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Tips on how to pursue a career as freelance translator

1. How to get started as freelance translator?

2. What constitues a good translation?

3. Meeting deadlines

4. Relying on translation software (CAT tools)

5. Payment terms and conditions

6. Type of agencies

7. Promote yourself

8. Raising your rates

How to get started as freelance translator?

There are several aspects to becoming a freelance translator. The obvious is being a bilingual or fluent in a second language. You definitely have to have a good knowledge of both languages, but most importantly make sure you always translate into your mother tongue. This is a fact: it is always easier to translate into your mother tongue.

The first thing to do is to get some translation agencies to notice you. Make some contacts by sending e-mails, filling out online forms, or even visit agencies personally. I would say to contact at least 200 to 300 agencies. They will be your backbone and will provide you with ongoing projects allowing you to make some sort of income.

Secondly, make sure to specify your language combination, whether it is English to Spanish, French to German, etc. Only list one combination, if you put too many, agencies will not take you seriously. Or at least will think that you will not provide them with a good quality translation. Remember you have to be fluent, so I unless you are a trilingual do not offer more than one language combination.

Third, have a sample ready to send to agencies. However, if asked for a translation sample, translate no more than 100 words. There are many agencies that are willing to give you an actual translation project and will have you translate it for free. Do not fall for this trip! Unfortunately, there are many agencies that will try to take advantage of newcomers.

Fourth, offer a decent rate. You cannot be new in the business and expect to get paid too high. Start low and slowing raise your rates as you gain experience, this will come naturally. Not too low and not to high. Remember, justify a low rate as of part of your training.

Lastly, the most important thing in order to get your business going is to establish a good working relationship with a few agencies. One in which you trust them and feel comfortable working with. Once you are certain of this, continue working with them and do not waste your time with agencies that pay late or agencies which your gut feeling tells you they are not trustworthy.

What constitutes a good translation?

Translating into another language is not as easy as it may seem. It requires a lot of skills and experience. First of all, you need to be fluent in two languages. However, when translating you must always translate into your mother tongue and not into your second language, regardless of how fluent you may be. In fact, many translators who are fluent in 2 or even three languages only translate into their mother tongue.

Besides being fluent in your second language you must also have a field of expertise. You cannot cover all subjects. There are certain topics that demand knowledge of specific terms. For example when translating parts of a machine, it is best for the translator to have a certain experience in engineering and so on.

One last aspect to a good translation is having a second person proofread the source document. This will definitively eliminate any errors, typos or even misinterpreted parts. No matter how good the translation may be, a second person may be able to detect the slightest errors.

Meeting deadlines

Normally, you will be required to deliver a translation project within a agreed date so once you are assigned with a project besides the quality of the translation, the most important aspect to keep in mind is to absolutely to respect the deadline. You should NEVER turn in a translation late.

As you are new to agencies, you should probably turn in the project early for their peace of mind, at least for the first and second assignment.

Relying on translation software (CAT tools)

There are several software programmes that will help you in your translation project. They will initially require sometime to learn, but it will definitely help you in long run. Software like Trados or Wordfast have free versions which you could use in your assignment. Personally, I would suggest using Wordfast as they provide you with a free version that you could even use in moderate size projects.

Not only will these software help you save time, but they will also help you translate better and more accurately.

Payment terms and conditions

Before agreeing to translating a project, the agency will propose you a method of payment and terms of payment. This will depend on the country in which the agency is located, but normally it will vary from 30 to 60 days.

When you first start obviously you have no idea whether the agency is trustworthy so I would suggest not to take on projects that are too long, otherwise make sure to asked them for an advance payment.

Types of agencies

There are many types of agencies. Some proofread your work before delivering the project to end customers, others don't. I would advice working for the former. All agencies should proofread all translations before delivering. However, your work should have no errors at all. Perform a thorough spell check and grammar check before delivering all your assignments.

Be careful, there are some agencies that will deduct proofreading work from your rates, make sure to avoid them.

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