How do I know when I'm ready to freelance?
Thread poster: laviedevote

United States
French to English
Mar 13, 2015

So, here's my dilemma. I did my bachelor's degree with a combined major in French and English. In addition, I live and work in France.

I have a passion for languages and I adore French. It has always been my dream to be a translator, but I've never felt like I'm 'fluent enough'. Regarding my French, I know it very well. After all, I have to use it in my professional and personal life daily here in France. Still, I've always been a perfectionist and I've always been my own worst detractor when debating about how and when to break into freelance translation. I have this idea that I have to know every word and be perfectly bilingual before I'm capable of charging people for my services. I want to provide the best service possible, but I'm aware that perfection in a language never truly comes; there's always a word one doesn't know or one content area that's less familiar than another.

With that said, how do I know when I have what it takes to try and make a profession out of my passion? What are some ways that I can break into freelance translation despite not having any experience (barring some translation theory courses in university)?

[Edited at 2015-03-13 17:44 GMT]


Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:25
Italian to English
Mentor Mar 13, 2015

You'll never know if you don't try. I think it was Mark Twain who said that the things we end up regretting are not the things we did, but the things we didn't.

Be aware too that "knowing every word" and providing a quality translation are not the same thing. I challenge you to find a professional translator who knows every word... the KudoZ queries are proof of that. Perfectionism is part of translation - at least it is for me - on the upside it drives me to produce quality work. The trick is not letting it get the better of you, and that comes with experience.

Why not find yourself a mentor? Someone who could give you an objective appraisal of your work.

But go on, live your dream, if it's what you want to do.

Best of luck.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:25
Member (2007)
+ ...
Some thoughts Mar 13, 2015

It sounds as though you probably have a high enough level in French, if you've been living in France for a fair while. And your degree should have made you aware of whether your English writing skills were up to being a translator. Some people never do write clearly and concisely, however much education they receive.

laviedevote wrote:
It has always been my dream to be a translator, but I've never felt like I'm 'fluent enough'.

It does sound as though a lack of self-confidence is your main stumbling block. And to be brutally honest that's a real problem if you want to be a freelance anything. It's one thing to be taken on as a salaried translator and being presented with a text; it's quite another to have to sell your skills to clients and come across as the expert who can produce the best translation for them.

I think there are two things that might help:
1) a course to provide you with the techniques of translation - either an MA or perhaps something "smaller" such as the course I did (it's on my profile - I won't advertise for themicon_smile.gif). It will give you the confidence to tackle the more difficult words, phrases and text types.
2) a course on running a small business - CCIs and other organisations run them. Only when you know what you're doing when dealing with the accounts, invoicing, payment chasing, negotiating etc can you concentrate on the translation side of your business.

Nobody can ever know the terminology of every business sector. That's one of the main reasons we specialise. Generalist translators do exist, and it's often a good place to start, but generalists have to understand where their limits are and learn to say "no" to highly specialised texts; just as specialists put themselves in danger when straying outside their sectors. That's not to say you need to be strait-jacketed - you just need to be aware of potential problems.

Do you have any specialisations in mind? Is that another avenue of training to be considered?

Good idea about a mentor, Fionaicon_smile.gif.


Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:25
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Agree w/ Sheila Mar 13, 2015

It sounds like you have the French level, but I will repeat to you what I say to everyone I meet who says "how did you learn Arabic well enough to translate???". The real question is "how did I learn English well enough to translate?"!

At the end of the day, we are writers in our target language, and I do not think it is possible to over-emphasize this point. When we translate a legal brief for example, the goal is to write a legal brief that reads as though it was written in English while staying 100% true to the source. I personally review more translations that satisfactorily meet the second goal while failing at the first than the reverse.


Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not always so Mar 14, 2015

Tim Friese wrote:
the goal is to write a legal brief that reads as though it was written in English while staying 100% true to the source.

I tend to disagree with this statement. If the concepts you are translating do not exist in the target legal system, trying to make them equivalent to the existing institutions will be counterproductive and will certainly confuse the lawyers of the target jurisdiction.

Take the British "High Court of Justice". If you write in Spanish "Tribunal Superior de Justicia" and do not add "de Inglaterra y Gales", a Spanish lawyer may confuse the court with a Spanish "Tribunal Superior de Justicia [de una comunidad autónoma]".

My point is that translating a legal text not always means "pretending" as though the texts were originally written in the target language (maybe this is the case in literally translations, I wouldn't know). The purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal; that all parties, no matter from which linguistic community they are, extract the same message from the source and target texts alike.


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:25
Chinese to English
Can you improve on other people's translations Mar 14, 2015

I agree with everyone above, you've probably got the skills you need. One way to help get the confidence is to read other people's translations. If you are at the point where you often see translations and think, "I could do better than that," then you've got a skill which you believe in, and which you can sell to other people. Occasionally a client will ask us if we can guarantee an "error-free" or "perfect" translation, and we always have to say no. But if you can say, "But I can achieve your goals better than this text," then you're worth their money.

As to how you do it... tell everyone you're a translator. Put up a profile here, quote for jobs. It'll take a while to get going, but you'll get there.


Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:25
Member (2008)
Italian to English
You know you're ready to freelance when… Mar 14, 2015

.... you're able to deliver a defect-free translation on time and get paid for it. If you can't do that, you're not ready.

[Edited at 2015-03-14 14:32 GMT]


Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:55
English to Hindi
+ ...
Take the plunge, and you will know soon enough Mar 14, 2015

You will have to bungle your way through to your final niche in the translation market place. You will make mistakes, you will be conned by agencies and clients, and you will con a few yourself, knowingly or unknowingly, by biting off more than you can chew, and then making a mess of it all, but never stop. Eventually, all this experience will teach you the tricks of the trade and you will make fewer and fewer misjudgements and you will have what it takes to be a professional translator.

A word of caution - professional translation is not all about translation. It is also a lof about business management, time management and stress management. You will frequently do a lot things even while translating that you don't want to do, but that is what professionalism is all about. You don't bring in personal likes or dislikes into your work, you approach it clinically and scientifically.

So be prepared to have all your romantic notions about translation being a sort of dream work moulting away as you progress. But if you are genuinely passionate about translation, you will still enjoy what you finally end up doing, and also make a lot of money doing it.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:25
English to Spanish
+ ...
Money Mar 14, 2015

First, make sure you have enough money put away to get by before taking the plunge. Or else keep your "day job" as long as you can while freelancing at the same time. It can take a while to realize your potential financially when freelancing. Remember, you're always in need of another job on a daily or weekly basis.


United States
How do I know when I'm ready to freelance? Mar 24, 2015

There really is no specific time or a timeline on when you should start. It's enough you're asking, that means you're ready to start with building your career as a freelancer step by step. But make sure you have enough money in your savings account just in case. Freelancing can be tricky in the beginning and you want to be financially secured.


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