Being a professional translator can have its perks: You can work for yourself (which means setting your own hours and rates), you can work from home, and it can be a very interesting and rewarding profession, given the variety of documents you can be assigned to translate on a daily basis. That being said, there’s a lot you need to consider before jumping right into being a translator. Just because you happen to be bilingual, it certainly does not make you prepared to be a professional translator, just like if you know how to drive it car, it doesn’t make you a professional race car driver. There are certain skill sets that are required before you can do either successfully.
But if you are serious about doing what it takes to be good translator, then the following are some steps to help you become a successful translator:
Step 1: Get Certified or a Translation Degree
The first and perhaps the most obvious step is to get some sort of accreditation or certification, or at least some training from a professional translation school. Having credentials provides documentation that you have the skills required to translate or interpret professionally, and more than that, they provide you with the experience and guidance needed to provide accurate translations. Many universities also offer advanced degrees and professional certifications in translation studies, and many linguistic majors tend to gravitate toward these degree programs. So that means that if you want to compete with your “competition”, it is a good idea to be on the same level. Once you receive accreditation, you can also sign up to be put on a registry of certified translators, which is a great way to attract future clients.
While it is not “necessary” to be certified in order to make your living as a translator, it can certainly help you to get your foot in the door, as well. Until you’ve consistently proven yourself, there’s really no other way to show that you have the required skills, which is why I included this as the first step in the process.
Step 2: Take Tests
There are a number of online proficiency tests for translators to take which can help build your resume when you are first starting out. Since you won’t have a lot of prior experience yet, instead of having a blank resume, you can showcase your proficiency scores which will certainly help to show your skill level.
Step 3: Join Communities and Job Boards
There are plenty of online communities such as Proz.com and TranslatorsCafe.com which also provide job boards for translators. These are not only great at finding jobs, but also to ask questions to fellow translators and learn a lot about the field first hand from already established professional translators.
Step 4: Gain Experience
All of us have had to start out doing internships or working entry-level jobs in order to climb the ladder, and the language industry is no exception. Look for opportunities to perform translation or interpreting work wherever possible, even if it is for little to no pay. It is crucial to get experience where you can show samples of your work. For someone who has no prior experience, a successful translation project is worth its weight in gold just to showcase, even if you do not receive money for it. You can think of it as a promotional expense if that helps.
Step 5: Market Yourself
After getting credentials and some experience, it’s time to market yourself to your potential clients. Most translators / interpreters work for clients on a contract basis, not as full time employees. A great way to market your services besides on job boards is to create your own website or blog and advertise your services wherever and however you see fit. Also, make sure you have your resume and rates ready, as this will be the first question you get asked by a potential client. If you don’t know what your rates should be, find out what established translators charge, and perhaps charge a little less in order to get some projects under your belt.
Step 6: Keep Learning!
As you progress as a translator, there are other areas to consider as well. What specialized subject areas can you cater to? Do you keep up with industry terms and trends? If you have had success as a translator, maybe you could consider diversifying and becoming a certified court or medical interpreter. You also need to stay up to date on local colloquialisms of the language you are translating. New words go in and out of the lexicon almost every day, and being able to translate them appropriately is just as necessary as translating standard phrases.
While this is not an all-encompassing list of what you need to do to become a successful translator, it will certainly steer you in the right direction. The rest is up to you.