Trying Out Freelance Translation During Quarantine

online translationWith the coronavirus pandemic ravaging our economy, it’s hard to not worry about the state of our finances. Since working from home is now the norm, at least for the next few weeks (or longer), it’s best that we look at what opportunities we can take and make the best out of our situation.

If you’re able to speak and write in a foreign language, then there’s good news for you: You can try your luck in becoming a freelance translator! You can put your foreign language skills to good use and better yet, make extra cash doing so.

Through this article, you’ll also get to know the bigger role of a translation not only in our modern economy but also in times of crisis such as the current coronavirus pandemic. By understanding the crucial role translators play in our society, perhaps you can be convinced of starting a translation career entirely!

What is Translation and Why Translation?

As a short refresher course, translation is simply the process of converting source language to a target language (English to Spanish, English to Chinese, Chinese to Japanese, etc.). A person that renders translation is called a translator. Keep in mind that a translator is different from an interpreter who provides live language translation orally be it on-site or remotely.  A translator works mainly with documents and paperwork. That being said, why would anyone want to be a translator? You might have heard of some stereotypes of translators as an ‘unprestigious’ job with ‘average’ pay.

On the contrary, being a translator doesn’t only provide good pay but it’s also quite an exciting and even honorable profession the more you look into it! Translation is actually as old as human history itself. If you think about it, how would our ancestors be able to communicate with each other, share ideas, trade, and form communities together without translators? The role of translation today hasn’t changed for thousands of years although the methods have changed through the use of modern technology and software.

Who exactly is requesting translation services? Almost every business, industry, organization, and institution you can think of that deals with global clients and stakeholders! You name it from banks, governments, manufacturers, organizations, schools, small businesses, and etc. In short, everyone doing business and communications at the global stage need translators! The rising demand over the years meant that the global language services market has doubled in growth within the last decade alone and is growing every year.

The demand for translators is so high that if you were to combine all translators and translation companies together, they still wouldn’t be able to satisfy the current hunger for translation services! As of 2018, Statista reports that there are over 57,000 translators AND interpreters in the US. With that many language specialists in the US alone, you can imagine the scale of content that hasn’t been touched yet by all translators and interpreters combined.

But keep note these statistics were tabulated during pre-pandemic times since the current situation now is drastically changing the outlooks of our entire global economy, let alone individual industries. But even so, translators will always be needed whether in times of economic growth or crisis. Look forward to learning more about this later on near the end of the article.

Nevertheless, the biggest perks of becoming a freelance translator, especially during these times, is that it’s naturally a work-from-home job! You get your jobs online, do your work online, and get paid online! Well, working from home now is not that much of a choice for people due to quarantine measures. Still, it’s nevertheless perfect for people who want to work at the comfort of their homes and are looking to put their foreign language skills to good use!

How to Become a Freelance Translator?

Now that you know how important translation is not only to our global economy but to our society in general, how do you start as a freelance translator? Can you be a translator without a language degree? What qualifications and even certifications do you need to be a translator? There’s no strict and regulated pathway since it depends on each client and what they’re looking for in a translator. But there are indeed common criteria that clients generally look for in translators.

Being Bilingual/Multilingual Isn’t Enough

Can anyone be a translator? This is where a lot of misconceptions about translators begin. Many think that anyone who can speak another foreign language or two is enough to qualify as a translator. But that’s like saying someone who just started in a sport and has a rough understanding of it can already coach. Just claiming that you can speak another foreign language just won’t cut it.

You need to be proficient with both of your languages. That means showing advanced linguistic skills in both English and your chosen foreign language i.e. English to Chinese, Chinese to English, and etc. As a side note, Chinese is one of the most in-demand languages, along with Spanish, German, and Japanese. But let’s say you’re proficient in these languages, how can you prove it to clients? You can show this is by presenting the right paperwork.

Showing the Right Paperwork

A lot of translators routinely have language degrees. However, there are still plenty of translators who have ‘made their bones’ even without a language degree.  But you do need to provide concrete proof that you’re proficient with your foreign language. There are many ways to provide paperwork including earning language proficiency certifications and submitting drafts of your recent work written in your foreign language. You may even be called up to do an interview strictly in your foreign language if a client wants to know you’re the real deal.

Earning Translation Certifications

A language proficiency certification is different from a translation certification. Earning a translation certification means you have completed relevant workshops and training programs that qualify you to be certified as a professional translator. Note that this is a long-term consideration for those who are determined to make translation their long-term career.

Also, earning translation certifications are for clients that are actively looking for certified professional translators. However, there are many translators with no certifications at all that have been working as a translator for years. Rather than fluffy paperwork, it’s their experience and level of work that has been keeping them in the game for so long. Even though you’re just trying out translation for now, knowing what clients want will nevertheless help you in the long run.

What Makes a Good Translator?

You will have plenty of competition from the moment you start so it helps to know what makes a good translator. To start off, a good translator is one that has already committed to the lifelong journey of improving their skills and getting inspiration from diverse sources. Indeed, the same can be said for plenty of professions and even hobbies. But aside from the language background and paperwork, a good professional translator is one that takes their skills beyond linguistics.

A good translator is one that can show cultural knowledge and awareness. Language is inherently a social practice that is continuously shaped by the cultures and societies that speak it. That being said, a professional translator that’s worth an ounce of their salt takes cultural and social considerations into account to make sure that the translation is highly suitable for the audience at hand.

This notion might sound familiar. If your hunch is right, that’s because it’s called localization. What is localization exactly? Localization is the process of curating content, be it a product or simply a message, until it resonates with the target audience. That being said, a good translator takes localization into account and doesn’t stick with general translations.

Of course, not all clients and translation projects need localization translations. Some clients have no problem with general translators if the project calls for it such as signages, general statements, manuals, and etc. Nevertheless, localization is something you need to consider the longer you’ll be in the translation industry.

Working Under a Freelance Platform vs. With a Translation Company

Where do you work as a freelance translator? The most common choices are under a freelance platform and with a translation company. Of course, there are many other ways such as joining translation and language associations. But for now, let’s stick with freelance platforms and translation companies since they’re common places to find work for freelance translators. Of course, you can definitely choose to list your services in both if you’re looking to maximize your chances of getting a project. But let’s compare them side-by-side so that you can properly weigh your options.

You might be familiar with freelance platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr, but there are other freelance platforms specifically dedicated to translators and language specialists such as ProZ. Freelance platforms are usually the first destination for translators to market their services. After all, you have to build experience first and be content with whatever project you’re given at this point. Keep note that you have to set competitive rates ($ per word) and one that reflects your experience (or lack of) with translation.

Now onto translation companies. A translation company has its own network of translators and language specialists such as localization experts located globally. They typically have thousands to even tens of thousands of them within a moments reach. They need that many translators and language specialists because they’re routinely inundated with dozens and dozens of new projects every day. And some projects require a team of translators. Also, some of them might be given tight deadlines which in that case, a team is perfect to get it done on time.

Freelance Platforms vs. A Translation Companies From A Client’s Perspective

You might be wondering that “they both seem the same”, but are they really? From a translator’s perspective and on the surface level, yes but to clients, that’s where their differences become apparent and it’s something that translators have to take into account.

Clients routinely hire translators from freelance platforms if they have relatively general projects. That’s not saying all translators in freelance platforms are average since you can definitely find professional ones with years of experience under the belt listed there! It’s rather the internal processes that freelance platforms lack.

If a client needs a team of translators that need to get the job done on time and with quality, then a translation company has the resources to find a team. A client has to do this all on their own if they solely depend on a freelance platform. In the end a freelance platform is just an avenue for clients and service providers to make deals.

A translation company on the other hand has internal checks and balances in the form of translation project managers. Every translation project is assigned with a translation project manager. They’re responsible for quality control and ensuring smooth, amiable, and conducive communication between both parties.

Now that you know their differences, the intention here wasn’t really about making you decide one over the other. But rather, looking at it from the perspective of clients. In the end, it literally pays to have a presence in multiple platforms to heighten your chances of getting projects.

Translators as Heroes in Times of Global Crisis

As mentioned earlier, translation is not only vital to businesses and organizations of all sorts but to evolution and even survival of human history in general. Translators have always taken the back seat but in light of the recent coronavirus pandemic, it’s another moment in history wherein translators can truly take the spotlight, among other brave frontline professionals of course. It’s now a chance for translators to take the recognition and center stage they deserve.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has now infected nearly 2 million people globally as of writing. But this coronavirus continues to elude researchers regarding its full behavior. That being said, understanding the virus and formulating a vaccine is dependent on researchers around the world having immediate access to their foreign colleague’s work. In this case, translators, specifically medical translators are in charge of translating critical research as quickly but accurately as they can.

Medical translators are highly specialized translators that have undergone more training and have extensive familiarity with medical terminologies, practices, and code of ethics. They’ve also earned the right certifications to be legally certified as a medical translator.

Medical translators also work with medical device companies in which they translate specialized user guides and other relevant collateral in medical devices. Medical device companies are in overdrive as they struggle to keep up with global demand for various types of medical devices from surgical masks, protective suits, to ventilators.

Another notable area in which translators are vital in this global health crisis is translating public advisories and statements. The World Health Organization (WHO) for instance needs to make sure its public documents and statements are translated into nearly every, if not all languages. Translators are an essential service as well to multicultural cities and communities in which the residents are multilingual. In times of crisis, everyone should have access to accurate information. Translators are there to make sure language barriers are insignificant since they seriously impede seamless communication, which is vital especially in global crises.

Take Your Translation Career Even Further By Specializing: Final Word

Once the pandemic passes and the whole world, its economies and societies recover from this whole ordeal, why not take your translation experience even further by committing to an actual translation career? If you really want to take your translation career into green pastures, then specialize! In a way, you’re already specializing according to your chosen language pair, but specialization in this context means providing specialized translations to certain industries. Many industries have specific terminology and language conventions. In that case, they’re not looking for general translators but one with the right background industry knowledge.

With this in mind, translators decide to specialize when they have been in the industry for quite some time. It takes extra time and commitment to rack up the necessary skills, knowledge, and certifications to be able provide certified specialized translations. As to how long it takes entirely depends on what specialization you choose. For instance, there are literary translators, financial translators, legal translators, and of course, medical translators to name a few. That being said, providing specialized translations is where the big bucks start rolling in!

But of course, this is something you might not need to worry about if you’re simply looking to get a side hustle while under quarantine. Nevertheless, it just goes to show how much potential there is in a translation career!


Guest Post by: Ofer Tirosh is the CEO of Tomedes, a translation company and is also a noted guest speaker on international business strategies.

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