A couple of questions regarding route into paid translation as a career
Thread poster: Laura Jones

Laura Jones
United Kingdom
New user
Feb 10

Hi there,

I am a potential translator and I was hoping I would be able to get some advice here regarding my personal situation. I finished my A-levels in the UK 5 years ago and went to work in Germany for 3 years – mostly in hospitality but also in the banking sector for a year.

I came back to the UK and worked as a German customer service advisor for UK companies for 2 years but given that I've always been an excellent writer (in English) and I have been commended on mastery of German, I've recently decided that translation would be a good career choice.

To gain experience, I've been doing voluntary work for a couple of charity websites and a few speculative applications however although I've had excellent feedback, I realise that this will never suffice as experience for paid work.

I didn’t attend university at 18 for personal reasons but my grades were more than good enough and I now wish to go back to do a Bachelor’s degree in German and then a Masters in translation.

I am slightly dreading the first year or 2 because I am already fluent and having to study the basics is quite beyond me when I’ve used German as my primary working language for 5 years.

However, my aim is to become a translator and a degree seems mandatory for this so I figured that during the first couple of years of the degree, I can gain a head start on translation technique and also acquire some business and freelance skills in my spare time.

My questions are:
- Will I realistically be able to start getting clients in my final year of my BA and during my Master’s degree and have this as a viable part-time income stream or do the majority agencies and clients demand at least a bachelor’s degree?

- Should I delay my studies further and gain work experience in another sector to first attain a specialism or should I be able to deepen, for example, my knowledge of business and technology alongside my studies sufficiently to use them as specialisms? I’m a very motivated self-teacher but obviously this route would not allow me to verify any expertise. Obviously I have experience in customer services and 4 years of experience in hospitality but I highly doubt that these can be considered specialisms.

Any advice is much appreciated,

Laura


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
blow back: a specialist first; foreign language skills second Feb 10

Hello Laura.

First of all, there's no such thing as a "pure translation" per-se.

1) Start low, go slow, and build your good name and image, winning more referrals--let the wide world hear about you! While one doesn't really need a degree or internal and extra-mural courses in translation, sometimes CAE/GRE or an equivalent certification is a big plus for better marketing. It has much to do with the proper specialization and relevant biz skills, let alone communication. Alas, most language specialists are but very poor businessmen. Little wonder, a decent specialist with some foreign language skills will often do better than a good linguist. Furthermore, a nagging bottom-feeder with fair presentation [selling] skills can also do better than a mere top-notch translator without a penchant for business.

2) The only best time is NOW! What are you waiting for--Christmas? There were many before and many are yet to come.

It's nice if you're good with CATs and can diversify your income via proofreading, rewriting, transcreation, or even interpreting--even better if you can do something more besides translation. including your own biz (an agency?).


Cheers


Dan Lucas
Jorge Payan
JPAlex
 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:02
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Some random thoughts Feb 10

Hi Laura,

If you're thinking of doing a degree and your German is already fluent I'd seriously consider studying something that will give you a specialism rather than a language degree. That along with your years working abroad should be a powerful combination. And, have you thought about studying part-time and trying to build your business at the same time?

As to whether you need a degree, who knows? It's true that most translators do have at least a Bachelor's degree but what actually matters is whether you can do the job, and whether you can persuade people that you can. As DZiW says, most translators are terrible salespeople and if you can network effectively in your source language you may well be able to pick up direct clients that way.

And don't knock your experience - everything counts in this profession. Lots of translators come to translating straight from uni with no idea of how businesses work, which is far from ideal. Knowledge of customer service and hospitality may prove to be very valuable.

Also, joining the ITI and getting to some meetings may be helpful. Meeting other translators can be very useful.

Anyway, good luck and I hope things work out for you,

Rachel


Dan Lucas
Joshua Parker
Teresa Borges
Christine Andersen
Mr.Q
Michele Fauble
Thomas Miles
 

Hamish Young  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 20:02
Member (2010)
Chinese to English
Agree with Rachel Feb 11

Judging from my own experience (albeit in Chinese not German), you probably don't need the degree in German. I got into translation through work experience overseas + bachelor's degree in science + postgraduate diploma in translation studies and I've never been short of work.

If you want a degree I suggest a practical subject that will lead to specialized translation work in the future, and then also if you decide not to be a translator you can continue to work in that field.

In the meantime you can establish profiles on Proz and other websites and look for jobs straight away. Answering kudos questions is a good way to get yourself recognized on this site.


Joshua Parker
Teresa Borges
Kaspars Melkis
Rachel Waddington
 

Agneta Pallinder  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:02
Member (2014)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Study in Germany? Feb 11

Could you do a degree at a German university? In a subject of your choice and interest, but at the same time honing your German at an advanced level.

Christine Andersen
Kay Denney
Michele Fauble
Deborah do Carmo
Samuel Murray
 

Joe France  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:02
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
Depends what your expectations are Feb 11

Hi Laura,

From what you've said, it might be worth looking into what a foreign language degree at university actually offers. For instance, my undergraduate degree only improved my language skills to a very limited degree - when my German and French improved, it was largely because of self-study and spending time abroad. It did provide a deeper understanding of German-speaking/Francophone history and culture, but from a purely linguistic perspective there's nothing better than time in the source country, which you say you have. You'd have to evaluate whether this is worth you time and money, therefore. You could perhaps take a standardised test to evaluate your language level as a practical starting point?

Some universities allow you to start in 2nd year, so that might be worth considering: to be frank, my first year at Edinburgh was spent catching everyone from the rest of the UK up to A-Level standard, which it sounds like you have well exceeded! However, if you're not Scottish / in Scotland then uni is still an expensive option (think ~£9k fees + living costs). Perhaps you could use a joint degree to develop a specialism - for instance, I now regret not combining my undergrad with economics, history or politics given how much time I had on my hands.

On the other hand, looking at things practically, lots of agency recruitment and PM staff treat freelance recruitment as a box-ticking exercise. When you're starting out, having a bit of paper with your name on from a university does open doors. I think it all depends what you're expecting from the course. Another question is whether you want to be a student - reading your post, you must be around your mid-20s, so would be a good bit older than most of your peers on an undergrad course. This, of course, is a personal issue for you to consider rather than a translation one, so I shall end my contribution here.

Good luck, whatever you decide!


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 08:02
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
It's not that important which degree you have Feb 11

… Well, up to a point.

Whatever you have a degree in, as a translator you spend a lot of time studying, long after you have stopped going to formal classes, taking exams and collecting diplomas. Having a relevant degree is probably indispensable, but a great many different kinds of degree can be relevant.

You do need to understand the grammar and structure of the language, but if it is your source language, then the most important thing is understanding it 'as she is spoke' or written, also in special situations like legalese and technical terminology. Studying a specialist subject in Germany might be far more beneficial than going back to basics with students in the UK who are far less proficient in German than you are.

You need to know your target (native) language inside out, grammar, idioms, and a certain amount of what one of my professors called 'pragmatics'. My mother used to drive me nuts and actually put me off languages at first - she was a linguistics and literature specialist, and loved all the theory and etymology, from ancient Icelandic onwards!
I would not quite say forget all that, and linguistics has come a long way since her day, but concentrate on the living language! A course in practical translation - Masters or a diploma - can be useful, but choose a course that matches what you want to do afterwards.

Joe France has a point, about whether you want to be a student. Think about the other suggestions too.
And good luck!


 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 02:02
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Combined degree? Feb 11

Laura Jones wrote:
I am slightly dreading the first year or 2 because I am already fluent and having to study the basics is quite beyond me when I’ve used German as my primary working language for 5 years.


Normally in a UK university, studying a major European modern language, you will not be studying the basics. I did French at a top UK university (not Oxbridge but highly ranked), and all our classes were in French from day 1. Everyone had top marks at their French A-levels and nearly everyone had already lived in France and spoke quite well already. It does sound like you will be a better German speaker than most of your classmates, but you should certainly not be studying "the basics."

Have you looked at the curriculum of German courses at UK universities? Have you looked at the admission requirements for universities that rank highly in modern languages? The better the uni, the more competent your classmates will be, as a general rule -- making the degree more challenging and interesting.

And have you considered a combined course, such as German and business or German and law? A combined course would be a bit more challenging, which would make up for the tedium of being one of the best German speakers/writers on your course, and would also give you an extensive practical vocabulary and understanding of a subject other than the language itself, which would serve you highly in a future translation career. If you did German and law, for instance, I think you could go straight from that degree into legal and (given your work background) financial translation, without needing the master's in translation.

Also, let me point out that a combined BA or LLB degree (language plus law or business) would give you more career options and higher earning potential than a BA German + MA translation. Even if you wanted to stay in translation, FYI, I was recently tasked with finding a German legal translator to translate some US legal documents into German, and the independent translators here in the states were charging something like 20 cents (about 14p or 15p) PER WORD! Also, as a US lawyer who does legal translation and also copyedits legal translations done by others, I can tell you that a lot of translators who know nothing about the law are doing bad legal translations. University-level studies in law would make you dramatically better than the average legal translator.

A few combined courses in the UK:

UCL Law with German LLB: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/undergraduate/degrees/law-german-llb/

Birmingham Law with German Law LLB: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/law/law-german.aspx

Edinburgh LLB Law and German: https://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/undergraduate/degrees/index.php?action=view&code=MR12

Nottingham BA Hons. Law with German Law: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ugstudy/courses/law/law-german.aspx

Bristol LLB Law and German: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/2019/law/llb-law-german/

King's College English & German Law: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/english-law-and-german-law-llb.aspx

Warwick Law with German Law LLB ("This degree includes a year abroad studying at a university in Germany and is aimed at those with a strong grasp of the German language"): https://warwick.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses-2019/lawwithgermanlaw/


Rachel Waddington
Teresa Borges
Dan Lucas
 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:02
Member (2018)
French to English
UK universities Feb 12

Having had several interns from several different British universities, I have the impression that very few give a good grounding in foreign languages. Unless you manage to get into a top university like Eliza, I would say it might be more useful to study something else in Germany.

 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 02:02
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Where to study Feb 13

Kay Denney wrote:

Unless you manage to get into a top university like Eliza, I would say it might be more useful to study something else in Germany.


That's an interesting idea. Of course, many or most of the combined language/law and language/business degrees in the UK include a year at a German university.

What you may want to look into, Laura, is how long it would take to get a university qualification. The shorter the course, the sooner you can start working (although of course you could freelance while at university). And the other issue, of course, is that if Brexit goes through, will it become more difficult or more expensive for you, as a British subject, to study at a German university?

Here's an overview of the German higher education system: https://www.study-in.de/en/plan-your-studies/university-degrees-and-programmes_26610.php


 

DIV1
Australia
Local time: 18:02
German to English
+ ...
Different starting points for courses depending upon student's prior experience Feb 17

Laura Jones wrote:

I now wish to go back to do a Bachelor’s degree in German and then a Masters in translation.

I am slightly dreading the first year or 2 because I am already fluent and having to study the basics is quite beyond me when I’ve used German as my primary working language for 5 years.


Hello, Laura.

Many people have already offered sound suggestions for other avenues you may wish to take.

However, in the interests of clarity & completeness I would like to comment on two specific aspects of your above comments.

Firstly, you indicated that if entering a Bachelor-level course in German you'd expect to be studying "the basics". Assuming that by "the basics" you mean things like how to greet people, numbers, how to order food, and so on, then I believe you may be labouring under a misapprehension. Judging my Australian university, new students will enter either a beginners class, or an intermediate class or an advanced class depending upon their existing skill level. Typically that existing skill level is from secondary school studies in the preceding year, but it can also be from any other experience that seems equivalent.
I expect most/all reputable universities in the UK would (and certainly should) do this. Maybe there are some small institutions don't teach advanced German, but even then they 'should' be able to let you skip the first year (or two) and let you directly join the intermediate class.
Alternatively, if by "the basics" you mean writing dissertations on Goethe in German, then ...I commend you. And see my following point.

Secondly, in case you already have skill equivalent to a Bachelor's degree in German, then can the university let you enter the Master's degree programme directly, giving you credit for practical experience, rather than the usual route?
By analogy, people studying an MBA sometimes have no prior (formal) business studies, I believe.

Good luck whichever path you decide to take,
DIV


 

Nikolai Sergeichuk
Russian Federation
Local time: 10:02
English to Russian
Similar situation Feb 17

I actually may have seen something else in the message. I think have you not only asked what to do now, but also you have asked if you can. Do you have any doubts whether it is a good career path. Looking at your experience I would say you didn't much like any of the job you've done.
I have a master degree in mechanics, and still I am not an engineer, and just a worker. I didn't much like all the jobs I had had ultimately. I am in my mid 30s now. There is only semester till I have diploma proving that I am a professional translator after retraing program for postgraduates. I've been studying with pre-intermediate level students at least regarding their speaking skills. I am glad that they read well and have good vocabulary. Still it's so much boring. I nearly sleep at my speaking classes. Really! That's true. I always take coffee with me, because study advance, but it's still boring as they can't speak fluently. Consider that.
Now the main point. I think the major problem you may encounter is the isolation. You have a big experience in working with people. Remember how you felt during your full day session with voluntary translation work.
Anyways, even though I my studies are not serious in terms of language skills, it is important to know some translation studies and theories. At least for your confidence.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:02
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Laura Feb 18

Laura Jones wrote:
I have been commended on mastery of German...


When locals of a foreign country commend you on your mastery of their language, they often mean that they are surprised that you can speak it at all and that they can have a normal conversation with you. "You speak good German" may simply mean "You speak good German for someone who is not German", i.e. "Your German is not as bad as one would normally expect from someone who is not German". It may be that your German is passable for working in Germany but not good enough for translation.

I am slightly dreading the first year or 2 because I am already fluent and having to study the basics is quite beyond me when I’ve used German as my primary working language for 5 years.


Even if your German is very good, you may have missed out on certain aspects of German that are important for knowing the language well, but which aren't necessary to speak it ordinarily. The university study will hopefully give you a solid grounding in all aspects of German, including aspects that you may have had less exposure to.

Sometimes, when you study a foreign language at university, the university assumes that you start from scratch, so they start off with "practical" language, e.g. how to order coffee or book into a hotel, but sometimes the university assumes that you already have some skill in the language and/or assume that you want to study the language more comprehensively from the start. Try to find out what kind of German course is given by the university that you choose.

My aim is to become a translator and a degree seems mandatory for this...


It's not mandatory, but translation training is always good. Try to find out if you can do a translation course that doesn't require you to have a degree.

I figured that during the first couple of years of the degree, I can gain a head start on translation technique and also acquire some business and freelance skills in my spare time.


Could be.

- Will I realistically be able to start getting clients in my final year of my BA and during my Master’s degree and have this as a viable part-time income stream or do the majority agencies and clients demand at least a bachelor’s degree?


The majority of agencies care about skill, experience, and professionalism. Having a degree will give you some clout with some, but you should try to kick-start your translation career as soon as you can.

That said, do not underestimate the amount of time you need to spend on your studies. I would recommend that you tell clients that you are a part-time translator and that you can translate 500 words per day only.

- Should I delay my studies further and gain work experience in another sector to first attain a specialism or should I be able to deepen, for example, my knowledge of business and technology alongside my studies sufficiently to use them as specialisms?


If you can afford to study now, then study now. You may not be able to afford it later, and/or you may not be able to set aside enough time for it later.


 


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:


You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

A couple of questions regarding route into paid translation as a career

Advanced search







Wordfast Pro
Translation Memory Software for Any Platform

Exclusive discount for ProZ.com users! Save over 13% when purchasing Wordfast Pro through ProZ.com. Wordfast is the world's #1 provider of platform-independent Translation Memory software. Consistently ranked the most user-friendly and highest value

More info »
SDL Trados Studio 2019 Freelance
The leading translation software used by over 250,000 translators.

SDL Trados Studio 2019 has evolved to bring translators a brand new experience. Designed with user experience at its core, Studio 2019 transforms how new users get up and running and helps experienced users make the most of the powerful features.

More info »



Forums
  • All of ProZ.com
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search