Fledgling translator living in the US looking for input about certification, agencies, next steps.
Thread poster: Elisabeth Purkis

Elisabeth Purkis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:38
Member (2018)
German to English
+ ...
Jun 27, 2018

Hello fellow freelancers!
I live in the US and am just completing my first year as a freelance translator. I've done a remote internship with a seasoned language professional that lasted five months and was very helpful. I have a Bachelor's degree in Russian and German, (from a very long time ago, though my reading and comprehension skills are advanced). I am focusing on only German to English (UK & US) translation, for various reasons, partly economic and partly because that was the pair I was trained in this year.

I have been advised to get additional qualifications (for eg ATA certification) and/or another internship, this time in the US to increase my chances of getting work. I'm just dipping my toes in the water of these freelance platforms, and am wondering if it's too soon to apply to agencies. I am working on a portfolio so hope to have that up on this platform soon, as well as my CV/Resume/Lebenslauf. I've got very good feedback on projects and have translated about 100,000 words so far, but I'm wondering what my next steps should be. In my bio, I highlight the fact that I am bicultural (both British and American), hoping that this is perhaps a unique selling point, but I may be off the mark here.

I appreciate any advice or feedback.
Thanks so very much.


Eva Stoppa  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:38
English to German
+ ...
English is in very high demand as target language Jun 28, 2018

High Elisabeth,

welcome to Proz.

If you want to translate from German, then I suggest, you contact agencies in Germany. English native speakers are always something they are looking for.

Most agencies don't focus so much on degrees and certifications since translation is a business which isn't regulated.

But contacting agencies and companies in Germany/Austria/Switzerland is the first thing I can think off for a native speaker of English.

Let's see what other members will suggest here.

Good luck



Karen Wooddissee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:38
Member (2011)
French to English
+ ...
Investigate local ATA chapter - and dive in! Jun 28, 2018

Hi Elisabeth,
As a Brit who was living in the US for a few years when I started out freelancing, I thought I'd offer a couple of ideas from my own experience.

I do think it's worth highlighting your familiarity with both UK and US culture. A deep knowledge of both can be an asset, opening up access to more translation projects as well as work editing texts in US English for the UK market and vice versa if that's something that interests you.

If you're considering ATA certification, investigate your local ATA chapter as a first step. It's fairly easy to engage with the ATA and see what it offers before expending the time and money on full certification or membership. I found my local organisation particularly useful - it was a great place to meet other translators and they hosted some interesting discussions on a regular basis.

In the meantime, dive in and start contacting agencies. My translation degree was also some years behind me when I started freelancing after working in another field for a while and I know it can be hard to convince yourself that you are ready to take the plunge fully, but it sounds like you have plenty of experience and good feedback to rely on. A couple of the agencies I contacted and worked for in my first few months are still my best clients now.

Go for it - and best of luck!


Harvey Utech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:38
German to English
A different point-of-view Jun 28, 2018

Dear Elizabeth--

I would like to echo the positive comments that your other two respondents but I cannot.

First of all, you mention whether it is worth joining ATA. I joined ATA for one year (last year) and found that not only the membership fee but also the annual convention, certification, etc. to be very expensive and just not worth it for me. For one thing, there is no local chapter of ATA near enough to me to make it feasible to go to meetings and the one I did contact (Miami) took a very take-it-or-leave-it attitude--I was referred to them when I inquired about certification. And by the way, being a member did not bring me any additional business.

Overall, I found ATA to be very much oriented to what I call "Big Trans". These are the huge agencies who make you sign 10 pages of agreements and then treat you like a machine, requiring you to use their CAT tools which of course you have to buy with your own money--and which gives them the opportunity to reduce what they pay you. These big agencies are also, I feel, intent on doing translation work as cheaply as possible and that means playing one of us translators off against the other to drive pay down. Looking at the articles in their newsletters and the agenda at their annual convention, I found very little that seemed helpful to a freelancer like you and me.

I have done (and still do) work for several agencies in Germany where I used to live and work as a university adjunct. Working for some agencies can be very satisfying, because of the personal touch but I find that their needs are very uneven. You get a flurry of work from one and then there is nothing for a good while. And then, just when you think you won't be getting any more work from one of them, they knock on your door again.

The German translators' association, which I belonged to while living in Germany, is excellent. I am not sure it makes much sense to join them if you are living over here. However, by attending their annual meetings and following their publications while in Germany, I learned a great deal. They are oriented toward freelancers like us, unlike the ATA.

Sorry to be so negative but I thought your carefully structured inquiry deserved a straightforward answer.

Good luck and best regards--



Elisabeth Purkis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:38
Member (2018)
German to English
+ ...
Fledgling translator responds to helpful comments Jun 28, 2018

Hello to Eva, Karen and Harvey,
and to anyone else who is considering commenting or gave my question some thought.
I was glad to receive these very thoughtful replies. I had just been listening to the free webinar about getting business on ProZ, which was also helpful, so, all in all, a very positive morning. Based on your feedback, and that from the Webinar I am planning to focus my efforts thus:

1. Jump in and contact agencies in German-speaking countries and also the US/Canada.
2. Join ProZ and work on making my bio and page stand out more. The webinar moderator also offers a free Skype session to review one's profile.
3. Do some more thinking about translating my UK and US cultural competence into work as you confirmed that this could be a helpful angle.
4. Look into local ATA chapters ( I live in Chicago, so I might have more luck than Harvey here).
5. Continue to network with other ProZ translators to get input.
6. Hold off on pursuing ATA certification for a few months at least.

Thanks again for taking the time to write. It is heartening to get such detailed responses.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:38
Member (2007)
+ ...
My two cents' worth Jun 28, 2018

It sounds as though you have a lot going for you, Elisabeth. Your recent training sounds spot on. Mind you, I imagine it remains to be seen whether you're a gifted entrepreneur. As a freelancer you need to get the clients and run an organised and profitable business, not just translate icon_smile.gif.

I don't know if you're wanting to use ProZ.com as your shop window. If you are, there are various things you need to do to make the site work for you. You can find out what they are by visiting the Site Guidance Centre and reading everything you can find there. Accreditations, memberships, testimonials, etc are of course all going to make a world of difference to how clients see you.

I agree with Harvey that you - and everyone else - will be well advised to target smaller, boutique agencies rather than the multinationals. Direct clients can also pay well and be fulfilling to work with but it's best to get a fair amount of experience first as they probably won't have a clue about what's needed.

Finally, although I understand why you're just marketing yourself as a DE>EN translator, it's likely that business will take some time to pick up, unless you get a very lucky break. Even though you may not actively be marketing yourself as a RU>EN translator, it would probably be a good idea to list it here, and be active in KudoZ in both pairs. Many (most?) RU>EN translation are done by speakers of the source language and I know from personal experience that native English speakers are highly sought-after by some boutique agencies, even if it sometimes just for revising translations. It's another string to your bow, after all, and if you don't use languages you risk losing them.


Elisabeth Purkis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:38
Member (2018)
German to English
+ ...
Fledgling translator responds to helpful comments Jun 28, 2018

Hi Sheila,

Thanks for giving me your feedback. I think you make a very good point about my Russian. I'm actually more comfortable in spoken Russian as I used it more recently in my job as a hospice social worker, though overall my German is better. I was a bit hesitant to try Russian also because I was worried, based on some advice, that the jobs might be hard to regulate especially if they originate in Russia, and also that the pay might not be competitive for someone who lives in the US.

I agree with you about the jury still being out on my entrepreneurial skills! We'll see about that. As for a lot of us, I think that that piece is the most challenging for many newcomers to the field.

I am working on familiarising myself with the site and the opportunities it affords for visibility.

Thanks again, to you and to anyone else who might consider adding to this very helpful discussion.



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