What You Need to Know to Start Your Career as a Translator

What You Need to Know to Start Your Career as a Translator

If you can speak a few languages then why not become a translator? It’s an awesome job that will have you meeting lots of different people.

It’s going to be more lucrative in some parts of the world than others

Where are you located? It’s an important question as some areas just have way more translation work than other areas as the Common Sense Advisory recently reported. The absolute best area to work is Europe. That’s not too surprising as there are a lot of languages there. But it’s the scope of the different that’s so impressive. Nearly half of the money spent globally on translation is spent in Europe.

The next biggest zone is the US where they spend about a third of the global budget. Then there’s Asia, which takes one tenth of the Global budget. As for Oceana, Latin America and Africa, together they don’t even account for 4% of the Global spending on translation services.

Some languages are better than others

It’s not that surprising really, is it? Some languages are spoken more widely, are more difficult to translate and/or have bigger economies. That means that those languages are going to be better for a translator to work in.

The structure of the industry

Big companies that need a lot of translating done generally contract big agencies if the amount of translation they need done is bigger than their in-house translators can handle.

These big agencies will try to do as much as they can do in-house. The moment their work rises above that, they’ll contract it out to subcontractors. These can work individually or, just like the agencies, have a network of other people they work with, who they in turn contract work out to as well.

Smaller businesses can slide into that setup wherever. Sometimes, if their needs aren’t too big, they’ll have one translator to help them. Sometimes they’ll work with an agency.

It’s not just about fluency

A lot of people think that if they’ve learned to speak well enough in their second language then they’re well on their way to being able to translate. That might be true for the really easy texts. The thing is, if you ever want to get more serious, you don’t just need to be fluent, you also need to be culturally tuned in to both cultures.

This is because translation isn’t just about taking one word and moving it to the other language. It’s also about interpreting the actual meaning of what is being said and taking that across as well. After all, where in some languages you’re allowed to be quite up front, in others you’re meant to be more circumspect. You need to know this – along with all the idioms, sayings, famous quotes, speech patterns and all the rest.

Translating isn’t innate

Saying you’re a translator is a bit like saying you’re a writer. If you’re not actually doing it then it isn’t actually true. For that reason, you should be finding opportunities to translate all the time. Start building a portfolio as soon as possible. Take on little projects, even if they don’t pay that much. Start making a name for yourself.

This isn’t just good for building up your portfolio, it’s also incredibly useful for actually learning the skills you need to be a translator. You’ll start recognizing patterns and expressions and will develop go-to methods to actually translate them more effectively. This means that when you show up on the radar of a professional translation agency, you can both show them your experience as well as actually do the work they might decide to pass your way.

You need to be a real nitpicker

The best kinds of translators don’t just give the other person a copy of the text in another language. They give it to them with the same kind of structure, the same letter type, the same file format and with the same kind of punctuation.

In that way, you show your client that you didn’t just translate the text but that you’re trying to create a text as true to the source text as possible. Little things like this really matter. They make your client far more likely to trust you and use you again.

Being that particular sounds like too much work? Then translation might not be for you. After all, a comma in a different place can make a huge difference. Just consider these two sentences.

A panda eats shoots and leaves


A panda eats, shoots and leaves

The first talks about what kind of food a panda eats. The second sentence suggests he is likely to get violent after a meal and leave you to clear up the mess. The difference? A single comma. Now, obviously it won’t always be that bad. Nonetheless, it only needs to be that way once and a whole relationship can come tumbling down.

Be aware of the future

One of the areas in technology where a lot of work is being put in is in creating AIgs that can translate language effectively. Now, to be clear, the new algorithms like the one introduced by Google aren’t going to take your job tomorrow. They’re not up to scratch yet. But they’re improving.

For that reason, you need to do two things:

  1. Understand how the technology works and learn to incorporate it into your efforts. After all, why fight it when you can learn how to use it to aid your efforts?
  2. Prepare for a future where the software is able to match simple translations at a fraction of the cost.

Fortunately, these two responses go together. You can learn to use the technology in order to make sure you’re no longer doing lower end translation. Still, you do have to constantly keep working to push yourself higher up. Otherwise you might someday find out the machines have taken your job.


Ashley Kornee

Ashley Kornee is a blogger and freelance writer. She always tries to write about ordinary things in a creative way. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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