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Advice needed for career in translation
Thread poster: James Greenfield

James Greenfield  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:32
French to English
+ ...
Feb 16, 2013

Hi everyone, another beginner here looking for advice. I started translating in September on a freelance basis. Since then I've had a few bits of work but certainly not regular work. Also I've often been paid poorly and been messed around. Quite frankly I'm becoming disillusioned with freelance translation as a career. After having got straight A's at A level, a 2.1 undergraduate degree in French and Spanish and an MA in translation studies I thought I stood a chance at building a career in translation. I don't know where I'm going wrong. I send about 20 emails a week to translation agencies with my CV. I include a professional cover letter including and also attach a sample translation. I receive very little interest, I guess this is because I don't yet have a lot of experience, the old catch-22 situation. The only people getting back to me are people offering very low rates and impossible deadlines. I haven't had any paid work in 3 months. I have just finished translating a book by a lady called Anna Mancini. This was on a voluntary basis, in exchange for my details being put at the back for promotional purposes. I am now going to send a sample of this translation to some publishers who I have been in contact with. Would you advise anything else regarding promoting myself as a translator of non fiction? Is having translated a work of non fiction a route to more employment? Any other advice would be very useful. Sorry if I sound disgruntled but it seems a hard business to get into, thanks, James

 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:32
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Some encouragement Feb 18, 2013

Hello James, and welcome to ProZ.com and the world of professional translating.

The first comment has to be that freelancing, in whatever discipline, is commonly fraught with difficulty at the outset, with clients being slow to find you, and those that do find you are unsurprisingly cautious of using your services. I'm sure there are a few freelancers who are working full-time after a couple of months, but they are the exception that proves the rule. So, please don't give up yet if freelance translating is really what you want to do.icon_smile.gif

I think the most important single piece of advice for you is to try to step out of your own shoes and into your clients'. Look at everything you're saying to them, whether in your CV, your introductory letters and quotes, your profile here and elsewhere... Everything has to radiate ability, skills, self-confidence, motivation, excellence... If you can get that across, the lack of experience will seem less of a problem to the client. To this effect, I really think you ought to revisit your CV and your choice of translation samples. Remember that if you tell clients in too explicit a fashion what you have done, you're at the same time underlining that this is ALL you have done. Being a little less generous with the facts does not constitute lying (which I would never recommendicon_smile.gif).

I think that maybe you might find it helpful to attend a training course on being a self-employed businessman. These are available in a lot of countries through the Chamber of Commerce and other organisations. This is something that's often neglected, and although old-timers like myself can often get by from our "life experience", it's something that can be difficult for a young person to manage. We need skills in negotiating, marketing, client relations in general, book-keeping, invoicing and chasing payments, quality management, etc., etc., and the more knowledge you have in those areas, the more self-confident you will appear. I may be wrong in all this, of course,icon_smile.gif - you may already have all that knowledge - I'm just generalising as I don't know you.

Do spend time looking through all the information that's available here: this forum, of course, but also the Site Guidance centre, the webinars (some of which are free), the translation industry Wiki, the articles...

And above all, stay motivated and only prepared to do quality work for appropriate rates of pay and deadlines. Anything else is just a road to stress and disillusionment with your chosen career.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 05:32
Chinese to English
More encouragement Feb 18, 2013

I'm not sure I have much useful advice to offer, but I can tell you that I supplemented my translation income with teaching for a long time before I went full time freelance. As Sheila says, it's hard breaking into any industry, and there aren't any formal mechanisms to help you in ours. Have you tried asking your instructors on the MA course? It's a professional MA, and they should be at least open to the idea of giving you some introductions, pointing you in the direction of agencies, etc. It's part of what we pay for in a degree, I think!

I have a slightly different view on low-paid work to Sheila. I worked my way up from absolute bottom Chinese market rates to decent rates, and others can, too. As you're now working for free, it seems to me that you wouldn't lose much by working for low rates...

Not everyone agrees with me, and Sheila's advice is also right in its own way. But the thing about being a freelancer is you're on your own, and you're the boss, so do whatever it takes; don't feel constrained by ideas of what translators should and should not do.


 

Sabine Braun  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:32
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Networking Feb 18, 2013

Hi James,

Sheila and Phil have already given you some very useful advice.

I would just like to add that you could attend one of the business networking events in your area, if you want to get in touch with local clients. Some of these events are quite expensive, but depending on where you live in the UK you may also find one that's free. Most of them take place on a regular basis and you can usually register online.

Good luck!

Sabine


 

Jessie LN  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:32
Spanish to English
+ ...
Empathy! Feb 18, 2013

Hi James,

I can't offer you any advice because I'm in the same boat! I just want you to know that you're not alone and that I'm soaking up all the good advice that's being offered in this thread as well...

Jessie


 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:32
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Building a Successful Career in Translation Feb 18, 2013

"When I started translating in the early 90s... I had a full-time job for the first two years before I could quit and work as a translator full-time and even during years three to five, there were times when I was drowning in work and other times weeks and weeks would pass with nothing substantial and I began to wonder if I had chosen the wrong profession and wonder what I was doing wrong...

Read the rest here:
http://thelanguageconsultant.blogspot.com/2013/01/building-successful-career-in.html



[Edited at 2013-02-18 21:34 GMT]


 

564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 22:32
Danish to English
+ ...
Consider in-house work before freelancing Feb 19, 2013

I know this may not be what you want to hear, but I would still encourage you to consider looking for in-house work, and not necessarily with a translation agency, just any job where you will be given the chance to translate a lot AND have supportive colleagues to help you 'learn the ropes'.

Having a top degree in translation is a brilliant start, but sadly, it is not much more than that. You will have learnt some of the techniques of translation and some background information about the countries where your source languages are spoken (you may even have spent brief spells as an exchange student in one or two of those countries), but you will have had surprisingly little experience with actual translation work during your student years.

After my graduation (I completed a 3-year BA degree in Danish/English/Spanish business communication and translation followed by a 3-year MA degree in Danish/Spanish translation and interpretation), I was happy to land a job as a technical translator with a large engineering company. Working in the documentation department, 90 % of my work was translation, day in, day out for four years. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say, that during my first two months there, I translated more words than I had translated in my entire 6 years as a language student. I learnt so much from this experience. And I was fortunate to have highly skilled and experienced colleagues, both translators and engineers, who could help me resolve any doubts. I learnt lots about how to do research, something we had learnt very little about at the school of business where I studied. It was 'hands on' experience that I value to this day.

I then went on to work for a translation agency for seven years, which gave me the opportunity to work with a great variety of subjects and helped me home in on the specialities that I enjoyed the most. I also learned a great deal about the actual translation business, as seen not only from the agency side, but also from the clients' side, as working with many different clients made me realise that they are all different, have very different needs and very different expectations.

I only went self-employed a little over a year ago, after 11 years as a full-time translator, and I must admit that I would have found it an absolutely daunting task to launch my own translation business straight after graduation. I would not have had the ballast, nor the professional skills that I have acquired over the years, and to be honest, I would not have had enough to offer as a freelance translator.

One final piece of advice, and as I don't know your background, I may be stating the obvious, but if you haven't already done so, I would greatly encourage you to look for opportunities to spend some time living and working in a couple of the places where your source languages are spoken to give you a much more 'natural' sense of the contemporary use of your foreign languages. This is something you simply cannot pick up at college.


 

Jessie LN  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:32
Spanish to English
+ ...
In-house... Feb 19, 2013

^ Unfortunately, in-house translation jobs are so very few and far between in the UK - especially paid ones! I had one for eight hours a week over the course of four months (translating procurement tender descriptions... admittedly 90% of the job was cutting and pasting and trying to meet insane targets) and was replaced by Google translate after it was decided that it was too expensive to keep a human translator...

 

Aisha Maniar  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Member (2003)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Having walked in your shoes... Feb 19, 2013

I can sympathise and the situation is more difficult than it was when i started out.
A few invaluable tips I would give you (and Jeff's article is useful too for encouragement) is:
1 - SPECIALISE: I don't understand why this is not emphasised more. If you are a specialist in an area, you will stand out because you're swimming in a smaller pool and few people will share your skills. Use the "spare time" you have in these early days of your career to work out what specialisations you have/want to have and work on it - either from your own interests/ work/life experience, etc. FR/SP/IT -> EN translators may be ten a penny but those specialising in landscape architecture, environmental law (one of my ownicon_wink.gif), textiles and material processes, to give a few examples, are not. It also helps to decide your own rate as you're not competing with a lot of other people. If they are fields you're genuinely interested in, it will help you enjoy your work more too. Rather than add a new language, I would suggest specialising.
2 - join a professional organisation: become a student or associate member of a linguistic/translation organisation, such as the CIoL, ITI, ATA, etc. They will help you with networking and practical advice and this will make you look more professional too.
3 - work in another field until you can afford to be a freelancer - as well as paying the bills, it will give you invaluable experience to help you specialise.
4 - If you can get someone to mentor you and assist you, that would be excellent. I was lucky, although mainly working for direct clients, to work with highly experienced and excellent translators when I started out (and still do in some cases) and could turn to them for help and assistance. That is hugely invaluable.
As for in-house v freelance, that's a whole different debate, but the one thing to consider with freelancing is whether or not you like the freedom of it - not working 9-5/9-6, having someone else lay down the rules to you, having to be your own boss (requires discipline!), etc. One person's freedom is another person's.... as well as working alone. It is definitely something work thinking about.
And finally, as if I haven't already said enough, one point for both beginners and more experienced translators is that quantity cannot trump quality. You have to deliver both.
Good luck and happy translating, Aisha


 

564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 22:32
Danish to English
+ ...
Just for the record Feb 19, 2013

In-house translation jobs are not all that easy to come by in Denmark, either. icon_smile.gif
It takes time to find good jobs nowadays, a lot of knocking on doors and sending out loads of applications.

But surely, there must be loads of production and exporting companies in the UK that need language staff? To my knowledge, it is still an EU requirement that all machinery sold anywhere within the EU must be accompanied by quite comprehensive documentation in the native language of the country that the products are sold to. And although I understand that to some degree, the UK is in the lucky position that the rest of the world speaks English, surely there must still be a need for a lot of people who master foreign languages.

Maybe I am wrong, and then I will stand corrected. Perhaps the translation industry in the UK is based mainly around translation agencies?


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:32
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Seconded - working abroad is so valuable Feb 19, 2013

Gitte Hovedskov Hansen wrote:
I would greatly encourage you to look for opportunities to spend some time living and working in a couple of the places where your source languages are spoken to give you a much more 'natural' sense of the contemporary use of your foreign languages. This is something you simply cannot pick up at college.

I really think that might actually be the best advice of all in this particular case. This would give a massive boost to your credentials, James: the experience of having lived and worked in a source-language country is so much more respected than any language qualifications gained in your home country. At the same time, even if there's no real translation element involved in the job, you'd be getting valuable work experience, preferably in your areas of specialisation. And there are always opportunities for translating things (believe me, I know how often friends and neighbours ask for a favouricon_frown.gif).

Believe me, in a couple of years of living independently abroad you'd gain five years of maturity, as well as loads of solid work experience and an in-depth knowledge of the country's culture and language, and be in a much better position to set up a freelance translation business. Just one warning for if you do decide to do that: make sure you give yourself every chance to integrate into the local life and language. I had a student who went to London to gain enough English to become an air hostess, but who spent all her working time using the same set of expressions ("Would you like ice and lemon?" she had off paticon_wink.gif), and all her free time with a group of French friends she found there. She never did achieve her dream.icon_frown.gif


 

clairemcn
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:32
French to English
+ ...
In-house work very difficult to find Feb 19, 2013

Jessie L. wrote:

^ Unfortunately, in-house translation jobs are so very few and far between in the UK - especially paid ones! I had one for eight hours a week over the course of four months (translating procurement tender descriptions... admittedly 90% of the job was cutting and pasting and trying to meet insane targets) and was replaced by Google translate after it was decided that it was too expensive to keep a human translator...


I was just about to write the same thing. I think most of us would prefer in-house work, but there is very, very little of it. I contacted loads of places when I finished my MA and most of them wanted me to work for free for up to a year, which I just couldn't afford to do. I've seen a few PM jobs advertised, but there isn't really any translation involved in that, so not sure how useful that sort of experience would be. I've decided to go freelance because it seems like the last option available to me.

Gitte - all I can say is that I find languages hugely undervalued in the UK. I felt a bit cheated when I finished my degree, as I'd had teachers telling me for the last 10 years that I'd walk into all these amazing jobs with my languages. I never believed that, but I was still shocked to find out how bad the situation was. Most multilingual jobs in the UK are really low-paid. I did an internship at a European institution a few years ago and almost all my non-British colleagues found decent in-house work in their own countries. Most of my British translator friends have been doing unpaid internship after unpaid internship in the hope they'll get a paid position one day. It really is quite grim.

Perhaps I'm not looking in the right places, but I've spent the best part of two years applying for in-house work and scouring the internet for possibilities and I've had no luck so far.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:32
Hebrew to English
Good point, you'll have to hunt and do your research though.... Feb 19, 2013

Gitte Hovedskov Hansen wrote:

In-house translation jobs are not all that easy to come by in Denmark, either. icon_smile.gif
It takes time to find good jobs nowadays, a lot of knocking on doors and sending out loads of applications.

But surely, there must be loads of production and exporting companies in the UK that need language staff? To my knowledge, it is still an EU requirement that all machinery sold anywhere within the EU must be accompanied by quite comprehensive documentation in the native language of the country that the products are sold to. And although I understand that to some degree, the UK is in the lucky position that the rest of the world speaks English, surely there must still be a need for a lot of people who master foreign languages.

Maybe I am wrong, and then I will stand corrected. Perhaps the translation industry in the UK is based mainly around translation agencies?



Gitte's right, I did my school work experience working in export sales for DAYCO (http://www.dayco.com/ ), a hydraulics company. They even let me have a bash at some translation (some kind of business letter if memory serves), which was exciting considering that I was only 15 (naturally, it was proofread!icon_smile.gif )

They had several staff at the office I worked at who dealt with export sales to Germany, Italy, Spain etc. who spoke to the companies abroad in their own language.

So if you wanted something different from freelancing, there are other options, export sales being just one of them.

[Edited at 2013-02-19 11:33 GMT]


 

Tina Colquhoun  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Member (2005)
Danish to English
+ ...
Flesh out your CV for a start Feb 20, 2013

Apart from what has already been mentioned...

If I were you, I would do a few simple things like make my CV look a bit more professional in terms of layout, e.g. some bullet points and highlighting/bolding of headings, and put in a lot more detail, e.g. about what your degrees included. I assume that your first degree from the University of Sheffield would have included a good deal of time studying/working in France and/or Spain. Emphasise this. Provide some more detail about your MA.

Get a professional-looking website (this needn't cost much). Build a 'brand'. Look the part (online, I mean). At the moment, your profile and CV are sort of 'empty' (for a reason, I know), but it seems to me that you have not included all that you probably could include.

I'm not a great fan of listing actual projects as this seems to scream novice to me - experienced and busy translators wouldn't usually do this, in my opinion.

Hope some of this helps.

Tina


 

Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:32
Spanish to English
+ ...
I feel your poverty Feb 20, 2013

Being impoverished is not good. You need to do something about that. For starters, take anything that is offered to you, regardless of the rate, as long as you think that you can do a good job and deliver on time. Just look on it as paying your dues. Work is what will bring you more work.

You will need to specialise too. Being as though you have time on your hands now, why not use it to retrain, it will also serve as a specialisation. Maybe you could get into insurance, banking or something similar.

The other option is to move to Spain or France and have a go at freelancing there. Pursue the EFL teaching qualification and combine lessons with translating.

Good luck


 
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