One of the most popular digital nomad jobs, besides content writing, web development or virtual assistance, is probably translation work. It can easily be done online and from anywhere in the world and doesn’t necessarily need much investment. However, it takes more than being fluent in two languages to make a full-time income with it. Trust me, I was working as a translator, too. That’s why I want to give you some insider information about this job, how to become a translator, and where you can find translation jobs online for freelancers.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Freelance Translator
Being a freelancer, in general, has many advantages. Being a freelance translator even more. I don’t want to list all here but just the ones, that were most important to me:
- You are your own boss and can work whenever you like and how much you like.
- You don’t have to go to an office because you can do your translations easily online.
- Being a translator doesn’t require too much upfront investment (except education or certification).
- The entry barriers are relatively low.
- There is a high demand for translators of all kinds of languages, which I not going to slow down any time soon.
As with every job, being a freelance translator has its downsides, too. Here are some of the most significant:
- Obviously, the less you work, the less money you make.
- Dealing with different clients, which you are likely never going to see in person, can result in a higher risk of uncertain paychecks.
- Some clients may have high standards, spontaneous workload, and super-tight deadlines.
- The competition is massive, which makes it harder to land a job and can result in lower rates.
The Translation Industry
It’s always good to have a bit of information about the industry you may want to work with. So let’s have a look at a few facts:
The way the translation industry works is that there are a couple of top agencies, which control the majority of the market. Additionally, there are thousands and thousands of other Language Service Providers (short LSP), which are either smaller agencies or freelancers.
Both agencies and freelancers can be either generalists or specialists. However, most revenue can be made with special sectors, such as legal, finance, IT, or pharmaceutical. Governmental and tourism sectors are trending and have a lot of growth potential.
According to the Common Sense Advisory, most of the revenue of the industry is made by Europe with about 49%, then North America with 35%, and Asia with 13%.
Definition of Translation Industry Related Terms
In case you are at the very beginning and on your way to become a translator, you may have heard the following terms and wonder what they mean. Just to give you a short definition and clarify any confusions:
When you translate a text, you translate more or less exactly what the original text says. Localization means that you adapt a text to a specific region or country. You take the target culture and language into account when translating.
For example: If you translate a form from English (USA) to French and one field says “Month-Date-Year”. When you translate you say “Mois- Jour-Année“. When you localize and adapt it to the French market you say ”Jour-Mois-Année”.
Transcreation is another subcategory and is a combination of translation and content creation. It is usually meant to take a persuasive or emotive message from the original piece of content and transfer it into the new language.
It is often used in marketing, for example when brand slogans need to be translated and adapted.
Tools of Freelance Translators
Many (or maybe even most) translators use Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools. These are software packages that improve your efficiency by things like spell checking, text alignment, and creating so-called Translation Memories. These databases contain already translated texts and suggest these phrases when the translator encounters similar segments.
If you want to become a translator, it’s a good idea to learn how to use them as they will simplify your work and you are likely going to need them anyway when you work with agencies or experienced clients.
There are different software providers out there. Some of the most popular ones are Trados, MemoQ, or Wordfast, which are quite pricey. If you are looking for a free CAT tool, you could start with OmegaT, for instance.
Education of Translators
As a matter of fact, most professional translators hold a degree in translation, interpreting, or linguistics. Some even to Master’s degree level. It will help you a lot when approaching clients or agencies, as you can prove that you are qualified. Plus, most courses are very hands-on and teach you how to find jobs.
Check out this list by the American Translator’s Association with recommended worldwide programs.
The same goes for certifications. They can make it much easier to show how skilled you are and thus, to land a job. Meridian Linguistics Testing Service offers tests for several languages at very affordable prices.
Extra Tip: Read often! If you want to become a successful writer, you need to be a great reader. So read as much as you can, especially in your niche.
What Do Freelance Translators Earn?
As with most jobs, the rates can vary a lot. It depends on factors like the country, the language pair, or your specialization. But, of course, before you become a translator, you want to know how much you can earn approximately. So let’s have a look at a few numbers:
According to Translate Media the average salary for an in-house translator in the USA and the UK starts between 24.000 and 28.000 USD per year. If you are more experienced this can be 40.000 USD or more per year.
As a freelance translator, your income is also dependent on how many clients you have, how well you negotiate, and so on. Once you have some experience and a good base of clients, you can earn between 40.000 USD and 55.000 USD.
Again, this could be much more or less, depending on different factors.
Wondering how much you can charge per translated word? Expect roughly between 0.04 USD and 0.10 USD per word.
Extra Tip: If you have clients who ask you for small translation jobs, i.e. only a few words or phrases, set a minimum fee for your work! For example, say that you will happily translate the small paragraph but it will still cost 40 USD, simply because you have to mitigate work like accounting and admin that comes along with every job.
As just mentioned, your income will depend on a few factors.
Language Pair: If one of your languages is a very common language, e.g. Spanish, French or German, there will be a lot of competition. Hence, the rates will be lower. Less common languages like Greek, Korean, or Vietnamese are more promising in terms of rates. But bear in mind, that the demand for these less common languages will be lower, too.
Language Direction: Let’s take a look at an example for this one: Only a few people are proficient in Chinese. So people who can translate from Chinese to English can get better rates than those who translate from English to Chinese.
Extra Tip: It is important that you always translate into your native language. Even if you are super fluent in a second language, you will never be as perfect as a native speaker and thus, make errors.
Specialism: As already mentioned, if you want to become a translator, you should focus on one field, rather than staying a generalist. This can enhance your chances of higher rates a lot. The more niche your expertise, the less competition and the more you can charge (again: the less demand also!). Lucrative fields would be legal, finance, engineering, or medical.
After Hour Work: For whatever reason, companies often need translations on short notice. If that means you have to work on weekends, late nights, or on holidays, you could add a surcharge, e.g. 20%, to your rate. But always clarify with your client beforehand!
How to Become a Freelance Translator?
Now that we have the basics about the translation industry and the work itself, we should have a look at how you can become a translator. The interesting thing is, it is not that complicated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy!
Step #1: Be Fluent
Quite obviously, you need to be absolutely fluent in a second language to be able to become a translator. If you are bilingual: Great! If not, get educated! Improve your language skills to the best level possible.
Step #2: Pick a Niche
As mentioned before, you probably won’t get rich as a general translator. Your chances of finding a job that pays a decent income will increase a lot if you specialize in a certain field. Once you have picked your niche, improve your language skills even further. Be fluent with the terminology and read a lot in this area. Make sure you read the news and stay up-to-date. When you are an expert in your niche, your job will be easier and you have more and better-paid opportunities.
Get familiar with CAT tools. You are very likely going to work with them on a daily basis. Clients and agencies expect you to be able to work with them, so be prepared.
Step #3: Get Certified
Don’t forget to get certified! It will help you a lot in finding jobs. Your future clients want to see if you are qualified to do the job. In case you want to work for an agency, they will surely see certain certifications, too. So plan in a budget and time for training (these tests are not as easy as you might believe), doing the test, and waiting for the result.
Step #4: Gain Experience
Don’t expect to get the best and highest paid jobs straight away! You need to get some experience first. Maybe you start with smaller jobs or even internships. It will help you to get a feeling of how this industry works and what you are capable of. Deliver your best quality, even if it’s just a tiny job. A good review of a past employer or client is worth more than you can imagine.
Step #5: Market Yourself
Now you are ready to throw yourself out there on a big scale. The next chapter of this article will tell you different ways of how you can find jobs as a translator. Use your certifications, skills, and first experience to get bigger clients or gigs to make your desired income with your translating job.
Step #6: Improve Your Skills
No matter how experienced or skilled you are, there is always room for more! Soak up all the information you can get. Stay updated about industry and niche developments. Renew some of your certifications or do new tests. As with every job, never stop learning and improving your expertise.
Where to Find Translator Jobs Online for Freelancers?
Luckily, there are many ways to find translator jobs online for freelancers. Here are a few inspirations:
1. Google Search
Yes, it is that simple. As usual, Google is our best friend. Simply search for phrases such as “translation work for us” or “translation careers” and you will surely find some interesting positions.
2. Social / Professional Media
Never underestimate the power of social media when it comes to job searches. Facebook groups are a great way to get information and to find your future client or employer. Check groups like “Translation Jobs and Translators”, “Translation Jobs”, or “Worldwide Translation & Interpretation Jobs”.
Twitter can also do wonders. Send out tweets letting your followers know that you want to become a translator and look for job opportunities. Or search for hashtags such as #translatorjob or #translating.
And, of course, be present on LinkedIn. Have your profile up to date and let other users know you are looking for work. Be open and connect with potential clients or agencies.
Yes, good old networking. You can’t go wrong with (re-)connecting with a few old friends from university or your former working colleagues or boss. Check out events or Meetups of other translators. You never know if someone is in need of a translation service. Have a look around and let them know you are available if needed.
4. Translation Portals & Associations
There are also a few translation portals and associations, which are not only a great way to connect with other translators and get the latest industry news, but also to find a job. It’s definitely worth joining one (or several). Here are the most popular ones:
- IOL (Chartered Institute of Linguists)
- ATA (American Translators Association)
- ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting)
5. Freelance Websites
There are countless websites out there that connect freelancers and clients. Many of the offered jobs are in the translation field, so there is high demand. But please be advised, that there is a lot of competition, too. This can lower your rates significantly.
Nevertheless, it can be a good way to start your freelance translation career, gain experience, and reviews. If you prove to be a great translator, some clients might be willing to increase their rates for you.
Popular freelance websites are:
Want to learn how you can land your first job on a freelancer website? Check out the linked article and learn my best practices.
6. Direct Approach
You can, of course, approach potential clients directly, too. Before you start doing so, I highly recommend you to get your own website or portfolio site where you can present yourself. List your education, certification, and experience. Show your specialism and give references of former clients.
When you connect with potential future clients you can send them your CV and additionally redirect them to your website, where they can find more info. You can use providers such as Crevado or Squarespace to create such a portfolio.
7. Translation Agencies
The good thing with translation agencies is that they do the marketing and pitch to clients, which means you don’t have to worry about that. However, you should be easy to work with and be able to deliver high quality work whenever needed. That makes you a reliable resource for those agencies and get you more work.
If you don’t want to give away all your flexibility, you could, of course, work part-time for an agency and do freelance jobs whenever you want to.
Check out these popular agencies and see if they would be a good fit for you:
Start Your New Career
As you can see, it takes a bit more than just being fluent in another language to find translator jobs online as a freelancer. The steps to get there require a good portion of dedication and persistence. But once you get there, you can expect many job opportunities and make a good income – all with the luxury of working from anywhere you want.
There is a reason why so many digital nomads and work-from-home professionals are in the translation industry. There is much potential. If you are willing to improve your skills and manage to get your first foot in the door, you, too, can become a translator profit from its advantages.
What do you think? Is the translation industry the right choice for you? Let me know your thoughts and experiences!
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