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Translators and interpreters: What questions did you have when you first considered the profession?
Thread poster: Henry Dotterer

Henry Dotterer
Local time: 22:03
SITE FOUNDER
Jun 3

Hey folks. We're creating an FAQ for those aspiring to become translators or interpreters. For those willing to help: What questions did you have (or, if you are a student, do you have), at the point you were (or are) thinking about entering the profession?

I'll compile FAQ's here.

--------

=== General questions ===

Is it possible to make a living as a translator or interpreter?

Yes! It is estimated that about a million peop
... See more
Hey folks. We're creating an FAQ for those aspiring to become translators or interpreters. For those willing to help: What questions did you have (or, if you are a student, do you have), at the point you were (or are) thinking about entering the profession?

I'll compile FAQ's here.

--------

=== General questions ===

Is it possible to make a living as a translator or interpreter?

Yes! It is estimated that about a million people, worldwide, do so.

What linguistic skills are required to be able to translate or interpret professionally?

To function professionally, a translator needs to understand the "source" language fully and be a good writer in the "target" language. (In most cases, clients will require that the translator be native in the target language.) For their part, interpreters need to be good listeners, well-spoken, with a strong command of two languages.

Is linguistic ability enough to make a living as a freelance translator or interpreter?

No. For most paid work, the translator or interpreter will need to have a particular knowledge of the subject matter in question.

How do translators and interpreters develop subject-matter expertise?

Often, a linguist specialized in a given field has worked in the field previously. (There are medical interpreters who formerly were doctors, and legal translators who formerly were attorneys, for example.) Some begin to work in areas they knew previously from hobbies, studies and so on. Most people entering the profession are knowledgeable in some fields -- they tend to target those areas for their initial work, and then expand their range of offerings over time.

Apart from linguistic ability and subject matter expertise, what would I need to "make it" as a freelance translator or interpreter?

Certain business and technical skills are required. Translators have to use certain software tools, deal with formatting issues, etc. And of course, all freelancers need to be able to negotiate rates, generate invoices, remit taxes and so on.

Is some sort of certification required to become a translator or interpreter?

In most countries, no. However, some countries and jurisdictions (or courts, for example) have particular requirements.

Where does demand for paid translation and interpreting tend to come from?

International businesses, courts, medical institutions, scientists, publishers, governments, military services, those applying for immigration/visas, etc.

Do translators and interpreters work for such clients directly?

In some cases. However, in many cases, the "end client" hires a translation or interpreting company, which in turn outsources to freelancers. (Or, in some cases, other translation companies.)

How do translators and interpreters find work?

Through portals like LinkedIn or ProZ.com, through their own websites, by word of mouth, from other freelancers, or by applying directly to end clients and/or language services companies.

I think I'm qualified, but I'd like a chance to get some experience, to gain confidence and build a track record. What opportunities are there for that?

You could try to find volunteer opportunities with non-profit groups such as Translators without Borders or Kiva.org. You might also consider the ProZ.com mentoring program.

What tools do translators use in their work?

Many translators work in what is known as a "computer-assisted translation" (CAT) tool. This sort of software helps a translator to work faster by showing sentences to be translated, one at a time, in a ("source") box, while providing another ("target") box for the translation to be entered. The target box may get pre-populated, if similar sentences have been translated previously, or if machine translation (such as that provided by Google) is being used.

=== Payment-related questions ===

How are translator and interpreters paid?

Translators are usually paid a certain amount per word (or per character, in some languages).

Interpreters tend to be paid based on time. (Time increments may be minute, hour, half day or day..)

What payment methods are used?

When client and linguist live in the same region, the most popular local payment option is usually used. In remote arrangements, Paypal is probably most common. In areas that Paypal does not serve well, there are other services used.

When does payment happen? Before or after the work?

Unfortunately, when it comes to translation and interpreting, payment usually comes after work has been delivered... and there can be a delay of 30 or even 60 days (and in rare cases more!) before payment reaches a freelancer.

There are some freelancers who will ask for a portion of payment up front.

How can I be sure I will get paid?

Freelance translators and interpreters have to manage this risk. Resources such as the ProZ.com Blue Board -- a database of translation outsourcers with reviews -- and are important. ("Payment Practices" is another, not affiliated with ProZ.com.)
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AlessandraV.
Italy
Local time: 04:03
English to Italian
cat tools Jun 3

I would add:

How big a role have cat tools in this business? Can I actually work without using one?


Jorge Payan
 

Henry Dotterer
Local time: 22:03
SITE FOUNDER
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, Alex700 Jun 3

Alex700 wrote:
How big a role have cat tools in this business? Can I actually work without using one?

Thanks! I'll generalize that and add it.


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 03:03
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Business skills Jun 3

Most of the technical skills needed for a translator are acquired through formal education but those can soon become a liability in terms of not having mastered all the business skills necessary.

DZiW
Jorge Payan
Maxi Schwarz
John Fossey
 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:03
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
ProZ Wiki Jun 3

I think there is useful stuff in the Wiki, too:
http://wiki.proz.com/wiki
You might want to include at least a link in the FAQ.

For example, there is an extensive article about CAT-tools:
http://wiki.proz.com/wiki/index.php/Translator
... See more
I think there is useful stuff in the Wiki, too:
http://wiki.proz.com/wiki
You might want to include at least a link in the FAQ.

For example, there is an extensive article about CAT-tools:
http://wiki.proz.com/wiki/index.php/Translator_use_of_Computer-Aided_Translation_(CAT)_tools

[Edited at 2019-06-03 21:41 GMT]
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Christine Andersen
 

Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:03
German to English
+ ...
tweaking an answer Jun 4

I agree with most, but here:
Henry Dotterer wrote:

What tools do translators use in their work?

Most translators work in what is known as a "computer-assisted translation" (CAT) tool. This sort of software helps a translator to work faster by showing sentences to be translated, one at a time, in a ("source") box, while providing another ("target") box for the translation to be entered.

I would be surprised if most translators use such tools. A newcomer to the field should know that we choose tools according to the kind of work we do and its nature. A large number of translators use MS Word for their translations - period. For some kind of work, CAT tools are unfeasible, and can slow down work, and lower quality. For other kinds of work, they are the bee's knees.


AlessandraV.
Kay Denney
Barbara Sickor
Rachael Clayton
 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:03
Member (2008)
French to English
My thoughts Jun 4

The big questions I had when entering the profession (it's not an "industry") were:

- Can I earn a living with it?
Yes, once I had developed a clientele that matched my skills. It took me about 6 months before it paid my bills, but the potential is far higher than that.

- How do I promote myself?
Information on how to create a professional CV and online presence and get it into the hands of potential clients.

- How do I find clients?
The
... See more
The big questions I had when entering the profession (it's not an "industry") were:

- Can I earn a living with it?
Yes, once I had developed a clientele that matched my skills. It took me about 6 months before it paid my bills, but the potential is far higher than that.

- How do I promote myself?
Information on how to create a professional CV and online presence and get it into the hands of potential clients.

- How do I find clients?
The difference between agencies and end clients. Remember that newcomers to the field have probably never heard of agencies and are unaware of that peculiar aspect of the profession.

- What are the tools?
Soon after entering the profession I began to learn about the various software tools, especially CAT tools, and tested various ones.
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Sheila Wilson
Vera Schoen
Barbara Sickor
 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:03
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Specialisation Jun 4

One of the most common questions I see newcomers asking is how to go about building a specialism when they come to translation from a language degree/master's in translation with no other experience or training. And how to even go about deciding what to specialise in.

Rachael Clayton
 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:03
Member (2018)
French to English
. Jun 4

Maxi Schwarz wrote:
A newcomer to the field should know that we choose tools according to the kind of work we do and its nature. A large number of translators use MS Word for their translations - period. For some kind of work, CAT tools are unfeasible, and can slow down work, and lower quality. For other kinds of work, they are the bee's knees.


Yes, because not even agencies seem to know. I was in the embarrassing situation of not having my laptop available just when an agency contacted me for a job. I saw that it was a pitch for a TV series, so perfectly doable in Word, but the PM asked me to use a CAT. I asked if there was a TM I needed to use, and when she said there wasn't, I explained that it would be much easier and the result would be much better if I didn't have to use one. She readily agreed with me, but obviously hadn't put any thought into it.

John Fossey wrote:
the profession (it's not an "industry")

My take is that for translators using Word to craft translations with a creative slant to them, it's a profession, but that for translators working as described by Henry, using a CAT tool and maybe MT to churn out software manuals, it's rather more of an industry.

(I'd put "My" in bold if it weren't such a pain to do so)


Rachael Clayton
 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:03
Member (2008)
French to English
I still think it's a profession Jun 4

Kay Denney wrote:

...churn out software manuals...


I'm not sure how one "churn's out" software manuals, with or without CAT & MT. I would have thought it's a good example of one area of the profession where a specialist's skill is needed. The skillset obviously differs for someone working in a creative field, but a software manual poorly translated would be useless at best and dangerous at worst.


Rachel Waddington
Vera Schoen
Kay Denney
Michael Wetzel
Angie Garbarino
 

Henry Dotterer
Local time: 22:03
SITE FOUNDER
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, everyone Jun 4

Thanks for the excellent feedback. I've been expanding out the FAQs in the initial post in this thread.

 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
not the tertiary sector of the economy Jun 4

Henry, from the very beginning (about 20 years ago) I still can't help wondering WHEN a diploma, a certificate, a portfolio, and references WILL be enough to (1) prove one's competence without ever going FREE* tests and (2) some $0.015/word due to "discounts".



John, while there's such thing as Maid service... See more
Henry, from the very beginning (about 20 years ago) I still can't help wondering WHEN a diploma, a certificate, a portfolio, and references WILL be enough to (1) prove one's competence without ever going FREE* tests and (2) some $0.015/word due to "discounts".



John, while there's such thing as Maid service and Theft of services--oops!--I mean Language industry and gratuity Brokerage, considering the fundamental characteristics of profession, I doubt that freelance translators are real owners of their biz, let alone making their* terms and rules or choosing their audience:
6. Clients rather than customers
Members of a profession exercise discrimination in choosing clients rather than simply accepting any interested party as a customer (as merchants do).
Far too many...
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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 04:03
Member
Italian to English
"How do I make sure I get paid?" Jun 5

To be honest I can't even remember what questions I had, it was so long ago.
I do see this question cropping up all the time on forums though, and a lot of people don't seem to be aware of the resources out there.
I know there is the Blue Board. These is also Payment Practices, which I believe all translators should be aware of, it really is excellent.


DZiW
Axel Dittmer
 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:03
Member (2018)
French to English
yes Jun 5

John Fossey wrote:

Kay Denney wrote:

...churn out software manuals...


I'm not sure how one "churn's out" software manuals, with or without CAT & MT. I would have thought it's a good example of one area of the profession where a specialist's skill is needed. The skillset obviously differs for someone working in a creative field, but a software manual poorly translated would be useless at best and dangerous at worst.


Of course, I didn't mean that translating software manuals is an unskilled job. However I get the impression that agencies dealing with this type of work seem to treat translators like robots, and have an industrial approach, requesting discounts for high-volume etc. whereas the boutique agencies working in more creative fields seem to treat translators like human beings, and even show respect for the profession.
So it's more a matter of how agencies view us than what we actually are. Good point, thank you John.


 

Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:03
Member (2012)
French to English
How do I get to do some "real" translation work? Jun 5

That was my main question.

As I've said before, I did an MA in translation purely for something to do (son going to University, empty nest syndrome, etc.), but thought it might be interesting to try and get some actual work.

ProZ.com stood out as the place to go to get started, and I became a member mainly because of the mentoring scheme.


 
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