Getting into Translation
Thread poster: Watrevir

United Kingdom
Local time: 21:56
Spanish to English
+ ...
Oct 25, 2016

I'm aware that there are lots of posts like this in this part of the forum, but I haven't found any which has answered my question fully, so here goes:

I'm trying to get into freelance translation, Spanish - English, French - English and Norwegian - English. I have A levels in French and Spanish but otherwise no relevant qualifications. I lived and worked in Spain and France for periods of a few months each, and my spoken and written levels of those languages are good. I have also lived and worked in Norway for 18 months, and my Norwegian is good though I am still improving. I have a Foundation Degree (UK Level 5) in Archaeology, and I have trained as a carpenter and had a few unskilled jobs. I have done a few short, private translation jobs and have proofread several PhDs (English - English).

At the moment I am still doing carpentry work but would like to undertake some recognised qualification in translation. All the ones I've looked at seem to be postgraduate only.

Any suggestions or general help would be greatly appreciated! This was a career I considered while I was at college and now at 26 it's a career I'm looking at again from a different vantage point. Even if you can only recommend a good website or book that would help!


French to English
+ ...
Focus on Norwegian and your real-world experience Oct 26, 2016

In my opinion the French and Spanish markets are saturated. I have seen much higher rates and salaries for Scandinavian language pairs.

You may not need a degree if you focus on your real-world experience in carpentry. Hire a business coach to help you draft a stronger personal presentation. It sounds like you may be in a good position to prospect direct clients, not only translation agencies. I wish you all the best.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:56
Member (2007)
+ ...
Evaluate your skills Oct 26, 2016

At the moment you have very, very little to offer clients. So I think you need to work on beefing up your CV. I would advise you to start by getting some sort of proof for your clients that you do have the required skills and abilities.
- Source languages: In French and Spanish that's very easy as there are the DEFL/DALF tests in French and the DELE in Spanish. I expect something is available in Norwegian too. You definitely need at least a C1 level in each, although a C2 would be far better for your main source language.
- Target writing skills: Then it would be useful to demonstrate your English writing skills in some way, maybe a blog, a website, or just a bio.
- Translation skills: You'll need at least some sort of certificate to show clients you know what you're doing. It isn't enough to know two or more languages, and most of our clients know that. You can also show your skills by translating texts on a not-for-profit basis. Do NOT offer free translations to companies; offer your services to cloud projects such as TED or find a club's blog/website in your source language that you would like to translate. Get their permission first though.
- Specialisation skills: If you choose French or Spanish it will be absolutely essential to specialise. You'll need to know the terminology of your chosen subject in real detail, and in two or more languages. That calls for intensive study and/or experience. Maybe in Norwegian there's room for generalists - I don't know.

The above seem to me to be very important, as a minimum, for you. My own experience was that an A level was totally useless. I'd lived in France for seven years before I felt equipped to become a professional translator, even though I was providing texts for acquaintances long before. You do have the opportunity to start bidding for jobs here and elsewhere from today. And you'll probably pick up some work. But your only appeal over tens of thousands of others will be one of price. If you're going to undercut the thousands of 'hobby' translators, you'll have to charge no more than 2-3 euro cents per word. Many translators feel that 2,500 words is a good day's work. Do the maths, but remember to factor in all the expenses of running a business.

Sorry if that seems rather negative. To be honest, at your age if you want to make a real career as a translator you really need to do some higher studies and/or get several years' experience in your areas of specialisation and using your languages professionally.

[Edited at 2016-10-26 14:28 GMT]


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:56
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Go for the Norwegian and cultivate the academic network Oct 26, 2016

Scandinavian languages do look well paid, but you have to take into account that some languages are 'wordier' than others, and Norwegian is among the less wordy. By that I mean that if you translate 1000 Norwegian words into English, you get a couple of hundred more words in the target text. With other languages the ratio to English goes the other way.
It is an advantage that the competition is less fierce, especially if you really have a grasp of the language. You may need to go and work in Norway again if you can, and really study the language in depth.

Keep working at the academic network and the people with the PhDs - are they writing any more research papers that need proofreading? Read up on their subject areas, so that you could translate for them as well.

I have done a fair amount of translation about 'tourism' from Norwegian, and that goes from generalist descriptions of opening hours and spectacular views, food, skiing and salmon fishing, to more specialised history and museums where your archaeology might give you a head start. You are still writing for the general reader, but at a different level. Besides carpentry, art, crafts and artefacts might be potential areas to study.

Then there is Norwegian industry, which I try to avoid, but if you have a head for really technical texts, there are plenty going. There are also press releases and marketing, which are a sort of gentle start to technology.

I find Norwegian is hard work - but I like it. I specialise in Danish, and feel - subjectively - that there are not nearly so many resources in Norwegian, but I can often use my Danish dictionaries to point me in the right direction and then check.
That said, be very careful about the idea that if you can translate from one Scandinavian language, you can translate all three. Up to a point, yes, but there are traps and false friends, so it is best to be choosy.

You may be able to take online courses in translation - I don't know. It is most important to get a real grasp of the language, and then show you have a specialist field where you are proficient in both languages. Courses in linguistics, etymology and so on - the more theoretical side of language - are interesting, but not the most important in the daily life of a translator.
Some of the more pragmatic courses in translation are sure to be a good investment.

Really knowing the terminology and jargon of whatever field you are working in is far more important, and with a degree in archaeology in the bag, you may be able to do postgraduate courses in translation, provided you are allowed to start. Check the requirements!

Contact Norfag〈=en

the CIoL
and/or the ITI

and ask for advice about training.

Best of luck!

[Edited at 2016-10-26 14:08 GMT]


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