How to become a successful freelance translator
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Transferring a text from one language to another?
Translation is an ancient profession which is now flourishing again as a result of globalization. And it does consist of transferring a text from one language to another without it appearing at all to be a translation!
Who is working today as a translator? Besides people who studied translation in colleges and universities, there are many people who know to languages and consider themselves qualified for translation. With the economic crisis which is nowhere near ending, many people lose their jobs and fall on translation as a way to "make a living" until the economy turns around. Some of them are language teachers and some are professionals: engineers, accountants, lawyers etc.
In the past we were few people in the profession and isolated until the advent of the WWW.
I remember a period of circa 10 years with at least 20 pages to translate every day.
These were the good days. Everyone had work and people didn't elect our profession as a last resource for "making both ends meet".
Translation was considered as a work for loners. Some pretended it was not a profession at all, and a translator was a "upgraded typist" in their minds.
Today with the internet, any kid in India can open up shop and ask Israeli translators to work for him for pennies , because we use the magical word of "best prices".
So today it is not enough to be a good translator as it was in the past. Today you have to spend at least 50% of your time in finding the work and bringing it to your computer and not to a sweatshop in Bombay, Shanghai, Peking etc.
Prices are going up anywhere. Only translators have to agree to lower prices? Don't we have higher-than-before expenses?
The best way to combat this is by studying serious translation studies and be able to work in more than one pair of languages. One way to study languages is by reading books and watching TV in languages you intend to work in.
As a rookie translator you can translate articles for students. There are a lot of pages there and in almost any imaginable academic subjects. The clients are not too demanding. Usually they just want to read the article they need to know for their next exam.
This is a good way of improving your vocabulary and experience. Translation of diplomas, transcripts, birth certificates, marriage certificates are also a good source of income.
Once you learn the "template" the next document will be easier. Just remember to keep templates. I remember I learned 3 templates of an academic diploma in Latvian. With my 3 perfect templates I was able to translate at least a hundred diplomas, which meant a good income Why didn't other translators imitate me? It is not fair: I translated medical texts from French to Hebrew for my late father who was a medical doctor. I did that at the age of 8 years old! But anyone can try. The results will tell you were you stand. General texts are always good for you. If you know a group of languages, in my case the Latin languages, you have an advantage there. I don't say I can't translate a birth certificate from Brazil.
Knowing French, Spanish and Italian I am able, with the help of Kudoz/Proz to translate the easier documents from Portuguese into Hebrew or English.
I don't agree that you should work only with one pair or languages and only into your mother tongue. You know yourself and your capabilities better than any project manager. If you translate French>English but find out with time that you are able to turn in good English>French translations, than work in both directions!
After all you have books dictionaries, good internet dictionaries (The Hoepli series for example) and Kudoz in proz is a very good tool, lately abused by amateurs who think they will come all the time with a "shopping list" and have us "fill in the missing spaces" for them. That's overdoing it!
I use a system of mine I call "triangulation". When I don't find the term I look for in Spanish>English I find it in another linguistic combination such as French > English. And when I find it I reason: If A equals B and B equals C, most probably A equals C!
Keep your Proz profile updated but don't expect all your work to come from Proz.
To many "best price" people want you to vie with each other for the pittance they are prepared to pay. Avoid them! It's not worth your time! Read a good book in the meantime: "All good things come to those who know how to wait" or as we say it in French: "Tout vient à point a qui sait attendre".
Make contact with translation agencies that are serious and good payers (this is what the Blue Board of Proz exists for!). Do a good job and don't ever miss a deadline, come hail come rain!
Try to get as many direct clients as possible. This is most difficult. But if you get a direct client that becomes a returning client you are on your way to becoming a freelancer.
Choose a small number of fields to specialize in. That way, with time you will make yourself a name of an expert in legal texts, for example.
Participate actively in Kudoz. It is an excellent way to hone your knowledge and improve your skills. But don't help people who only ask questions but never answer any!
Participate in Pow Wows. It is an excellent way to meet colleagues and discuss professional issues.
Being a member of your national association of translators is also something to be considered, it they are serious in your country.
And be patient. Today it is not enough to know your profession, you also have to know how to sell yourself and your services. And don't cave in when offered ridiculous price. You have to educate your client. The days of being a loner are gone forever! Maybe you like to translate literature. I did too. But here in Israel books translators, translators in general, and even authors are looked down at. I have to refuse 9 jobs here before finding 1 normal. So? So I work with outside clients. The world is big and if you have the same problem in your country, try to find international clients. Don't be afraid about your next meal. If you sell yourself short your medical bills will be so expensive that you will realize you should have asked more per word. After all you are also a human being and not only a translating machine or an"upgraded typist"