Starting out in translation in the UK
Thread poster: Gerard Moore

Gerard Moore  Identity Verified
French to English
Oct 17, 2012

Hi, this is my first post on these forums and I am starting with a topic which I have no doubt has been said before somewhere, so apologies for that.

I am mother-tongue English and I have a PGDip in translation (French) from 2010 and a BA in Arts with German from 2006. Since then, I have been looking on websites for in-house translation jobs, but to no avail. It is the usual no experience/no work cycle. Can I start as a free-lance translator without experience? Of course, I would need to register with agencies and then it would be the experience problem again, I imagine...
I am currently in an unskilled position unrelated to languages and I really want to start my dream career! So, I would be interested in seeing how other people on the UK forum took their first steps into translating. Are there any tips you could recommend? Good courses to take or ideas on how to specialise? I noticed many employments require a speciality subject, but I am unsure how to gain this.

All replies appreciated, thank youicon_smile.gif


Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:10
Italian to English
First thoughts Oct 17, 2012

Hi Gerard

I am not sure that getting started in translation is very different in the UK from the situation elsewhere (except perhaps that in-house positions are rarer than in certain other countries) so it would probably be helpful to spend some time browsing previous discussions and advice in the Getting Established forum. Use key words to search for specific topics.

It would be helpful to know more about your "unskilled position"; you will need to use all your experience, interests and previous activities to define your "working", if not "specialist" subjects and read any material you can find on these, in both languages, to improve your knowledge and terminology.

It is unlikely that you will be able to move to freelance status immediately, as it takes time to build up a client base, so you will need to undertake jobs in your own time to start with.

Your profile is one of the most important marketing tools, so read the section of the site on improving your profile and follow the advice.

Good luck.


Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:10
Hebrew to English
Second thoughts.... Oct 17, 2012

Forget in-house, it's so rare in the UK and especially with a more common language pair where you'll be facing stiff competition from every French/German Language graduate up and down the country...and as you say, they nearly always insist on a rather long and illustrious portfolio.

You already have a potential specialisation (the Arts), so that's a start. It's unlikely that work in the Arts will be your bread and butter though - at least for a while, so you may want to look at where the demand is in your language pair(s) and look at getting into that...and you may have to be a "generalist" for a while - Contrary to popular belief, this isn't a dirty word!icon_smile.gif

I agree with Russell that building up that client base is going to take some time, so don't expect to be able to quit your day job for a while yet (unless you have a rich spouse or parents!). I'm a year into my translation career and I still haven't built up the kind of client base I want (part of that may be my aversion to marketing and Greek levels of procrastination). In any case, it's not gonna happen overnight. Patience is a virtue in this respect.

First Steps

1) Fill that profile in! I can't recommend this strongly enough. Your profile is your shop window, make it inviting, make it professional.

2) Small steps Start bidding on/looking out for jobs, even small jobs, your experience/portfolio has to start somewhere.

3) Consider volunteer translation I don't normally recommend this because - hand on heart - I can't honestly say I ever got any paid work because of the volunteer stuff I've done. However, if you want to use it as a stepping stone to bigger things, to build up your confidence, then I think it can be useful.

4) Anything else to increase visibility People have to know you exist before they can even consider giving you work, so anything else you can think of to increase your level of visibility in your market (KudoZ participation is a good start).

5) Make friends and influence people Networking is important and it's never too early to start this. A LinkedIn profile wouldn't hurt but I never really use mine I do it the old fashioned way, I talk to people and chit-chat regularly. Word of mouth is still a remarkably powerful tool. You'd be surprised how much work can be thrown your way by sympathetic and overloaded colleagues....and you can return the favour when you are too busy too. Swings and roundabouts and all that.

Next steps would include: paid ProZ membership, your own website....but these may be a few months down the road.....

Good luck.


XXXphxxx (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:10
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Membership of a professional association Oct 17, 2012

I’d work towards membership of a professional association, such as the IoL or ITI. This is where you will find a network of true professionals. They have their own forums and you can use those as a springboard to establish contacts, exchange useful information on good clients, get accurate and helpful terminology advice etc.

As for specialist areas, it's difficult for us to advise without knowing more about you. Look to your hobbies and interests, past specialisation (i.e. did you not have to sit specialist papers for your PGDip? What were they in?), market trends, read specialist journals, websites, build up a terminology bank... All of this requires commitment and a methodical approach, which is why I recommend concentrating on areas you are actually interested in. I "fell" into one or two specialist areas because of my previous employment and have spent a few years working my way out of them and trying to focus on areas that genuinely inspire me.


Gerard Moore  Identity Verified
French to English
Thank you for your posts Oct 17, 2012

certainly follow up on.

@Russell: Thanks, I'll have a look at that forum. My current position is in retail, right at the bottom of the chain, so I am really looking to get out! To be honest, I doubt there is much I could take from my job as regards translation.

@Ty: Really useful pointers you have given, thanks. Yes, I am surprised how few in-house positions there are, I suppose most companies just use translation agencies ad hoc rather than keep a permanent staff member.

@Lisa: I am currently taking the Cardiff University pre-DipTrans course, so I may take the papers in 2014. I think this helps with membership to the IoL; however, it is expensive so I am not sure yet. The papers were split into technical and institutional translation, so covered a rather broad range of topics, from legal contracts to wind farms.

You all mentioned building a client base, I shall certainly read more about that. The business concepts like marketing and networking are all very new to me so I think I will need to do some research on here and elsewhere to get an idea of what to expect as a freelancer.

Thank you again for your lovely repliesicon_smile.gif


Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:10
Swedish to English
+ ...
Courses for beginners Oct 17, 2012

gerard332 wrote:
Good courses to take or ideas on how to specialise? I noticed many employments require a speciality subject, but I am unsure how to gain this.

Online courses that might suit you (And let me declare an interest – I am a tutor on one of them)


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