Looking for some advice in getting started as a freelance translator
Thread poster: Theodore Ma

Theodore Ma
United States
Local time: 01:22
Korean to English
+ ...
Sep 22, 2018

Hello everyone,

I am very interested in eventually becoming a full-time translator and would greatly appreciate any and all advice from some seasoned translators.

Before I get started with my questions, below are some (hopefully) pertinent information about myself since my proz account is not yet complete. I made my account earlier this year and have tried to get involved with KudoZ and such, but I slowly stopped as I feared that my "help" was more detrimental than hel
... See more
Hello everyone,

I am very interested in eventually becoming a full-time translator and would greatly appreciate any and all advice from some seasoned translators.

Before I get started with my questions, below are some (hopefully) pertinent information about myself since my proz account is not yet complete. I made my account earlier this year and have tried to get involved with KudoZ and such, but I slowly stopped as I feared that my "help" was more detrimental than helpful.

Anyways,

1. Although I am embarrassed to disclose this, I am 25 years old and still in the process of pursuing bachelor's in both German and history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I have apr. 86 academic hours completed. I am currently on a leave due to personal/financial reasons. At the moment, I am working full-time at the university admissions office.

2. My language pairs are German to English and Korean to English. I immigrated to the US when I was about 11. Although English has long since become my primary language, I am still completely fluent in Korean. As for my German, it is somewhere between CEFR C1 - C2 level.

3. I took two courses in translation that offered by the German department at the university.

One primarily dealt with the theoretical aspects of translation - Walter Benjamin, Goethe on translation, Yoko Tawada, and so on. I translated few scenes from Schnitzler's Reigen as my term project, along with writing a translator's preface for it.

The other class was a workshop focused on practical aspects of translating from German to English, with a strong emphasis on preparing us for the ATA certification exam. It was instructed by a faculty who ran his own translation bureau in Germany prior to entering the academia. We translated and worked on everything from technical manuals to travel brochures. For the term project, I translated excerpts from Kurt Tucholsky's Deutschland, Deutschland über alles and wrote a translator's preface.

4. I have experience in consumer electronics sales and general customer service.

5. I am located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

6. I am a US citizen.


I apologize if that was far more information than necessary, but I figured more is better than not enough. In any case, here are my questions:


1. Will my age and lack of any degrees be a significant hindrance in finding clients/agencies?

2. I have received 2nd & 3rd prize from the German department for essays written in 400 level German. I also have won 2nd prize in a departmental translation contest. The contest was basically a mock ATA certificate exam, where the best scoring participant won. Are these something one should mention in their translator CVs?

3. I received A's in both translations courses that I mentioned above. Should I mention that in my CV to agencies, given my lack of formal translation experience?

4. For the translation theory course, we worked directly in-person with a relatively well-known German author and translated selected parts from his then new novel as a workshop exercise. Some of our translations, including mine, were "published" in a web-published journal hosted by UC Berkeley. Should I mention this in my CV? In case it helps clarify things, here is the url for it: https://transit.berkeley.edu/2017/dickinson-3/

5. Few faculties, including the instructor for the translation workshop course, have allowed me to list them as references and are also more than happy to write very positive letters of recommendation on my behalf. Is that something I can use in finding freelance translation work?

6. Is it possible that some clients/agencies might take issue with my "unusual" language pairings? Is it ok that English technically is my second language?

7. I noticed that Korean, American, and German formats for CVs significantly differ from one another. Does this mean that I need to create 3 different CVs, one in each format?

8. Like many millennials, I am well-versed in video games and social media. Can I leverage this in finding translation work?

9. I noticed that ProZ has a mentorship program. Would you recommend doing it?

10. There is quite a few government contractors looking for "linguists" with TS/SCI to translate/analyze materials. Are they looking for general translators or is it something very niche?


Reading through what I've written above so far, I fear that I come off as somewhat pompous, egotistical, or perhaps even self-aggrandizing. But in all honesty, I genuinely am afraid that my lack of experience and not having a university degree will prohibit me from finding work as a freelance translator.

Thank you for reading through this wall of text and any advice/feedback/tips you provide would be greatly and sincerely appreciated.


PS. I am planning on completing my studies once my situation improves and finances get sorted out. But until then, I would like to gain some real-world experiences.

[Edited at 2018-09-22 05:51 GMT]
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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 07:22
Member (2018)
French to English
some answers Sep 22, 2018


1. Will my age and lack of any degrees be a significant hindrance in finding clients/agencies?

2. I have received 2nd & 3rd prize from the German department for essays written in 400 level German. I also have won 2nd prize in a departmental translation contest. The contest was basically a mock ATA certificate exam, where the best scoring participant won. Are these something one should mention in their translator CVs?

3. I received A's in both translations courses that I mentioned above. Should I mention that in my CV to agencies, given my lack of formal translation experience?

4. For the translation theory course, we worked directly in-person with a relatively well-known German author and translated selected parts from his then new novel as a workshop exercise. Some of our translations, including mine, were "published" in a web-published journal hosted by UC Berkeley. Should I mention this in my CV? In case it helps clarify things, here is the url for it: https://transit.berkeley.edu/2017/dickinson-3/


Until such time as you can take the ATA exam for real, you have to build up whatever you have. If you don't have much experience, you can show that what little you have done up to now has been of a high standard.



5. Few faculties, including the instructor for the translation workshop course, have allowed me to list them as references and are also more than happy to write very positive letters of recommendation on my behalf. Is that something I can use in finding freelance translation work?



You can always supply them, however, there are agencies who contact referees with a view to getting work from them rather than checking whether you performed satisfactorily.


6. Is it possible that some clients/agencies might take issue with my "unusual" language pairings? Is it ok that English technically is my second language?


Two source languages sounds pretty reasonable to me. If you can account for how you learned each, I don't see much of a problem.
I suppose Korean would "technically" be your native language if you lived there as a child. However, if you attended school as a child in the US and have studied there, you can reasonably claim that it is a native language for you.




7. I noticed that Korean, American, and German formats for CVs significantly differ from one another. Does this mean that I need to create 3 different CVs, one in each format?



Yes, and with the language to match the format!


8. Like many millennials, I am well-versed in video games and social media. Can I leverage this in finding translation work?



Yes! I've seen quite a few firms looking for translators with this kind of experience. And this is one area where the more experienced translators don't often have any first-hand knowledge.


9. I noticed that ProZ has a mentorship program. Would you recommend doing it?



Why not?



10. There is quite a few government contractors looking for "linguists" with TS/SCI to translate/analyze materials. Are they looking for general translators or is it something very niche?


I have no idea. But it could be a very good niche.


BD00
 

Steve R.
United States
Russian to English
Focus on experience that you do have, not on experience that you don't Sep 23, 2018

Starting out, I didn't have much experience. In fact, that's usually how everyone else starts out...with nothing. It doesn't matter if it's a degree, certification, or whatever other piece of document that gives peace of mind, yet turns out to offer little, if any, practical value in the end.

One example is the ATA certification. I know quite a few translators who've benefited little from having it, but that might just be the pool I swim in. This is not to disparage it in any way.
... See more
Starting out, I didn't have much experience. In fact, that's usually how everyone else starts out...with nothing. It doesn't matter if it's a degree, certification, or whatever other piece of document that gives peace of mind, yet turns out to offer little, if any, practical value in the end.

One example is the ATA certification. I know quite a few translators who've benefited little from having it, but that might just be the pool I swim in. This is not to disparage it in any way. The certification is great, it's fine, people want it, so let them have it, I say. But for someone starting out, being certified specifically in the field of translation shouldn't be at the top of the list - penultimate, perhaps, but certainly not first, not second, and not even third. My opinion entirely...

If I were in your shoes, I would first spend time on developing a portfolio. Clients will want to see what you've done, not necessarily what you've been paid to do.

Second, wield social media to get new clients. With your international background and millennial savviness, it shouldn't be a huge strain locating someone through someone that needs translation, even if it's not of a work by the likes of Benjamin or Goethe.

Third, while you're still in university, I'd consider taking a few courses in engineering/sciences. Gaming is great, but in my experience, it hasn't been the greatest generator of income.

And finally, I would just start translating professionally. In all my time, no one has ever asked about my age and very few have asked about my education. On the other hand, they have all asked me about my previous work...every time.

Good luck!
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Theodore Ma
United States
Local time: 01:22
Korean to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Sep 23, 2018

Hello Kay, thank you for your response. I'll be sure to keep them in mind!

And as for the topic of 3 separate CV formats, how do you determine which CV to use? Is it based on the agency/client's locale? The language they primarily deal in? Or do you decide based on the language pairing you're offering?


 

Theodore Ma
United States
Local time: 01:22
Korean to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your input! Sep 24, 2018

Steve R. wrote:

Starting out, I didn't have much experience. In fact, that's usually how everyone else starts out...with nothing. It doesn't matter if it's a degree, certification, or whatever other piece of document that gives peace of mind, yet turns out to offer little, if any, practical value in the end.

One example is the ATA certification. I know quite a few translators who've benefited little from having it, but that might just be the pool I swim in. This is not to disparage it in any way. The certification is great, it's fine, people want it, so let them have it, I say. But for someone starting out, being certified specifically in the field of translation shouldn't be at the top of the list - penultimate, perhaps, but certainly not first, not second, and not even third. My opinion entirely...

If I were in your shoes, I would first spend time on developing a portfolio. Clients will want to see what you've done, not necessarily what you've been paid to do.

Second, wield social media to get new clients. With your international background and millennial savviness, it shouldn't be a huge strain locating someone through someone that needs translation, even if it's not of a work by the likes of Benjamin or Goethe.

Third, while you're still in university, I'd consider taking a few courses in engineering/sciences. Gaming is great, but in my experience, it hasn't been the greatest generator of income.

And finally, I would just start translating professionally. In all my time, no one has ever asked about my age and very few have asked about my education. On the other hand, they have all asked me about my previous work...every time.

Good luck!


Hello Steve, thank you very much for your input.

As for building a portfolio, what's the best way to do so?

I'm guessing the translations that I did for my term projects would be of little interest to potential clients, given their literary nature. On second thought, Tucholsky's Deutschland, Deutschland über alles was a rather challenging project given its satirical nature and the type of language that Tucholsky used, which would be best described as extremely colloquial and idiomatic yet educated. Think of Mark Twain, but German. Schnitzler was a whole another can of worms given his frequent usage of the Viennese dialect from the period and other factors. Would you recommend putting them on my portfolio?

Other than that, I've translated a variety of documents for my other class, such as a marriage license, personal letters, magazine ads, newspaper articles, scientific journals, museum brochures, and so on. But would it be acceptable for me to use them as a part of my portfolio, even though most of the documents are not in the public domain?

Lastly, as for your suggestion on enrolling in science/engineering courses, what about business and legal fields? I understand that it would be best for me to focus on a specialization, but I'm having a hard time deciding on which.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 07:22
Member (2018)
French to English
Take your cue from your client Sep 24, 2018

Theodore Ma wrote:
And as for the topic of 3 separate CV formats, how do you determine which CV to use? Is it based on the agency/client's locale? The language they primarily deal in? Or do you decide based on the language pairing you're offering?


I use the language my client feels most comfortable in.
If in doubt, English is usually the safest choice.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Homing in on the CV aspect Sep 24, 2018

Theodore Ma wrote:
7. I noticed that Korean, American, and German formats for CVs significantly differ from one another. Does this mean that I need to create 3 different CVs, one in each format?

Those formats apply to CVs for job-seekers. You're more likely to set yourself up as a freelancer, so forget about them and go for the best means of presenting yourself, your skills, and your experience to potential clients. We only call it a CV here because that's the term the agencies like and businesses understand. The "format" needs to appeal to your potential clients. Rather than worrying about nationality, I can see more sense in matching it to your main specialisations: legal and video games come to mind as specialisations that might call for different marketing ploys.

It's highly likely that you'll need more than one CV, of course. The client should be able to choose their preferred language, for a start. And you may well offer more than one service, in which case you may find it helpful to have more than one version. For example, you could have one for translation clients that highlights your skills and experience in translation, and mentions a little about voice-overs, and another that covers the reverse scenario.

Really, the only constraint is time. No client has time to read your life story, so keep it short and relevant. There's a Wiki article on this site with guidelines for preparing a freelance translator's CV. It does give some templates but really you need to start from scratch and come up with your own unique CV. You'll find the Wiki here: http://wiki.proz.com/wiki/index.php/Creating_an_effective_CV_/_resume (Disclosure: I wrote it ).

6. Is it possible that some clients/agencies might take issue with my "unusual" language pairings? Is it ok that English technically is my second language?

It's clear from what you've written that your level of English is native-equivalent, and that's where your USP could lie, IMHO. There's nothing to stop you translating from German into English, but consider how many professional German to English translators can claim to be totally bilingual. It's bound to be a very large number. OTOH, many Korean texts are being translated into English by Koreans who don't really have a total command of the target language. You do. There's a relatively small pool of truly bilingual Korean/English speakers, and you can justifiably claim to be one, while not hiding your 100% Korean start in life.


 

Theodore Ma
United States
Local time: 01:22
Korean to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Question about rates Sep 25, 2018

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Theodore Ma wrote:
7. I noticed that Korean, American, and German formats for CVs significantly differ from one another. Does this mean that I need to create 3 different CVs, one in each format?

Those formats apply to CVs for job-seekers. You're more likely to set yourself up as a freelancer, so forget about them and go for the best means of presenting yourself, your skills, and your experience to potential clients. We only call it a CV here because that's the term the agencies like and businesses understand. The "format" needs to appeal to your potential clients. Rather than worrying about nationality, I can see more sense in matching it to your main specialisations: legal and video games come to mind as specialisations that might call for different marketing ploys.

It's highly likely that you'll need more than one CV, of course. The client should be able to choose their preferred language, for a start. And you may well offer more than one service, in which case you may find it helpful to have more than one version. For example, you could have one for translation clients that highlights your skills and experience in translation, and mentions a little about voice-overs, and another that covers the reverse scenario.

Really, the only constraint is time. No client has time to read your life story, so keep it short and relevant. There's a Wiki article on this site with guidelines for preparing a freelance translator's CV. It does give some templates but really you need to start from scratch and come up with your own unique CV. You'll find the Wiki here: http://wiki.proz.com/wiki/index.php/Creating_an_effective_CV_/_resume (Disclosure: I wrote it ).

6. Is it possible that some clients/agencies might take issue with my "unusual" language pairings? Is it ok that English technically is my second language?

It's clear from what you've written that your level of English is native-equivalent, and that's where your USP could lie, IMHO. There's nothing to stop you translating from German into English, but consider how many professional German to English translators can claim to be totally bilingual. It's bound to be a very large number. OTOH, many Korean texts are being translated into English by Koreans who don't really have a total command of the target language. You do. There's a relatively small pool of truly bilingual Korean/English speakers, and you can justifiably claim to be one, while not hiding your 100% Korean start in life.


Hello Sheila, thank you for your post. The last part of your was very interesting to me, which segues into my next question: how should one determine their rates as a beginning translator? I've consulted the average rates posted on ProZ a number of times, but I'm still quite uncertain about it. As a beginner with little to no experience, can I still ask for the average rate (GER>ENG $0.11 and KOR>ENG $0.12) or go just a bit lower? Or given your comment regarding the shortage of "truly bilingual" Korean/English speakers, should I instead leverage that and justify charging 20%-30% more?

From the posts on ProZ and articles from other websites that I've come across, the general guideline seems to be: don't go too low, and set your rates as high as you can get away with. I know that the best way is to just try a few things and see what happens, but my fear is being blacklisted or something by agencies as "the idiot newbie who's asking for waaay too much."

And again, I wanted to give a big thank you to everyone for your feedbacks. It's still a bit bizarre to me that there's a place on the internet where people are still polite and takes valuable time out of their busy schedules to provide help to complete strangers.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Don't sell yourself short Sep 25, 2018

Theodore Ma wrote:
my next question: how should one determine their rates as a beginning translator? I've consulted the average rates posted on ProZ a number of times, but I'm still quite uncertain about it. As a beginner with little to no experience, can I still ask for the average rate (GER>ENG $0.11 and KOR>ENG $0.12) or go just a bit lower? Or given your comment regarding the shortage of "truly bilingual" Korean/English speakers, should I instead leverage that and justify charging 20%-30% more?

Are the texts that you deliver going to be of at least average quality? If not, why not?! If they are, why charge the client less than an average rate? Don't worry, you'll be earning less than an experienced translator would earn per hour, due to all the time you'll be spending doing research, checking and rechecking, and having to cope with learning curves galore. Maybe you'll want to quote a touch below average to give yourself more of a chance of getting the all-important early experience, but not much less. Remember, you'll find it nearly impossible to raise your rate with existing clients.

Would I suggest you charge more? Probably not at the moment. I think you first need to prove yourself able to produce top-quality English-native texts. Once you have that proof, in terms of experience with feedback from happy clients, then you can go on to target new clients at new rates. But that's just my take on it and I'd be interested to hear what others have to say.

And again, I wanted to give a big thank you to everyone for your feedbacks. It's still a bit bizarre to me that there's a place on the internet where people are still polite and takes valuable time out of their busy schedules to provide help to complete strangers.

ProZ.com does make a nice change from some of the Brexit forums I'm involved with on Facebook .


 

Theodore Ma
United States
Local time: 01:22
Korean to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
much appreciated Sep 26, 2018

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Theodore Ma wrote:
my next question: how should one determine their rates as a beginning translator? I've consulted the average rates posted on ProZ a number of times, but I'm still quite uncertain about it. As a beginner with little to no experience, can I still ask for the average rate (GER>ENG $0.11 and KOR>ENG $0.12) or go just a bit lower? Or given your comment regarding the shortage of "truly bilingual" Korean/English speakers, should I instead leverage that and justify charging 20%-30% more?

Are the texts that you deliver going to be of at least average quality? If not, why not?! If they are, why charge the client less than an average rate? Don't worry, you'll be earning less than an experienced translator would earn per hour, due to all the time you'll be spending doing research, checking and rechecking, and having to cope with learning curves galore. Maybe you'll want to quote a touch below average to give yourself more of a chance of getting the all-important early experience, but not much less. Remember, you'll find it nearly impossible to raise your rate with existing clients.

Would I suggest you charge more? Probably not at the moment. I think you first need to prove yourself able to produce top-quality English-native texts. Once you have that proof, in terms of experience with feedback from happy clients, then you can go on to target new clients at new rates. But that's just my take on it and I'd be interested to hear what others have to say.

And again, I wanted to give a big thank you to everyone for your feedbacks. It's still a bit bizarre to me that there's a place on the internet where people are still polite and takes valuable time out of their busy schedules to provide help to complete strangers.

ProZ.com does make a nice change from some of the Brexit forums I'm involved with on Facebook .


Thank you Sheila for a yet another valuable advice. The translations that I handed in for the workshop course usually received good feedback, so I am somewhat confident that my translations will be, at the very least, of acceptable quality and not require too much editing.

And best of luck to you during the whole Brexit nonsense. I can only imagine how stressful the entire will-they-won't-they thing going on must be for a British expat in Spain.


 

Steve R.
United States
Russian to English
Thoughts, suggestions Sep 27, 2018

Hi Theodore,

First, portfolios have audiences, so it's important to understand whom they're for. My areas are IT, law, and marketing, so my samples are designed to appeal to hiring personnel in these fields. Also, I have a rotating set of varying styles for each field, so I can tailor them to what I believe best resonates with the "voice" of the potential client.

Second, a variable portfolio is great to have for the long term, namely for dealing with test translation r
... See more
Hi Theodore,

First, portfolios have audiences, so it's important to understand whom they're for. My areas are IT, law, and marketing, so my samples are designed to appeal to hiring personnel in these fields. Also, I have a rotating set of varying styles for each field, so I can tailor them to what I believe best resonates with the "voice" of the potential client.

Second, a variable portfolio is great to have for the long term, namely for dealing with test translation requests. Personally, I hate doing test translations; I think they're a bit degrading, so I don't do them. Instead I send my portfolio, and if the potential client continues to request for a test translation, I politely refuse and move on. In my view, a test translation is still a translation, and a translation is still work, and work requires compensation. Now if clients want to pay me for the test, I might consider it, but I still need to weigh the chances of being deceived and refused payment after the client receives the test, which can happen and happens not only in the context of test translations, by the way. At any rate, using a portfolio can minimize exposure to such risks.

Third, I would keep to public domain materials for samples, given your current lack in professional output. Furthermore, if Tucholsky and Schnitzler are indeed in the public domain, I would absolutely consider adding them, especially if you're trying to break into gaming translation/localization, as clients in this area will appreciate translators that can grasp and convey idioms and colloquialisms. Also, you may find yourself needing to translate games set in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century, where you'll need to not only "localize" but "temporalize" the target language.

Fourth, I don't think you need special courses on business/law as a translator; and while they might help, I have doubts that they'll help so much as to justify the time you spent reading about impenetrable case precedents and obscure legal doctrines. If you're a translator, chances are you're already a sharp reader, and for business/law source texts, being a sharp reader coupled with being a moderately competent researcher oftentimes is sufficient. On the other hand, translating texts about software architecture or other complex systems in general requires a certain kind of knowledge that would be best had at college level.

My four cents.
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