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Working in the translation industry can be a profitable and enjoyable way to build a career around a love of languages. So if you want to be a professional translator, where do you start? How do you turn that flair for learning languages into a paying career? Simple – just follow the five steps to building a professional translation career that our colleague at Tomedes, Louise Taylor, and myself bring you today.


  1. Routes into translation

There are several routes into the translation industry. The obvious prerequisite is the ability to speak two or more languages fluently. To build a serious career as a translator, you need to be able to do far more than just ‘get by’ in the languages that you translate to and from. You need to speak them almost as well as your native tongue if your translations are to provide the level of accuracy required for a successful, lifelong career.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be raised bilingual or else miss out. Studying a language from scratch in order to become a professional translator is a great way to build your career, for those with an aptitude for languages. This was precisely the approach taken by Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian,’ which won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. Smith began learning Korean as she wanted to become a translator and noticed that very few people in the UK spoke that language. Just six years later, she took home half of the $72,000 Man Booker prize pot thanks to the quality of her translation.

Don’t forget a proper University course, where you’ll learn the basics, or the translation courses that companies such as AulaSIC, Cálamo & Cran or Trágora offer, which are bit more specialized. Further or continuing education is very important for us, translators, and our insatiable thirst for knowledge.


  1. Build your experience

As with any career, gaining qualifications is one thing and gaining experience another. You can take on small translation jobs while you’re still learning a language – just be careful not to tackle anything too lengthy or with too complex a subject matter until you are ready (you can find more tips in this series of articles [in Spanish]). These small jobs will help you be build up your experience and can be the source of positive client testimonials, which you can include on your website as and when you’re ready to start marketing your translation services.

You can also gain experience by giving your time to charitable organisations that require translation and by contributing to crowd-sourced translation on sites like Wikipedia.


  1. Tackle marketing head on

Creating a marketing plan is also a key part of building a professional translation career. You need to consider how you are going to reach out to potential clients and any promotions you might offer in order to gain their business. Identifying who is likely to need your services and how you’re going to get in touch with them at an early stage will make building your client base easier once you are ready to launch your career.

With all marketing activity, remember to analyse what worked and what didn’t – this will help to make your next round of marketing more focused and effective.


  1. Build a loyal client base

One of the key factors behind the success of many professional translators is repeat business. If your clients keep coming back to you with more work then you have to expend less energy on marketing activity, so you have more time to translate. This means more money at the end of each month! Repeat business from known clients also cuts down on the risk of working with new clients who may not be reliable or timely payers – with loyal clients you know what to expect.

Producing accurate, timely translations for agreed prices is the cornerstone of gaining repeat business. Your clients need to know that they can rely on you, that you will communicate swiftly and clearly with them and that the translation work you undertake will allow them to achieve their goals on time and with minimal hassle. Laying out what clients can expect from you is a great way to focus on this and to ensure that everyone is clear on what you can (and can’t) commit to. Consider not only what clients can expect in terms of service (e.g. specialist translations such as medical or legal documents) but also the hours you are prepared to work, timeframes for responding to enquiries and so forth.


  1. Remember those complementary skills

There’s more to succeeding as a professional translator than being able to speak two or more languages, as we’ve said before. In order to build your career, seek to excel at complementary skills. Learning to type faster, or to touch-type, for example, can significantly increase the speed at which you can complete translations.

Familiarize yourself with translation tools as well. Some translators swear by them while others feel they can translate faster without them. It’s worth experimenting to find what suits your individual workflow best.

Remember too that support is never far away. Join Facebook pages or groups that relate to the languages you translate and you’ll find that there are always other professionals on hand to assist with those irritating queries, like when to use ‘lift’ versus ‘pick up.’

There are many advantages to working as a professional translator, so if language is your passion, why not take the first steps to building your translation career today?


Guest author bio

Louise Taylor is a freelance writer who writes for the Tomedes Translators’ Hub and blog, as well as a range of online and print media.