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100% unexperienced
Thread poster: Billie Joe
Billie Joe
Russian Federation
English to Russian
Aug 20, 2014

I've recently registered on this site but I have no formal education in the translation field. Nor have I ever had a job like this. But knowing two languages is my only valuable skill so I needed to try.
Now, my questions are - is this the right place for me [to try my skills]? Does anyone work successfully as a translator without going through the education part? Any important suggestions for absolute beginners (both in translating and transcribing)?

Surprisingly, I've already got an invitation from some agency - but for the transcription job. Which I didn't even think of to be honest. But it sounds like a good option too.

I worry that I might be in the wrong place because most of you are professionals


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Hans Arro
Estonia
Local time: 10:31
English to Estonian
+ ...
@Billie Joe Aug 20, 2014

Don't worry Billie, many people here (such as myself) are freelancers without any official education. Obviously, when thinking of applying for translation jobs, you need to be proficient in the source and target language and make sure that you can offer quality translation. If you work hard then I am sure that you will get a shot at jobs in this community. Look online (for example on Proz) to find guides for beginner freelancers, including those that instruct you on making the best translator CV possible. Needless to say, a translators job is for someone who is passionate about languages, punctual, approaches translation jobs with all their heart and writes with personal flare. Start off with more simple translations - there are some that are more technical, and some that require more creativity. Pick the ones that are best suited for your skills and make the most of any job you fetch in order to acquire positive feedback. It would really help if you have some relative experience to show in regards to language skills (certificates, achievements, olympiads, spelling bee, general experience of written communication in the target language). In the end, most of the simpler jobs can be completed by anyone who has been a good student at school or at a university, and who is determined enough to provide a quality service.

Best Regards,
Hans Arro

Estonia


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Mariano Saab
Argentina
Local time: 04:31
Member (2013)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Go through "the education part" Aug 20, 2014

Welcome to the site.

The first thing you should know is that knowing two languages does not make you a translator. I personally believe that education in translation is a MUST, just as studying law is a must for a lawyer, medicine for a doctor, chemistry for a chemist and so on. I myself underwent 5 years at my university to become a Certified Legal and Technical Translator, and that included countless hours of reading translation theory, never-ending law books, technical texts, and polishing my language skills. There is a lot about translation that "so-called" translators have no idea about.

Hit the books, attend seminars, conferences and start with simple translations. You need to practise everyday.

I strongly recommend my students to read Mildred Larsson's book titled "Meaning-based Translation". That is a very insightful book on translation.

Anyways, it's your call. Happy translating.


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:31
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Knowing two languages Aug 20, 2014

People who know two languages should not join ProZ because of that. Half the world knows two or more languages.

Millions of people around the world switch between languages daily.

In Europe, people living near borders can often switch between languages without anybody noticing.

People who can switch between languages without any effort are often not the best translators.

Cheers,
Gerard


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:31
English to Spanish
+ ...
Education Aug 20, 2014

Mariano is right on many points, but education is not a "must"; at least not formal education. I myself never had any of the latter but you are welcome to check my record, it's not so bad. However, I have striven to educate myself every day and hour, and never cease learning. That is one thing you must do, with or without formal courses.

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ToFrench  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:31
English to French
With motivation and effort, you can. Aug 20, 2014

You can become an excellent self-educated IT programmer if you put enough time to learn and if you have the ability to do so.

On my opinion you can become an excellent self-educated translator, under the same conditions.

Obviously knowing two languages is not enough, you need more but the good news is that you can acquire it by yourself, provided that you are motivated, willing to do some effort and able to learn.


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Eric Zink  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:31
Member (2012)
German to English
formal education Aug 21, 2014

When I am not free-lancing, I provide formal education to future translators. While I do believe I am making a positive contribution to future translation quality, I have learned far more about the translation profession by actually doing free-lance translation than my students do taking our formal course for the same period of time.

This is because, as has been mentioned, you can pick it up on your own if you have a good understanding of the source language and are great at writing text in the target language. The rest is learning to research, learning the conventions for different types of texts, learning the software that so many employers expect you to be able to use, and learning concepts in the field(s) you have chosen to translate in. Would formal education in all these areas help? Absolutely no question. I would love more. Would a formal education course cover these areas in detail? Not if what I've observed is typical.

The exhilirating thing about being a translator is precisely that you will never be able to start learning. Each new next will have concepts that you will not have heard of before and must master. This is another reason why not everyone can be a good translator.


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Rudolf Frans Maulany  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 09:31
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Besides knowledge experience and specialization is very important Aug 21, 2014

Hi Billie, it was 30 years ago when I started like you as a 100% no experienced freelance translator.

I don't deny that a formal language education or at least a good knowledge in the source and target language is necessary but I want to share my experience that experience and specialization is also important.

As a freelance translator I had no previous formal language education only as medical doctor. So, at first I have two profession as a medical doctor as my main job and also as a freelance translator. I like to learn languages and also joined language courses it is for me as a hobby and through the years at the end I could speak in 3 languages actively and 6 other languages passively.

My first clients are medical publishing houses which wanted me to translate several foreign medical textbook to be used in medical institutions in my country and it took me 6 years to work together with them to translate about 16 volumes(thousands of pages) of medical books because not so many medical translators can do this task.

That was a start in my carrier as a freelance medical translator and at that time there was a great demand for medical translations and I was nearly not able to take all the contract offered to me and it was a golden period for me as translator.
Later I also started to become an interpreter first by following and learning from my fellow interpreters and later through experience I became an interpreter in two languages.

In 2007 I was assigned to work as a translator/interpreter and also medical doctor abroad by an international organization(UN) for about 6 years and I enjoy it very much.

Since this year I reached my retirement age(65) and retired but I will still continue to sharpen my knowledge and continue to contribute for the development of translation & interpretation.

So, like what our other colleague suggest and also what our colleague HansArro said, don't worry to become a starter and face the challenges and I wish you success in your effort.


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:31
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Hear, hear! Aug 21, 2014

Mariano Saab wrote:

Welcome to the site.

The first thing you should know is that knowing two languages does not make you a translator. I personally believe that education in translation is a MUST, just as studying law is a must for a lawyer, medicine for a doctor, chemistry for a chemist and so on. I myself underwent 5 years at my university to become a Certified Legal and Technical Translator, and that included countless hours of reading translation theory, never-ending law books, technical texts, and polishing my language skills. There is a lot about translation that "so-called" translators have no idea about.

Hit the books, attend seminars, conferences and start with simple translations. You need to practise everyday.

I strongly recommend my students to read Mildred Larsson's book titled "Meaning-based Translation". That is a very insightful book on translation.

Anyways, it's your call. Happy translating.


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:31
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Not really sure what you mean here, Gerard Aug 21, 2014

Gerard de Noord wrote:

People who can switch between languages without any effort are often not the best translators.

Gerard


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Richard Purdom  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 08:31
Dutch to English
+ ...
imho Aug 21, 2014

I suggest you contact agencies, avoid medical and legal, offer to do test translations, get some experience at low rates if necessary, always ask for feedback or the proofread version of your translations and test translations, and LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES. That is the way to approach life.

On educating lawyers and doctors, mentioned previously here...

Obviously mistakes is where translators differ from doctors, whatever some on this site might like to imagine as to the importance of their work; although it should be done seriously, competently and carefully, it's rarely life-threatening.

Law students spend much time learning obscure terminology in a self-perpetuating bubble, one of the aims of which is make their communications unintelligible to others so providing each other 'work' on graduation.


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:31
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
It depends on what you translate Aug 21, 2014

Richard Purdom wrote:

On educating lawyers and doctors, mentioned previously here...

Obviously mistakes is where translators differ from doctors, whatever some on this site might like to imagine as to the importance of their work; although it should be done seriously, competently and carefully, it's rarely life-threatening.


If someone has an accident with a chainsaw, the manufacturer can blame a badly translated instruction manual.

When an agency told me I had to insure myself as a translator, there must have been a reason.


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Mariano Saab
Argentina
Local time: 04:31
Member (2013)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Don't start your career accepting low rates Aug 21, 2014

Richard Purdom wrote:

I suggest you contact agencies, avoid medical and legal, offer to do test translations, get some experience at low rates if necessary, always ask for feedback or the proofread version of your translations and test translations, and LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES. That is the way to approach life.


I strongly advise against accepting low rates. That is just another reason why there are low-paying agencies out there today. If you accept low rates, then they are going to stick to that rate for years. Instead, I recommend that you join Translators Without Borders or some other NGO. That way you get to practise a lot.

Translation is profession and, as such, it deserves respect just like any other.

[Edited at 2014-08-21 13:20 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-08-21 13:21 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:31
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Not the way to go either, IMHO Aug 21, 2014

Mariano Saab wrote:
I recommend that you join Translators Without Borders or some other NGO. That way you get to practise a lot.

I totally agree with you, Mariano, that accepting low rates is not the way to becoming a successful translator. You can't ask for high rates at the start, but a beginner doesn't have the right to deliver a sub-standard product so there's no call for peanut rates either.

But neither should inexperienced translators be applying to NGOs. Actually, TWB is only one of the many who ask for a minimum of two years' experience, and who test all translators quite thoroughly before signing them up. NGOs rely on the translator to get it right and produce a 100% accurate and usable translation, with no (or at least a minimum of) queries, no second pair of eyes, and no feedback (other than brief thanks, one hopes). The NGO doesn't have the time to educate the translator, nor any interest in doing so. And surely, they deserve our best work, rather than to be used as a training ground.

If someone with no experience and no training is serious about becoming a translator then they must be prepared to make an investment in their chosen career. Regarding translation as a "quick earner", an "easy job for someone who speaks two languages", or "something to do in odd moments" is a recipe for disaster, both for the individual and, in the long term, for the wider public. A translator needs to study several areas (though not necessarily in an educational establishment). In no particular order, they include:

- the two languages, of course: not just everyday language but how language is used in the very different worlds of industry, business, entertainment...
- the terminology of the chosen specialist subject area(s): technical terms and jargon, in both languages
- the needs of a small business, which is what freelance translators are running: bookkeeping, invoicing, tax and social contribution systems, negotiating, payment chasing (though the - international - courts if necessary), keeping your business on a legal footing, marketing...
- the various techniques required: research skills, target writing skills, specific tools to be used (nowadays, you need to be an advanced user of IT systems), the correct way to deal with difficulties (e.g. acronyms, untranslatables and other terms that may need different handling in each type of text).


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:31
Member
Italian to English
All roads lead to translation (sort of) Aug 21, 2014

Others have given great advice. There is no formal route to translation, but education is never wasted.

"Do not let the fear of what might happen let nothing happen."

Best of luck.


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