IT contractor to Translator?
Thread poster: Johndean
Sep 10, 2009

Hi

I'm currently an IT contractor in the UK. I enjoy what I do, and it has taken me a good few years to get to the position that I'm in. The problem is that the stress levels are high and some of the travelling really takes it out of me. I was always good at languages at school and recently I have been thinking of making the transition to becoming a Translator. At this point it is only a thought (albeit a serious one), but I have a big concern about money. I earn a v.handsome salary for the work I do (£90k+) and my outgoings and lifestyle match this. I don't want to take a step down lifestyle wise but I do understand that it will take a while to build up to a good salary in Translation, so my question is will it be possible to earn the same as I do now (or above) as a Translator?

Thanks for any help.

John


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Stuart Dowell  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 14:33
Member (2007)
Polish to English
+ ...
... Sep 10, 2009

no

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:33
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Will I make 90K+ pounds as an IT contractor? Sep 10, 2009

All I can say is that indeed you can make reasonably good income as a translator, even going over the figure you mention. I know of several people who (claim to) make that figure.

Now, the question is: are you going to be good enough a translator to attract a lot of work from companies who pay high rates, and to sustain that high-quality work in time?

Let me make the question in the opposite sense: if I (as a translator with a past career in IT a long time ago) asked you whether I could make 90K+ pounds a year in IT contracting, wouldn't you tell me that first I would need to get A LOT of training in the kind of IT work you do, as well as slowly climb in the profession from nearly no income and, only if I was really good, maybe in 5-6 years time I could start making sound money?

Ask you the question in the opposite direction and you will have the reply as to whether it is possible and how long can it take you to be so valued by customers to make them want to give you a lot of work and pay you high rates. Translation in well-paid work is as complex, specific, and hard as any state-of-the-art IT contracting work you may do.

OK. Having said all this, let me tell you that only a tiny part of translators reach the income figure you ask about. You have to be really good and skillful, work hard, and sell your services in a wise manner.

[Edited at 2009-09-10 14:21 GMT]


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Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:33
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
No (2) Sep 10, 2009

well,

90 K GPB is a lot of money, and perhaps I will reach 89 K EUR this year, but then I started in 2002 (also with an IT background, and also thinking "why do I work with computers", and "actually being crap at languages in school (except for English)" ...

But if you are not used to typing the whole time, and you do not have some kind of plan on how to convert your IT business into a successful translation agency (translating manuals, tenders...?) you are looking at a (much) lower income...

(and not neccesarily less stress !!)

In the Netherlands, translators are amongst the lowest paid highly educated professionals.

But others (very successful in niche markets like gaming, perhaps medical?) can make 100K and over...

===
Good luck !

Ed


[Edited at 2009-09-10 14:25 GMT]


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:33
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Do you have an appropriate qualification? Sep 10, 2009

Hi John, and welcome to ProZ.com!

To answer your question very directly: in the UK you would really need to pass the IOL Diploma in Translation exam in the relevant language pair. A high income from translation without the appropriate qualification is a bit of a bleak prospect.

Yes, you could eventually earn at that level, with a great deal of hard work - more likely, as Edward mentions, as a translation agency than as a translator. There are a lot of problems in trying to achieve a decent income as a translator.

If, however, you would still like to give it a go, you would need to fix up the appropriate course of study in preparation, e.g. either by means of evening classes or correspondence course. There are preparatory courses for the Diploma in Translation run at various colleges throughout the UK. If there is not one near you, you could study by correspondence with the City University, London. Bear in mind that - according to the old system, at least, where honours degree courses are designated "Level 4" - the Diploma in Translation is set at Level 5. It is a postgraduate qualification, not easy to pass, and takes a great deal of hard work.

If you wish to start on this path, then fill in as much you can in the student profile you have just created here on ProZ.com, stating your proposed language pair (just one, translating into your native language), any language degrees you have, and your professional experience to date, which will determine the fields that you will translate in. This will create an online presence for you in our translation community. Ideally you should upload a photograph of yourself as well.

Next, have a look around the site, read a few profiles of other people who work in your proposed language pair and have a similar background to you, to see how they proceeded. Have a look at the KudoZ section of the site, and see what goes on there. Read some threads in the "Getting Established" and "Business Issues" Forums. Then come back with any questions you may have once you have absorbed some information on what the translation profession is all about. You can also drop me a line with any questions, if you wish. Oh, and one more thing - make sure you attend the virtual ProZ.com conference later this momth. You will find the information under the "Community" tab.

All the best,

Astrid


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 13:33
Dutch to English
+ ...
New system Sep 11, 2009

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

Bear in mind that - according to the old system, at least, where honours degree courses are designated "Level 4" - the Diploma in Translation is set at Level 5. It is a postgraduate qualification, not easy to pass, and takes a great deal of hard work.



Now Level 7 (see link below) and, as Astrid points out, it's not a walk in the park.

http://www.qcda.gov.uk/libraryAssets/media/qca-06-2298-nqf-web.pdf

Before giving up your current job, I suggest you do the modules in your (strongest) language pair through an institution like City University. The feedback from tutors will soon tell you whether you have what it takes to become a translator. It takes a lot more than having had a flair for languages at school.

The figure you mention is attainable, after a few years (it takes time to build up the correct client base and sort out the wheat from the chaff), and provided you specialise.

Best of luck
Debs


[Edited at 2009-09-11 07:19 GMT]


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:33
French to English
+ ...
Opinion Sep 11, 2009

Johndean wrote:

I was always good at languages at school

Hello John,

I would echo what others have said, and would add that even with top-notch linguistic qualifications and well-honed translation skills (and these two things do not necessarily go hand in hand) it would still take several years and a lot of hard work to achieve the income you want.

As you're in the UK I assume "at school" means pre-18 education, i.e. A-levels or below. (In the US "at school" can mean "at university/college"). I think few would disagree that in order to translate well one needs knowledge of the source language that is equivalent to at least a good first degree in the language (though such knowledge is not necessarily gained at university) and that further training in translation is usually required.

You don't state how much language training you have, in which languages, and what level you have attained - perhaps if you provide more details, people will be able to help you further.

I'd recommend doing some thorough research on what it takes to be a very good translator, and on the steps you would need to take. You may find that the extra education required means that the initial loss of income might make this not worthwhile for you; then again, you might not (or you might relish the challenge).

I think there's a fair amount of stress inherent in earning £90,000 per year, whatever the field. Less travel involved in translation than in your current job, though.


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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 18:03
German to English
+ ...
Quite unlikely Sep 11, 2009

Hi John,

It's quite unlikely.

I worked as a software engineer in the United States drawing comparable dollar salaries with far less effort.

Translation earns much less, while at the same time being much more work. The major difference lies, I think, in the deliverables. While a software delivery is de facto expected to contain a certain level of bugs, it being the nature of the beast, a translation is expected to be flawless.

What this 'translates' into is a challenging, sometimes gruelling, workflow for freelancers where the ability to work alone under stringent deadlines with copious amounts of rigorous research provide a sharp distinction with the world of IT with its team-oriented approach, relatively forgiving deadlines and much lighter research loads.

That's why it never ceases to amaze me that translation, one of the few truly knowledge-based activities, is poorly paid in comparison to other knowledge-based industries such as software engineering.




[Edited at 2009-09-11 15:36 GMT]


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Orla Ryan  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 13:33
stay where you are Sep 16, 2009

In spite of the stress, you say you still enjoy your well-paid job. I wouldn't give that up, if I were you.

Without knowing your language pairs and credentials in that area, it is hard to advise. But school-level French (or whatever) isn't really going to cut it with translation buyers, unless you have lived in the target country for a good few years and can demonstrate fluency.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:33
French to English
Net disposable income as the yardstick Sep 17, 2009

Obviously I have no idea of your current arrangement, but I assume that 90k is your gross earnings and that you have taken steps (own limited company?) to side-step the IR34 rules.

As a freelance translator, IR34 is highly unlikely to apply to you. You can review the situation from a clean slate. There are deductions for the self-employed working from home that you possibly do not benefit from at the moment (conversely, of course, you are perhaps paying yourself some money as dividends, saving tax that way). While 90k in turnover is likely to be a tough target without undulging in some outsourcing (in my opinion), it is possible that a lower turnover may produce a similar disposable income once all the pluses and minuses of each approach are totalled.


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:33
Member (2007)
German to English
Divide by three Sep 17, 2009

Hi John,

Two and a half years ago, I was making about three times as a software engineer what I'm making as a translator. On the other hand, there was also at least three times the stress. If you find that your current job has begun to resemble an eight-hour-a-day (or more) root canal day after day, it may be high time for a change.

Depending on your proficiency in your chosen foreign language(s), you might want to take time off for a total immersion treatment, say at the Alliance française, Goethe Institut, or similar language training institution to get certified. To do that, you need financial resources (you have been saving your pence, haven't you?).

IoL diplomas and the like and probably nice to have, but I've found that whatever professional experience you've been able to accumulate goes a long way toward attracting paying customers. The good news is that I've had lots of good translation assignments practically from the first day I hung out my shingle. Slack periods don't come along that often, so the income is reasonably steady.

As far as getting back into IT after a stint as a translator: terra incognita. It probably depends on how badly an employer needs IT help. Right now, that's not very badly.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:33
French to English
Stint abroad first? Sep 17, 2009

Another thought - if you can, perhaps get a small stint working in a foreign country where your second language is spoken, before you make the leap (if you do).

Seeing people using the language in a situation with which you are otherwise familiar (e.g. French developers doing unit tests, German operators dealing with a 'situation'!) is very educational.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:33
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Is this dead? Sep 17, 2009

I wonder whether we will read the feedback of the topic originator about our comments. It will be interesting to know how all this information is perceived from the other side.

Hello? Anybody out there?


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