New tricks for newbies?
Thread poster: bbbb bbbb (X)

bbbb bbbb (X)
Local time: 16:45
Dec 6, 2011

I think I may have the oldest and most frequently asked question related to translation which is how to go about it from a survival standpoint for those who are just beginning. After reading repeated comments about how to jump into the translation industry that stress the importance of not having unreasonably low rates, I'm finding that it's incredibly difficult to get any work at nearly any rate since my experience is so limited. Agencies mainly have a two year minimum translation policy and as a new person to the field making very little money, I also don't have the funds to buy an expensive CAT tool. Any suggestions? Perhaps very obvious ones? Please help me out.
(For clarification, I know that CAT tools are not necessary but it seems like many jobs listed would not even consider translators who do not use them. I've tried a trial version of MemoQ and don't think I'd pay for it even if money weren't an issue.)

[Edited at 2011-12-06 15:36 GMT]


Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:45
Member (2008)
Italian to English
CATs Dec 6, 2011

Martha Oschwald wrote:

I also don't have the funds to buy an expensive CAT tool.

CAT tools are not indispensable. I never use them.


Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:45
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Time and/or money Dec 6, 2011

To start any business you need at least one of those. CAT tools indeed are not necessary, still they are useful and it really makes sense to use them. You may start slowly and gradually build your business or you may invest money and start earning faster.

By investing I mean not just CAT tools but all tools of trade like good dictionaries, decent computer, OCR software, if needed additional courses, exams, etc.

Best Regards


Woodstock  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:45
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Hello Dec 6, 2011

What struck me first was that you are an American living in Finland as a German-to-English translator. If you want to live in Europe, why not Germany or Austria, as I do? Of course, I realize there could be many reasons for it, but it doesn't make a lot of sense business-wise if you are starting a career. If you could translate from Finnish, or plan to, then it is a good choice, but it seems to me a roundabout way to start a translation business.

Experience has taught me that residing in the country of your source or target language is best. Other translators may have had different experiences, but I can only speak for myself. For me it is great to live in Germany because this is where my existing and potential clients are, with no complications regarding payment, time zone, etc. Still, that is not the solution to your most pressing problem, which is how to earn money NOW.

Perhaps a better route would be to apply for an internship or employment in a translation agency to learn the ropes of the business and get paid (or not, depending on what you turn up) while gaining experience and fluency. Another way to find clients is to teach English in companies, though that doesn't always work, it's worth a try. Again, it's not for everyone but certainly a way to earn a living. Or check with language schools in your area, or a Finnish equivalent to the Volkshochschulen in Germany who hire teachers for all sorts of subjects, even inexperienced ones. While it's less likely you will find translation clients that way, it's a way to build contacts and eventually a network that might be useful in getting translation jobs as a freelancer at some point. I happen to love teaching, but again, it's not for everyone. I also have a lot of teachers in my family tree, so am predisposed to it.

CAT tools are good for some types of translation work, useless for most, and a good way for agencies to put downward pressure on prices. So, no, you don't have to have one though it is a plus if you do, simply because there are more jobs you would be considered for.

Hope this helps a little and good luck!


Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:45
Italian to English
Position in Directory Dec 6, 2011

If your translation experience is limited, emphasise your background in particular subjects.

As far as taking advantage of is concerned, the key aspect is your ranking in the directory. There are tips on how to improve that here:


bbbb bbbb (X)
Local time: 16:45
(response to suggestions) Dec 6, 2011

Thank you for your suggestions, all of which make sense. To answer Woodstock's question, I live in Finland because my partner is a university student here and since I don't speak Finnish, it means I have very limited job opportunities and pending paperwork. (Many people in Finland do speak English but Finnish is usually required of any job in the country and I can't argue with that.) In the meantime, I do enjoy translation and would certainly like to do this for several years if I can manage but probably not forever.

As for a relevant internship, I agree that that's a good idea. However, my last job in the US was a paid position for translation and interpretation on behalf of a substantial international project so it's not as if I haven't had a foot in the door. Maybe it's partially an issue of not knowing how to network or that it wouldn't be so easy to do so after moving so far away. I have only somewhat considered teaching though that's also a good suggestion so maybe I will look into it for potential opportunities.

Stanislaw, I think you mentioned two key parts of any business in your title (time/money). It could be I'm not putting enough emphasis on either so it's helpful to have a realistic reminder. Although I will say that I thought one of the great benefits of translation is that it should be possible to do almost anywhere as long as someone has access to the resources he/she will need and the internet! If this is my main objective, I don't mind having to alter my work hours based on different time zones if it means employment.

Thank you for your comments! Much appreciated!


Woodstock  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:45
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
My suggestions Dec 6, 2011

were not meant to discourage pursuing this career choice, but since Stanisilaw already mentioned the time/money side, I decided not to cover the same ground but suggest options you might explore while working on building up your translation business. That will most likely take some time and a lot of patience. Luck helps, too, but you can't rely on that. The fact that you had a paying job in the field before should help, but is no guarantee. There are a lot of qualified translators (and tons of unqualified ones...) out there, so the competition is stiff.

I should also mention that you could do a lot more with your ProZ profile and take advantage of the wealth of experience, information and resources available to you on this site. Completing your profile is very helpful in telling people more about yourself and what you can do. Participating in KudoZ sharpens your skills, is fun and puts your name out there besides being a good way to improve your position in the rankings as Russell points out. (Just don't give a wrong answer, or you may be eaten alive! Just kidding.) Again, these things take time, and your post gave the impression that you might be in a little bit of a hurry, thus my ideas for possible ways to earn money and/or start networking that might yield monetary results for a time until you are able to earn enough from translations.icon_smile.gif


Lucia Leszinsky
Free webinar on "Getting started in translation" Dec 6, 2011

Hello Martha,

Perhaps you would be interested in attending the upcoming free webinar on "Getting started in translation":

This webinar will show you how to become a professional translator and how to use to succeed.

Hope to see you there!

Kind regards,



Matthew Olson
Local time: 22:45
Japanese to English
Email your resume to a certain number of agencies or companies per day Dec 7, 2011

Set a goal and email your resume and a short note describing your experience and abilities and offer to take a translation test to 1 or 5 or 10 translation agencies or companies you would like to work for each day. Try typing variations of "translation agency recruiting freelance German to English translators" in English and German into Google and pick out suspects likely to accept someone with your abilities and experience.

Even if they give you a translation test and accept you, there's often a gap of one to six months before they even give you the tiniest job. Anybody can call themselves a translator and agencies already have their favorites, so it can take some time before they're desperate enough or have a job small enough that they're willing to risk it on someone they haven't worked with before. Not to mention the fact that, like with most job applications, you'll often just be tossed in the discard pile for whatever reason. By emailing lots of companies, you'll eventually find some willing to give you work, though that work may come long after you'd given up hope on that particular agency.

Depending on how desperate you are, you may want to refrain from turning down jobs that seem too small or low paying, as well as avoiding haggling too vigorously for a higher rate. While it's true that it's usually almost impossible to raise your rate with a given agency or company once it has been set, if you have nothing better to do and are desperate for money, doing a small job is better than nothing, plus it gives you something extra to pad your resume with. Before you know it, you'll be a translator with "two years of experience." Also, by building trust with an agency with small jobs, they will hopefully eventually give you larger projects (albeit, probably at the same low rate). But you can leverage that experience into getting higher paying work from new agencies.


Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:45
+ ...
This is not going to give you any money right now, Dec 7, 2011

but I recommend volunteering to translate. Find some organization or even private individual for whom you can translate. It gives you experience and samples for your portfolio. It can increase your network and may even lead to a paid position.

My first translation assignment was translating an article about a Dutch painter that I admired. After I read the article in Dutch I volunteered to translate it into English to make information about this artist accessible to English-speaking readers. That did not lead to any paid work from the writer of the article, but it did increase my confidence, experience and portfolio.

[Edited at 2011-12-07 09:43 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-12-07 09:44 GMT]


Fanny Chouc  Identity Verified

Local time: 14:45
English to French
+ ...
Networking and CV building Dec 7, 2011

It's pretty tough to start almost from scratch and earn a decent living from freelancing straight away. Most freelancers I know actually had a little part-time job too on the side to make ends meet at first, or they started through an intership or in-house position.

Volunteering can be a good starting point, as long as the volunteering you do is for organisations that couldn't or wouldn't have employed a professional to do the job. It helps you build up your CV and develop areas of expertise.
If there's any specific field in which you have a high degree of knowledge, highlight it in your CV (financial expertise, legal, medical or pharmaceutical knowledge, etc ...).

Another important thing is networking : it's worth checking ProZ to see if there are powwows taking place nearby, so that you can meet colleagues.

I'd also looking into professional network in the country where you're living, and in particular for training or seminars for translators : it's a good way to make useful contacts.

You could also broaden your range of services and specify on your CV if you also do proof-reading and editing - nice way to get a foot in the door.

And finally, don't cut down your prices just because you're starting : if the final product your produce is a proper, professional translation, then the client/agency should pay for a proper, professional translation. It may take you a lot of sleepless hours to get there, thus reducing your hourly rate, but that is for you to handle. Starting "low" is never a good idea, your clients won't have any reason to pay you more once you get more experience.

Good luck !


Mary Roberts  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:45
German to English
+ ...
Thank you Dec 8, 2011

This information was very helpful. As newbies it is great to learn from the Prosicon_smile.gif


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