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How to get started with no degree in translation
Thread poster: Anya-S

Anya-S
United States
Jun 29, 2013

Hello - I'm interested in breaking into the field of translation on a freelance basis, and but am concerned that my lack of a degree in translation would make it difficult for me to get professional experience. I have lived and worked in several countries, and speak comfortably in four of the Latin-based languages. My BA is in one of these languages (French), and my masters is in an unrelated field.

I am not looking for a full-time career in translation, but would love to be able to work part-time in the field as I am not currently using my language skills in my work (and don't foresee doing so in the near future). I was researching training programs in my city, but the only option seems to be focused on English/Spanish translation/interpreting, which I understand is a very saturated pairing.

Is there some type of testing one could do to demonstrate proficiency to potential clients? I have read that the ATA exams used to be open to anyone, but now only those with a degree in translation or two years professional translating experience qualify to take the exam. It's hard to imagine being able get the professional experience to take the exam without either the translation degree or some kind of verification based on testing - a bit of a catch 22. Any advice for my situation would be greatly appreciated.



[Edited at 2013-06-29 23:04 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-06-29 23:06 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-06-29 23:07 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-06-30 02:19 GMT]


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
You don't need a degree in translation. Jul 1, 2013

I've been translating for 25 years, I don't have one, and my guess is that people with purely translation degrees are in the minority. It's useful to have a degree in languages, as you do, but the nice thing about this business is that whether you sink or swim depends on how good you are, not the letters after your name.

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 09:40
English to Polish
+ ...
... Jul 1, 2013

Hey, Anya. A language degree does count. Translation-specific degrees are a bit of a newer thing. Where I live, one gets a B.A. or M.A. in philology for the respective language, with translation or teaching or a mix of both as your specialisation (even applied linguistics grads are technically given philological degrees). Just because your diploma doesn't say 'B.A. Translation' doesn't mean you're starting with no degree.

The new ATA requirements can be a pain to meet, especially considering that those two years need to be full-time, not part-time. If you translate part-time after work, it can take forever to log the hours.

Fortunately, there are still exams you can take without any previous formal experience. As far as I know, the UK-based DipTrans doesn't have any such requirement, unlike membership in its host organisation, the IoL. According to them, by the way, the exam is supposedly the equivalent of a Master's degree. I'd take that claim with a pinch of salt (and a shot of tequila, and a slice of lemon), but the diploma is still very respectable, and I suspect a fair share of people with Master's degrees in translation fails it every year.

You could also look for exams in Spanish, French etc. speaking countries, such as sworn translator (or public translator) exams. And don't underestimate the power of mere language certificates. Apart from appropriate institutions from the respective countries, various emanations of the federal government have their own exams. Not sure how accessible those are to people who just want to be translators, though.

Oh, and I had no language degree whatsoever, myself, when I started freelancing in early 2009.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 15:40
Chinese to English
Huh Jul 1, 2013

Be aware that some of us are going to look on your post with a slightly jaundiced eye. Translation is for many of us a full time career in which we've invested thousands of hours of work and training, and thousands of dollars in software and marketing. And you just fancy doing a bit in your spare time, eh?

Having said that, of course not everyone approaches it in the same way. A translation degree is certainly not an absolute necessity. But you might need something to help you overcome that no-experience hurdle. I suggest you use your working experience and subject expertise. Target specifically jobs in the subject of your MA, or of your previous working experience. If you've got experience working overseas, it's worth going to your overseas contacts who know and trust you. As a freelancer, you don't have to work for agencies; and the companies you know may see you as a welcome alternative to using expensive translation agencies.


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:40
Japanese to English
+ ...
This Jul 1, 2013

Phil Hand wrote:

Target specifically jobs in the subject of your MA, or of your previous working experience.


The argument can (and has) been made that your foreign language skills are not as important to your specialty knowledge. You didn't mention what field your MA is in, but it is really important that you start thinking about what material you want to translate more so than focusing on getting translation training or degrees. Personally, if I had to choose I would much rather have an MA in computer science or electronic engineering than I would an MA in translation or anything language-related, for instance.


 

Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:40
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
Ofqal accredited exam Jul 1, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

According to them, by the way, the exam is supposedly the equivalent of a Master's degree. I'd take that claim with a pinch of salt



No, it's not according to the IoL, so you don't have to take it with a pinch of salt. The DipTrans exam is officially accredited by the Ofqal (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) as level 7, which is "Masters degrees, postgraduate certificates and diplomas".
http://register.ofqual.gov.uk/Qualification/Details/501_1445_1

You're right that there is no requirement in terms of years of experience to take the exam, but in practice inexperienced translators are unlikely to pass it - it's got a 30-40% pass rate. Since it costs more than £500 to take the exam, people only do it if they're pretty confident of passing it. So that is the pass rate among fairly competent translators.
More thoughts on all this in my blog post here:
http://signsandsymptomsoftranslation.com/2013/06/11/diptrans-miti/

Since your profile is empty, Anya-S, we don't know what field you specialised in for your master's. That may well be the key to getting started in translation. With an unrelated degree in your pocket, you will be able to offer specialised translations in that field and attract clients who are looking for your particular expertise.

Good luck!


 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:40
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
MA and linguistic abilities Jul 1, 2013

Hi Anya, I agree with Orrin. You have to have knowledge in a specific field- that is paramount- and then combine that with your linguistic ability. These two count more than any MA in translation, which only gives you the basics, without the specialised knowledge. Maybe you can also combine your previous work experience, especially if it is related to your degree, or in any field that is very much sought. I would say expertise in an area and linguistic abilities will guarantee you work. You should have the linguistic ability if you have a degree in languages and it is a pity to lose that ability.You have to be prepared that translation is more than substituting one word which is in language A into another word in language B, as even in your native language, you can sometimes stumble when it comes to certain topics, unless you have specialised knowledge. GL however.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:40
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Part-time doesn't necessarily mean lackadaisical. Jul 1, 2013

Phil Hand wrote:

Be aware that some of us are going to look on your post with a slightly jaundiced eye. Translation is for many of us a full time career in which we've invested thousands of hours of work and training, and thousands of dollars in software and marketing. And you just fancy doing a bit in your spare time, eh?



This was exactly my approach when I first started translating. I had two small children and gave them top priority because their father was working 6 days a week and coming home around their bedtime. While looking after small children can be a wonderful experience, it can also frazzle your brain right up and I certainly found it refreshing to be able to work on other projects.

I'm not saying I produced masterpieces, after all I was a beginner. But I would stay up all hours trying to produce work that would make my clients happy. I just couldn't do it full time. I had a friend in very similar circumstances who I would share biggies with. Part-time doesn't necessarily mean lackadaisical.

Here we have someone with language skills and a specialisation in another field, I think Anya-S has every chance of producing decent translations in her specialist field. And quite frankly when I read that the reason for wanting to do translations is to be able to use her language skills, which she doesn't use in her current job, I find that warming, it's exactly why I started out translating too. A love of language is the first requirement for a translator! Oh, and her post is not littered with howlers, which makes a refreshing change from the usual topics posted by hopefuls.

Other than that, I'm afraid I don't really have much advice except to look out for translations in your specialist field, whatever that is. I was lucky to have friends who could give me translations.

(Just edited for a couple of howlers after clicking too fast on Send!)

[Edited at 2013-07-01 09:16 GMT]


 

Anya-S
United States
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your responses Jul 1, 2013

I appreciate the feedback, and am glad to know that the lack translation degree does not seem to be the impediment I had thought. I am in the US though - I thought the DipTrans was taken in the UK, but perhaps it's also available online? Unfortunately, I'm not in the position to travel outside the US to acquire credentials at this time. My master's is in industrial design, and I also have a background in engineering through work. I have not filled in my profile yet since I am still in the consideration phase.

I understand your reaction, Phil Hand, but I wonder if many go into this field part-time in the beginning. Unfortunately I have another issue somewhat related to this - my name in a Google search is associated with my other field (I own a niche business), and I fear that clients of my business and translation clients may have negative reactions to my working in 2 fields. I wish I could say that this other business is booming at all times, but truthfully there are certain times when things are very slow. Therefore, I do have time to devote to translation, and extra income would be a help. I was thinking that perhaps I could use my husband's last name, but it is legally not my name, so I worry that this may create problems.

I also think it is a waste not to use my linguistic background in some way. I am an enormous language nerd and constantly read/listen to radio/watch TV in the languages that I have acquired. Thank you again for taking the time to respond.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:40
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
industrial design Jul 1, 2013

Industrial design is a fabulous thing to specialise in, it can cover oodles of domainsicon_smile.gif

There's nothing to stop you giving a name to your translation business that doesn't include your name or even that does, like "TrANYAlations Ltd". There are enough Anyas in the world for people to not necessarily make the connection!


 

Anya-S
United States
TOPIC STARTER
Source Language Jul 1, 2013

Perhaps I should not list Spanish>English on resume as it seems more difficult to get work with this pairing and 4 source languages may be off-putting. I do have foreign language education (certificate outside US) and foreign work experience related to this language and wonder if I should not include it on my resume if I am not planning to seek work with this pair. Ironically, in terms of verbal fluency, Spanish is probably my strongest language since I speak it on a regular basis in my personal life and have little to no accent.

 

Anya-S
United States
TOPIC STARTER
Freelancing under a business name rather than one's own name Jul 1, 2013

Texte Style wrote:

Industrial design is a fabulous thing to specialise in, it can cover oodles of domainsicon_smile.gif

There's nothing to stop you giving a name to your translation business that doesn't include your name or even that does, like "TrANYAlations Ltd". There are enough Anyas in the world for people to not necessarily make the connection!


Thank you so much. I didn't realize this was a common thing to do - but that is very encouraging.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:40
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Is Spanish to English industrial design saturated, though? Jul 1, 2013

Anya-S wrote:
Perhaps I should not list Spanish>English on resume as it seems more difficult to get work with this pairing and 4 source languages may be off-putting. I do have foreign language education (certificate outside US) and foreign work experience related to this language and wonder if I should not include it on my resume if I am not planning to seek work with this pair. Ironically, in terms of verbal fluency, Spanish is probably my strongest language since I speak it on a regular basis in my personal life and have little to no accent.

I'm not sure it is. I'm not sure even that Spanish to English is saturated, just full of people who know both languages and fancy their chances for 0.01€ per word, ie about a tenth of the market rate. I imagine there are an awful lot of high-end translations needed in that pair that won't go to them. I don't really speak Spanish (not fluently yet, anyway) even though I live here, so I'm no expert, but I'd say you ought not to write it off if it's something you do well - just don't expect queues.icon_smile.gif.

There's no real reason why the name you use in marketing communications should be the one that you use for invoices etc. It does complicate matters to use another, but if you can justify the change to clients without losing their confidence, then there's nothing to stop you using your husband's name. I actually send invoices with the first name Shelagh rather than Sheila, and it has sometimes been a nuisance (especially when clients prepare contractual documents that have to be redone), but I prefer to use a name that my clients can pronounce.icon_smile.gif

I think Phil Hand saw you as a full-time employee looking for 'a bit of evening work' as that is a common problem in the industry. If your other business has flexible hours, and particularly if it concerns your translation specialisation, I think you'll be able to combine the two very successfully, much as many of us combine language training with translating.


 

Anya-S
United States
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Sheila Jul 1, 2013

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Anya-S wrote:
Perhaps I should not list Spanish>English on resume as it seems more difficult to get work with this pairing and 4 source languages may be off-putting. I do have foreign language education (certificate outside US) and foreign work experience related to this language and wonder if I should not include it on my resume if I am not planning to seek work with this pair. Ironically, in terms of verbal fluency, Spanish is probably my strongest language since I speak it on a regular basis in my personal life and have little to no accent.

I'm not sure it is. I'm not sure even that Spanish to English is saturated, just full of people who know both languages and fancy their chances for 0.01€ per word, ie about a tenth of the market rate. I imagine there are an awful lot of high-end translations needed in that pair that won't go to them. I don't really speak Spanish (not fluently yet, anyway) even though I live here, so I'm no expert, but I'd say you ought not to write it off if it's something you do well - just don't expect queues.icon_smile.gif.

There's no real reason why the name you use in marketing communications should be the one that you use for invoices etc. It does complicate matters to use another, but if you can justify the change to clients without losing their confidence, then there's nothing to stop you using your husband's name. I actually send invoices with the first name Shelagh rather than Sheila, and it has sometimes been a nuisance (especially when clients prepare contractual documents that have to be redone), but I prefer to use a name that my clients can pronounce.icon_smile.gif

I think Phil Hand saw you as a full-time employee looking for 'a bit of evening work' as that is a common problem in the industry. If your other business has flexible hours, and particularly if it concerns your translation specialisation, I think you'll be able to combine the two very successfully, much as many of us combine language training with translating.


How wonderful to be living in Spain (I'm very envious). I guess the next step for me is to work on creating a portfolio of translations and of course get up to speed with the software. It doesn't seem that there are any translating certifications that I can do online at this point though? Hopefully I will be able to find some work without this for the time being. Thank you again for taking the time to respond!


 

Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:40
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
Depends on the market Jul 1, 2013

Anya-S wrote:

Perhaps I should not list Spanish>English on resume as it seems more difficult to get work with this pairing



That depends. Sheila is absolutely right that the Spanish>English pair is only saturated at the very bottom end of the market. With a Master's in industrial design and work experience in the same field, you won't find it hard to get work when you get yourself known.

I translate Spanish>English in a specialised field and turn down work almost every day at quite a high rate.


 
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