Life as a Freelance Translator

Thinking about becoming a translator? Marek Nowak explains in a guest article about why he decided to become a translator and how it has influenced his life and how it might influence yours should this be a path you’re pursuing.

~Brian
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Almost every day I come across someone who asks me “what is it like being a translator?” I assume they expect a short and straightforward answer such as ‘great!’ or ‘terrible!’, but the honest truth is that the answer isn’t, and cannot be, that simple. There are just too many variables which need to be taken into account, too many different situations that I must face daily and too many rewards as well as challenges that I encounter.

I have been working for a London based translation agency Language Reach and its sister company Translation 24 for many years now and can honestly say that I made the right decision in doing so. Although there are days that I drink unhealthy amounts of coffee to stay awake finishing work, being a translator has become a part of my everyday life so it’s very hard to imagine being in another career.
  

One thing is for sure; the conclusive love I have for languages and different cultures definitely makes things much easier. I cannot imagine working in this industry without the willingness to learn or without being eager to undertake another project. And although I have been working as a translator for many years now, this enthusiasm doesn’t, thankfully, wear off!

A few words of advice…

Whether you’ve just started learning a new language or if you are thinking about a career in languages, I can advise you one thing from my personal experience; only become a translator if you truly enjoy languages! There is one very important word that floats around the industry and which is somewhat of a holy grail; quality.

When working as a freelance translator, the quality of your work will be something that can and will determine whether you will receive work or not.

Can you possibly imagine delivering a 6,000 word project, then proof-reading it only to be told that it is lacking in quality? Even if you did manage to deliver it on time, the quality of your work is so important, because without a high standard of you can seriously damage your reputation or the reputation of your company.

To give you a more familiar perspective; imagine a sales person working in a shop. Do you think the quality and standard of their customer service, friendliness or assistance will be of a high standard if they count down the minutes until they can leave work? I'm guessing not so much.

Drawbacks? What Drawbacks?

Being a translator, like any other job, certainly has plenty of rewards. While the good definitely outweighs the bad, there is no denying that challenges do come with working in the translation industry.

Some of the challenges that come with being a translator, such as the tight deadlines, unhappy customers or staying up all night finishing a project, would be a subject for a completely separate article, and because I'm trying to encourage and inspire future translators,  let’s leave those out for now. Every job has its downfalls and if you have a passion for languages then the drawbacks are minimal compared to the rewards.

After 8 years of working in the industry, I’ve established my position with the companies I work with. I get to choose to take on or decline various projects and I get to choose when and how I want to work.

Being your own boss is one of great rewards of being a freelance translator. No more 6 am alarms or being the last one to leave the office. Also, I’d be lying if I said that the satisfaction of completing a project or learning more about a language isn’t an advantage, because it certainly is.

One thing to keep in mind if you’re a language student thinking about becoming a professional translator is not to get discouraged after your first unhappy client or complaint. Especially at the beginning of your professional career it’s almost definite that sooner or later you will come across someone who, for whatever reason, isn’t completely happy with your work. It’s important to remember that although the person might not be entirely nice about it, you should always remain professional and rather than arguing over the project back and forth, admit your fault, make sure to correct it and most importantly of all; learn from your mistake!

Conclusion

Becoming a freelance translator isn’t for everyone.  I said it before and I’ll say it again; choosing to become a translator was possibly the most difficult - yet also turned out to be the best- decision of my life.

Perhaps it’s because the love for languages keeps me going, or maybe because I enjoy being my own boss, being able to work from home (and possibly any place in the world with internet access) on the projects that I choose.

One thing is for sure, if you love different cultures and languages, I’d encourage you to give it try! Perhaps just like me, in 8 years from now you’ll even be writing an article about how great the job really is and how you made the best decision in your life becoming a freelance translator.

 

About the Author:

Marek Nowak is a freelance translator and a true language lover working for London based agency Language Reach. As much as he loves languages, he also enjoys travelling and meeting new people from different countries and cultures. You can connect with Language Reach on Facebook and Twitter.

Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he's not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

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Brian Powers

Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he's not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

  • Amanda Grey

    Thanks for this article. One very important point that needs to be mentioned is that translators need a solid background in and knowledge of a wide variety of technical, cultural and other subjects. You cannot know everything so you need to specialise somewhat. However you also need work! One good method is to find out (not at your client’s expense!) what you can’t or won’t translate: legal, medical, technical, marketing, literary etc. Then, curiosity is key. Read everything you can!

  • Language Reach

    Hi Shana,

    Thanks for the comment, glad you found the article helpful!

    Yes, at the beginning you really must put in a lot of work in order ‘establish’ your name with agencies and to get projects. Remember to only take-on projects which you are sure you can complete on time keeping a high quality. If you work with an agency, this is essential.

    The best places to start would be website like http://www.proz.com/ where you get register or . where you can find a lot of useful information. You can also approach agencies directly.

    Hope that helps!
    Marek

  • Language Reach

    Hi Shana,

    Thanks for the comment, glad you found the article helpful!

    Yes, at the beginning you really must put in a lot of work in order ‘establish’ your name with agencies and to get projects. Remember to only take-on projects which you are sure you can complete on time keeping a high quality. If you work with an agency, this is essential.

    The best places to start would be website like http://www.proz.com/ where you get register or http://marketingtipsfortranslators.com/ where you can find a lot of useful information. You can also approach agencies directly.

    Hope that helps!
    Marek

  • Shana Thompson

    Hi Marek, I haven’t had too many opportunities to talk to freelance translators, so this article provided a lot of insight; thanks!

    So good to see you’ve had a positive experience. I’m curious- has it ever been difficult to find work? Do freelance translators normally find work through agencies? I’m just wondering for someone starting out and wanting to earn some extra cash, how would you recommend doing it? (Sorry for all the questions!)

    • Let me see if I can rustle him up for you! Thanks for commenting.