First steps in translation

A career in translation doesn’t happen overnight. Like any entrepreneurial endeavor, there are lots of moving parts. Looking at the big picture can be overwhelming for someone looking to find a way in—I know, I’ve been there myself! With so much advice out there in the interwebs, where should you start?

Below, I’ve outlined what I’ve found to be the absolute basics for anyone, starting with honing your skills on through to the “real thing.” There are doubtless other ways to go about this thing, but this is what has worked for me (and what I’ve found recommended elsewhere, condensed). Good luck!

1) Learn two languages really well. Build your vocabulary up as much as possible. Read lots of texts: magazines, blogs, newspapers, academic articles, fiction, non-fiction, manuals, contracts. . .

2) Take some classes specifically on translation. If you’re really motivated, you can get a Master’s degree, but it’s not required for most jobs. I liked NYU’s distance program a lot. Find what works for your budget, schedule, and goals.

3) Experience translating as a professional. Practice your business skills, like tracking income and expenses, responding politely to weirdo requests, and meeting deadlines even if it means staying up a little late to do it. Take on volunteer jobs and ask for references or marketing blurbs when you’re through. When I was in this stage, I liked to think of pro bono clients as my “training wheels.” (But I didn’t take their work any less seriously for it.)

4) Get your marketing house in order. Polish your résumé. Pick your color scheme, preferred font, and possibly a logo. Shell out the $30-some bucks for real business cards. Set up a website; bonus points for buying a unique domain name. (If you want to do this for free or nearly free, I know two options: GYBO and WordPress. I’m sure there are others.) This is an important step, because it lends you credibility in that it makes you look like you are invested in your business. You are invested in this decision, right?

5) Start reaching out to potential clients! Try, Translators Café, or other communities. Applying to agencies can be less intimidating than cold-calling direct clients at first. Join your local translator association to get word-of-mouth referrals (not to mention great advice from veterans in the field). Scope out small business associations and meetings to listen to what your clients care about and learn how you can help them best. It’s a puzzle with many solutions.

Have any lingering questions? Ask away below! And veteran translators, as always, I’d love to hear your responses, too.


One thought on “First steps in translation

  1. Pingback: Links for first-time freelancers (or veterans who need an extra push this week) | translation, untangled

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