Be sure to check the drop-down menu above for Tips pages on Contracts, Money Matters and some of the Frequently Asked Questions I have received over the years. In addition to those important topics, I offer these practical Tips for Translators:
When starting out, you really should have a checklist of things to do with each and every translation before you send it off to a client. At the very least, this should include the following:
- terminology research: when in doubt, look it up! (even when you’re not in doubt, it’s good to double-check!)
- edit: check the translation against the original sentence by sentence. Is the meaning reflected accurately?
- read the translation: Does it read well and sound natural? It’s best to proofread a printout, not on-screen.
- formatting: is the layout consistent with the original? Have you recreated tables (etc) where appropriate?
- spell check: This is an absolute must! Theirs know reason knot too cheque you’re spelling!
- double-check conversions of currencies, measurements, temperatures etc where appropriate.
- delivery: make sure the translation is in the required format and delivered on time!
- request confirmation of receipt from your client
I have received hundreds and probably thousands of résumés, CVs and applications from translators and I am often astonished at what people send out. I am a freelancer and rarely subcontract work, and certainly not work that is not in one of my language pairs. That is the job of agencies and not something I am interested in pursuing. However, given all the solicitations for work that I have received, I thought it might be useful to add a section about this topic. The following reflects my personal opinions on what is (not) appropriate when soliciting work. Many of these points may seem blatantly obvious to you, but believe me, all these points are taken from actual applications by people purporting to be language professionals and addressing me in English.
- If your very first sentence does not begin with a capital letter, then I am certainly not going to entrust you with my language work.
- If you fail to mention your language pair, I cannot help you. Mention your languages at the beginning of your message, not the end.
- Do not “subscribe” me to your list and place upon me the burden and inconvenience of having to unsubscribe from your list of potential work sources. That is one sure way to irritate and guarantee no work from me. Similarly, do not tell me what to put in the subject line when replying to you when you are the one requesting work from me!
- If you claim to translate into and out of four languages in all of 26 specializations, I will not believe you.
- Do not write your message in all capital letters. That’s rude.
- I am not interested in working with people who advertise themselves as “a cheap labor force” or “ready to slave for your comfort”.
- Remember to use decimals and commas appropriately when citing your rates, depending on which language you are using.
- Do not boast about completing more than 10,000 words overnight, because I will assume the quality was abysmal.
- Do not make it blatantly obvious that you have failed to do your homework properly by telling me (a freelancer!) that “It has occurred to me that a large and well-known organization as yours might be able to use my services” or that “The kind of work in which your company is engaged particularly interests me.”
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However you try to find freelance work, be prepared that it may take some time before you can build up a sufficient client base. It may well take a year. Also, don’t be too disappointed if you submit your information to an agency and don’t hear back within a couple of weeks. It may be months before they have a project that matches your skills. In the meantime, focus on marketing your services, honing your skills and staying positive!
I’ve received work from having a line in the yellow pages, from registering with free online translator databases and with translator associations (such as the NCTA and ATA), and from applying for jobs that come through the language-specific mailing lists or the translator job lists.
I’ve also received work from registering at consulates as a translator and joining and advertising in expat associations’ publications. I once did a mailing based on Glenn’s Guide, but did not find it very productive. Surfing the web for a while can lead to a lot of potentially interesting and informative sites with great tips on how to get started.
If you are looking for direct clients, I would, in addition to the yellow pages and translators’ associations with online databases, suggest contacting your local embassy, consulate or chamber of commerce and request a list of companies in your area that are affiliated with a certain country and then contact those businesses. For example, I contacted the Dutch consulate and received a list of companies in California that are associated one way or another with the Netherlands. It depends on your location and language pair, but if you’re specialized in a certain field, then even the (online) yellow pages might be a good source for potential clients. Or you can target places where local groups of people who share your field of specialization congregate: for example, if you specialize in legal texts, you may want to post your business card and/or brochure at the county courthouse law library and send it to local police stations and law offices. If you specialize in medical texts, you might prepare a brochure or newsletter to send to insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, support goups or medical libraries in your area.
I have to say I think I did do a few unpaid tests when I started freelancing, not many, but I don’t think I ever got a client that way. I now respond to such requests by expressing an interest in working with them, offering to provide samples of work I’ve done in particular fields, and offering to provide references in addition to the letters of recommendation posted on my site, if they would like. Then I politely decline to do the test, saying I am currently too busy with paid work to be doing unpaid test translations.
I personally cannot think of another profession where someone is asked to do something for free, so I don’t see why I should. I don’t ask my dentist to give me a filling for free so I can see if he’s qualified to do a root canal, I don’t ask the carpet cleaners to clean the living room so I can see if I want to hire them to do the rest of the house and I don’t ask agencies to make a test payment before deciding whether or not I want to work with them.
I personally feel my time would be better spent on my own business administration, advertising, updating my web site, reading a book or spending time with my family than doing work for free. That’s not to say I haven’t done pro bono work for a good cause – just not for an agency.
Having said all that, it can sometimes be worth your while to do a translation test, as one of my friends discovered: “About six months ago, I got contacted by a new client who wanted me to do a test, and a fairly big and technical one at that, and with a deadline! I had just decided that I was done forever with tests, that they were a pure waste of time and never lead to anything anyway. So I told the woman I couldn’t agree to committing to a deadline for an unpaid test, as she had to understand that any paid work would necessarily take precedence over the test. A few weeks later, I had some slow time and thought I could maybe do the test after all (swearing it would be the last one). I did it and it turns out that this agency has been the most reliable, regular and wonderful client ever. They have given me a steady stream of work, they don’t argue about rates, they are very respectful and supportive toward their translators, they give regular feedback, they pay early, and they even sent me a Christmas bonus check (now, how incredible is that!). So I am now a little more ambivalent about tests…”
Translators who wish to join the American Translators Association will find that membership has numerous benefits: a monthly magazine about issues facing this industry; an annual conference which provides an excellent opportunity to attend talks, meet colleagues, purchase resources, market your services and more; language-specific mailing lists; special offers on insurance programs, collection services, travel and more… One of the best reasons for membership, however, may be inclusion in their online searchable translators database, which has certainly pointed many clients my way, enough to pay my annual dues many times over. ATA members may also choose to take a translation exam which, if you pass, gives you the right to call yourself an ATA certified translator.
“Do I have to be ATA certified before I can start translating for clients?”
No, you do not have to have ATA certification (formerly called accreditation) to become an established translator. The translation profession is a unique one: virtually anyone with the slightest grasp of more than one language can claim to be a translator. Few universities or educational institutes offer degree programs in translation and interpreting. In the US, state certification is not available in all languages and ATA certification is available only in language combinations that involve English. It is therefore an unregulated profession with translators whose skills vary greatly and there are both many problems it faces and many people who work very hard to educate people about what translation really involves – that it is not merely a matter of “retyping” a text from one language to another. Be that as it may, one option translators have to distinguish themselves is to pass the 3-hour handwritten ATA certification exam.
ATA certification is by no means a guarantee of quality. There are excellent translators who have failed the exam (or who simply don’t feel the need to take it in the first place) and mediocre translators who have passed. The certification exam evaluates your performance in one 3-hour sitting, during which you are without many of the reference tools you would normally have at your disposal in the course of doing your work and with the requirement that the exam be handwritten. One downside of the ATA certification program is that once you stop paying your annual dues, for whatever reason, you lose the right to call yourself certified.
In Canada, they apparently have something called “certification on dossier” where you’re graded on a portfolio of translations over time, which seems much more realistic. I believe it has to be set up between the translators’ association and your client and there are certain criteria for assembling the dossier. It is my hope that the ATA will consider adopting a similar scheme, as I think it more accurately reflects the true abilities of the translator. The Corporation of Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters of New Brunswick provides more detailed information regarding “certification on dossier”.
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