Recenty, I’ve been contacted by several people who have read one of my articles on the web about becoming a freelance translator and felt inspired. They obviously must have had that “I want to become a translator” idea in their heads for a while and decided to do a bit of research. All of them had two things in common; they were Czech and have in the past lived, or are still living, in the UK. They’ve mastered the language to a reasonable standard and want to make use of their acquired knowledge. And one day, Heureka, they realize that the easiest way to bring their knowledge to good use would be to become a translator.
I want to become a translator – can you help me please?
Some might be completely new to the concept of becoming a translator, others might have had a go at contacting agencies or possibly used other means to try and get translation jobs. Either case, whether the “I want to become a translator” is new to them or they are slightly further in their quest but have not been very successful so far, they search the net and find my website with a handful of inspiring articles. They pluck up their courage to write me an email in which they describe why they want to become a translator and ask for advice. Usually, they ask whether it is necessary to have a certificate of some sort, how to start off, whether to contact agencies first, do a bit of free voluntary work or perhaps send out mass emails offering their services. They ask whether they should get a website. Sound familiar? Ah, I thought so. You want to become a translator too, do you? Ok, listen. There might just be a few things that you’re not aware of. “Like what?”, you ask. Here are my 7 reasons why you might want to chuck that “I want to become a translator” idea out of the window and start focusing on something else.
7 Reasons Why not to Become a Translator
1. Are you ready to be a hermit?
If you’re a people-person think twice. Do you care about not seeing anyone for hours on end while looking at your computer screen? If you don’t mind having a job where less-than-average human interaction is a must, then becoming a translator might actually be ok for you. However, if you do like being with people more than you like being with your laptop try something else instead, perhaps interpreting?
2. Are you tenacious enough?
If you want to become a translator tenacity should definitely be one of your strong personality traits. You’ve got to be prepared to search for the right meaning of one single word or sentence for hours. Oh, your English is good enough to use without a dictionary, is it? Well, let me tell you something, my friend. Sometimes, one isn’t even sure whether they’ve used the correct word in their native language. Luckily, there’s a great website called Proz (www.proz.com) where professional translators meet and exchange advice and ideas. You can post a question about a term if you’re really stuck after three hours of scouring the internet and still not getting anywhere. If you give up easily I would suggest you forget the whole “I want to become a translator” idea and go and get a more regular kind of job.
3. Are you a nerd?
I bet you if you got ten translators in a room you’d have a room full of nerds. I’m quite a bit of a nerd myself 😀 I don’t see it as a bad thing. Even at school I was probably seen by others as a nerd, a nerd with attitude though! Don’t worry, nerdy doesn’t (necessarily) mean boring. It just means that when you get a translation on a subject you don’t actually have the slightest idea about you’re willing (and happy, otherwise translation will become very boring after a while for you) to spend ages looking up stuff online and get a deeper understanding of the topic.
4. Do you have an eye for detial?
Did you notice the mistake in the heading? If not, translation might not suit you as much as you think. We all make mistakes and miss things. However, as a translator, and sometimes translator and proofreader in one, you are responsible for the end product. Luckily, these days technology is on hand and spell check is probably going to save you on most occasions.
5. Do you love languages but hate technology?
If you want to make it as a freelance translator you need to love technology, or at least not hate it. 100% of all of my translations are done on my laptop. I wouldn’t be a translator without it. People find my website, I get contacted by email, communicate with my clients electronically, do the work on my laptop, research stuff on the net and send the finished job off from my laptop (the last bit is not necessarily true but sometimes it is :)). You need to be computer-savvy. You must also be open to learning new things, technical things. If you want to get a website but don’t have the budget to have it done by someone else you’ll need to learn how to build one yourself. If you want to use translation software you’ll need to acquire some pretty complicated technical knowledge. It’s not all about words, you know.
6. Is your English (second language) really good enough?
You might think that your knowledge of English, or another non-native language, is excellent. And I’m not saying it isn’t, no way. But is it? Do you really know all the nuances of the languages as well as you know them in your native language? If you only aim to translate into your native language, which is what some translators say you should only ever do anyway, then your English knowledge probably doesn’t have to be perfect perfect. However, you must be able to distinguish the subtle differences passively when reading the language, else the meaning might escape you and you might end up translating something that’s not actually there.
7. Are you amazing?
Yep, only truly amazing people can become translators! And that’s a fact 🙂
The two books below How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by freelance translator Corinne McKay, and The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation by translator sisters Judy and Dagmar Jenner are great resources for anyone wanting to make it as a freelance translator. They are full of helpful tips, advice and inspiration on how to succeed in the jungle o freelance translation 🙂