There’s a myriad of benefits to working as a professional translator. There is always a high demand for good translators (especially in certain languages) and never enough people to fill the need, so finding consistent work is never a problem.
Working as a professional translator is also a great way to marry your love of languages with your job. After all, who wouldn’t want to do something they enjoy every single day?
On the other hand, working as a professional translator can be difficult and taxing. Becoming a successful translator, especially a freelance one, will require an extensive amount of work on your part and definitely won’t be something that comes easily.
If you are interested in the field of translation, but aren’t sure if you have what it takes, or feel uncertain about whether your language level is high enough for you to go pro, read on for some guidelines to know if being a professional translator is for you.
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1. I speak two languages, can I be a translator?
It is an all-too-common myth that all you need in order to work as a professional translator is to be able to speak two or more languages with relative fluency. Just because you are able to converse in both English and Spanish well, doesn’t necessarily indicate that you will be a proficient translator in these languages.
After all, just because you are a good driver, does not mean you can hop into a race car and take on the professional racers of the world. If you are getting into the translation business simply to cash in on your language skills, then you need to reconsider your choices.
While there is a high demand for translators, most companies won’t bother hiring individuals who have nothing more to offer than a belief in their own ability to speak multiple languages. There is definitely more to being a professional translator than that. If you want to stand to gain from the profession, you have got to invest in your abilities first.
2. I’m already fluent, can I be a translator?
You may think you are already fluent in a language, but the truth is that language learning is a lifelong process. Translators spend years perfecting their language skills, but that does not mean that after they start landing jobs they just stop learning.
Languages tend to change very quickly and consistent upkeep is necessary in order to make sure you don’t end up falling behind your peers. This applies especially to medical and legal fields, and if you are planning on working as a profesional translator in either one of these, you need to be prepared to work at your language skills even when you are not on the job.
There are plenty of online sites (such as Listen and Learn) that make language learning and maintenance easy and affordable. If you are prepared to work hard, even after your career as a professional translator takes off, then you are ready to become a success!
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3. I don’t have a degree, can I be a translator?
You do not need a college degree in Chinese or French in order to be a professional translator, but obtaining certification is definitely recommended if you are hoping to be taken seriously. Having the documentation to back you up is important because it shows potential clients that you do have the know-how needed to be a successful professional translator.
Organizations like the American Translators Association offer certifications for translators and interpreters, and many universities also provide higher degrees and certification for students who want to get involved in this particular career path post-graduation.
It is not absolutely necessary to have certification in order to become an effective translator, but if you are just starting out in the industry it may be a good place to start—and a great way to get you noticed (and hired)!
4. I don’t have experience, can I be a translator?
Translating is like any other line of work: you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. We’ve all suffered through unpaid internships and low-paying entry-level jobs in order to reach the positions we really want, and the translation industry is no different.
If you want long-term work as a professional translator, it is crucial that you garner experience in any way you can. Volunteer for translating jobs at local schools and colleges, or take on online work, even when it doesn’t pay well. The more experience you gain, the more work samples you’ll have to show future clients, and the more you’ll be able to charge for your services further down the line.
If you can’t power through the tough beginning stages of working as a professional translator, then perhaps this line of work isn’t quite right for you.
5. No one knows me, can I be a translator?
While having a certification, a desire to learn, and the willingness to work hard are all vital parts of a career as a professional translator, if no one knows who you are or what you can do you probably won’t find much success in the field.
You’ve got to be quite unabashed about marketing yourself if you want to get ahead and land good clients. Most translators don’t work full time for a single organization, but rather on a contract basis for multiple ones, so a good place to start is by getting in touch with local law firms, police stations, hospitals, and government agencies to offer your services.
Make sure you have a decent website or blog set up and your fees listed clearly. Nothing says you are not a professional translator like a translator who has no idea what their rates should be. If you are at a loss as to how much to charge, just take a look at the fees your industry peers are charging and go from there.
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6. I like working from home, can I be a professional translator?
For a lot of people, the big appeal of being a freelance professional translator is that you don’t have to get up every day, dress, and go to office. While working in your pajamas can be great, make sure you are not in just love with the idea of working from home instead of the actual process involved.
Working as a professional translator will mean hours of sitting and toiling away at your computer by yourself. You won’t have a water cooler where you can chit-chat with your co-workers, or even co-workers to chit-chat with in the first place.
This can become monotonous even to the staunchest of introverts. So, before you take that leap, get your certification, and begin looking for work as a professional translator, think seriously about whether you are the type of person who can be self-disciplined or if you need someone to report to in order to get the job done. If you are more the latter, then perhaps professional translating in a freelance setting isn’t your cup of tea.
7. I like writing, can I be a translator?
Simply put, if you love writing and have the language skills to back it up, you definitely can make it in the world of professional translating! If not, don’t worry, these are abilities you can acquire over time (much like your ever growing language proficiency).
Study up on the writing formats required for your specific line of translating—these can vary depending on whether you are working in the medical field, the immigration field, or some other area of work. Become a keyboard warrior. Learn how to play with words and to figure out the meaning and intention behind them.
After all, clients and readers will judge you according to the clarity of your written words, so you need to make sure you are completely able to get your point across.
Working in the field of professional translating is no walk in the park, but the rewards can be formidable. You’ll be able to be your own boss, choose the jobs you want to take on, and challenge yourself and your skills on a daily basis. And while some of these guidelines may come off as a little daunting, if you are determined to become a professional translator, you’ll find ways to make it happen.
It may appear to be a huge investment of your time, money, and energy, but at the end of the day the payout for a good professional translator is huge.
Born in the USA and raised in Mexico, Katie has been navigating two starkly different cultures her entire life. Since obtaining a degree as a Professional Dancer and a B.A. in Asian Cultures and Languages, Katie has been traveling extensively throughout Asia teaching English, writing and dancing along the way. Check out her personal travel blog here.