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Getting started as a translator

Joe SSprecher5 June 2019

Katie Hill | Translator, French and Greek to English, at Translation Pod

Visit Katie’s LinkedIn profile

Everything you need to know about getting started as a translator

My name is Katie and I’ve been working as a freelance translator since 2011, after a brief stint in ad sales. I mainly specialise in marketing translation from French and Greek to English. I also offer subtitling and copywriting services to a variety of international clients, including Netflix, Sephora and Watsons (the Asian equivalent of Boots).

One of the things I love most about my job is the range of different projects I get to work on. I might be translating a brochure for a French architect one day and subtitling Greek corporate videos the next.

Some of my projects last for weeks (like subtitling TV series or translating children’s books), while others are short and have to be delivered on the same day (like press releases, websites and magazine articles).

Warning: this isn’t a standard nine-to-five job, and if you like having a routine, it might not be the career for you! But if you’re curious about different industries and want to use your language skills on a daily basis, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll never look back.

How do you get started?

The translation industry can be quite competitive, especially for popular language combinations like French or Spanish to English. It’s also tough to break into when you don’t have any experience. So, how do you get started?

Firstly, think about the type of translation you enjoy doing and research companies and organisations that might need your services. How specialised you are is entirely up to you.

There is an argument for focusing on a particular field, so you can develop your knowledge and become an expert. On the other hand, working in different areas helps to diversify your income and stops you becoming too niche. It depends on the volume of work you get, but also on what you find most enjoyable.

Once you’ve decided, I would recommend contacting someone who is already working in the field you’re interested in. This is something I did when I first went freelance and it was incredibly useful for getting practical advice. It was also helpful to get feedback on my translations from someone more experienced.

You can search for people online (through platforms like UCL Alumni Online Community, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and also sign up for mentorships like the IOL mentoring scheme.

How do you find jobs?

There are several ways to do this: you can set up profiles online (linguist directories through the Chartered Institute of Linguists and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting are a good place to start), sign up with translation agencies or contact potential clients directly.

Make sure you send your CV to the right person at the company or agency you want to work for (vendor managers, talent managers, content managers, editors, people who are responsible for communications and publications etc.).

There are also specialist websites like ProZ, Translators Base and Translators Café, which can be useful early in your career. The translation jobs advertised on these websites offer comparatively low rates, but it’s a great way to get started. You can also find a list of translation agencies to apply to.

What skills do you need?

  • Language skills (understanding the source text is vital, but also being able to conduct business in your second or third language – most of my communications with clients in France are in French, for example)
  • A flair for writing and confidence writing in different styles (persuasive, informative, authoritative)
  • Curiosity and good research skills
  • Time management (you have to be comfortable working to tight deadlines)
  • Technical skills (particularly for subtitling, but also for translation software)
  • The ability to be objective about your work
  • An understanding of different approaches to translation

Whichever specialism you choose, you’ll need to use CAT tools (Trados, MemoQ, Wordfast etc.) for commercial translation. Translation agencies often require them so they’re a useful investment.

You can download trial versions and sign up for free training online. You can also get hold of software at a discounted rate through Translator Group Buys on ProZ.

Do you need any specific qualifications?

My MA in Translation has been invaluable, not just in terms of developing my practical skills but also in shaping the way I think about translation and giving me the confidence to turn it into a profession. Aside from the knowledge and skills you gain, a postgraduate degree or a professional qualification like the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) gives you credibility and makes it more likely that someone will hire you.

However, you can develop the required language and translation skills through living abroad, and you can always gain qualifications later in your career. If you have a BA in languages or you’ve mastered a second language by living in another country, you have the skills necessary to start work as a translator.

How do you stand out from the crowd?

Specialist knowledge and additional skills will definitely give you the edge, like copywriting, editing, search engine optimisation (SEO), desktop publishing (DTP), content management systems (CMS), film editing, voiceover, coding and software development, campaign management and social media expertise…

If you’ve picked up any relevant skills through jobs or volunteer work, make sure you highlight these on your CV and online profiles. It may even be worth investing in some professional training (I’ve taken courses in copywriting and SEO).

More unusual language pairs will also get you noticed (I get contacted most often about translations from Greek, for example).

Finally…

It took me a long time to establish myself as a translator – much longer than I thought! If you struggle to find work in the beginning or things don’t quite go to plan, don’t be disheartened. It’s all part of the process and every experience (good and bad!) will contribute to your future success as a translator.

Modern Languages & Its Unexpected Career Paths

Weronika ZBenning8 February 2016

By Andrew Scott – Head Fashion Buyer

I had never given much thought to modern languages until high school, but then why would I when it was never something which had been included in my curriculum? That soon changed the moment I sat down in my first French lesson. The whole concept had me gripped from that moment, as I started to enjoy learning in a way which I never had before. Language combines the theory of traditional core subjects with a hint of personal expression which you only get through art based subjects providing the middle ground I unknowingly required.

Needless to say I excelled in language and it was a natural step for me to carry this on through to college and then university.

For me, the novelty of studying modern languages and the sense of accomplishment which came with it never wore off, so I guess I was one of the lucky ones who came out of university with a clear sense of direction.

Immediately out of university I explored the typical avenues of employment such as translating and interpreting, although I knew this wasn’t a long term career path and I soon moved on to a role within an international company. Whilst I enjoyed this fast paced environment, I couldn’t ignore the pull to get involved in the world of fashion, which was the industry my parents both operated in.

I was surprised how strongly the industry demanded my language skills in many different areas, which gave me a much wider choice of career than I had ever thought. I am now the head fashion buyer of Infinities Menswear, a role which constantly demands my language skills and takes me all over Europe. On a daily basis I speak on the phone with our global suppliers and regularly attend international fashion shows and buying meetings. The ability to communicate with people in their own dialect goes a long way in terms of building relationships and it is personally enjoyable to use my languages in practice.

Thinking back to my university days, I never would have predicted that I would have the career I have today and I feel very fortunate to think that I have been able to combine my two passions in life in such a way.

I fear that many people believe modern languages commands a very narrow career path, which is a misconception I am keen to correct for anyone considering or currently studying modern languages. In reality, a modern languages qualification provides you with an edge over the competition in a wide range of roles within a multitude of different industries.

The world is your oyster, learn how to communicate in it!

“But I’m not studying computer science – can I still work in IT & Technology?”

ManpreetDhesi15 October 2014

The answer is YES!

IT & Technology is a broad sector which encompasses a multitude of roles and types of companies. In addition to the programming and developer roles typically associated with the sector there are also a wide range of other positions: project managers, business analysts, consultants, salespeople. For these roles, employers state that deep technical knowledge is often not initially required; what is important is an interest in technology, a desire to learn and possessing business-orientated skills such as communication and project management.

Melanie Baldo graduated from UCL in Italian and Management Studies and is now a Project Manager at Bloomberg. Melanie states: “I never for one minute imagined when I graduated with a degree in languages that I would be working for a financial data company running some of their most complicated and important projects with high profile clients.”  Whilst in the Technology sector, Melanie’s role focuses on client relationships and project management and she encourages students from non-technical backgrounds to apply. Many technology based roles do not require a technology background and companies often provide training for these positions.

The UCL IT & Technology Fair gives you the opportunity to discover how IT & Technology underpins business and the diversity of opportunities available.

The UCL IT & Technology Fair on Thursday 16th October 2014 is kindly sponsored by Cisco