New freelance translator seeking advice
Thread poster: Keith Salyer

Keith Salyer
United States
Local time: 07:38
Japanese to English
Jul 31


I'm completely new to ProZ and translating in general and would really appreciate some direction. I'm a self-taught Japanese learner and have been for a few years. It is a passion of mine and I'd like to make the most of the skill that I do have. The problem is I'm still young and inexperienced compared to probably the majority of translators on this website, so I can't imagine many people would come to me with work. That's why I was thinking I could translate for next to nothing in order to get experience. Is this realistic? The thing is I don't want to disappoint anyone, so I'd prefer if people have a person to fall back on in case I do. I realize I have little confidence in my ability, but that's only natural.

There is one Japanese-English job I found in the directory that I'd like to take on with my ambitious self, but I was hoping someone could help me understand more about how this process works. I don't really understand what a quoting deadline and a delivery deadline are. I don't want to take a job only to find out I can't meet the client's expectations. I don't know how long I will have to translate or even have a preview of what I would have to translate assuming I took the job. I feel like I'd be in the dark. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance.


Natalie  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:38
Member (2002)
English to Russian
+ ...

Welcome to Aug 1

Hi Keith,

To start with, open the "About" menu. You will find many useful infos there: - here you will find answers to your questions about finding jobs

Good luck,

Wolfram Weinberg

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:38
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
self-confidence Aug 1

The quoting deadline is the time up to which quotes will be accepted for a job.
The delivery deadline is the time by which you need to have translated the text and delivered the translation to the client.

However, you don't seem to be in the least bit confident of your ability, and I strongly suspect that if a client senses this, they will avoid giving you the job.

If you "translate for next to nothing" of course the client cannot complain when you turn in a shoddy job late. However, this is not a good way to start out, for you and your reputation, and also for Proz if you're getting jobs here. It would make better sense to only start translating professionally once you're sure of doing a good job, and to be paid a decent wage for your efforts.
You could perhaps join in on crowd-sourcing projects to translate anime or video games. You wouldn't get paid at all but this is a way to learn about translating, sub-titling and dubbing, and could be great fun if you like anime.
You would also get an idea of how fast you can translate, which helps when you need to work out how much time you need and whether you can meet a deadline.
Otherwise you could also sign up for a translation course, as many have done.

Full disclosure: I am self-taught, but I obtained a Master on the strength of my in-house experience at an agency before going free-lance. So getting the bit of paper was just a formality, but clients like to see that I have it and it does give confidence.

Ester Vidal
Annamaria Lagattolla
Joe France

David Rainey
Gain experience Aug 1

Hey Keith,
Its natural to be under confident, but learning comes with experience. There are few ways you can make yourself a better translator. You should follow these steps to become an expert:

1. Get Certified: The first thing I tell people who want to know how to become a translator is to get some sort of accreditation or certification. Having credentials provides documentation that you have the skills required to translate or interpret professionally. Many universities offer advanced degrees and professional certifications in translation, and we have a separate post dedicated to the subject.

2. Get Tested: Another resume builder is to take language proficiency tests such as the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) or other language proficiency tests to show potential clients that you are indeed fluent in your specific language.

3. Gain Experience: Ofcource, just the theoretical knowledge won't do. All of us have had to start out doing internships or working entry-level jobs in order to climb the ladder, and the language industry is no exception. If you’re enrolled at or live near a college, take classes in translation / interpreting and look for opportunities to perform translation or interpreting work on campus for various departments.

4. Market Yourself: After getting credentials and some experience, it’s time to market yourself to law firms, police stations, hospitals, government agencies, and language agencies that may need translators or interpreters in your area. Most translators / interpreters work for clients on a contract basis, not as full time employees. A great way to market your services is to start a website or blog and join the active community of online language professionals like proz of course, and translatorscafe.

Last but not the least, never stop learning.
Good Luck!

Wolfram Weinberg

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Practice Aug 1

Practice makes perfect. There are no shortcuts. We all started at some point. It's a skill combined with a knowledge.

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Jorge Payan
Wolfram Weinberg

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:38
French to English
New and good - vs - old and bad Aug 1

You can be new onto the market and still do a good job. You need to care enough to do a good job. You also need to know what you are writing about. To do that, you also need to know what you are reading.
You can be old and bad too. There are plenty of fairly poor translators around who've been poor translators for a long time.
So take your pick.

If you think you have what it takes, test the water but don't apologize to yourself for being new, less still to your clients. Being new means you are likely to be slower. That's penance enough. So be bold, go for it and sell skills that you know you have and sell 'em well at a commercial price. Allow yourself plenty of time. If you can't do it straight away, your client might think it's because you're overbooked, that he's lucky to get you at all. That extra time is the time you will need to get the job done. Done to a high professional standard.

You should know if you are good enough to do a good job. If you are good now, you will be even better in 20 years' time. If you are bad now, ...

If you are not confident in selling yourself, a client is not likely to be confident enough to buy your service. Quietly confident can work. If you are not sure that your skills are honed, then maybe you are not ready yet. Doubt can be healthy, humility an asset, but if you would put it at the lack-of-confidence end of the spectrum, you may need more time.

As for pricing, good clients will pay a good price. If they won't, you don't want them anyway. Easier said than done, I know, but do it anyway. Can you really imagine yourself saying to your clients that your price is low, so you hope they are happy to accept low-quality work? Try thinking the other way round and see what you feel happier with. Alternatively, sell a good quality service for a low price and try to find the logic there, from your point of view. Hint: there is none.

[Edited at 2018-08-01 18:15 GMT]

Jorge Payan
Kevin Fulton
Wolfram Weinberg

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:38
Member (2007)
+ ...
You need to be prepared before you approach clients Aug 2

Keith Salyer wrote:
I'm still young and inexperienced

Young and inexperienced is fine - we were all that at one point (although many of us weren't young by the time we became professional translators). However, inexperienced professionals need to have an alternative to offer the client. And in our case that has to be evidence of our skills and our knowledge. Skills in terms of the language pair in question, plus our knowledge of the text's subject matter, plus our knowledge of how to run a business (at least in theory). If you have absolutely nothing to back up your claim to understand the source text perfectly, then there's little reason for a client to choose you to handle its translation. For Japanese, I've heard other translators talk about official Japanese fluency tests. I think at the very least you need to be able to offer that sort of certificate to clients.

I was thinking I could translate for next to nothing in order to get experience. Is this realistic? The thing is I don't want to disappoint anyone, so I'd prefer if people have a person to fall back on in case I do.

Please don't think of offering your service to agencies or direct clients for next to nothing. That just undermines true professionals. Translators generally quote for jobs using a rate per word, per character, per line, etc. A beginner translator will spend a long time researching, checking, rechecking... whereas an experienced person would just type, check, and click send. The translation that the beginner delivers must be fit for purpose - nothing less is acceptable. It may not be as elegant, so it wouldn't attract a premium rate, but it does merit the "average" market rate. If you feel you need to fall back on someone, it sounds as though you need training (often available online and not too costly), mentoring (which is available through this site), or proofreading of individual texts. The last option would be for when you quote your rate to a client and negotiate an ample deadline, allowing you to pay an experienced translator to check your work before delivery.

I realize I have little confidence in my ability, but that's only natural.

It's natural to lack confidence somewhat, but I sense a very great lack of confidence in your abilities. Are you actually totally fluent in Japanese? Not just in the areas the textbook covers, not just in ordering a meal or talking about your life, but in the sort of texts a Japanese business would need to translate?

There is one Japanese-English job I found in the directory that I'd like to take on with my ambitious self, but I was hoping someone could help me understand more about how this process works.

You need to plug that knowledge gap before you even think of quoting for a job. Have you done any translations at all? Do you know how fast you can translate a text? Once you have an idea of that (by taking a serious Japanese newspaper and translating a few hundred words, for example), then you need to think about rates. There are some tools to help you on this site. Then there's the admin side - invoicing, bookkeeping, and declaring your income to your tax authorities all have to be done correctly. Fortunately, things are simple and cheap in your country.

Right behind the need for high-level source and target language skills and subject areas skills comes a need for research skills. Whether it's in your own reference books, at the library or on-line, you need to be able to find the evidence to back up your terminology choices. Believe me, a dictionary is a long way from being the only resource needed. So I would advise you to start honing those skills now. You could do worse than start with this site - peruse the forums, the Site Guidance Centre, the Education and Tools sections ... and start being active in KudoZ questions to get an idea of the types of terms that are causing problems. I would also advise you to start on the cloud-based, pro-bono sites such as the TED ones.

Kevin Fulton
Michele Fauble
Jorge Payan
Wolfram Weinberg

Rita Pang  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:38
Member (2011)
Chinese to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
Your language pair Aug 8

Keith Salyer wrote:
.. that's why I was thinking I could translate for next to nothing in order to get experience. Is this realistic? The thing is I don't want to disappoint anyone, so I'd prefer if people have a person to fall back on in case I do. I realize I have little confidence in my ability, but that's only natural.

If I am not mistaken, there is a bigger amount of EN>JP translators out on the market than JP>EN. In the last few years Japan has also seen an increase in its start-up scene and there are a ton of small, young enterprises out there who often hire interns or contract translators to help on a short or long term basis. Those could be a good place to start. I am not here to encourage you to work for free, but in the event where you are in an urgent need to build up your experience and can't really find anything, I suggest you approach companies of interest to you (e.g. lifestyle websites, popular bloggers etc), offer your skill set (don't forget to ask for credit) and then do that for a short period of time (say 3 months). In exchange for your work you need to ask for their reference, and you can perhaps use that to wade into the industry.

Again, I am not here to promote cheap labour, so how much time/effort you should invest into doing these type of volunteer/low-paid work in order to build up your portfolio is entirely up to you. I started in a similar fashion- my first few jobs had a $0.05 per word price tag to it - but it helped me score my first few clients, created a list of references and soon after I found more clients and moved on from these low-end ones. I went through this for about 4-6 months before getting steady work.

Best of luck to you.

Wolfram Weinberg

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