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Work as a freelance translator
Do you speak a foreign language well? Do you know how to write your own?
If yes, then you can get started as a freelance translator.
It is easier than you think. I did it back in 2004, and here I will teach you how. The average income for a freelance translator is $50,000 per year. Hard working, smart and experienced translators make much more.
In this blog, I guide you through the process of becoming a freelance translator and make some extra money - or to get a full time career started.
I also write about new trends, stories, my clients, and stuff that doesn't have anything to do with translation. I appreciate your visiting my lens, hope you find something you can use, and would really appreciate a comment or an email from you - or maybe just a "Like" before you leave.
THE SOFTWARE JUNGLE
How many tools do you need?
I have previously written about a couple of very useful translation software packages, but I feel it is time to have a closer look. I will not get into too much technical stuff, but rather talk to you about what a relatively fresh translator really need to focus on.
Do I really need translation software?
The answer is YES, there is no way you can make it as a translator without investing in at least one of the mainstream products. You should start by picking one, and my favorite starter tools is Wordfast Pro.
Where Do Translators Come From
Who Can Translate
If you want to work as a freelance translator, all you really need is solid command of your own language - plus solid knowledge of one foreign language. People form all sorts of backgrounds work as translators.
The principle of translation these days is: translate within a field you know, into your mother tongue. That's it.
My team and colleagues are teachers, technicians, students, nurses, mechanics, librarians, engineers, homemakers, in addition to linguists with a degree in translations.
You need to know your way around a PC, write reasonably well, and you must be able to use Google, dictionaries (online and offline) and other sources of information. You must be structured and able to concentrate - and willing to learn.
But.... you do NOT have to have a specific educational background. Don't be afraid, just go for it!
The Only Business Hiring Right Now?
How the translation industry is growing.
The translation industry is growing - all the time - and it is possible to get on board. Even for newcomers.
Think about it... The amount of information being produced, changed and updated every minute of the day, is MUCH greater than ever before. And the world is a global market. A HUGE amount of information needs to be translated.
Just think about the amount of websites... Thousands and thousands of companies need their website content translated into a number of languages. Some of them are so big and with som much changing content, a translator could feed his/her family for life just working for this ONE client.
In 2011, we have seen more than just recovery from the crisis of 2008-2010, we have seen actual growth! While other areas of the economy still are very weak, ours is just fine. Lucky us!
Something to think about for those who have a hard time finding decent jobs right now.
I NEED NEW FREELANCE TRANSLATORS
This Could Be Your Chance
I have a lot of work these days, and could REALLY need some more help. Anyone who think they can translate from English or German into Scandinavian languages (or the other way around) are especially welcome. Also all other language combinations.
Send me a short email to: firstname.lastname@example.org and let's talk!
Not Boring At All
Sometimes people ask me if I find working as a translator boring. They know I used to lead a more "active" life as an executive. It's a valid question.
The truth is that translation does not have to be boring at all.
These days I do a lot of "web site localization", i.e. translation of web site content into a new language. Also translators see the multimedia trend, less printed documents and more and more online stuff.
The last weeks I have worked for Symantec, translating web pages about Norton and Message Labs, both parts of the Symantec group. Now I know a LOT about the latest virus protection technology. I needed to know this stuff, as do you. The difference is that I get paid for reading every detail.
I also translated web pages and fact sheets for Yamaha MC. I am not a biker myself, but now I wish I was. At least I can tell you the difference between a roadster and a touring bike. I bet most of you can't.
Then I went on to translate web pages for Sony Creative Software, and got paid good dollars while I learned about the latest toys from Sony. This is information I really can use.
Then my old client Wacker Neuson needed to update some manuals for pumps, and I got to play around with hydraulics for a while. And the people at Black & Decker had new power tools on the market, so I got to translate user manuals for them. Now I know what to get a couple of friends for their birthday.
Every week I get paid for translating new information about all sorts of companies and fields - technical, commercial and financial.
Another exciting translation I just finished was for London Capital Group's Dealing Desk, a new service for financial spread betting. I ended up learning a lot about new investment possibilities here, and actually started making small market bets myself.
So you see, translations don't have to be boring. Not at all. We get a lot of first hand information and become semi-experts on a wide range of topics.
Translations in 2009 - What to expect
Get prepared for tougher competition
As we approach the end of 2008, we see a new trend quite clearly: Less work, more competition and lower prices.
It is only natural. The world is in financial trouble and thousands of companies have been forced to reduce their activity for lack of markets. Eventually, this leads to less translation work as well.
For you as a freelancer this means that you will have to fight a little harder to win jobs. Be prepared to lower your prices a little, and hang on the your clients, treat them better than ever before. Also, spend more time bidding for new jobs for new clients. Remember that the agencies you work for also fight for the jobs. Help them help you by delivering good quality, on time, and maybe for a cent or two less than before. You can always increase your price again when the market turns.
Make sure you get paid
It is getting a little more difficult to receive payment from the clients. The translation agencies, in turn, have difficulties getting their money from the end client. Some of the smaller agencies may eventually disappear. Be careful with who you work for. Check them out. Use the "Blue Board" function at Proz.Com to check their references.
I will be covering the issue of checking clients and making sure you get paid in great detail in my next post.
Anybody can be a translator - Hilarious! - Here is a real pro...
Song Lyrics Translated....Hilarious! - You just HAVE TO watch this
Some people THINK they know a language. This girl is one of them...
Proofreading - a well paid job - and YOU can do it!
The translation agencies use proofreaders to check what the freelance translators have delivered. The proofreaders are also freelancers.
This is where you could come in. You see, most translators do not like to proofread, because they have more than enough work doing translations. It is therefore often difficult to find proofreaders.
Follow the translation job listing from the agencies at Proz.Com and/or other translation sites. When you see a job that suites you, send them an offer of proofreading.
Or check the translation agency listing, prepare a good CV, and mail them an offer to work as a proofreader in your language pair.
Proofreading is a great job if you just want an extra income, a few hours now and then. The pressure is lower, the work is easier.
You need to have the following:
- A good spell checking software
- Good electronic or on paper dictionaries
- Some knowledge about the subject
- Google skills (to find stuff you don't know)
And off you go!
Proofreading normally pays $0.02-0.03 per word. You can proofread a normal text at the rate of 2000 words per hour, give or take. You do the math...
In other words: 8-10 efficient hours a week will pay $500. Not bad if you ask me.
And as always, experience counts. I can proofread 20,000 words in one day if I really put my mind to it. That is $500 in one day.
My next post will be about how to be a good and efficient proofreader...
Translate with friends - make "joint ventures" - both smart and fun
Most translation agencies are always busy, always short of translators. It is not easy to find new freelancers - at least not new ones who can work. When you see a big job being offered, this probably means they are going to split it between two or more freelancers. Here is what you do:
Offer to take the complete job, and tell the company you will bring in a colleague. To do this you must, of course, have such a friend or colleague who actually can translate. Otherwise you will not be able to deliver, and your career as a freelance translator will be very short!
But if you do have one or more friends (typically among students or groups of expats), form a small team and go for bigger jobs. The project manager at the translation agency will be more than happy to let you do it all.
Before you can use this strategy, you must have proven yourself, have gained some experience. And you may need a good reference or two from former clients.
How to do that? Keep checking out this blog and you'll get some ideas.
(By the way - the picture has nothing to do with translations. I just thought it would be nice for you guys, especially those in the US and in Northern Europe, to see what my favorite place in Brazil looks like right now. Down here, summer holidays start in January - and this is where I'll be going - to Paraty.)
Translators and the global crisis
Eeverything is connected
A couple of months ago, the number of requests for translations in my e-mail in-box dropped off quite a lot. I was used to getting 10-12 mails from existing and/or new potential clients. I was turning 4 clients down for each 1 I accepted. Yes...that's right, when you have worked for a while, like I have, they find YOU. When I started out, boy did I have to work hard to find THEM.
Of course the activity dropped off. As translators, we work for companies. And when the global finances fall through the floor, companies get worried and start putting projects on ice.
Now the trend has turned again!
As of this week, the number of e-mails is back to normal. I am turning down lots of work again.
If you are familiar with 2 of the following languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish, and one of them is your mother tongue - send me an e-mail (email@example.com), maybe we can work something out. I sure could use some help
Freelancing can change your life!
Good reasons to get started as a freelance translator
A few years back I got tired of traveling around, of reporting to my stupid boss, of not spending enough time with my children (my youngest son had just been born). I needed a change.
I have always been told I am good communicator, and my genes have given me a good ear for languages. I remembered how much my company paid translators for different language version of manuals, contracts, press releases, etc., which I often ended up editing and correcting. I decided to find out if I could sell my translation skills over the internet.
A need to slow down, change my lifestyle and spend more time at home were my reasons. Here are some other good reasons to work as a freelance translator:
- Work at home
- Work as much/little as you want
- Work when it suites you
- Make extra money and add to your salary
- Translate full time and make a good living
- Freelance while you study for som extra cash
Whatever your reason, I promise you that by following my advise on this site, you could be working and making your first fee within a few days.
What you need to get started
Before you start spending time (and probably some money) on setting yourself up as a freelance translator, you must answer these questions honestly:
Do I speak/read the foreign language well?
You don't have to be 100% fluent, but you must be good enough to understand almost everything you read, and you must be able to find the meaning of terms and phrases you don't know.
Do I have good writing skills in my own language?
As a translator, you have to be able to write well, grammatically correct. You must be able to convey the meaning of a text clearly and fluently.
Am I able to focus and concentrate?
Once you start a translation job, you have to dig deep, understand the text - and reproduce it in your own language.
If you honestly can answer YES to all three questions, then you can become a freelance translator.
EQUIPMENT AND TOOLS:
You can start with very little, and add on as you go along, but here are some of the things you will need if you are serious about working as a freelance translator:
You need a good computer with enough RAM (min. 1 GB) and lots of hard-disk space. You also need a printer.
You can live with any connection to start, but you will soon find that a broadband connection is needed to receive and send some pretty big files.
I strongly recommend Windows XP - NOT Vista. This because lots of application software that you will want to use later on still doesn't work on Vista.
You need the standard MS Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), as most source translation work require that you use these.
You will also need a program to read PDF files. For this you can download Adobe Reader 8.0 for free. Later, when you have made some progress (and money), you will probably want to spend a little money on Adobe Professional.
Special software for translation
Almost all translators today use a CAT tool (CAT = Computer Assisted Translation). There are several tools available, and they all have one thing in common: They work together with the MS Word, Excel and other standard programs, break the text down in segments, and save every translated segment in a database on your computer (called a TM (Translation Memory)). You will have to use one of these tools, as almost all clients will require that you use them. You will find several of these tools presented elsewhere on this site.
A good e-mail account
By "good" I mean an account that allows you to receive and send big files. To start, a Gmail account is sufficient, but later we will discuss other options.
What you can or can not translate
You know those books you read and which have been translated from another language? That is not a job for you. The publishing houses normally use a select group of certified translators. The same goes for official documents, which need to be translated by a sworn translator. These people have a degree in translation from a university and will handle all this work. This is fair, and just fine for you.
What you can translate is everything else. Freelance translators are used to translate: web sites, product manuals, articles, technical specifications, newsletters, brochures, training material and lots of other stuff.
Think about the User's Manual you get when you buy any electrical/electronic product. The manufacturer may originally have written this, in Japanese, and then it is translated into every language on earth. You could very well be the freelancer who translates into your mother tongue.
There are millions of such documents being written and translated all the time. Once you get into this game, you can do it forever!
And just so we are clear: You will translate FROM the second language you speak INTO your mother tongue. Always. If you think you are good enough to translate from your mother language to a foreign language, try to produce 700 words per hour translating your TV manual, fluently and without spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.... Good luck. Forget it. Your clients know you can't do it, so they will not let you try anyway.
Why they should use translators
How to sell yourself
So you have decided you want to try to make money from translations, you have the computer, the basic software, the skills and you wonder: Now what? Where do I go to get my first job?
Here is what you do
Freelancers get their jobs through translation agencies. You need to get in touch with as many of these as possible, and convince them to use you. Here is what you do:
Prepare a great CV
You must be prepared to e-mail you CV to a lot of agencies. Your CV is a VERY IMPORTANT tool when you want to get any job, so spend time on it. Remember that you are trying to get translation work now, so focus on language skills and jobs you may have had where you used a foreign language. Your clients do not need to know that you were employee of the month at the local 7-Eleven back in 1995.
Join a translator community
There are several "communities" for freelance translators on the web. These are like clubs where you can offer your services, see listings of available translation jobs, etc. You MUST join one of these. I strongly recommend Proz.Com. The site is easy to navigate, and you can join the club and post your profile for free as a start. You also get a free e-mail account, access to job listings, etc. If you chose to pay the annual subscription (highly recommended) and become a full member, you get your own web domain, several e-mail accounts and access to lots of tools that will help you establish yourself.
To get an idea of what a profile looks like, you can visit my profile on proz.com.
Take your time here, then come back and read about how to land your first job.
How to land you first job
So you have got the tools, you have prepared a CV and registered at proz.com and/or other online communities for freelance translators. Now you are ready to land your first job.
Here is what you do:
Check the job listings and be quick
Every translator website has got a listing of job offers. Here is where translation agencies and other clients ask freelancers to bid for jobs. Look for jobs in your language pair. Stay away from jobs that are too big or too complicated for you. If you have no idea about the subject matter, then do not offer your services. Wait for something you know you can handle. Be quick, try to be among the first 2-3 to bid. The client is often in a hurry, and will not read late bids.
Offer a low price
You are new, they don't know you. Why should they use you and not someone with years of experience? The only real reason is that you offer the lowest price. When I started out, I translated for USD 0.05-0.06 per source word. That was 3-4 cents under the going rate and really got the clients' attention. Try to find out what the price average is for your language pair. This you can find on the website, at least if you are a paying member. (Later I will post price indications on this site.) Then offer a price 3-4 cents under this price. Some of the job offers include a price. Again, make an offer under this price. You need to get your foot through the door. You will increase your price later.
Offer to do it quicker than others
Every job offer includes a deadline. If the agency needs the translation delivered in 3 days, you offer to do it in 2. Remember, this is only smart if you know you can deliver as promised. Don't calculate more than 3,000 words per day. Even that is tough if the source text includes lots of terms you are unfamiliar with.
Give your offer a catchy heading
I used to write things like "Engineer can translate immediately" or "I can fit it in right away". It works. Be creative, but you are not chatting with a friend - so keep it serious.
Make sure they get your e-mail
The automated job offer pages on the translator websites should handle this. If not, you have include it in your bid.
Check your mail
The client may answer you at any time, and if you do not reply, he will go to the next on the list. Once you have started to bid for jobs, stay close to the PC.
Sometimes a client will ask you to translate a short text (100-400 words) to check if you are good enough. Accept this and do your very best. Do it right away. Don't wait, even if you have been given a couple of days.
Most translation jobs require the use of Trados, SDLX, Wordfast or other translation software. Get one of these tools - I strongly recommend Trados - and learn how to use it. Otherwise you WILL be excluded from lots of possible jobs. See what I write about this elsewhere on this site.
Useful links to get you started
Proz.com is simply the best website for translators. You should go here and register, and I strongly recommend you spend a day or two getting to know the site.
- My profile at Proz.Com
My own profile at Proz may not be the best in the world, but it has helped me land close to $600,000 worth of translation projects over the last 4 years.
- Translator's Cafe
Another of the translator communities on the web. The second best in my opinion. You should register here, too.
The most common CAT tool used by thousands of freelancers - and most of the clients.
A simpler and cheaper CAT tool, compatible with Trados, and a very good way to start.
How much you can charge - and how much you can make
This is a business - so pay attention
You can make a very nice income as a full time freelance translator, or you can take on a few projects now and then to make a little extra. Here is an idea of the money involved:
What you can charge
You must understand that the price level for each language pair depends on demand and supply. Some language pairs (a language pair is the "from" language + the "into" language")have higher demand and fewer translators - so the price is higher. Other language pairs have a LOT of translators and the price is lower.
Here are some examples from language pairs I translate myself:
Spanish > English:
Average price per source word = USD 0.12
Average price per hour = USD 38
English > Norwegian:
Average price per source word = USD 0.16
Average price per hour = USD 46
These are average prices. The actual price for a specific project depends on the level of difficulty, the size, deadline, etc.
These numbers mean that:
A translator who does Spanish to English can charge app. USD 0.08 - 0.16 per source word for translation work. When he/she does proofreading or smaller jobs and agrees to be paid be the hour, he can charge USD 34 - 42 per hour.
A translator who does English to Norwegian can charge app. USD 0.12 - 0.20 per word, and USD 41 - 49 per hour.
What you can make
Again the answer depends on a lot of factors:
- How many hours you put in.
- How fast you are.
- Which tools you use.
- How complicated a specific project is.
Again I will use my own experience:
In the beginning, unfamiliar with tools, online research of terms, slow typist:
Easy, familiar subject: 400/hour
Average difficulty, some research: 300 words/hour
Difficult source, lots of research: 200 words/hour
After a few months, once you get the hang of tools and clients:
Easy, familiar subject: 500/hour
Average difficulty, some research: 400 words/hour
Difficult source, lots of research: 300 words/hour
After 1-2 years, when you know most of the tricks:
Easy, familiar subject: 900/hour
Average difficulty, some research: 700 words/hour
Difficult source, lots of research: 500 words/hour
Now, it is easy to calculate how much you can make:
Full time translator after a few months, translating Spanish to English:
Average hours per week: 40
Average words per hour: 400
Average price per word: USD 0.12
USD 0.12 x 300 x 40 = USD 1,440 per week.
Hard working, full time, Spanish to English after one year:
Average hours per week: 50
Average words per hour: 600
Average price per word: USD 0.13
USD 0.13 x 600 x 50 = USD 3,900 per week.
These are only examples. Actual income will vary a lot.
I will say that a hard working, established translator can make around USD 8,000 a month, and that every single translator should be able to make at least USD 4,000.
How you get to my level of income is something I will share with you later on.
About Trados and other translation tools - A MUST for every freelancer
When I started out, I realized immediately that 90% of the jobs required the use of a CAT tool (CAT = Computer Aided Translation). So I set out to learn about these tools - and to get me one. It is not complicated.
The basic function of a CAT tool is to save every sentence you translate in a database, so you never have to translate the same sentence twice. This speeds your work up - and makes sure your translation is consistent. It also makes sure all formatting in the source document (font, headings, tabs, etc.) are reproduced in the translation. There are many other functions and tools, but I will not waste time writing about them here. I will rather let you know where and how to find the tools so you can check them out for yourself.
What I suggest you do is this:
Go to Trados Website, click on the Freelance Translators tab, and find your way around to download for test or outright purchase the SDL 2007 Suite. Trados is a great tool, but it takes a little time to learn, and it is expensive (USD 1,000+).
SDL Trados is THE software for translators. However, when I started out I found a much cheaper way around this, until I had made some money and was sure I was going to carry on. Here is how:
You can use a Trados compatible software called Wordfast. Go to Wordfast Website and download Wordfast 5.0 for FREE. They allow you to test as long as you like. There is only one catch: your project can only include a TM (translation memory) of up to 500 TUs (translation units = sentences). This is good enough for smaller jobs. I used the free download version on my first 10-15 translation jobs. If you decide to buy the software, it costs EUR 250 (USD 350).
Stay tuned to Proz.Com. They always have special offers of these tools. They arrange "bulk purchases" and get a 15-20% discount for you.
There are other tools you may want to use at a later stage. We will cover these in a later chapter.
The 7 rules of professional translation services
There are translations and TRANSLATIONS
The 7 rules of professional translations services:
1. Translate into your mother tongue
It does not matter how good a translator is at his/her second or third language. A professional translation is done by someone who was raised with the target language, who was educated with the target language, and who lives or has lived most of his/her life where the target language is spoken. No exceptions. Only then will the translation be just right.
2. Understand the subject of the translation
A translator may have studied languages and may be really good, but it does not mean he/she is an expert in all translation fields. Not every translator, no matter how many years of experience, can translate a biochemical patent application, a maintenance manual for an industrial plant, or a book on psychology. The translator must have special knowledge about the field, or the result will be just a bit off.
3. Be consistent and use acceptable terms
A translator can not translate the key terms of the document in seven different ways. He must be consistent and use one good term. And not a term he/she thinks is good, it must be the term that those who will read the translation are familiar with - the standard term in this field or industry.
4. Check and check again and deliver quality
No matter how good a translator is at his work, he will make mistakes and errors along the way. That is why we have editors and proofreaders. You know from your own experience that you "go word blind" studying what you have written. Someone else casts a glance at it and finds three spelling errors immediately. That is just the way it is. A professional translation service includes a rigid quality control system.
5. Keep the original format
Style, fonts, paragraphs, tabs, numbering, tables, pictures, headers, footers, etc. It must all be there in the translated text. This is achieved by using a professional translation software, and by having someone with an eye for detail check the the result before it is delivered.
6. Never translate the same sentence twice
Translators use computers these days. And software tools that save every word written in a database. The tools are called CAT tools (CAT = Computer Assisted Translation). When used right, they reduce the workload AND the cost to the client - a LOT.
7. Respect deadlines
It is important to all involved that deadlines for translation work are realistic, and once they are agreed to, they must be respected. Professional translators and service companies know that the client has asked for a certain deadline for a reason. Transactions and processes involving a lot of people and money depend on timeliness. A professional translation service knows when to say "no thank you" when it is unlikely that the deadline can be met.
Tweets about translation and more...
The Value of Freedom
Work Anywhere - Anytime
Many of us dream - at least from time to time - about living somewhere else, somewhere we have visited, or heard about. Then reality kicks in and we realize that is is takes a lot of effort. Where are we going to live, where are we going to work?
As a freelance translator you have this freedom - at least as far as the work part is concerned. A freelance translator needs a laptop and an Internet connection, a table and a chair. That's it. A freelancer is truly free.
A freelance translator can work anywhere in the world. I am a good example. I recently moved from South America back to Europe, to Spain, where I now work looking out over the Mediterranean. My clients don't even know I have moved, unless I tell them. My office is the world wide web, and I never ever meet a client in person, we don't even speak on the phone. It is all email and instant messages.
Think about it. What is the freedom to go wherever you please worth to you? To me it makes a huge difference.
If you like (or hate) my blog, I really would like to know about it.