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How to get started as a Translator - What do I need?
Thread poster: Adele Mc Donnell

Adele Mc Donnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:40
English to French
Nov 24, 2014

Hello everybody,

I am starting my career as a translator. I graduated college (BA - Applied Languages) in May 2013.
I have a mentor through the ATA, I recently signed up to Proz.com...
I now have a MacBookAir computer and would like to know how to get started (what programs and materials I need, which websites have been helpful to you).
It seems like it isn't easy to get started. I have mainly translated for myself and a couple of other people for Immigration papers and it is hard to find clients when you don't have many references.

Thank you,
Adèle


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DJHartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
So many variables! Nov 24, 2014

Just like any other job search, you have to put yourself out there!

Apply to a consistent number of agencies on a regular basis, quote on every job that you can, send emails, make networking connections, get a mentor on Proz, read as many guides as you can, don't give up!

Getting through the first year, and the following year after that are crucial to your longevity in this career. You'll build relationships and connections as well as gain enough knowledge of the industry to charge the kind of rates you deserve.

It might be hard to get work at the start with your language pair, because I'm sure there's much more competition than a language pair like Thai-English. However, as soon as you have a good set of regular clients you won't have a problem.

Regarding software, try as many demos as you can. You've limited your options with a mac (for the better I think), as many software companies don't have native OS X versions of their software. Wordfast is a good program that does have a mac version and a free one month demo (no problems ever using an iMac).

You're doing the right thing posting on these forums, a great start!

Good luck, DJH~


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:40
English to German
+ ...
Know what you are worth! Nov 24, 2014

Adele Mc Donnell wrote:

Hello everybody,

I am starting my career as a translator. I graduated college (BA - Applied Languages) in May 2013.
I have a mentor through the ATA, I recently signed up to Proz.com...
I now have a MacBookAir computer and would like to know how to get started (what programs and materials I need, which websites have been helpful to you).
It seems like it isn't easy to get started. I have mainly translated for myself and a couple of other people for Immigration papers and it is hard to find clients when you don't have many references.

Thank you,
Adèle


Hello Adèle.

First, you should only call yourself a native speaker of two languages if you really are. I don't expect you to explain it here, just keep in mind that many professional clients as well as translators will attach a particular meaning to "native speaker." It is a tremendous advantage in this business. Advertise it and show why you are one. If you're unsure, just look through the forum. We have discussed this in the past.

Many clients also appreciate how well someone speaks their second or third language(s) even if they're not their native languages. I would put up some sample translations, here and on your own website. If you don't have a website, get one, with your own domain. Start contributing to KudoZ and continue your forum discussions. You'll get to know some colleagues and they get to know you. Make sure your Proz.com profile page is complete. Write to a few "good" agencies - the ones that are listed on the Blueboard because they pay on time and "relatively well" if so described by translators. Offer your services and give them a link to your profile and website. Don't expect too much positive feedback. I can't say the Blueboard info is really helpful with regard to adequate rates. It does help give you some background information. Really rotten apples will stick out. Always check up on agencies before you decide to work with them.

Go look through the internet for websites that might need to be translated. Send them a little sample - only if they are interested, so ask first. As far as the jobs on the job board are concerned, I mostly ignore them. Can't make decent money off them. You can compare often posted rates for jobs with minimum and standard rates posted here (which are already very low). Can't recommend working for the minimum rates posted here, maybe standard ones (at the outset):
http://search.proz.com/employers/rates - by the way this page's name is misleading - never think of clients (agencies or direct clients) as employers - cause' they're not!! Yes, the rates here were calculated off rates submitted by some agencies and translators but they don't reflect how much a professional can and should make. But you can orient yourself.

I understand that a newcomer wants some work. But you need to first determine what it is you need to earn and figure rates that are adequate. Then think of accepting jobs. More importantly, always work at YOUR terms and conditions, YOU are the service provider. These must be reflected in purchase orders that you get from agencies, and for direct clients, I recommend you create your own contract and have it signed by the client. For more info on getting started, check here:
http://wiki.proz.com/wiki/index.php/Translator_career_path
Remember, when you deliver quality work, you need to be paid adequately, no matter if you're new or not. "New" to the profession shouldn't mean you can make mistakes or that you should let yourself be exploited.

Sometimes, if you are lucky, you'll land a job from the job board and it might even pay a bit better - I have for example put up a few jobs myself when I needed colleagues for a bigger project, although these days, I contact colleagues directly. But you cannot live off jobs from the job board.
Last but not least, look into book translations, maybe not yet but later. If you are a native speaker of both languages, that's something that might suit you. There are a few publishers looking for translators. Google around. Book translations will not pay very much at first, but you might be able to make a name for yourself and who knows ....

Rule #1: never work for inadequate rates. It will not help you become a successful translator.
Of course, this is all my opinion and, of course, you can take it or leave it. But I know a few things.

HTH
B

[Edited at 2014-11-24 23:58 GMT]


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xxxtietzes
Japanese to German
+ ...
vicious circle Nov 25, 2014

Bernhard Sulzer wrote:

Rule #1: never work for inadequate rates. It will not help you become a successful translator.


I don't really agree (I don't really disagree, either). As a beginner, you need lots of practice in order to become a successful translator. And agencies who pay low rates are the only ones who give you work. Even if you hold a BA in Applied Languages. (There are exceptions, of course.) On the other hand, you need money to support yourself - and as a slow beginner (beginners need to be slow and extra careful, that's a fact) with low rates your hourly rate becomes even lower. Working part-time as a translator is difficult, too: If you're only partially available you're likely to miss out on a lot of job opportunities.


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:40
English to German
+ ...
One more Nov 25, 2014

I forgot to mention another thing important within a community of professionals: common courtesy.

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Tiffany Hardy  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:40
Spanish to English
Hone your CAT skills and get your CV out there Nov 26, 2014

I think Bernard and DJH have really given some good advice.

I would only like to add that the sooner you familiarise yourself with translation software and QA tools, the better, if you have not already done so. They have a learning curve associated with them and most agencies will want you to be fluent in them already. Although it was a significant investment, I took a 10 week online course with NYU and am very happy I did, not only for the valuable information gained and the networking with other translators, but because it included a full year of both Trados and MemoQ, allowing me to really try out both packages before deciding which one to buy.

I would take a lot of time to draw up your CV and cover letter (or email marketing pitch). You can search the forums for CV advice and get some very good tips. Then just start shooting out emails (individualised ones to relevant agencies). Set a daily goal for yourself, like 10-20 agencies a day.

tietzes said:
And agencies who pay low rates are the only ones who give you work.


Perhaps its true that you will need to accept lower rates than a professional with many years of experience, but you can still request and insist on adequate, professional rates. Set a limit for yourself, and when asked to provide your rates, always go higher than your limit since many agencies might try to talk you down no matter what you say your rate is. Present yourself as a credentialed and skilled professional and there will be agencies willing to give you a shot through test translations. The more CVs you get out there, the more agencies you are likely to find that are willing to give you a chance. This is why you absolutely have to get your CV out to as many agencies as possible.


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Tiffany Hardy  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:40
Spanish to English
check out this thread Nov 26, 2014

As to material items that might help you get started, check out this thread that I started awhile back when I was getting up and running where I asked for advice on good items to have to get started. Obviously it may not be all within budget, but these were things that people found to be useful from the very beginning in terms of tangible items:

http://www.proz.com/forum/getting_established/224729-start_up_what_will_i_need.html


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Sergei Tumanov  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:40
English to Russian
+ ...
local newspapers Nov 26, 2014

have your ad "Translate from ... into English, phone ...., email..." published in the local newspapers

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Adele Mc Donnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:40
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Nov 26, 2014

Thanks you so much for all your pieces of advice!

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Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:40
Spanish to English
+ ...
Website? Nov 26, 2014

I haven't seen a website mentioned yet. There are some good, easy to use tools available to help you make a really neat one at a low cost. Of course, if you can afford a professional developer, it's worth the investment.

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Richard Purdom  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 10:40
Dutch to English
+ ...
contact agencies Nov 27, 2014

I think the best course is to contact agencies, at random if necessary, and offer to do a test translation. Do not accept more than 500 words, and insist on feedback! You will probably be shocked at the amount of red lines, but it's a good way of getting up to speed.

Get a CAT tool. You will become more accurate, faster, and many agencies appreciate it.

Then be realistic about your rates. Don't expect the world, but realise that once you have accepted a low rate from an agency it is going to be pretty hard to raise it. On the other hand, if you charge too much, you might find yourself with enough free time to post on these forums


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:40
English to German
+ ...
Against test translations for agencies Nov 28, 2014

Richard Purdom wrote:

I think the best course is to contact agencies, at random if necessary, and offer to do a test translation. Do not accept more than 500 words, and insist on feedback! You will probably be shocked at the amount of red lines, but it's a good way of getting up to speed.

Get a CAT tool. You will become more accurate, faster, and many agencies appreciate it.

Then be realistic about your rates. Don't expect the world, but realise that once you have accepted a low rate from an agency it is going to be pretty hard to raise it. On the other hand, if you charge too much, you might find yourself with enough free time to post on these forums


I don't recommend carrying out test translations for translation agencies. Especially if they are not paid. If you want to show what you can do, supply a sample. On the other hand, a translation of a short passage from a website for a direct client on your own initiative may be something that gets you in the door.
I have stopped doing test translations for agencies. I hold that most of the times, these texts are used without you ever seeing any paid follow-up job whatsoever unless you offer inadequate, unprofessional rates. It's not worth the hassle.
There are many articles in this forum discussing test translations. Just google Proz.com and test translations or translation tests.
Here is one:
http://www.proz.com/forum/prozcom_job_systems/219340-translation_tests.html

There are just a few exceptions, one being bids for book translations done for publishers (not just "someone"). This must be based on a professional relationship that comes about based on your background. When you get chosen to do a translation for a book that's really published, the outcome is also more than just getting paid for a translation (and royalties); your work will be published under your name.

[Edited at 2014-11-28 16:51 GMT]

PS: another note on native language: I wouldn't claim to be a native speaker of two languages if I am not. That doesn't help professionally. As I said above, there are plenty of discussions on native language in the Proz.com fora.

[Edited at 2014-11-28 17:02 GMT]


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:40
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Test translations Nov 29, 2014

I don't recommend carrying out test translations for translation agencies. Especially if they are not paid. If you want to show what you can do, supply a sample. On the other hand, a translation of a short passage from a website for a direct client on your own initiative may be something that gets you in the door.


I disagree with this. If I were I new translator I would offer to do a short free test - I do them occasionally now and my experience has generally been good. If you don't have enough work to keep you busy you might as well do the test - what have you got to lose? Just make sure the company has agreed to your rates and terms before you start and don't do more than about 300 words. And make sure you get feedback - this in itself can make the investment of your time worthwhile.


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:40
English to German
+ ...
Generally a bad thing Nov 29, 2014

Rachel Waddington wrote:

I don't recommend carrying out test translations for translation agencies. Especially if they are not paid. If you want to show what you can do, supply a sample. On the other hand, a translation of a short passage from a website for a direct client on your own initiative may be something that gets you in the door.


I disagree with this. If I were I new translator I would offer to do a short free test - I do them occasionally now and my experience has generally been good. If you don't have enough work to keep you busy you might as well do the test - what have you got to lose? Just make sure the company has agreed to your rates and terms before you start and don't do more than about 300 words. And make sure you get feedback - this in itself can make the investment of your time worthwhile.


I never/no longer offer to do a free test for translation agencies - neither do I recommend doing it occasionally. The better your work is and the more it is worth, the less likely it is that you are getting a decent job if you're getting a paid job at all - that's my experience.

There are always other things to keep you busy when you're not getting paid for it - try getting direct clients (contact websites, businesses, publishing companies, and do some sample translation for them if that's possible, as with websites).

Doing free tests for translation agencies is time wasted as far as I am concerned - it doesn't pay and, secondly, even if it pays (mostly they'll try to pay less than for a real project), you won't get a decently paid follow-up job - that's also my experience. The feedback for your test translation from an agency is also often irrelevant = the agency itself has no idea about the quality of your work and if they have it checked by someone, that someone either works for much less than you (and their review is always questionable), or if they gave you a text that they already have a translation of, they will try to criticize yours for whatever arbitrary reason they can find, even if it's simply a word or term that you rightfully use but which is not used in their sample. The thing is that an agency will always try to find reasons to get someone for as cheap as possible (and many at absolutely unacceptable rates). That's how the majority of them work these days. If someone's happy getting caught in a spiral of low-paying jobs, they should go ahead. Don't tell me later I didn't warn you.

Recommending to a newcomer that test translations are generally a good thing is not something I can agree with. There are way too many clowns out there. And they're not funny. Again, my experience.

[Edited at 2014-11-29 16:47 GMT]
edited for typo

[Edited at 2014-11-29 17:22 GMT]


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Andrea Jarmuschewski  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:40
Member (2007)
French to German
+ ...
With Rachel Nov 29, 2014

Rachel Waddington wrote:

I don't recommend carrying out test translations for translation agencies. Especially if they are not paid. If you want to show what you can do, supply a sample. On the other hand, a translation of a short passage from a website for a direct client on your own initiative may be something that gets you in the door.


I disagree with this. If I were I new translator I would offer to do a short free test - I do them occasionally now and my experience has generally been good. If you don't have enough work to keep you busy you might as well do the test - what have you got to lose? Just make sure the company has agreed to your rates and terms before you start and don't do more than about 300 words. And make sure you get feedback - this in itself can make the investment of your time worthwhile.


I agree with everything Rachel said here, judging from my own experience when I started out as a freelance translator. Today, I rarely accept unpaid tests anymore because I have more than enough work, but these tests really got me started. Of course, as Rachel says, it is very important to negociate the rates and terms before and, I'd add, not to sell yourself short.


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