning to end), then he is most likely good. From there on, it's about practice.

Both translation and interpreting are a kind of artist's life (unless you are hired by a company full time). You never know if you will have enough work to sustain yourself. Also, it takes a lot of discipline. You have to remind yourself of deadlines, accounting tasks, you have to keep records (Outlook contacts, expenses, etc.), you have to keep looking for work, you sometimes have to work long hours (or travel and sleep at a hotel). In my opinion, most people don't have the kind of discipline it takes, and there are even freelancers who don't realize they don't have what it takes. It IS tough sometimes. So, your husband needs to be sure he (and all who live with him) can handle that lifestyle. He needs to check if he has the skills it takes to freelance.

There is probably more I can tell you, but it doesn't come to mind at the moment. The above should already give your husband things to get acquainted with. This website is also chock full of information. I may post here again in the near future. But yes, it is worth exploring.


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:49
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
A course in translation Mar 7, 2009

BadlyDrawnGirl wrote:
So, I was just wondering...does sheer raw talent provide enough of a springboard to launch a freelance career? What other things will we need to develop in order for him to have a shot? It just seems silly to have such an amazing gift and do nothing with it...

After being in a similar situation myself, and after 15 years in the trade, I now see that the first thing I should have done is to take a proper course in translation when I started. It would have made everything much easier and would have saved me some difficulties and mistakes at the beginning. So I strongly recommend that he looks for an intensive course in translation so that he can better understand what translation is all about (it's not enough to master the two languages...), how to tackle a translation job, how to look for work, what tools are used in the industry, etc. Part of the course will surely be sample translations to put his real knowledge to a test. It will help him see whether translation is for him. Good luck!

[Edited at 2009-03-07 09:51 GMT]


PRen (X)
Local time: 16:49
French to English
+ ...
I'm one of those people.... Mar 7, 2009

who believe training / certification are essential. An effective way for your husband to find out if he has the requisite language and writing skills (speaking two languages flawlessly does not necessarily imply excellent writing skills) is to enroll in a translation course - I suggest that he look at the NYU distance translation course.


Vera Cruz
Local time: 20:49
+ ...
Glad to find my calling Mar 10, 2009

I just want to thank everyone for being so helpful, I am a fluent Portuguese/English speaker and translate small projects for acquintances. Although i have never pursued my hobby I am now at a stage where I would like to venture into this line of work. It is refreshing to see that others in my situation (bilingual with no formal education in this area) are being welcomed. Tihs said I was wondering if anyone can inform me of a good translation course available by correspondence to Portuguese citizens. I do realise this may be a long shot but I would appreciate any feedback. For the meantime happy translating/interpreting!


Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 12:49
English to Russian
+ ...
Translating vs. interpreting Mar 11, 2009

It appears to me that you husband has a talent for interpreting - i.e., oral rendering of what people are saying. Interpreting is what he did in France when he told you what people are saying.

But the difference is that the professional interpreter does not summarize. Instead, he/she renders word for word what is being said.

May be you (or your husband) want to check "interpreting" forums on this site. There is a lot of useful information there.

Good luck!


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:49
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Of course! Mar 11, 2009

Vera Cruz wrote:
It is refreshing to see that others in my situation (bilingual with no formal education in this area) are being welcomed.

But of course! But as I suggested to the colleague who started this thread, I sincerely encourage you to take courses in translation to avoid the pitfalls many have fallen into when we started. Well, from falling into pitfalls you also learn a lot...icon_smile.gif


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