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Practical advice on starting out as a professional translator from successful freelancers




FOREWORD ........................................................................................ 3 ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR DIARIES SERIES ................................................. 4 ABOUT THE AUTHOR ........................................................................... 5 ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS .................................................................. 6 ON ASPIRING TO BE A TRANSLATOR ..................................................... 8 ON GETTING THE QUALIFICATIONS ...................................................... 10 ON MAKING THE MOST OF TIME ABROAD ............................................... 12 ON DECIDING TO STUDY FOR A MASTERS ............................................. 13 ON MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM STUDENT TO TRANSLATOR ............... 15 ON GETTING ENOUGH EXPERIENCE ...................................................... 17 ON DEFINING YOUR SPECIALISMS ........................................................ 18 ON JOINING A PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION .......................................... 19 ON FINDING CLIENTS ........................................................................ 20 ON WORKING WITH TRANSLATION AGENCIES ........................................ 21 ON OVERCOMING THE MAJOR OBSTACLES ............................................ 22 ON THEIR FINAL THOUGHTS ............................................................... 23 THE INDUSTRYBREAKING PLAN ............................................................ 25 A FINAL WORD ................................................................................. 26 INDEX ............................................................................................... 27

Translation is the ultimate profession for linguists. As a young foreign language learner, I remember viewing this prestigious industry in awe, but throughout my education, I would constantly wonder exactly how one makes it the industry. Those seeking to become a translator will notice the lack of a formal, structured entry procedure compared to becoming, lets say, a doctor. There is a range of different qualifications that would be useful to a translator and numerous ways to go about acquiring the necessary experience. In fact, every process involved in translation (such as building up a client base, defining a brand and marketing your business) will vary incredibly from one translator to the next. This means it is up to each individual to be proactive, creative and resourceful in how they make their career in translation. Thats not to say that the current generation of translators should not support aspiring and new translators on the journey to success. On the contrary, it is the duty of practising translators to pass on the torch, share their pearls of wisdom and give the next generation the best possible start to their career. This is not just about imparting information about best practices, quality awareness and professional standards; it is also a matter of guiding new translators in making the decisions that affect their business, their career and their industry as a whole in order to produce the most beneficial, productive and ethical outcome.

This ebook aims to: Provide an insight into the multiple paths into the translation industry Offer practical advice that you can take away and start putting into practice right now Help you decide on the qualifications that would put you in the best position Outline how to acquire translation experience in the early days Explain how to overcome the common problems that translators encounter when establishing themselves

This ebook intends to address the frequently asked questions that translation students and newcomers to the industry might have, but it might also just give established professionals some points to reflect upon. The tangible advice provided by the translators who have contributed may also answer some questions that you never thought to ask, but could nevertheless prove decisive in setting yourself up as a translator. Regardless of who you are and where you are in your career language graduate or translation student, inhouse translator or aspiring freelancer or if you currently work in another industry entirely I hope this proves an enlightening experience and cements your ambitions to become a successful translator.


The Translator Diaries series was conceived at the very beginning of 2013. The translation community on Twitter is by no means short of interviews with freelance translators conducted by their colleagues. However, this new series did not just want to create a collection of biographies or CV recitals, rather it sought to draw valuable, specific advice that new and aspiring translators could implement into their plan to enter the industry.

The series therefore aimed to provide inspiring accounts that translation students and newcomers could relate to in order to make decisions when it comes to breaking into the industry and making their career successful such as how the contributors acquired experience and qualifications, how they made the transition to freelancer, how they survived the startup phase and how they built up a client base. The contributors are all practising freelance translators, most of them working as sole traders, but some have also progressed to operating as a translation agency, outsourcing work to other translators. Between them, the contributors have incredibly diverse backgrounds, with a range of qualifications, experience and specialisms. The fourteen interviewees are all at various points in their career, from recent graduates to wellestablished freelancers. The first series of seven interviews was published on in March and April 2013. Thanks to the resoundingly positive reception, the second series of seven interviews followed shortly afterwards in June and July 2013.


My name is Lloyd Bingham. Im an inhouse senior translator for a translation company based in the north east of England. As a modern languages graduate of Newcastle University, I translate from French, German, Spanish and Dutch, as well as the odd bit of Catalan, into English. In my role, I am jointly responsible for managing the team of eleven translators and proofreaders and ensuring the high quality of the work we provide to clients. My specialities include marketing/promotional, business, legal and maritime texts. In addition to the foreign languages themselves, I have studied French language variation and change, Iberian history and German linguistics, and I studied and compiled a project on the contemporary relevance of Occitan culture in the south west of France. With multilingualism and foreign travel going hand in hand, Ive travelled extensively around the countries where my languages are spoken natively, having lived in Cardiff, Newcastle and Northumberland, worked in Toulouse and Aachen, and studied in Munich and Alicante. But my favourite city still has to be Berlin. Under the lloydtranslates brand, I write on my website ( about translation, language, linguistics and culture, and have published articles such as Mastering without a Masters, which looked at whether translators require a Masters in translation, Do we respect our own languages? (hosted by the Lingua Greca website), which discussed how native speakers perceive their native language. I am also very active on Twitter (@lloydtranslates) and the corresponding Facebook page ( As an Associate member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, I have written for the ITI Bulletin.


Alastair Coates (@VeganUpNorth) studied German, Japanese and Dutch at Newcastle University, spending a semester each in Tokyo and Tbingen. He currently works with Lloyd as a translation proofreader, quality checker and translator. In addition to travelling and meeting people from different cultures, Alastair enjoys blogging on vegan food at


Megan Onions (@speechmarksxl8) has been translating since the age of 15. She now runs Speech Marks Translation in Herefordshire and translates from French and German into English. With nearly 6 years of professional experience, she specialises in travel and tourism, sport and leisure, and marketing and advertising. Clare Goodman (@blaue_hortensie) is relatively new to the world of freelance translation and is currently finishing an MA in Legal Translation at City University in London. Her story begins in 2010, when she was living in Germany during her year abroad as part of a 4year BA degree in French and German. Sarah Pybus (@PybusTrans) is a German to English translator with six years of experience, having worked in house for five and a half years in Germany and the UK before going freelance in late 2012. She holds a BA (Hons) in English and German and an MA in Translation Studies. Catharine CellierSmart (@Smart_Translate) is a British born French to English freelance translator (and occasional interpreter) based in Runion Island, an overseas department of France in the Indian Ocean, where she has lived for 18 years since 1990. Catharine translated professionally part time, in parallel with her job, from 1992 until 2008, before going full time in 2011. Lydia Smith (@smiffinch) is a French and Spanish to English translator with over 10 years experience. A former project manager, Lydia studied for an MA in Technical Translation to help make the transition to freelance translator, and went on to win the ITI John Hayes Prize in 2012. Ramn Olivares (@rolivares_net) is a freelance translator from English and French into Spanish and Galician. He has 7 years experience in the industry and specialises in international development, business and finance, sport and gaming. He is based in A Corua in Galicia, Spain.

Carolyn Yohn (@untngldtransl8n) is a French and Hungarian into English translator based in the US, specialising in legal and academic texts. She has run untangled translations in Virginia since February 2012, having first started translating in 2007.


Marta Stelmaszak (@mstelmaszak) is a Polish English translator and interpreter working in law, IT, marketing, and business. She is a member of the Management Committee of the Interpreting Division at the Chartered Institute of Linguists and a Co head of the UK Chapter of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters. She has been voted a Top 17 Twitterer and Top 20 Facebook Fan Page in Language Lovers 2012 contest and she runs the Business School for Translators. Eva Hussain (@Eva_Polaron) is a translator and interpreter, and director of Polaron Language Services based in Melbourne, Australia. A native of Poland, she came to Australia in the mid 1980s and set up as a translator some years later. She has served as a state branch chair and deputy national president of the Australian Institute of Interpreting and Translating. Louise Pron (@LSPTranslation) has been an English to French translator since February 2011. She works on marketing, touristic and technical texts. Based in Brest in Brittany, France, Louise strives to make the Englishspeaking world accessible to French audiences by combining her language skills and her lifelong passion for foreign cultures. Ana Naletili (@an1606) is an EnglishCroatian translator. Hailing from Bosnia and Herzegovina, she has a BA in English and Comparative Literature, and an MA in English (Translation Studies) and Comparative Literature from the Zagreb School of Humanities, Croatia. Marie Jackson (@lookingglassxl8) is a French and German to English translator and interpreter, and owner of LookingGlass Translations. Freelancing since June 2012, her main areas of expertise are business and marketing, law and logistics. She also frequently does copyediting work and offers other services such as CV optimisation and speechwriting. Alison Hughes (@AHcreattrans) is a French to English translator specialising in marketing and creative texts. Since she started as a freelancer in 1997, she has gained considerable experience translating documents for travel companies, train companies, art galleries, advertising agencies and art publications, having started out in the wine and spirits industry. Claire Agius (@ClaireAgius) is a French, German, and Spanish into English translator who has been running Agius Language & Translation since 1999. She has worked in the language services industry for more than 17 years and is a self described fullyfledged linguistic geek!

To start us off, our translators take a fond look back at that one point that defined their career, that moment when it all began. Many translators, like myself, fell in love with the profession at university, others at an earlier stage when they were in secondary school, but some were practically in nappies when they first found out where their skills lie. Here well learn that translators can discover th eir talents at any point in their life.

When I was around 15, we were all required to do a weeks work experience placement wherever we chose. I ended up going to a great, closeknit translation team within a polymer processing company. My mentor guided me through a lot of both technical and general translation, as well as proofreading work done by external translators. Megan Onions

It wasnt really until university that I discovered translation and how much I enjoyed it. Careers advice had always been a bit scarce, and pretty much the only thing suggested to me at school was to become a librarian. Had the idea of translation been put to me sooner, I might have chosen a slightly different university course that would have allowed me to specialise. Sarah Pybus

I had previously been curious of the translation industry as I had attended several language careers presentations at university; the main focus of these tended to be translation and interpreting, as these are obviously careers in which fluency in a foreign language is vital and central to the career, rather than just an extra asset that might occasionally come in useful. Clare Goodman

I distinctly remember my tutors look of disdain when I said I would like to become a translator! But it was just what I wanted to do; I enjoyed translating, simple as that. Lydia Smith

Translation has been my career of choice since I was old enough to have serious thoughts about my future. Theres something about communication that has always attracted me. And translation is the most intricate form of communication: it allows different cultures to communicate with each other. Marta Stelmazsak

Becoming a translator was just a logical extension of my interests, really. One of my earliest memories is of flipping through a French Babar book! I began studying languages semiformally in elementary school, then narrowed in on French when I was barely a teen. In high school, just to stretch my legs a bit, I signed up for a student exchange year. They sent me to Hungary; I did not waste the opportunity. Carolyn Yohn

I read a lot when I was a kid, so when I started thinking about my future job, I imagined myself typing exciting detective novels near the fireplace. That was before I learned there were people who actually earned a living translating novels, films, speeches, etc. I knew hardly anything of the profession, but I enjoyed English lessons, I adored Radiohead and Tarantino, I loved Ryan Giggs. It may sound a bit silly now, but back then I thought becoming a translator would allow me to be in contact with these things. Ramn Olivares

My natural flair seemed to be for languages. Though it wasnt until I got to university that the idea of becoming a translator started to really appeal to me. The course I followed was combined French/German with modules focusing on language, culture, politics and translation and interpreting. I knew pretty much straight away that I was never going to be a worldbeater when it came to interpreting. As soon as I placed the headset on, panic and fear would set in. I would forget parts of the sentences and regurgitate words that can only be described as utter nonsense. I found I was much more at ease working with the written word, having time to reflect on a text and formulate ideas. Claire Agius

I may be slightly unusual in that Ive known I wanted to work as a translator/interpreter since I was about eight years old! My mother used to buy me games in foreign languages as a kid because they looked like fun, and she eventually put me into French classes once a week when I was four, again, all in the name of fun. By the time I was eight, I was translating simple sentences in class and interpreting for my family on holiday and I loved it. As I got older, I found that I had a flair for language and that I enjoyed solving puzzles, and so translation and interpreting emerged as the perfect career choice for me. Marie Jackson

I became interested in translation during my third year at university, when I did a Translation Workshop course. I liked it, and it turned out I'm good at it. So, when the time came to decide upon an MA in Translation Studies, one of my professors remarked, A pragmatic choice. Ana Naletili

As is often the case with many translators, Ive always had interest in and aptitude for learning languages. I studied Russian and French in Poland, and picked up some Turkish and Hindi along the way. I also always loved reading and writing, hoping one day to write bestselling books. Eva Hussain


How do you go about becoming a qualified translato r? Employers and clients will always want to be convinced of a solid education in your working languages and/or translation studies. Unfortunately, there is no one simple qualification that makes you a translator. Rather, it is a combination of relevant courses at various levels, tailored to your interests, that forms a firm foundation to build your career on. We are also about to see that qualifications are not just something translators focus on before they launch themselves, but they can be taken up further down the line as part of your continuing professional development. With the multitude of courses on offer, and educational backgrounds varying from translator to translator, how do you decide which qualifications are right for you and will put you in the best possible position to start your career in the industry? We look at how our translators made the decision and why.

I took an MA in English followed by a postgraduate degree in Technical Translation & Writing at the University of Western Brittany (Brest) as I was not mature enough to enter the labour market. Besides, I had no idea of how to get translation work. I had only studied theory thus far and a Masters degree focused on translation as a profession was exactly what I needed. I learned so much about the industry and was also able to hone my writing skills while proofreading fellow students work. Louise Pron

I took an MA in Technical Translation (University of Westminster) in 2001, nine years after my first degree, as I did not have specialist industry experience, apart from teaching and the translation business. I think part of the reason I chose to do the MA was to give me confidence in my ability and to give me a better grounding, some of which I had lost in the years between my first and second degrees. I wanted to see if I was any good, and what fields I could specialise in. Lydia Smith

When choosing a university degree, I was looking for something different. At the time, there were only a small number of specialist translation degrees, and I found mine at Swansea University in South Wales. During my degree, I started to work with a pregnancy and childbirth charity and carried out voluntary translations of clinical trial papers for them. Megan Onions


I chose to complete an undergraduate course in translation and interpreting at HeriotWatt University in Edinburgh one of the only courses of its kind in the UK. Overall I feel that this was a good decision and that the course very intense and practicallyorientated really set me up for a strong start in the industry. Having a degree makes my position more credible; the lack of regulation in our industry means that qualifications are by no means required to find work, but theyre a valuable marketing tool nonetheless, and help to legitimise our industry. The only way we can secure fair rates from clients is by earning their respect and teaching them that we are highly qualified professionals, not just people who happen to speak two languages! Marie Jackson

I have a BA in English Language and Literature and an MA in Translation. Moreover, I completed the first 2 years of a PhD in Irish Studies. After completing the second PhD year, it was time to invest all my efforts in translation. Ramn Olivares

I have some 6 years of experience in translation and interpreting, plus some projects in transcreation and copywriting. I have a BA degree in translation, Diploma in Public Service Interpreting, and countless hours of CPD (continuing professional development). Im also currently doing my PgDip in Forensic Linguistics, which is somehow related to translation, since I specialise in legal texts. Marta Stelmaszak

I have a BA (Hons) language degree from a British university, an MBA from a French university Business School (IAE), and a certificate of translation (via distance learning). I would dearly like to study for a postgrad in translation, but I would prefer to study for it in person rather than via distance learning. That's one of the frustrations of living on a remote tropical island. Catharine CellierSmart



Every linguist needs to spend time in a country where their language is spoken natively, as there are simply some things that you cant learn from a book when it comes to languages. Fortunately, as a language or translation student, a year abroad should automatically form part of your course, whether you work or study. Identifying an interest in translation early on can put you at an incredible advantage, as you can use your time abroad to sample a taste of the industry by searching for a work placement in a translation agency or signing up to a translation school, whilst refining your general language skills at the same time. Alternatively, gaining work experience in another industry can be key to laying the groundwork for your specialist areas. Heres how some of our translators used the time they spent abroad to their advantage.
I took a year out as a language assistant in a small village in Germany (Spangenberg) and, through contacts there, went on to work as a waitress in Disentis, Switzerland, for the summer. One Sunday lunch I served the MD of Mumm Champagne who left his card, which I took as a souvenir. When I graduated in 1981 the UK was in recession so I wrote to the MD asking if he could offer me a job. Three months later I was working in the export department of Mumm Champagne in Reims. Alison Hughes I spent 5 months working as a translator at Volkswagen in Germany and a semester at the prestigious Ecole de traduction et d'interprtation (ETI) in Geneva. In addition to developing my language skills, I gained valuable knowledge of the translation industry from a series of internships in local companies. Megan Onions

My first translation job landed in my lap during my second month of college, at an American school in southern Switzerland. A professor was writing a book on Switzerland and the European Community; he could read all his Italian and German sources, but he needed help with the French. I became his research assistant for two semesters. That was really all the taste I needed to be hooked on this profession. Carolyn Yohn

My year of study abroad took me to Geneva and Heidelberg. I was fortunate enough to be able to follow a translation course at the School of Translating & Interpreting (ETI) in Geneva and was taught by working UN translators. The experience was invaluable and reinforced my desire to work in the translation field. Claire Agius

When most of my classmates were signing up to do their year abroad at a foreign university, I was busy applying for translation internships and was extremely excited to be given a paid position at a company in Berlin. It was there that I had the opportunity to gain a realistic insight into the industry and quickly became aware of how valuable the ability to translate was, especially when combined with an area of expertise, such as medicine, technology, or law. Clare Goodman



Whether or not a Masters degree in translation is the best choice in becoming a translator is a very personal decision to make, as it is just one of many ways to enter the industry. Not only are there other postgraduate alternatives, but some translators bypass the need for a Masters by gaining solid experience as an in house translator or spending years in a different specialist industry. Even if you choose not to study for a Masters straight away, it is never too late , considering that some established freelance translators take up a Masters on a part time basis later on in their career. Whats more, there are a few different types of translation Masters degrees from the general to the more specialised, such as legal or technical translation. Here are some insights on whether a Masters degree in translation is strictly necessary and how beneficial it might prove in your career.

I think my Masters in Legal Translation will reassure potential clients that I have a solid knowledge of both English and German law and am able to apply this knowledge to the source text in order to create an accurate translation of a legally binding document. I want my clients to have peace of mind that I actually understand the true nature of their important document and am not just someone who is fluent in another language is and blindly translating. I think, however, that networking, marketing yourself and gaining all the translation experience you can is just as helpful as a postgraduate qualification. Clare Goodman

All translators have a unique background. I do not think that degrees are necessary for experienced professionals who are experts in a specific field and who have excellent source and target language skills (an engineer who worked for 10+ years in a field and lived in the source language country for a while, for example). On the other hand, I do think that a postgraduate qualification is very important for linguists who are not (yet) specialised. Louise Pron

I dont think a specific translationrelated qualification is necessary to be a good translator or to work as a translator. Some people are just born with it. However, such a qualification is definitely an advantage. Especially in this more and more competitive environment, having something to back up ones talent can be a difference between being a translator and being a successful translator. Marta Stelmaszak

All things considered, a degree a Translation Studies isn't essential, but it does give you solid foundation for your future as a language professional, especially if, like me, you weren't a professional in some other line of work. True, most translation buyers prefer years of experience to a degree in Translation Studies, but I think the two years I spent specialising provided me with some skills that people who translate "on the side" don't have. The business side of translating wasn't among those skills, so I'll have to learn that one on my own. Ana Naletili


I decided to continue onto a Masters course straight after graduating bec ause I assumed it would be the best way of getting into the industry. Whilst my MA did prepare me somewhat, if I had my time at university again, I dont whether I would have chosen the same course at the same university. A Masters in Germanic Studies might have improved my language skills more, and a Masters in Translation Studies at a different university might have served me better. As awareness of the translation industry grows, it does seem as though companies are more likely to consider candidates for both inhouse and freelance work if they have a specific translation related qualification (although this does not necessarily have to be an MA). However, I should also point out that some of the best translators I have worked with did not have any qualifications in translation, simply their language degrees. Sarah Pybus

I certainly dont think a Masters is necessary. Im not doing an MA because I dont think I could get work without it, but because I feel like Im getting the best of both worlds, in that Im getting that extra piece of paper, but not sacrificing too many of my working hours. You really have to decide for yourself what a Masters will offer you, and if you need it. Everyone has a slightly different path to translation, and their previous employment or education may cancel out the need for further formal study. Megan Onions

In my job at a translation company, there were translators with translation qualifications but little industry experience, those with industry experience but no translation qualifications (sometimes no language degree) and those that had both. To have both was preferable but I often found that people with industry experience (i.e. former lawyers, engineers, City traders etc.) were the best for certain jobs. Lydia Smith

I dont hold a postgraduate diploma in translation and when recruiting translators for my team, I dont consider this an imperative factor. Though I would recommend postgraduate studies, I believe a combination of in house industry experience, passion, dedication and diligence are equally important. Claire Agius

I believe that you either have it or you dont as a linguist. I have worked with people with various credentials who are poor translators, and those who are excellent professionals with minimal training. In fact, I regularly present at universities and Polaron offers internship and practicum programmes for Masters students, so that prospective translators and interpreters can see firsthand what their future holds. Not that I havent thought about returning to study from time to time, but I believe that structured learning is for those that have the luxury of time. Eva Hussain



Being a student aspiring to be a translator can be one of the greatest periods of uncertainty, but it is an important point to start laying the groundwork for your career. Using this stage of your life to plan for your translation career can give you a head start, so that you dont find yourself right in the deep end when you graduate. Some translators launch an allout campaign as soon as they graduate, if they havent already started to while they are still studying. So what can you do to prepare to go freelance? Our translators talk about what they did during and straight after their studies to help them break into the industry.

I started with a lot (and I mean a lot) of research, collecting and drawing inspiration from fellow translators CVs, and getting some experience with volunteer translations. After that, I just worked very hard and did a good job every single time, which made it easier to move on and get more clients. Megan Onions

It was on my Year Abroad in Berlin that I first decided to freelance. I sent so many emails to charities, companies and local businesses explaining my current situation and many of them were happy to give me a chance (albeit, not for a great deal of money to begin with!). Clare Goodman

I started translating before I went to university, because there was a high demand of translation services at that time and place. I was mostly translating and interpreting for individuals. When I started my degree, I applied to a handful of agencies and one of them has been providing me with work ever since. So when I graduated, it wasnt that difficult I just became available fulltime. Marta Stelmaszak

I jumped in the deep end, there was no real transition. Everyone I asked before I set up as a freelancer said not to bother, that there was no work, it was poorly paid, and translators and interpreters werent well respected. I had a strong feeling that I would be able to sustain myself and I continued interpreting by day, translating by night, seven days a week for two or three years. The admin, organisational and interpersonal skills I gained through previous jobs have definitely helped but I flew by the seat of my pants on many occasions. Eva Hussain


So, youve got your degree, now what? Where do you begin with launching yourself as a translator? Many translators make the pragmatic choice to gain industry experience after graduation, before launching themselves as a freelance translator. Its great if youre lucky enough to get a position at an inhouse translation company, but these positions are few and far between, especially in the UK.

I was fortunate enough to be offered a job as a junior translator at a company in Germany. It was a great experience they gave me excellent training, my German improved immeasurably and I stayed for nearly three and a half years before returning to the UK. If personal circumstances allow, working abroad is something I would definitely recommend to new translators. Sarah Pybus

I originally wanted to work inhouse, and imagined myself in the international marketing department of a multinational company. While I was studying, I opened accounts on websites such as ProZ and Translators Caf and an agency approached me after consulting my profile. I was delighted but I had to set up a business in order to invoice my work. A few weeks later, a direct client contacted me to translate small marketing texts. After my student work placement, the agency where I had trained sent me my first large translation project, and my freelance career was launched. Louise Pron

Once I graduated from university, I actually ended up going freelance immediately. Id spent the last few months of my degree perfecting my online profiles and reading as much as I could about freelance businesses, and so I was really able to hit the ground running. With valuable language pairs, diligent networking and comprehensive online profiles, I had people contacting me with offers of work almost immediately but I think that this is probably far from typical. Marie Jackson

Ideally, I would have liked to get an inhouse job in London after the MA, but I was now married and fell pregnant in the April before my final exams. Straightaway, I began to set up as a freelance translator and within two or three months I was getting enough work, mostly from French agencies that I had written to on spec. Lydia Smith

When I finished my MA, I applied for freelance work, which didnt succeed because I had no experience and couldnt afford any CAT tools. I missed out on one in house opportunity because I only offer one language pair. Eventually, I started working as a project administrator for a translation agency, which gave me firsthand experience of the pressures to which project managers are often subjected from all sides, and how freelancers can both alleviate and intensify the stress of their work. Sarah Pybus

I quit my day job to translate full time in August 2012. The first few months I spent completing my Certificate in Translation and casually looking for work. It can be difficult getting steady work at first, but diligence does pay off eventually. Now that I have more time for sales and marketing, I am seeing great results. Carolyn Yohn



Like in any industry, newcomers are faced with the paradox of needing experience to get work, but needing work to get experience. Even with a postgraduate qualification, new translators need to do all they can to gather experience in the runup to launching their careers. Luckily, there are ways to break the vicious circle, as our translators will now demonstrate.

We all started somewhere, from this moment of zero experience. The important thing is to be open to possibilities and see every event as a chance to gain some experience. I started with almost nothing, but I seized every opportunity to use my skills. My portfolio was growing rapidly, and I also received a number of recommendations. In the first stage of my career, I worked hard on marketing and sales. Doing marketing courses and meeting with translation buyers definitely helps. If youre good, reliable, and committed, people will hire you. Marta Stelmaszak

I set about getting as much experience as possible: pro bono work, translating news articles as practice and making glossaries for specialist fields. Of course, I was also translating in my lectures and workshops at university, too. All of this stood me in good stead for looking for paid work, which started while I was saving interestinglooking agencies to my favourites. I noticed that one of them was looking for translators working with German for work on medical reports something which I had pro bono experience in. That was my way in. Megan Onions

After graduating, I eventually found my way into the industry by accepting a position in a translation company as a multilingual checker and administrator, finally progressing to commercial manager. It was this latter role that gave me the skills and confidence required for running a small business. Claire Agius

After college, I took a job as an administrative assistant, which involved some proofreading; I quickly outgrew that and found a position as a copyeditor, in keeping with my language interests. Nights, I translated texts probono through different online portals for the experience, and I signed up for distance courses through NYU in translation. Carolyn Yohn

I went on to work for various individuals and companies through networking. Although I did find clients by attending conferences/ translators events, I also found work by talking to people on the train, and even down the pub. As a result, I now have experience in translating a wide range of texts, from real estate, to plaques in museums, to company brochures, to film subtitles and childrens books. Clare Goodman

The institution where I worked as a research assistant also gave me the chance to translate my first book, which was a very valuable medal when I started sending applications to agencies. Ramn Olivares

I somehow landed a job as a Project Manager in a small translation company. I spent three years at the sharp end of things, which was quite an education! I worked in two small companies where I gained a very good idea of the translation business, of clients often unreasonable expectations. Lydia Smith



If you were to ask an experienced translator what the one thing is that translators need to do in order to survive and flourish in their career, they are likely to tell you it is to specialise. Building up specialist knowledge in a select few domains, such as legal, business or marketing, is essential to attracting and retaining any client, let alone wellpaying ones. A client wants to ensure that their translator understands their texts and is seasoned in the subject matter, otherwise how can you produce an accurate translation? Our translators reflect on how and why they chose their specialisms.

I think being able to specialise in a particular field is incredibly important and is likely to make you very attractive to clients who require a translation within that field. I chose law as it is an area in which I am genuinely interested. Legal translations are also becoming increasingly in demand as more companies are going international, more people are buying property abroad, etc. Clare Goodman

I was interested mostly in literary translation; I had no idea about all the subspecialisations possible in translating. Curiously enough, the course in literary translation was the one I did worst at. During those two years I found out that I liked terminology work very much that became my favourite part of translation process. We did Translation Workshops in humanities, economy, medicine, literature (fiction and nonfiction) and translation for audiovisual media. Ana Naletili

My background is academic and focused on languages, so I strived to specialise in subjects that were of personal interest to me: Tourism because I am an avid traveller and I have always been interested in foreign countries and their culture. Technical because my father used to be an electromechanic and is now a forklift truck driving instructor. I would read the technical literature he would keep in his office to understand how machines worked. Lastly, I chose to specialise in Marketing because I was familiar with this domain after having studied Sales & Marketing back in college. Louise Pron

The best advice I have is to choose two specialties: one you love, no matter the demand, and one you like that people need. For me, legal translation pays my bills, and academic texts keep my daytoday from being monotonous. Carolyn Yohn

I dont think it is essential to have a Masters, but indeed it is an advantage, especially if you can specialise in some way. If I were to enrol now on a postgraduate course, I would choose something very specific. You have to specialise in order to be competitive. Ramn Olivares



The translation profession is an unregulated one. This means that theoretically anyone can call themselves a translator, unlike a doctor, for example. This is one of the reasons why professional translation associations exist to promote the highest possible standards within the industry and to raise awareness of the profession in general. In the UK, the predominant associations are the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL). Joining such an organisation can be hugely beneficial on a personal level, especially in the early days of your translation career, and heres why.
Join your local translator association, if you have one. Translators are often generous, friendly people, and they'll think of you when they are swamped by work. Carolyn Yohn

I joined the ITI and the IOL while on my MA course and have stayed a member of both institutes ever since, being actively involved in several ITI networks. These e groups in particular were (and still are) a huge source of support, especially in th e early days. Lydia Smith

Not having a formal translation qualification did mean that becoming a mem ber of ITI (Associate and then full membership in 2001) was vital for agencies to take me seriously. I passed the French to English exam and do remember getting very little German or Spanish work due to lack of formal translation qualifications. Alison Hughes

From 2000, I became heavily engaged with the workings of the Australian Institute of Interpreting and Translating (AUSIT), which provided me with an opportunity to gain practical knowledge, reach out to other colleagues and find role models in the industry. For about 3 years, I held a position of a state branch chair, as well as the professional development coordinator and deputy national president. Eva Hussain

Membership to one of the known professional associations (ITI, CIoL, etc.) can be of great benefit, not only from a marketing perspective but also from the point of view of keeping abreast of current trends in the industry and networking with other translators and interpreters. Claire Agius

I found student membership of both the Institute of Linguists and Institute of Translation and Interpreting to be rewarding in terms of advice and networking. I have since moved up the membership ranks, contributed articles to the ITI Bulletin, and feel part of the community. Megan Onions


One of the most burning questions for new and aspiring translators is how do I attract clients?. In short, the key to putting yourself in the best possible position is a solid foundation of qualifications, experience and professional development on the one hand, and having the right business skills on the other. The weighting of each component, however, really does depend on you and how you want to run your translation business.
Looking back, it often surprises me that I picked up work very quickly as a freelancer after my MA, even though I did not have direct translation experience or a specialist background. Perhaps it was my knowledge of the translation business and the way I presented myself to clients that helped me gain work. A lot of clients have come through word of mouth or contacts other translators and existing clients. Of course clients come and go, but I still have a few that I've been working with for eight or nine years so I must be doing something right! Lydia Smith I managed to build up a decent size client base and repeat business kept me ticking over. Most of my clients have come through speculative applications. I have rarely been asked to take any translation tests, though I have no objection to undertaking small unpaid texts of fewer than 300 words provided the text is an extract of a larger piece, and not copy to be published. In my work, I also subcontract to other language professionals and operate as a translation agency. Claire Agius

Finding clients is always hard at the beginning and it took me around two years to form a relatively solid client base. The most important thing to bear in mind is that the process never ends; you should always be looking for new and better clients. Ramn Olivares

My client base is currently a mixed bag of direct clients and agencies, and Ive actually only ever completed one or two test translations. Generally, Id say that Ive found looking for work a relatively painfree process. A lot of my work has come by wordofmouth, and so I can really vouch for the value of networking.

Marie Jackson

My portfolio of work from my probono days and my rsum seem reassuring enough for clients to hire me. I don't feel forced to accept minimum wage. I invested quite some time in making sure my website looks professional and my various directory listings are consistent and current. Having a listing in a rarer language in the American Translation Associations directory doesn't hurt, either. Carolyn Yohn

It probably took me two years to get regular work. I wrote to whisky companies and agencies and attended business courses and events locally in the intervening period, to keep my business mind engaged. However my business really got off the ground through contacts I had made at United Distillers. All it took was a contact with a translation agency and a contract to translate a guidebook. Alison Hughes



When starting out as a translator, you are faced with a choice on whether to target translation agencies or direct clients, or a mix of both. Working with an agency can bring benefits such as the ability to deal with someone with knowledge of the industry, clearly defined rates and deadlines, and a potentially greater flow of work, compared with working for a direct client. Having said that, many agencies have very high requirements in terms of experience, qualifications and specialist areas, and request applicants to complete a test translation. Our translators talk about how best to go about approaching and working with translation companies.
All agencies have different selection criteria. A strong academic background can make up for a lack of solid experience; great feedback from satisfied clients can counterbalance the lack of postgraduate studies; a translation sample can show off a translators ski lls. I understand that agencies need to assess translators, but I think test pieces should be kept to about an hours worth of work. And of course, the best agencies pay for test translations. Louise Pron

Getting work is not always easy; most of my specialisations are in highly competitive fields, and my unique specialisation of Runion Island/Indian Ocean islands isn't very much sought after. However, I find that when an agency really needs you, they don't worry about the experience, qualifications and test translations. And don't forget that agencies are not the only clients out there! Catharine CellierSmart

Test translations are apparently almost inevitable, even if you have years of experience. Nevertheless, no one has experience in the beginning but all of us have got to find that first client, so a lack of professional experience might be balanced with good tests, good references, volunteering for NGOs, and so on. Obviously, the better the client, the harder the requirements. Ramn Olivares

Having worked for over five years before turning freelance, I now have the years of experience requested by many translation agencies. Although I can understand that they want to use people with experience, years of experience do not necessarily indicate quality. I have met translators with two years experience who are far better than others with 10. Sarah Pybus

I think agencies tend to be more flexible when they want to work with a particular translator. I understand that for certain admin or quality standards reasons agencies need to fulfil a number of steps before working with a translator, and I dont mind signing an nondisclosure agreement and filling in a form. I dont mind doing a test piece either, but I always use my common sense. Marta Stelmaszak

If you work with languages of lesser diffusi on, you may well find that your skill level outweighs the experience requirement. Even for more common languages, there are agencies that put more emphasis on your current abilities. My friend, who is a project manager, has worked with some brilliant translators with only a few years of experience, and has had to clean up the mess left behind by a guy with more than 15. There are agencies out there who appreciate that. Megan Onions



By now, you should hopefully have a good idea on whether translation is for you. The benefits over other professions are clear, but dont be fooledbreaking into the industry is a test of stamina and fortitude. It would be unfair not to provide a balanced view of the trials that every new and aspiring translator faces. But where theres a will, theres a way, and our translators outline what hurdles they faced and how they cleared them.
The biggest problem I faced in getting this fa r was being patient enough. You have to invest a lot up front to have the solid background in your languages, your writing skills, and your subject matter necessary for producing quality translations. You also have to be patient in seeing returns on your marketing and sales efforts. Ten emails today might garner one response next week. Don't lose heart! One response is often all you need, as long as you aren't undercutting the market. Carolyn Yohn

I didnt know anything about the profession when I started. I had to learn everything as I went along: how to use CAT tools, how to negotiate rates with clients, tax issues, etc. In this regard, being in contact with some colleagues or joining a professional association can make a real difference for recent graduates. Actually, for all translators. Isolation is not a good policy. Ramn Olivares

My family was rather unsupportive and somewhat suspicious of my new business idea. It took me some years to prove to them I could do it. I also found the financial management rather challenging, including how much to charge. I put a lot of effort and still do into how I present the business. I surrounded myself with kind, genuine people who helped me through some of the more difficult times. Now, I run a company with 9 staff and 300 vendors. Eva Hussain

As has been discussed by many colleagues, one of main problems is myself. Working at home can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation or issues with self confidence. I certainly had my fair share of doubts about my abilities when I started freelancing, and I cant say that those feelings have completely disappeared, but feedback from clients and colleagues have helped me realise that Im actually pretty good at what I do! Megan Onions

The first few months after completing university were quite hard going because I was mainly prospecting and working on unpaid tests. I took advantage of this slow start to create a Twitter account, through which I discovered a lot of very helpful translation blogs. I am now happy with the clients I work with on a regular basis, although this has triggered a new problem: overworking! Louise Peron

The major problem I was faced with, and I know aspiring translators feel the same, is confidence. Its very hard to validate ones translation skills, and also everyone else seems to be more experienced. The way I dealt with the lack of confidence was to stop comparing myself to other translators and to start seeing them as colleagues, not competitors. Im still surprised how much help and support Ive received when I was starting out. Finding a mentor is a great idea as well. Marta Stelmaszak



And now to conclude, our translators share some thoughts, reflections, advice and guidance on their careers and the industry that you can take away and apply to your campaign to launching yourself as a translator.

Never be afraid to ask and offer your services if you dont ask, you dont get! Once clients see you can do a good job, theyll give you more work and even recommend you. Gradually youll be able to spend less time marketing yourself, and more time translating. It is certainly a worthwhile career that I will continue to pursue, because I enjoy the challenges it presents and love that every translation brings an insight into a new subject. I love learning new things and translators never stop learning. Clare Goodman

I dont think theres anything more powerful and motivating than being responsible for your own business. The amount of business knowledge and skills you get as you go is a benefit in itself, plus you really feel you take responsibility for your life. Its been worth it not only in the monetary sense, but also in terms of personal development. Marta Stelmaszak

If I had to choose a profession all over again, I think it would still be translating. The situation in the job market isn't bright, but I don't regret becoming a translator. I hope our profession will get the respect it deserves, and in time people will no longer think that knowing one foreign language is all it takes to be a translator. If you're passionate about what you do, and if you really make an effort to be good at it, others will recognise it. So, stick to your (translation) guns and love language! Ana Naletili

Being your own boss can be immensely rewarding, but dont underestimate the hard work involved in running a small business and the solitary nature of the job. You have to be disciplined and methodical. Over the years, I have found the flexibility of working for myself to far outweigh the more laborious aspects of the job. Claire Agius

I've picked up so much since the day I decided to turn my hobby into my career. My colleagues in the local translator association treat me as an equal, despite age and education differences. Finding a working style that suits some of my more personal needs, such as being able to take a day off to accommodate a migraine, without the penalty of losing vacation time, is just icing on the cake. I love what I do. My life is much fuller for this work. I can't wait to see where it will take me next! Carolyn Yohn

Im a firm believer that translators can never have too much experience and need to engage with as many people as they can through every possible channel. This is easier now with social media but face toface contact is also important. And of course the ITI offers an increasing number of opportunities for engagement and involvement through networks and CPD events. I also believe that opportunities can present themselves in the most unexpected places. I volunteered for the Milngavie Book and Arts Festival from its very first year (2008) and was asked to project manage it in 2011. Although this didnt lead directly to any work, it was an invaluable insight into how potential clients in the arts and media think and work. Alison Hughes


The two main challenges Ive faced since starting my freelance business are time management and isolation. After graduation, business picked up far more quickly than Id anticipated and I initially let it take over my life. After some trial and error, Ive found that the trick is to set yourself clear boundaries and to remember to respect yourself both as a professional and a human being. As to the second challenge, this is something that can really only be fixed by joining professional associations (Im now an Associate member of the ITI) and relocating! All in all, Ive enjoyed freelancing so far and look forward to seeing my business, LookingGlass Translations, grow from strength to strength over the coming years!

Although it took me a while to actually start translating, I am happy with the way things have worked out so far. My experiences in the year after finishing university prompted me to move to Germany, and working as an inhouse translator for a while gave me the confidence and professional background to strike out on my own. Now, Im enjoying the flexibility and freedom that freelancing offers. Sarah Pybus

Marie Jackson

I strongly believe that the old guard must let the new blood in. I have been preaching this for years. Its not enough to move aside, though. Those that are experienced and skilled have a professional duty in my opinion to pass their knowledge on and mentor the young generation. Without that, we are just a bunch of multilingual misfits. The graduates entering the market have fresh ideas and can contribute a lot to this industry of ours, they just have to be given a chance. The oldies must keep up, though, or they will be left behind by the technology and the world developments. We should work hand in hand at achieving a more cohesive and united professional front. There is room for everyone. Eva Hussain

Im pretty much where I wanted to be when I started out, and everything is coming along nicely to push on and make a great career for myself. Im always working on ways to develop skills, gain knowledge and forge relationships to further my business, and I honestly couldn't enjoy it much more. In time, the career I have made for myself will lend itself to being adapted to fit around family commitments, and longterm job satisfaction was a really important factor in me choosing to go freelance. Megan Onions

The industry can be difficult to break into. You have to prove your worth and find your unique selling point. Besides being reliable and punctual and producing the obvious accurate and clearly presented work, a freelance translator must be approachable and flexible. Taking time to focus on subject areas that you are really interested, with the aim of adding those to your specialist fields, will give your services added value. Claire Agius

It is not easy but it is exciting, every day is a challenge and you are (or should be) always learning. I love the profession and I love being a freelancer. Finally, Id encourage future translators to work hard and hang on to their dreams. Ramn Olivares

Being my own boss is so enjoyable, I am very proud of myself even after only two years in business. Every small achievement is a milestone, and the best is yet to come! Louise Pron



Now that you have absorbed all of the advice that our fourteen freelancers have to offer, it is time to put it into practice and implement it into your plan to break into the translation industry. Fill in the following fields based on what you have read and refer to it each time you feel disorientated or that you are lacking guidance during your launch into translation.
To form a solid grounding for my career, my relevant qualifications are/will be: I have decided (not) to pursue a postgraduate qualification in translation because: I have done/will do the following to gain practical translations experience: To master my working languages, I have spent/will spend time abroad doing: To best prepare myself to become a translator, during my studies I have done/will do the following: My specialisms are/will be: I chose them because: To help me specialise, I have done/will do the following: I have decided (not) to join a professional association because: To build up my client base, I have done/will do the following: I anticipate the following difficulties in the early stages in my career: I will do the following to help overcome them:

The best pieces of advice that this book has given me are:

Why not tweet parts of your industry-breaking plan? Use the hashtag #xl8diaries


Translation is not a career that is easy or straightforward to break into. It is a test of character, but once youre in, the invaluable support you will receive from colleagues will be tremendous. It cannot be understated how the community is always ready to help its members. I hope that you are now confident in being able to ask more well established translators for their advice on starting out in the industry. Never be afraid to ask for guidance. Sharing stories can only help to strengthen the industry and make its members more assertive in pursuing their career. Further down the line, when you have been translating for years, I hope that you too will share your story with the industrys newest members in order to help educate and train the next generation.

It may just be you at your desk, but dont forget that help, support, advice and guidance from fellow translators are just a click away.

Thank you to all of the contributors (Megan Onions, Clare Goodman, Sarah Pybus, Catharine Cellier Smart, Lydia Smith, Ramn Olivares, Carolyn Yohn, Marta Stelmaszak, Eva Hussain, Louise Pron, Ana Na letili, Marie Jackson, Alison Hughes and Claire Agius) for not only sharing their stories, but for helping to emphasise the importance of perseverance in the industry. I would also like to thank all of them for their valuable input on this publication itself, and Marie Jackson for her advice on distribution.



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What did you think of The Translator Diaries ebook? Whats the best advice that youve obtained from this ebook? Who do you think gave the most valuable advice? Share your thoughts now on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #xl8diaries

The Translator Diaries

Practical advice on starting out as a professional translator from successful freelancers Copyright 2013 Lloyd Bingham First Edition @lloydtranslates
This free ebook remains the property of the copyright holder. However, it may be distributed, copied and reproduced freely. Under no circumstances should you charge/be charged to access, download or retain this free ebook. All advice by the author and the contributors in this e-book has been provided in good faith. The author and contributors disclaim all liability arising directly and indirectly from the use and application of the content of this e-book.