Getting started - Qualifications and specialising
Thread poster: Adam-MSCR

Adam-MSCR  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:23
French to English
+ ...
Jul 5, 2016

Hi everyone,

I have just opened my proz account, so I will be completing my profile, I just wanted to elicit advice and guidance regarding a couple of questions.

I am a novice translator. I have no qualifications. I would like to embark on a masters in translation and then a DipTrans. I
I have been studying the theory of translation and I have experience of voluntary translations which I did for a charity.

My source languages are French, Spanish and Italian into English. I also have a good knowledge of Brazilian Portuguese, all four languages I use very regularly in a reading and writing capacity. I would love to specialise in history translations.

Can anyone please give me advice on how I can start my career? If possible I would love to do some translating part-time while doing my MA. Is it possible to obtain work on this website without qualifications?

Are Italian and Portuguese "crowded" language pairs? I wonder if I will have more luck with them rather than Spanish and French which I know have a lot of competition.

If anybody can please help me with my question I would be very grateful. All the best,
Adam


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:23
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Some thoughts Jul 5, 2016

Adam-MSCR wrote:
Are Italian and Portuguese "crowded" language pairs? I wonder if I will have more luck with them rather than Spanish and French which I know have a lot of competition.

Translation between the FIGS languages and English is a massive market. I suppose the other two into English are smaller. But less competition at the pair level doesn't have to mean less income for you. Certainly, the Internet is teeming with FIGS to English "professional" translators. Many of them though are actually amateurs happily earning a very few cents per word (e.g. students, full-time parents, carers, active/early retirees, unemployed people, even school-kids). They may produce abysmal texts, or they may deliver quite good general translations, but most will be totally unsuited to the more challenging jobs requiring specific terminology or persuasive writing skills. Those normally attract the higher rates charged by professionals. So, if you work in any of your pairs and want to stand out, you need to specialise.

Can anyone please give me advice on how I can start my career? If possible I would love to do some translating part-time while doing my MA. Is it possible to obtain work on this website without qualifications?

It is certainly possible. However, without anything much to offer clients, it is likely that you'll mainly be offered the peanut-paying jobs by the kind of agency that will impose its rates, with reductions for everything it can think of, over-long payment terms (i.e. 45, 60 or even 90 days) and unilateral decisions about whether to further reduce the payment for "mistakes". There are plenty of these agencies here that post frequently on the public job board. Better agencies tend, when they have a need, to contact translators they've found through the directory here. But if you're available at weekends, all through the summer, and especially over the "silly season" at the end of the year, you may pick up a good client or two who's been let down.

I'm assuming that, since you haven't mentioned anything, your knowledge of your source languages is mainly/exclusively due to your studies and interests. If that isn't true, ignore the rest. Your best possible start would be to move to a country where your first pair is spoken, and get a job using your languages but living 100% immersed in the country's language (i.e. don't live in an expat community!). Start translating part-time (check out how to do that legally, of course) and then go from there. Doing a part-time MA, or studying for the DipTrans, would allow your freelance business to continue, thus building a client base.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 00:53
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Aim for complete bilingualism in at least two languages Jul 5, 2016

To be a great translator you would need to have near native competence in both your source and target languages. Many people think being target native is sufficient, but to translate really difficult texts like literature, marketing and other forms of creative writing, you need to have an equal level of competence in your source language also.

So instead of dabbling in too many source languages, identify one single source language in which you have the best opportunity to acquire total proficiency and work towards acquiring that proficiency. Our lives are too short to have full competency in too many languages, so pick just two. Fewer the better, but fewer than two is not possible for translators.

That does not mean you should forget your other languages. Maintain contact with these, too, but, they can never become your two main working languages. They would be hobby interest for you for a long time to come.

Choose these two special languages carefully, keeping in mind your individual life circumstances, opportunities that you can get, your own linguistic inclinations, and the translation market in languages - after all you also need to earn a living out of translation and therefore can't choose any esoteric language.

May be when you are fifty or sixty and have had sufficient time to acquire similar proficiency in one or two more languages, you can add them to your working languages, but for now, stick with two.


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Kelly Neudorfer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:23
German to English
Fewer than two not possible? I beg to differ! Jul 5, 2016

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

To be a great translator you would need to have near native competence in both your source and target languages. Many people think being target native is sufficient, but to translate really difficult texts like literature, marketing and other forms of creative writing, you need to have an equal level of competence in your source language also.

So instead of dabbling in too many source languages, identify one single source language in which you have the best opportunity to acquire total proficiency and work towards acquiring that proficiency. Our lives are too short to have full competency in too many languages, so pick just two. Fewer the better, but fewer than two is not possible for translators.

That does not mean you should forget your other languages. Maintain contact with these, too, but, they can never become your two main working languages. They would be hobby interest for you for a long time to come.

Choose these two special languages carefully, keeping in mind your individual life circumstances, opportunities that you can get, your own linguistic inclinations, and the translation market in languages - after all you also need to earn a living out of translation and therefore can't choose any esoteric language.

May be when you are fifty or sixty and have had sufficient time to acquire similar proficiency in one or two more languages, you can add them to your working languages, but for now, stick with two.


I agree with the general principle here, but I would beg to differ that "fewer than two [languages] is not possible for translators." Although I speak/read several other languages with differing degrees of fluency, I translate exclusively from German to English, and I make a decent living doing it. Actually, I could make more than a decent living if I had time to work more than part-time.

However, to tie in Sheila's comments with yours, I have an extremely deep knowledge of German and an MA/PhD from a German university in an area not at all related to linguistics. I can therefore take on highly specialized texts that people who are translating with "just" a college degree in German and a year or two in the country wouldn't usually feel comfortable tackling. That means I can charge a higher rate.

So, Adam, I would agree with the others that you should specialize, both in terms of languages and subject matter. Go to a country that speaks your first foreign language and get immersed in it. While a degree in translation sounds attractive, what is actually much more useful is a degree in a subject you enjoy. For example, if French is your first foreign language, then apply for a degree program in France. Not in translation, but in law, engineering, environmental science, marketing, business, the sports industry - whatever you enjoy *other* than languages. Someone who can say they are a native English speaker and have law degrees from France and the UK will have excellent prospects for legal translations in that language pair. If you're interested in engineering you can get into highly specialized technical or patent translations, for example.

My advice is therefore to apply for programs in France, Italy, Spain or South/Central America and head there to immerse yourself in a degree program in that language that has nothing to do with the language itself. You'll be able to impress future clients if you have those kinds of credentials.


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Sofia Gutkin  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 05:23
Member (2012)
Russian to English
+ ...
I was in your shoes 5 years ago Jul 5, 2016

Hi Adam,

I wanted to add in my five cents, although I agree with both Balasubramaniam and Kelly. I started out 5 years ago with a strong interest in translation but no formal education in this field and no idea how to break into the market. I couldn't afford to study a Masters of Translation/Interpreting (long story, Australia is rather restrictive in this field) so I actually did an internship at a translating agency. It taught me a lot about how the industry works and what sort of prices are realistic and what the specialised software was like.

But, as Balasubramaniam and Kelly mentioned, I had two things that have come in very useful for translating: 1) I am bilingual and I translate into my "stronger" language, English, 90% of the time;
2) I have an allied health degree and I work in the field. So I could confidently market myself as a medical translator because I understand the lingo. What I've never done is accept technical/legal/financial translation jobs and then butcher them because I have no idea what the text is actually talking about.

I got my break through ProZ - I put my internship on my CV and just started applying for jobs that came up here. It takes time and you get ignored a lot at the start, but once an agency gives you a chance, you can add that to your CV and so on, and so on. I know a lot of senior translators scoff at the ProZ jobs board but I have found it quite helpful.

Good luck!


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Adam-MSCR  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:23
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for all your help Jul 6, 2016

Hello everybody, thank you for your detailed and useful replies.

Having read your answers and browsed other forums on this website I've learnt of the importance of specialising in a field.

Does anyone know if it is possible to specialise in either sports translations (specifically gym equipment and personal training) and history translations? I know they are not academic like medicine or law, so perhaps it is a non-starter, but they are certainly the subjects I would like to choose if there is work out there.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and help me. Best wishes, Adam.


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Kelly Neudorfer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:23
German to English
Sure Jul 6, 2016

Sure it's possible to specialize in sports and history. You don't have to go the academic route to get your qualifications - you could try to find work in the sports industry (at a gym, for example?) in France and/or do some sort of part-time degree or certificate in history.

Lots of people have a speciality in one of the more "traditional" fields of law, finance, etc, and then a second specialization in their hobby. I haven't actively pursued it because my German vocabulary in the area isn't spectacular, but I have a lot of experience with horses and could specialize in that if I were to brush up my German vocab in the area. So my specialties would end up being academic translation, legal translation and horse-related translations. There's no rule that says your specializations have to have anything to do with one another! And likewise, there's no rule that says your qualifications have to be academic in nature. Real-world experience in an area is often just as good for proving you're capable of translating in an area.

If you were to find work at a gym and then teaching classes on whatever interests you most, and especially if you can do some continuing education in that area in your source language, then I think that would be sufficient to get your foot in the door. The next step would be considering how to make contact with companies in the industry who might have need of your translations.

History might be a bit harder without an academic degree, but still possible if you work/intern at a museum, for example. Still, I think a lot of history translations are going to tend toward the academic side of the spectrum, and it's likely that having a history degree would give you a good edge on the competition.

[Edited at 2016-07-06 09:11 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:23
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Sports and history: no problem Jul 6, 2016

Adam-MSCR wrote:
Does anyone know if it is possible to specialise in either sports translations (specifically gym equipment and personal training) and history translations?

Think of it this way: How many words do you need to be offered? When you think about it, one individual can't really do an enormous volume. Consider all the magazines, books, press releases, articles, blogs, flyers and other publicity, manuals... that are published every day - all about sport - some of which will need to be translated, and I'm sure you'll find there would be more than enough to keep you busy. But first you have to become known for your specialist abilities so that you can get the clients to come to you.

You'll have to be prepared to widen your knowledge base a little, I'm sure. Which is why I would suggest a course in France (or other source-language country) in sport (sports management?), paired with a job in the industry, so that you get used to dealing with the subject area. With gym equipment will come the mechanics of the equipment, the health side of fitness (and injuries), anatomy, the nutritional needs of the body, etc. I do quite a lot of sports translations and as an example, a recent text about a lake regatta went into some detail about the structure of the lake bottom and its geological history, plus the dams up-river and so on. It wasn't just about yacht racing. But then that's part of the fun with translating: you never know what the day will bring!


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:23
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Beg to differ Jul 7, 2016

Adam-MSCR wrote:

Does anyone know if it is possible to specialise in either sports translations (specifically gym equipment and personal training) and history translations? I know they are not academic like medicine or law, so perhaps it is a non-starter, but they are certainly the subjects I would like to choose if there is work out there.


Specialisation in translation can cover practically anything. For example, one popular translator training speaker on your side of the pond is the go-to guy for Old English Sheepdogs.

As for history, there are any number of specialised academic journals and institutions on the subject that oursource translations.

I wouldn't touch sports myself, but I do know there's a juicy market (not to mention I can think of at least one sports interpreter who ended up as a coach, but that's another story).

Bilingualism helps keep one out of unemployment but it's not necessary. Think of it as booster fuel. Time may also come when you're too busy to swtich chips.


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Adam-MSCR  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:23
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you again Jul 8, 2016

Good morning and thank you everybody for your useful replies!

Sheila, it really inspired me to read that you do a lot of sports translation. I used to coach tennis for 4 years and I have 12 years of health and fitness, so I think this is definitely the best path for me.

I will also look at obtaining some form of experience related to history. I know that a part-time open university degree would be 18 hours a week, which would be too much for me right now.

I think I will concentrate now on updating my profile and ticking certain boxes to increase my speciality skills. Do you recommend I do these first and also a DipTrans or MA in translating before contacting sports translation agencies?

Thanks for all your help, Adam


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:23
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You need to offer potential clients more than passion Jul 8, 2016

Adam-MSCR wrote:
Sheila, it really inspired me to read that you do a lot of sports translation.

Maybe I shouldn't have told you, as you're looking to be a competitor.

I think I will concentrate now on updating my profile and ticking certain boxes to increase my speciality skills. Do you recommend I do these first and also a DipTrans or MA in translating before contacting sports translation agencies?

The DipTrans is for experienced translators. They recommend at least two years, but I believe that there's a fail rate of over 50% even then. So I'd leave that one for a while. A Master in languages, translation or your specialist subject would be great, but would take a lot of time and money. If you want a quickie introduction into the techniques of translation - and it seems worthwhile in your case - look into the course I did (see my profile). I found it a useful way to acquire the basic techniques and the confidence to use them.

I really see the perceived lack of specialist knowledge in sports as being one hurdle you need to overcome. Very many thousands of Brits play sports, and are even passionate about them, without ever really getting to grips with the entire terminology aspect, particularly not in several languages. Passion is great, don't get me wrong, but clients want more than passion: they expect knowledge, skills and - preferably - translation experience. You can't give them the last of those yet, so you need to beef up your offer of the others. At the moment you're giving them very little other than passion. You give some useful information about sports, but nothing very concrete.

The other problem is the languages. You say you "love languages" but at the moment you give no facts to back up your ability to use any of them professionally - and believe me when I say that leaving school with an "A" level is absolutely no use professionally (not saying that applies to you - I just don't know). Personally, I studied French intensively until the age of 20 but I'd lived in France for seven years before I felt ready to translate from it.

BTW: you need to proofread your About me text. And maybe you want sports as your N°1 specialisation, rather than N°3? It does make a difference to the filters here on ProZ.com.

Sorry if I'm sounding a bit negative. It's meant as constructive criticism.


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Adam-MSCR  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:23
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Hi Sheila Jul 8, 2016

Hi Sheila,

Thanks again for your comments. Not at all, they did not seem negative but rather realistic.

Regarding offering something more concrete with my sports. I did coach tennis and I have a very extensive knowledge of personal training. Should I consider doing a course on these, or on nutrition too. Would that help do you think? Secondly, I was advised to start writing a sports blog in English, in order to showcase my writing skills. I will definitely start that right away.

Regarding my languages, unfortunately I have no qualifications due to the unorthodox way I have been learning them, as I am self-taught. However they are definitely at a lot higher level than A level. I use them every day to communicate. I lived in France a few years ago and I plan to move permanently to Barcelona very soon. I think I will do the translation course you recommended and then see how things go from there.

Thank you very much for taking the time to advise me. All the best, Adam


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:23
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
All good ideas: Jul 11, 2016

Adam-MSCR wrote:
Should I consider doing a course on these, or on nutrition too. Would that help do you think?

Secondly, I was advised to start writing a sports blog in English, in order to showcase my writing skills.

I think I will do the translation course you recommended

Those three will all add something to your profile and your abilities.
I lived in France a few years ago

It would be a good idea to mention that last one, then. You could also take the French DELF/DALF tests, and the Spanish DELE. I imagine there's an Italian equivalent, too.


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