A question for experienced translators
Thread poster: Gianluca Reale

Gianluca Reale
Spanish to English
May 17, 2016

Hi! I'm a student of translation and I have a few doubts about the career. Any comments are appreciated.

1) How long does it take (on average) to start getting translation jobs regularly?
2) Is it fairly common to have problems with the companies that offer you the jobs?
3) What areas offer the most amount of jobs? (Legal, Medical...)

Thank you!


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:56
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Answering your three points: May 18, 2016

1) How long does it take (on average) to start getting translation jobs regularly? // How long is a piece of string? It depends how well qualified the new translator is, whether he/she has qualifications in fields other than languages how good at self-marketing, etc. etc.

2) Is it fairly common to have problems with the companies that offer you the jobs? //Judging from the posts that appear in forums here, you might think it is uncommon not to, but in fact I would say there are far more companies that do not cause problems than companies that do.

3) What areas offer the most amount of jobs? (Legal, Medical...) I should think commercial correspondence, including contracts, tender bids etc., is a likely candidate, but I don't know for sure.
As for Legal and Medical, whether they offer large numbers of jobs or not, you should bear in mind that they are probably the two fields in which absolute accuracy is the most essential, as errors could have disastrous consequences and leave you open to claims for huge sums in compensation.


Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:56
Dutch to English
+ ...
my 2 cents May 18, 2016

1. How long to get regular assignments?

About 6 months to a year to start living off them (depending on your country and rate obviously). To me it doesn't really have to do with qualifications or marketing, just with proving you can do it. Until you have established a firm relationship with a client, you are on probation. And you know you've done well first time round if they give you something else.
By all means overemphasise the positives and downplay the negatives.

Though you do have to be lucky in that you need to fall into the hands of a client who doesn't just need a translator now to do one job, but needs one in general because their workload is up.

2. Problems with translation agencies.

I think that depends on yourself and the quality you provide. Then again, you're not likely to have repeat clients if you b*gger up your first job or your second one. Third one maybe.
If you do everything well, as a perfectionist, then problems are fairly uncommon.

3. What area?

Again, it depends what you're good at and what you 'roll' into, if you don't come with a degree in something like medicine (then your field will be fairly clear, although you are obviously free to go for something completely different).

There is a lot of business in commercial things like contracts and things, but they can be quite boring if you do them all the time (though that's probably the same for medicine as well). Most of the time, liability for compensation will be limited to the sum you got for the assignment in question and your agency (if you work through one) actually has ultimate responsibility to make sure their translation is right. So technically you shouldn't be forced to pay anything that goes beyond what you earnt for that assignment. Though check any contract you sign carefully. I personally wouldn't sign anything that said anything different. No way.

Good luck!


Gianluca Reale
Spanish to English
Kirsten Bodart and Jack Doughty May 19, 2016

Thank you very much guys!
Dank je wel!


Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:56
Member (2015)
German to English
From someone who started in today's climate May 19, 2016

I began to look for translation work last fall. I set June 2016, about seven months from my starting period, as a goal to be bringing in 75% of my former salary (which wasn't a high salary, but I could live well enough on it in Europe). This month I have already passed my former salary, and that's with no certification or training. Just fluency, hard work, and a willingness to learn. So I think there is work out there for the persistent, and if you are getting actual training, all the better.

As far as where the money is at, I can ony speak from my own experience: legal turns out to be lucrative for me simply for the sheer amount of words that have to be translated (marketing jobs can be as short as 10 words, or one word, but lawyers do like to go on...)
I am also more of a writer's translator so I have been doing a lot of tourism-related articles. A lot really depends on your own nature. I tried to take a stab at medical but didn't get far, I just couldn't warm up to it. So do everything for a while (Some agencies will send you all sorts of postings, from recipes to engineering, despite what you tell them you do best) and see what your own mind tells you, instead of going straight for one field that you might not take to in the end. I realize this is easier said than done but it's the best advice I can give right now.


Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Some ideas May 19, 2016

To get established (to have steady flow of projects), it may take anything from six months to two years.

It is impossible to list, nor would it help you if it was, what kind of problems could arise during your collaboration with LSPs. Problems as such are usually exceptions rather than the rule.

You have to choose you filed of expertise based on factors such as life experience, work experience, hobbies, studies, interest. I chose law because I have studied law both in Spain and in the UK. I studied law because I enjoyed it very much. What do you enjoy? I'm asking because if you do not enjoy the field you choose, it will be too taxing on you emotionally speaking.

In other words:

- make sure you enjoy translation-related work
- make sure you enjoy the field you choose to translate in

If either of these two basic criteria are not met, it may jeopardise your career altogether.

Last advice: be meticulously precise in every single project you undertake (if something seems to be wrong, it is wrong). Not only will you be praised, but it will also pave your way very nicely to have steady flow of work.

[Edited at 2016-05-19 17:35 GMT]


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:56
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
You will establish yourself a lot faster if clients find you May 19, 2016

Fill out your profile.
Check out the free webinars on this site,

and this area:


Don't mention that you are a beginner - focus on the qualifications and experience you do have. Clients are not looking for a senior executive or a permanent employee, but a competent translator to take on a single assignment, and possibly more later, if you do well with the first one. Competition is often strongest in the areas where there is most work - it might be easier to get a foothold with a subject that is slightly unusual, if you know enough about it.

Kristina Cosumaro's advice is encouraging - especially as she has managed to succeed in the current climate. Translation is a tough profession to break into.

You should not have trouble with the companies who offer you jobs. Some agencies are happy to help competent beginners, and some of the smaller ones are a delight to work with once you have got to know each other.
Check the Blue Board (under Jobs & Directories on this site)
and other sites that warn about scammers and problem clients - and keep away from them.
Most agencies are honestly trying to serve their customers well, and they pay on time. It is also the most efficient way for them to make a profit, after all. However, some compete on low prices, and press rates to a minimum... avoid them too!

Check rates here - and assume that the average rates are not high, so never go below them as a general principle. (Under Tools, Community rates)
If you set your rates too low, some clients will actually avoid you, because they know you cannot really live on those rates and deliver quality translations.

I strongly agree about working in a field that you like. Push your limits now and then, and learn to be versatile, but never be afraid to tell a client that a job is really beyond your scope, and why. Tell them what you can take on, of course. Good clients will respect you for it, and perhaps come back with something more suitable.

Learning to use a CAT tool will probably be an advantage - first and foremost, choose one that YOU are comfortable with. Get some advice if you can, and try the free demos to get the feel of them. Give yourself time, because they can be very distracting until you get used to them.

Good luck!


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:56
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Three more answers May 19, 2016

Gianluca Reale wrote:
1) How long does it take (on average) to start getting translation jobs regularly?

At translation college we were told that it would take about a year before you get to the point where you have a reasonable income. At the start of my career, I was not aware of agencies, so I first tried to get direct clients, but after three years of very little work I got lucky and landed a salaried job at a newspaper, which I did for 5 years. During that time, I discovered agencies, and started doing part-time freelance work specifically for agencies. Still, it took a while before I felt that I had enough clients to resign from my salaried position and go freelance full-time.

2) Is it fairly common to have problems with the companies that offer you the jobs?

It depends what you mean by "problems", but I can tell you that my experience with about half of the clients that I have or have had contact with, have been disagreeable in one way or another. You have to learn to strike a balance between having a thick skin and a positive attitude on the hand one, and not letting people walk all over you on the other.

3) What areas offer the most amount of jobs? (Legal, Medical...)

All of them. None of them. It depends. My advice to you is to contact as many agencies as you can, and see what kinds of jobs you end up with. If/when you're lucky, you'll get a regular client in a specific field whose jobs will help you grow in that field, and you can find colleagues doing the same type of translation, and eventually find your niche.


Hanna Nelimarkka  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:56
Member (2017)
English to Finnish
+ ...
Things to consider when beginning as a translator May 19, 2016

Samuel Murray wrote:

You have to learn to strike a balance between having a thick skin and a positive attitude on the hand one, and not letting people walk all over you on the other

This is absolutely true, and for me, it was the hardest thing to learn - and something I still need to work on. Before I became a freelance translator, I had 10 years of customer service behind me and was a people-pleaser down to my core. I have always had some problems with people walking over me, but I never knew it was to such an extent; probably because I was surrounded by people that did not try to take advantage of it. A year of freelancing made me grow a spine, which I am thankful for. Now I save my people-pleasing ways for my relatives and friends and instead treat work with the professionalism it deserves, which often means that instead of saying "no problem, I'll do that for you right away", I will say "No problem, I can certainly do that for you - this is how much I will charge for it, and this is how soon I can have it finished for you."

As for how long it takes to get regular jobs, that depends on your expertise, your marketing skills, how active you are and what type of projects are common in your field. Are they usually one-offs, such as translating a police report for an insurance company, or longer assignments, such as translating new content as it comes available for a fairly busy website? If you can get a good, long-term contract, then obviously that will ease the pressure to constantly source more work. However, in the beginning you may be tempted to take on work for lower rates to "get your foot between the door" - resist the urge and don't take on long contracts if the rate is not ideal. The time you spend on your penny-pinching client will be time away from sourcing better work for better clients, and if you give too many hours from your week to low-paying jobs, you will be stuck doing them all eternity, because you won't have enough time to get anything else. I think that is the biggest trap new translators often face, so it is worth it to be aware of it.

And about problems with clients... There's a rule of thumb.

If you are paying peanuts, you are hiring monkeys. If you hire enough monkeys, you become a zookeeper. And zookeepers will make very bad clients, as not only will they pay you with peanuts, they will also believe that you need constant supervision, because in their hearts they know that only monkeys can live on peanuts.

Avoid the zookeepers.

Most of my clients have been a pleasure to work with; I have only had two real problem clients. First one is an agency where the project manager drives me nuts by sometimes sending me several messages in three different places (she even searched up my Facebook and dings me there if I don't answer her e-mails and Skype messages fast enough), by trying to get me to take on work without confirming a rate of pay and often asking me to translate 6000 words in 24 hours. That would be an example of a bad agency. As far as private clients go, there is a Marketing and advertising company I have made translations for that tried to negotiate me down to a very low rate, which I did not accept, but did - foolishly - offer them a rate lower than my normal rate, as they promised continuous work. He hired me, and has been sending me couple of files every week for several months. Now he has obviously decided that he doesn't want to pay me as much as we agreed on, so instead of asking for translations, he started asking me for proofreading services instead, and sent me a website to go through, offering 50% of the rate we had agreed on for translating. When I went through the website, I quickly discovered that the content had been translated by Google translate, and I was expected to clean up the mess. When I refused and said that I would not proofread something that was such a mess, he begrudgingly sent me the original texts to translate. The sad thing is that the had already published videos on YouTube for his end-client (a restaurant), where their fancy and very nifty-looking cooking videos call for things such as 1,25 dl of sticks for a ice cream recipe...

What both of these clients have in common is that they do not respect my work, which makes them hard to deal with. A client that respects your work will compensate you accordingly, and accept that quality translations take time. If a client tries to haggle with you or expects delivery within a ridiclous timeframe, then avoid them. They will only bring you trouble.

Sorry for the rant. >_> I hope it's helpful at least!


dropinka  Identity Verified
English to Italian
+ ...
Marketing and advertising May 20, 2016

Kristina Cosumano wrote:

(marketing jobs can be as short as 10 words, or one word, but lawyers do like to go on...)

Sure, but those 10 words or less are paid hundreds of euros icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2016-05-20 08:18 GMT]


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