How are translators here being successful without formal qualifications? It doesn't work for me!
Thread poster: Neil Kendall (X)

Neil Kendall (X)
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:47
Spanish to English
Sep 26

I've seen posts here saying that you can be successful as a translator without any formal qualifications. However that doesn't seem to work for me. Every translation agency I've contacted has turned me down due to lack of formal qualifications in translation or languages.

Also, when you register with an agency, most of them seem to ask what translation/language related qualifications you have. I intend to do my DPSI and/or Diploma in Translation exam in the next year or 2, however I
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I've seen posts here saying that you can be successful as a translator without any formal qualifications. However that doesn't seem to work for me. Every translation agency I've contacted has turned me down due to lack of formal qualifications in translation or languages.

Also, when you register with an agency, most of them seem to ask what translation/language related qualifications you have. I intend to do my DPSI and/or Diploma in Translation exam in the next year or 2, however I'm keen to break into translation work in the meantime.

So to all of you who claim to be making a living as a translator without any formal qualifications, how are you doing it????? Do you have some magic secret I don't know about or something???

[Edited at 2019-09-26 11:13 GMT]
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Lan Nguyen
 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Neil Sep 26

Neil Kendall wrote:
Every translation agency I've contacted has turned me down due to lack of formal qualifications in translation or languages.


Your experience is quite atypical. Firstly, it is uncommon for agencies to tell you that they've turned you down, and secondly, it is rare for them to tell you *why* they've turned you down. The fact that you've had such consistent responses from agencies is a good sign, I believe. Say, how many agencies have you contacted?


 

Neil Kendall (X)
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:47
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Reply Sep 26

Samuel Murray wrote:

Neil Kendall wrote:
Every translation agency I've contacted has turned me down due to lack of formal qualifications in translation or languages.


Your experience is quite atypical. Firstly, it is uncommon for agencies to tell you that they've turned you down, and secondly, it is rare for them to tell you *why* they've turned you down. The fact that you've had such consistent responses from agencies is a good sign, I believe. Say, how many agencies have you contacted?


So far I've contacted about 50 UK based translation agencies. Well to be fair, a lot of them simply haven't responded, so that probably means they're not interested. I have a list of a couple of hundred more I am going to contact, so hopefully something will work out.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Neil Sep 26

Neil Kendall wrote:
Well to be fair, a lot of them simply haven't responded, so...


So you don't know why they didn't respond -- you simply assumed it was because of your lack of qualifications.

In reality, even if you have all the right qualifications, fewer than 10% of agencies will respond, and fewer than 20% of those who respond will actually give you work. The fact that they don't respond, actually means nothing. Starting out as a translator is a numbers game.


Neil Kendall (X)
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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 03:47
Member (2016)
English to German
What makes you special? Sep 26

I have no linguistic qualifications whatever and it works for me because I can offer decades of experience and specialization in other industries. That does not mean that I translate only within these fields, but it is an excellent door opener for agency contacts. What you should think about is how you can create situations where you are special, where the prospective client/agency has not thousands of other translators to choose from. That might be due to a particular skill/specializatio... See more
I have no linguistic qualifications whatever and it works for me because I can offer decades of experience and specialization in other industries. That does not mean that I translate only within these fields, but it is an excellent door opener for agency contacts. What you should think about is how you can create situations where you are special, where the prospective client/agency has not thousands of other translators to choose from. That might be due to a particular skill/specialization/talent, but also sometimes simply to be present at the right time at the right place, for example when everyone else is on vacation or simply asleep. Doing what everyone else does too will not get you far (and that includes having a language degree that everyone else has too). Look at what you can offer on top of your language skills.Collapse


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:47
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You need to justify yourself to your clients Sep 26

A client looking for a freelance translator isn't looking to make a life-time investment in one person, where an all-rounder, "can do" employee would probably represent the best ROI. They're looking for an expert to translate their current text. They won't be over-impressed by someone offering multiple languages; they won't be interested in a generalist if they have a highly technical text or important marketing text. In fact, many will actually filter out such service providers as being potenti... See more
A client looking for a freelance translator isn't looking to make a life-time investment in one person, where an all-rounder, "can do" employee would probably represent the best ROI. They're looking for an expert to translate their current text. They won't be over-impressed by someone offering multiple languages; they won't be interested in a generalist if they have a highly technical text or important marketing text. In fact, many will actually filter out such service providers as being potentially non-serious.

Clients want, indeed, they need:
-- some proof of your source language skills. It doesn't have to be degree certificates. As you know yourself, according to your website, you can study languages for years and not really achieve anything much other than a certificate. If you've lived using the language, or better still worked with it, clients will sit up and take notice. Someone who just "gets by" in a language isn't going to find much work as a professional translator;
-- some proof of your target writing skills. Unless you're truly bilingual or working on an incredibly technical text that you're uniquely suited to, your target language should be your native/first language. It's unusual for someone to be able to write better in a non-native language than true native speakers who are also language pros. (Things are different for interpreting jobs, of course.) Proof can take many forms, including blogs, articles and sample translations;
-- some proof of your expertise in your specialist subject area(s). This is how many of us without formal certification have been able to gain a foothold. We bring with us all sorts of knowledge that's useful. If you don't have specialist knowledge then you may need to do some training -- formal or informal -- in one, both or all languages.

What would help you? Without wishing to infer any criticism of what you're doing now, perhaps some of the following might be useful. Maybe leave the "eight languages and counting" message as a sign of your undoubted interest rather than marketing yourself as a polyglot. I know they exist but your CV doesn't seem to back it up. Maybe get some proof of your level in your best language(s), e.g. the DELE for Spanish. Maybe do a basic translation certificate -- check out the one I list on my profile as it's good. Do some training in your specialist subject-matter areas. Upload some sample translations, here or elsewhere.

I'm sure that once you start giving clients a clear message full of justification that backs up your claim to certain specific skills and abilities -- even if that justification isn't in the form of experience -- things will look up.
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Rachel Waddington
Heike Holthaus
Neil Kendall (X)
Lan Nguyen
Morano El-Kholy
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
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Freelance = business + specialist Sep 26

First of all, they need (1) a specialist in a field with (2) decent foreign language skills, who can do the job even without words--not a "pure" theoretic translator.

Second, one must have at least the idea of communication and running the one-man company properly to deal (p2p, p2b, or b2b, whatever) with others as an equal business party.

Third, if you don't have 'because' for every 'why?' and treat your translation not as a uniquely tailored troubleshooting product fo
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First of all, they need (1) a specialist in a field with (2) decent foreign language skills, who can do the job even without words--not a "pure" theoretic translator.

Second, one must have at least the idea of communication and running the one-man company properly to deal (p2p, p2b, or b2b, whatever) with others as an equal business party.

Third, if you don't have 'because' for every 'why?' and treat your translation not as a uniquely tailored troubleshooting product for a certain customer, but as some mass-produce cheap, then others would do the same, indeed.


Therefore, if you (A) can't tell gains, profits, and incomes, tackling "translation" only, (B) blindly agree to wait 45+ business days and can't realize that $0.10/word with "discount greed grid" may easily turn into $0.01/word net, or (C) don't know why most freelancers are afraid to ask more than $0.10/word whereas agencies (middlemen) charge their clients $0.20-$0.50+ /word at a wink, then most probably you don't belong to the free* translation market yet.


*If a freelancer makes less than a minimum wage (under $3000 a month in a developed country), then it's but a pocket-money hobby, no self-deceiving.
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Heike Holthaus
JPAlex
Neil Kendall (X)
 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 21:47
Member (2008)
French to English
+ ...
More contacts, more time Sep 26

Neil Kendall wrote:

So far I've contacted about 50 UK based translation agencies. Well to be fair, a lot of them simply haven't responded, so that probably means they're not interested. I have a list of a couple of hundred more I am going to contact, so hopefully something will work out.


Over the years I have contacted thousands. I reckon about 1% of them eventually became a client and 10% of those 1% became a steady client.

I recently got a large contract from an agency I contacted four years ago! Silence doesn't mean rejection.

[Edited at 2019-09-26 17:40 GMT]


Susan Madden
Sheila Wilson
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Dan Lucas
Neil Kendall (X)
Lidija Klemencic
Lan Nguyen
 

Heike Holthaus  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:47
Member (2012)
German to English
+ ...
Proofread your website / professional head shot Sep 26

I agree with everything Sheila wrote. In addition, by just giving your website a quick look I spotted three typos/grammatical errors. It is easy to overlook small errors in your own writing. Have someone proofread your website and other marketing material you might be sending out.

A professional head shot would also improve your web presence. Look at profiles/websites of other translators, read books on becoming a freelance translator and perhaps take a marketing course for translat
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I agree with everything Sheila wrote. In addition, by just giving your website a quick look I spotted three typos/grammatical errors. It is easy to overlook small errors in your own writing. Have someone proofread your website and other marketing material you might be sending out.

A professional head shot would also improve your web presence. Look at profiles/websites of other translators, read books on becoming a freelance translator and perhaps take a marketing course for translators. Getting established as a freelancer is hard work and takes patience, persistence, continued education and commitment to excellence.

Best,

Heike
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Samuel Murray
Neil Kendall (X)
Morano El-Kholy
 

Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:47
German to English
+ ...
to put that into perspective Sep 27

Neil Kendall wrote:

So far I've contacted about 50 UK based translation agencies. Well to be fair, a lot of them simply haven't responded, so that probably means they're not interested. I have a list of a couple of hundred more I am going to contact, so hopefully something will work out.

I do have formal training and qualifications. When I started out almost 30 years ago, I had translation training, a university degree, and I had passed the difficult examination making me certified in Canada in my two language pairs. Armed with that, I contacted probably the same number of Canadian agencies when I started out. By contact I mean:
- phone each one, asking if they would like my details
- send a letter that started "per your request in our telephone conversation (date)" addressed to the person I had spoken to
not just an e-mail.

Only a small portion of those I phoned wanted my particulars, and only a small portion of those who got my info subsequently ever sent me work. Some of these have been my clients for decades btw. The point being that even WITH qualifications I got low response. So you cannot make those conclusions.

That said, I agree with the suggestion that you go over your profile and resume. Also look more carefully at how you are presenting yourself. Perhaps have someone else go through and critique it.


Neil Kendall (X)
Morano El-Kholy
 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Yes, first fix your profile, web site and résumé Sep 27

Following the comments by others, I also took at look at your profile page, web site and résumé.

You succumbed to a temptation that you should not have: you started contacting agencies before your follow-up marketing materials were ready.

When a client receives your application, and does not immediately delete it, what do you think will be the next step in the process? The client will want to further evaluate you, obviously. So, the client checks your ProZ.com profi
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Following the comments by others, I also took at look at your profile page, web site and résumé.

You succumbed to a temptation that you should not have: you started contacting agencies before your follow-up marketing materials were ready.

When a client receives your application, and does not immediately delete it, what do you think will be the next step in the process? The client will want to further evaluate you, obviously. So, the client checks your ProZ.com profile page, your résumé and your web site. It is therefore critical that your ProZ.com profile, résumé and web site makes a very good impression. If they don't, then you've just lost a potential client.

Clients who are not used to visiting ProZ.com may not realise that your profile page is rather empty, but clients who have used ProZ.com in the past will look at your profile page and think that you are a half-arsed translator.

The same impression is given by your résumé. A résumé is more than just the information contained in it -- a résumé tells the client things like if you can think logically, if you can see that something looks off or not, and what kind of effort clients are likely to get from you when it matters. People who write résumés typically spend at least one or two hours on it, and a résumé has no deadline, so you have unlimited time to polish to perfection. Therefore, if a translator's résumé looks like something that was slapped together in 10 minutes, it tells the client something about the translator.

neilsresume

Your résumé states quite clearly at the top that you're actually planning on leaving the translation profession soon, for working in the customer service industry. Whether that is true or not, don't tell that to potential clients. You must create the impression that you are currently a dedicated translator.

Don't call yourself a polyglot on your professional résumé. A polyglot is someone who can order coffee "with milk or with cream" and book a hotel room "with bath or with shower" in a dozen languages. Sorry, but that is what people think when they hear "polyglot".

Your "work experience" section contains two items, and both of them are labelled "present". Doesn't that strike you as a little odd?

Under "education", you don't even mention which college you went to... you label your college "some college"! Literally. Also, I realise that when we chat or write e-mails about the subjects we took at college, we use abbreviations like "English Lit" and "Food Tech", but SMS style has no place in a résumé.

You list the GLS training course under "certifications/licences", but the way you wrote about it makes it sound as if (a) although GLS trains DPSI interpreters, they did not train you to be one and (b) you did a course with GLS but failed to get the certification. Honesty is a good thing, but...

The thing that bugs me most about your résumé is that you were not even bothered enough to ensure that the heading for the skills paragraph is on the same page as the skills paragraph. Or: you don't know how, but you couldn't be bothered to find out. Neither do you care enough for the reader to write complete sentences.

I would never, ever hire a translator who writes "Computer literate [comma] I speak [languages]" in his résumé.

Look, I'm sure that while these things create a very bad impression, the reality is more positive. So just take into account what impression you're trying to creating and are actually creating.

As for your web site, you should get yourself a web site that markets you specifically as a translator. That web site should be like a brochure for your translation services. Then, on that site, have a page for hobbies, and on that hobby page, mention your interest in polyglottery.


[Edited at 2019-09-27 08:09 GMT]
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Neil Kendall (X)
Heike Holthaus
Lan Nguyen
Morano El-Kholy
 

Neil Kendall (X)
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:47
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Good feedback but not a good definition of polyglot. Sep 27

Cheers for the replies, I will take the advice on board and keep going.

A polyglot is someone who can order coffee "with milk or with cream" and book a hotel room "with bath or with shower" in a dozen languages. Sorry, but that is what people think when they hear "polyglot".


The rest of your advice was fine, and was good feedback, but I have to respectfully disagree with your definition of a polyglot. A polyglot is simply a person who knows many languages (usually at least 3 to 5; a hyperpolyglot is someone who speaks more than 10). We're serious language learners, make no mistake, and many of us reach high levels of fluency in the languages we learn!


 

Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:47
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Polyglot Sep 27

Neil Kendall wrote:

Cheers for the replies, I will take the advice on board and keep going.

A polyglot is someone who can order coffee "with milk or with cream" and book a hotel room "with bath or with shower" in a dozen languages. Sorry, but that is what people think when they hear "polyglot".


The rest of your advice was fine, and was good feedback, but I have to respectfully disagree with your definition of a polyglot. A polyglot is simply a person who knows many languages (usually at least 3 to 5; a hyperpolyglot is someone who speaks more than 10). We're serious language learners, make no mistake, and many of us reach high levels of fluency in the languages we learn!


I'm afraid it's highly irrelevant in this context how you or any dictionary defines what a polyglot is. It's the mental image the term evokes in your potential clients' minds, and Samuel has described that image very nicely and correctly, imho (even if it is factually wrong). It is an image that will, on average, not inspire very much confidence in your abilities as a professional translator, to put it mildly.


Dan Lucas
 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:47
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Paradoxically, it's not about you Sep 27

Neil Kendall wrote:
We're serious language learners, make no mistake, and many of us reach high levels of fluency in the languages we learn!

Neil, that's your personal opinion, to which you have a perfect right. However, the question you should be asking yourself as a professional - since this thread is about succeeding in the business of translation - is whether your potential clients feel the same way. I agree with Samuel: for most readers it has strong "jack of all trades, master of none" connotations. Clients are looking for the best they can afford, not somebody who's just "fairly fluent".

Like it or not this is an era of specialists, not Renaissance men. Conquering the mountain of success as a freelance translator doesn't mean scrambling after thousands of others up easy slopes that require little risk or effort. Those slopes only extend so far, leaving you stuck halfway to the peak in a milling crowd of would-be alpinists, indistinguishable from others in the eyes of potential clients.

Conquering the mountain means leaving the well-trodden paths, seeking out new or forgotten routes, chalking up your hands, searching out nooks and crannies into which to jam your fingers and toes, ascending slowly and painfully, and belaying yourself well against slips as you climb. That's the way to gain the summit. There'll be so few of you on these steeper approaches that clients will have no difficulty spotting you from afar.

Focus is the key.

As for the rest of what he said, I would read carefully and digest. Particularly this:

So, the client checks your ProZ.com profile page, your résumé and your web site. It is therefore critical that your ProZ.com profile, résumé and web site makes a very good impression. If they don't, then you've just lost a potential client.


Regards,
Dan


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Michele Fauble
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Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:47
German to English
+ ...
Polyglot Sep 27

Neil Kendall wrote:

The rest of your advice was fine, and was good feedback, but I have to respectfully disagree with your definition of a polyglot. A polyglot is simply a person who knows many languages (usually at least 3 to 5; a hyperpolyglot is someone who speaks more than 10). We're serious language learners, make no mistake, and many of us reach high levels of fluency in the languages we learn!

At a professional level, you need a very high proficiency not only in the languages, but other things related to them that are involved in translation. It means mastery at a professional level. Last time I counted, I had 7 languages, so I'm a "polyglot". I speak 5 of them relatively fluently, and three of them very fluently. Those three are also my working languages. However, I only translate into English, never into the other two. I could do a fairly good translation into German or French, which would surpass what the average amateur very bilingual person could do, but it would not reach the professional level at which I work.

That is within the context of this profession.


Dan Lucas
Erik Freitag
Michele Fauble
Morano El-Kholy
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