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Translation: a full-time job?
Thread poster: Joanna Coryndon

Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:16
French to English
Jan 16, 2013

I wonder if someone could advise me? I'm thinking of starting a career in translation (French to English). I have a degree in French, live in France, and have been teaching (English) until recently. By chance I was recently asked to do a translation for a company and enjoyed it very much. I think it suits my skills better than teaching. I am just at the very beginning stages of finding out about translation as a career and before I invest time, money and energy I wanted to ask experienced translators what I consider to be some crucial questions. This forum seemed like the right place to start!
Here are my questions:

1) Is translating full-time a viable option? (on the basis that one is qualified and proactive of course)

2) Is translating full-time a viable option when I can only offer one language (French)?

3) What qualifications do I need? (IoL, MA, other?)

My thanks in advance to anyone who can guide me at this turning point,

Joanna


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:16
German to English
+ ...
Welcome! Jan 16, 2013

Hi Joanna,

I'll answer your questions as best I can, then add some friendly advice.

1. Yes, it's possible. Hint: There are over 300,000 translators and interpreters from 190 countries registered on ProZ.com.

2. Many, if not most, offer only one language pair, though many have multiple pairs, so yes, it's possible. Caveat: It will take time to build up a clientele, unless you are employed by a translation agency, which might not be a bad option for you. That would be a crash course in learning about the industry. Caution: French -->English is pretty well covered, so it might be a little hard breaking into this language pair, unless you are exceptionally good and/or exceptionally lucky.

List of agencies in France is here: http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb

3. Degree/certificate qualification is advisable, but not required in most countries. There are distance/online courses which might suit you, if you wish to go that route.

Ok, now for the friendly advice:

a) Only translate into your native language (there are some exceptions, but as a basic rule, it's good to stick to it)

b) Only accept jobs you are qualified to handle, for example. if you know nothing about sports, it wouldn't be a good idea to try to translate an article or website about sports. Seems logical, but you might be surprised how often this suggestion isn't observed.

c) One of the first things you will have to learn as a translator is to do RESEARCH. The advent of the internet has made this aspect of the job infinitely easier, with loads of online dictionaries and other useful resources on just about any subject under the sun. However, your livelihood may depend on it, so you might want to start right now, by searching through the ProZ forum section "getting established" (where we are now) and you'll find that probably any questions you have will have been asked and answered already. Translators are often busy folk, and don't always have a lot of time or energy at the end of a long day to help you.

Good luck!

On edit: added a word for clarity

[Edited at 2013-01-16 20:59 GMT]


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:16
Hebrew to English
Nothing to add really....... Jan 16, 2013

Woodstock pretty much covered it all. Just to say that it's unlikely to be a "full-time option" for some time, until you've built up a decent client base to provide you enough work to be considered full-time. A lot of people hang on to their day jobs (full or part-time) while they are getting established. When you get to the point that translation is becoming substantial enough for you to live off then you can think about jacking in the day job.

Of course, if you have a rich spouse/rich parents you may have other options


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:16
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents Jan 16, 2013

JoannaCoryndon wrote:
1) Is translating full-time a viable option? (on the basis that one is qualified and proactive of course)

Yes. I have been a full-time translator for 16 years and, whilst it sometimes makes me feel a bit stressed, this work pays my bills very nicely and is allowing me to save a little bit for the future.

JoannaCoryndon wrote:
2) Is translating full-time a viable option when I can only offer one language (French)?

Absolutely. Ideally you should be able to translate from several languages (in my case my acquired English and my half-native German) into your mother tongue, but specialising in one single language makes perfect sense too.

JoannaCoryndon wrote:
3) What qualifications do I need? (IoL, MA, other?)

This is a very competitive market, and the more qualifications you can get, the better. This will mean time of study and investing in training and education, as well as preparation courses and exam fees if you go for diplomas like the IOL's DipTrans or perhaps the ATA certification (see www.atanet.org). Doing the membership exam of the Institute of Translation & Interpreting (www.iti.org.uk) would not do any harm either in your case. All this is something you can --and should-- work on continuously in order to secure a good customer base.

May I mention that you should not get discouraged if you do not pass certification exams in the first go? They have very exacting requirements and are difficult to pass, and it often takes several years of full-time experience to have better chances of passing. This does not mean that you cannot pass in the first attempt if you are really good and have a talent for this work, of course.

Good luck!


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:16
German to English
+ ...
Greetings, Ty Jan 16, 2013

Ty Kendall wrote:
...
Of course, if you have a rich spouse/rich parents you may have other options



Hello, Ty!

Ah, yes, to be independently wealthy and translate for fun...

Winning the lottery wouldn't be bad, either!

Hope you are doing well!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:16
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Nice reply, Woodstock! Jan 16, 2013

I can't really add much, except (:)):

1) It is viable, even in FR>EN. Although there are a lot of FR>EN translators, there are a lot of texts to be translated. OTOH, don't expect it to be viable immediately: like all freelancers, you will need to build a client base, and that takes time;
2) Many clients see one pair as a definite plus - you know the "Jack of all trades..." saying;
3) I wouldn't advise a school-leaver to enter translation with no qualifications, but EFL provides a good entry as you will know all those false friends and structures to avoid. I (as an EFL teacher with 13+ years' experience) find that the teaching side helps particularly in proofreading. However, I think you ought to acquaint yourself with some of the technical difficulties of translating, e.g. proper nouns, acronyms, untranslatables, translator notes and with CAT tools, etc. You also need to be pretty hot on the IT side for dealing with all the file types etc (I'm not but I'm 57 so I'll try to survive for another few years).

Woodstock's last piece of advice (diplomatically phrased, I thought) is just so true! Research is incredibly important in this job. My family are often amazed at the way I can come up with answers within 10 minutes, even though I'm such a duffer with IT. You can't expect to translate every word of every text without doing some research. I work in non-technical subject areas e.g. tourism, but I can't be expected to know everything about every region of the francophone world, can I? Nor about all the activities that tourists might want to pay for. Research fills in the gaps.

Good luck, and feel free to come back with specific queries that you can't find answers to. Please complete your profile as fully as possible so that we know more about you.


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Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:16
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
THANK YOU!! Jan 17, 2013

Thank you all so, SO much for the amazing, comprehensive, encouraging and realistic replies, and so quickly too!
I feel very positive, even though I know it's going to be hard. I love the research aspect of translation - and really getting to know subjects I had no idea about before (to date exporting tomatoes into France, the history of thermal baths and water in limestone caves!). The rich parents/spouse are unfortunately not in the picture, but where there's a will...! And in the meantime I have teaching as a fallback option.
I shall fill out more of my profile as Sheila suggests.
Thank you again for your time. Your replies really have been tremendously helpful. Best wishes to all, Joanna


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 08:46
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Initial investments Jan 17, 2013

In addition to the good advice provided above by others, also take into consideration the intial investments you will need to make in translation software, membership to sites like proz.com, etc. Translation software come quite costly but they are a great help in the long run if you do certain type of translation like IT, legal or business with a lot of repetitions. In certain cases you can combine the cost of translation software and proz.com membership by participating in the group buys and get discounts on both.

Most translation software have an early learning curve so the sooner you start with them, the sooner you will get over this curve and be ready when the translation jobs start coming. Once you have mastered one translation software, the others will come to you with decreased difficulty as most of them have comparable functions and interfaces.

Also, most of the popular translation software have free, full trial versions which you can download and practice.

Give yourself about six months to be up and going. During that time do everything you can to prepare yourself and don't be disheartened if you don't immediately start getting work.

And finally the usual advise on how to make the most of proz.com, the major source of work for most of us:
- be active on the forums,
- participate intelligently in the kudoz section of your language
- become a full paying member.

Good luck and welcome to the fraternity of translators.


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Ludmila Kotnis
United Kingdom
English to Polish
PM Jan 17, 2013

Hi Joanna,

You have received some excellent replies. I also sent you one to your e-mail address (it's because it contains some book titles and I'm not sure you can recommend them on the forum).

Ludmila


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:16
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Congratulations! Jan 17, 2013

Woodstock just about answered all your questions, but I just had to say I'm happy for you. You see, the best qualification for sticking it out in the trade is enjoying it, and you certainly sound like you've found the shoe that fits!

Good luck!


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Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:16
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
What a response! Jan 17, 2013

Thank you, Parrot! And if the overwhelmingly kind, supportive and thoughtful replies that I've received are anything to go by, I've not only found a job I really want to do but also a community that I very much want to be part of. It's a bonus that I hadn't anticipated and I'm simply delighted by it!
Again, my thanks and best wishes to all, Joanna.


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Michael GREEN  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:16
English to French
Postscript Jan 19, 2013

Welcome to the family, Joanna!

Previous posts have already told you most of what you need to know, but perhaps I might offer you the thoughts of a semi-retired FR-EN translator:

1. Don't be discouraged. It may take you some time to build up a customer base, and during that period you will not be earning very much. Don't worry - there is a lot of FR-EN translating work available, and you will gain your share sooner or later.

2. Although, as other posts have already pointed out, qualifications are important, experience in your chosen field(s) is far more critical - I have no translation qualifications, but when I turned to translating after a career in international industry I quickly found myself overloaded with jobs. It is the quality of your translations that will win you customer loyalty and repeat jobs. None of my customers (some of whom have refused to let me retire) care a hoot about my quaifications.

3. Choice of customers: direct accounts or agencies? This is a much-discussed question among translators. For what it is worth, here is my opinion (others will probably disagree):
- Direct accounts can only be obtained after a lot of time-consuming prospection and bidding, often against colleagues who already have the account. When you are prospecting you are not earning money. Also, except for major companies (some of whom prefer not to outsource), your direct customers will not be giving you regular work.
- Agencies will pay you less than direct customers, but it's a partnership - they do the prospection, and you do the translations. This means that when you have started working for one or two agencies you will get regular work from them, and it is better (IMHO) to do (say) 40,000 words / month at €0,08 / source word than 20,000 words at €0,15 (if you're lucky).
99% of my revenues came from agencies - and at my peak I was earning as much as when I was Export Director of a multinational.
Credit worthiness: a translation agency is unlikely to default on payment, but your direct customer, especially if he is a small company, is a risk. The solution is taking out credit insurance, but that is costly and will necessarily mean dropping some customers. Few translators (if any) have credit insurance.
- I live in France. My policy has always been: payment in Euros / customers in the Euro zone.
There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, I am not prepared to take the exchange rate risk of being paid in other currencies. Secondly, the further away your customer is, the less likely you will have a viable solution if he does default on payment. When I was an Export Director my rule was, the further the customer, the higher the risk. So my translation customers are within a day's car drive!

4. Living in the country of your source language, you have an advantage over colleagues living in their native country: you will be far more immersed in French culture, current affairs, trends in terminology and colloquialisms than if you were resident in the UK. IMHO, you should make this one of your "selling points" to potential customers.

Hope that helps!

Michael Green



[Edited at 2013-01-19 13:07 GMT]


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:16
German to English
+ ...
@Michael Green Jan 19, 2013

You make some really important points, Michael, both for the EN-FR combination specifically and translation generally. I didn't want to go into so much detail, and obviously am not in a position to say anything definitive about the work availability in your (and Joanna's) language pair(s), so it's a good thing you came along to provide crucial supplemental information, which is also useful or - at worst - a reminder for experienced translators. My clients are all in my country of residence for the same reasons you state, so it's good to have confirmation that my reasoning is sound, as well.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 11:16
Chinese to English
Agreed, good translation agencies are very good for us Jan 19, 2013

Agencies will pay you less than direct customers, but it's a partnership - they do the prospection, and you do the translations.


Agencies do seem to get a bit of a bad press in these forums, but I agree with this. Just this weekend I've had two orders come in: one from a direct customer, and one from a good agency customer. I didn't want to work, so I turned down the agency - and that was fine. There are no expectations either way in that relationship. But with the direct customer, I have little choice. They are working the weekend, and they need this translation done, so I either do it, or force them to break their relationship with me. So I have to hand junior over to the electronic nanny for a couple of hours, which I dislike doing.

I like my direct customers, but I appreciate what agencies do for me more and more as time goes by (and as I work with better agencies).

Bit off topic, sorry about that! To respond to the OP's question - there are a lot of us out here doing it full time, so it's definitely possible. But it does take a while to get going. I was doing English teaching to supplement my income while looking for my first customers. You may have to find something else that you can do to guarantee that the rent gets paid in the first couple of years.


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Michael GREEN  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:16
English to French
@ Woodstock Jan 19, 2013

Thank you for your comments.

One of the subjects which has not been raised, and to my mind is very important, especially for translators based in France, is what type of self-employed status Joanna will choose: this being France, it is complicated, even if recent legislation has made it easier to be self-employed here.

There are several options, and I will send her a separate e-mail to ensure that she is aware of the pitfalls, but the key point is how much turnover she forecasts for the first year or two. This will determine whether or not she needs a VAT number, which is required in France for self-employed professionals whose invoiced t/o exceeds about €30,000 - much lower than in some other countries. Life without a VAT number is much simpler, but the sanctions for exceeding the limit are high, as I discovered myself in my second year of activity.

I think Joanna also needs guidance on practical aspects such as how to present her invoices, keep her books and make her tax returns: none of this is readily available to novice translators, and it is a hair-rending process if you don't know who to turn to.



[Edited at 2013-01-19 13:24 GMT]


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