Advice on becoming a translator
Thread poster: Sally1007

Sally1007
United Kingdom
Jan 4, 2016

Hi all,

I'm an English teacher in the U.K currently very interested in a career in translation. I'm not naive enough to think this is easy or something anyone can do, nor am I able to just hand in my notice and decide to become a translator.
I do, however, want to seriously consider this career change and want to gather as much information as possible about how to do this as my experiences with translation have been so enjoyable.
Here is some information about me that may help with any advice you might generously offer:
I was born and raised in the U.K and my first language is English
I lived and studied in Northern Cyprus for 10 years learning to read, write and speak in Turkish fluently. I was married there and lived with all Turkish speaking natives. As my family is Turkish Cypriot and I have spent such a long time there, I am confident to say I am certainly immersed in the culture
I studied English Language Teaching to students of Foriegn Languages where I gained a B.A with high honours (in Cyprus which is U.K equivalant
During my degree, I gained high honours in three translation courses, second language acquisition l, two linguistic courses to name a few
I gained qualified teacher status in the U.K and have been teaching English (first language) here for four years
I have no official translation experience but would do my mother's translation documents when she worked as a Turkish Support Officer in a Special Needs School (she would probably be in trouble of they knew!)

I so enjoyed my courses and the unofficial translations I have done for family etc. And would appreciate any advice on getting into the career or if I would even have a chance.

Thank you


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Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 00:21
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Nice combo - probably lot of competition Jan 5, 2016

Although the combination of knowlegde / languages you have is probably not that common; I think you are still trying to break into a market with very low rates (i.e. there are probably a lot more people translating for far less than you can afford if they live in cheaper parts of the world).
However as a side-carreer, you can do some translations that are not extremely urgent or take up all of your time. If you have deadlines that are long enough or subject matters that you are comfortable with on smaller jobs, just go ahead and do it. A lot of us have started out of a working position with a full time job and gradually moved towards full time translation..... When the amount you make from translation far exceeds your current income and you have a stable customer base, you can always think about quitting your dayjob...
As you probabaly will never win on price - quality and the right "feel" of your translations are probably the best weapons to market...

Enjoy!

Ed


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Sofia Aldazabal Wood
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:21
English to Spanish
Becoming a translator Jan 5, 2016

Hello Sally,

I went through the same, and I still am.
I am originally from Argentina where I was a lawyer. I moved to the UK 10 years ago (last December) where i had to start all over again. My degree wasn't useful unless I did the conversion,which I didn't really want to do, specially at first when my English needed to be better.
But three years ago when my first son was 2, i decided to go for it. I am not doing my dissertation to finish my MA in Translation Studies.
It is not easy, as in websites like here or upwork they all go for more experienced translators, but you have to keep trying. You can expect to be a translator full time from the very beginning. Experience is key.
What I am doing is a fair bit of volunteering. i did some for Trommons, charities (like Plan International) and I am also with a newspaper.
Also, get in touch with other translators, build your net.
Hope this helps.
Good luck


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 00:21
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Many factors are language specific Jan 5, 2016

Try contacting colleagues with the same language pairs as you. Attend powwows and translator events if you can, or perhaps trade fairs where you can make contacts.

Have you got any secondary languages or specialist subject areas that could give you a niche and help you find a foothold on the market? With 'small' languages you may have to be something of a generalist, but being able to specialise and go in depth is still important.

Do you use a CAT tool?
First and foremost, find one you are happy with and spend time getting really familiar with it. They can all be a pain and a distraction until you know the short cuts automatically. You have to be able to concentrate on translation, without thinking about the mechanics after every sentence.

Again, ask colleagues what clients use - don't just plump for Trados because everyone talks about it. I can recommend it for lots of other reasons, but if your clients use MemoQ or one of the others, then it might make life a little easier if you use the same one.


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Sally1007
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Jan 5, 2016

Thanks everyone for your replies!
Sofia, I had to do my teaching conversion which took much time and effort with many tears along the only, only to complete it and decide that teaching in the U.K was not for me.

Christine - I only have the English and Turkish. As for specialisms, education and literature but I am looking into postgraduate courses in translation with a specialism in either medical or law. My problems are financial with that though.

I will certainly attend events as you have said, if not for anything else but to talk to translators and find out more.

Thanks again


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acetran  Identity Verified
English to Hindi
+ ...
Profile needs polishing! Jan 12, 2016

Hi there!

Please go through the profiles of other translators in your pair and polish up your own.
You can try to put some time daily into your profile and jobs will start trickling.

All the Best!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:21
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
How much spare time do you have? Jan 12, 2016

I would have thought you stood every chance of becoming atranslator. I imagine many translations in your pair are done by Turkish native speakers. You will have the USP of being an English native speaker who is perfectly capable of understanding the source. And as a teacher, hopefully you also have the patience to offer your services as a proofreader, polishing those non-native target texts.

You say you've already done some translaton courses, so there's really nothing to stop you starting as a part-time translator soon, as long as you have enough spare time. You'll find that a lot of jobs will be wanted yesterday, so working only at the weekend probably isn't on, but if you can do occasional evening work too then you should find a few clients. But avoid being rushed as you will need lots of time for research and checking to start with. Quote market rates, not peanut ones, and deliver quality translations.

I would advise you to make ProZ.com or a similar translaton site your showcase, and forget the generalist ones. There, you'll be bidding for peanuts as a piece-worker, alongside thousands of amateurs and some professionals living in places like India where peanuts are valuable. If you're going to use ProZ.com, visit the Site Guidance Centre and soak up all the information there. Remember, research is just about the most valuable skill you can have. Do attend the free webinar to help you meet clients here as it gives loads of advice about your profile.

Good luck!


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 00:21
English to Polish
+ ...
... Jan 13, 2016

Hey, Sally.

Language is language; few people have translation degrees. Language is your primary tool and your primary setting, and no amount of studying translation strategy or translation history or sociology of translation is going to change that (as useful as those things are).

Becoming a translator, in a way, is as simple as saying that you are. The rest is how good you are and how much work you put in. I think we pretty much have it established by now that you're certainly good enough to start.

Next, I would suggest asking, looking around and generally finding out what it looks like to be a translator. Do you like competing for small jobs from all sorts of 'outsourcers' who always ask for your 'best rates' and often want a boatload of paperwork and a lot of unpaid admin and consultation time with that, sometimes having the gall to offer €/$/£ 10 per hour, their idea of how you deserve to be making, translating their stuff?

Or huge files on short notice, often handed out near night time or just before the weekend (naturally due Monday), with no bonus for overtime, night work or sacrificing your weekend but with a volume discount (for them)?

If not, you may want to already aim high from the get-go. Specialize and raise your profile. Don't work sweatshop jobs. It's not like you'll necessarily be making more money (sometimes yes, sometimes not), but you'll be living in a different world.

Specializing and raising your profile go hand in hand. You can't really specialize with a serious profile, nor can you raise your profile without something to back your claims with.

My impression is that your existing qualifications wouldn't give you an edge in the typical bulk-market grind of legal and technical texts, and product descriptions and other such 'marketing', often badly written, often focusing more on terminology than writing, often involving silly tech tools and procedures, ignoramuses commenting on the quality of your work and how it should have been something different in their exalted opinion… You'd be just another translator, as good as any, with the same chance as everybody to make a name and get ahead by just being good. Only to a limited extent, though, anyway.

On the other hand, it would a difference if you were to focus on literature, the press perhaps, anything with a creative element, high-quality language. You could do that by not lowering your standards, and sticking to what you're really good at. The more you define your niche, the less you need to win on the price or short deadline or flattery and subservient attitude.

The rest would be marketing (both exposure and conversions).

I suggest you read these books:

Chris Durban, The Prosperous Translator (link)
Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner, The Entrepreneurial Linguist (link)
Corinne McKay, Thoughts on Translation (link)
Corinne McKay, How to Succeed as a Translator (link)

Don't expect them to literally tell you how to succeed or become prosperous, because they won't. I wish they didn't pick titles like that. But reading them will give you perspective. It will show you what to expect, it will show you what you're going to be thinking about in a year or two or five (or perhaps just half; that's really up to you in the end). Reading different books, from different authors, will show you where they differ, and that's also useful knowledge; it will be easier to form your own opinion that way.

To get your own so called business rolling (I insist we're a profession, and asking us to look at ourselves as entrepreneurs is lamentable), you'll need someone to make you a professional website, and you'll need good text on it. Don't have a marketing boy or gal write it (that's gonna end up being BS, if you forgive my French), but perhaps get some pointers from a real copywriter and bring the paragraphs to life with your own virtual pen. But I would perhaps brush op on creative writing and storytelling first (which is going to be your primary device if you choose this path).

After that, you'll simply be finding and serving clients just like anyone else, and with an increasing budget you'll be able to afford more and better marketing. There's really little else to it, and any notion of translation-specific marketing or business skills or whatever is misleading. You'd probably be better off consulting with normal business consultants and using normal ad agencies and marketers instead, not translation-specific ones. But it will be up to you to find out what really works.

Getting this right and getting better rates, better clients etc. will give you the financial leeway to pursue your hobbies and your professional and personal development and also invest in marketing to grow on the business side. And that will allow you to focus on doing what you really like to be doing — as opposed to, to paraphrase a Polish poet, being the sinking man who grasps at the very edge of the razor that's cutting him, in the hope of not sinking further down because that's the only thing he can afford to be thinking about at this time. (Well, the poet only used four words but anyway.)


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 04:51
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Your language pair is gaining immense strategic importance Jan 14, 2016

Your language pair (English Turkish) is gaining great strategic importance these days as, if the comity of nations decides to intervene decisively to put an end to the menace emerging from the middle east cauldron, Turkey as an important nato member of that region will play a key role. This will mean a lot of communication in this language pair in the military sphere.

May be you should position yourself to take advantage of this upcoming geopolitical development. I see more scope in the Turkish to English direction rather than the other way, as most of the money would be spent by English speaking nations and they would need translation support in interpreting Turkish language communications.

I would start approaching agencies and institutions involved in the middle east war and refugee relief work who deal with Turkey if I were you. Turkey is hosting millions of refugees from the middle east and is receiving huge amounts from the international community to support this relief work. You can imagine the amount of paper work monitoring this spending would entail, and lot of it would be in Turkish and would need translation into English to satisfy donor requirements.

Ironically, it seems, war can be good business not only for the military-industrial complex, but also for us translators!

[Edited at 2016-01-14 03:33 GMT]


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