I just received a question from Mokhosi, a reader in Bethlehem interested in what it takes to become a translator:
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that translators might face while pursuing a career in translation?
OK, so let’s start with the advantages.
Advantage #1: You Can Work From Anywhere In the World
Depending on what you want out of life, this can be a pretty strong advantage to becoming a freelance translator.
You don’t have to be tied down to a specific location.
No more having to drive through rush hour traffic to reach your office at 8:00 every morning. You can instead choose where you want your office to be.
…it can be anywhere.
There’s a misnomer among would-be freelancers that “working anywhere” means that you only want to travel Europe, buy a villa in Thailand, become a translator in China, or live in the jungles of Costa Rica.
You don’t have to move to some exotic locale to enjoy this advantage of living anywhere you want.
What if you’ve always wanted to move to Montana but have no job prospects there?
As a freelance translator, you can do that.
Same thing if you wanted to travel throughout the United States in an RV.
Or live in the Alaskan wilderness.
It’s much more feasible to do it with a successful freelance translation business rather than a job tying you down to a specific location.
Advantage #2: You Control Your Own Destiny
The second advantage, which is even more important than the first, is that as a freelance translator, you can choose your own adventure.
Remember when you were a kid and read those books?
Choose Your Own Adventure
One of the great things about these books was that you were forced to make a choice.
You couldn’t continue unless you chose one way or another.
When you choose to become a freelance translator, you have to make a choice.
Are you going to do everything possible to become a success?
Or are you going to do nothing?
Because doing nothing is a choice, regardless of what other people may tell you.
Advantage #3: You Choose What You Work On
How many people do you know hate what they do at work?
Probably a ton.
If you hate what you do, then why are you wasting your life day after day?
As a freelancer, you can choose what you want to work on.
If you like translating, you can focus on translating. You could open your own legal translation service.
If you’d rather be writing for a living, you can do that.
And if you want to transition from one type of work to another, like I have, you can certainly do that.
You can listen to your gut and become a freelance film translator if you want.
You can decided where to focus your efforts without anyone looking over your shoulder or second guessing your decisions.
Those are the advantages.
Freelance translation isn’t for everyone, though. Here’s why.
Disadvantage #1: You Will Experience Feast or Famine
You will not be earning a steady paycheck unless you get a steady stream of clients.
You will not be able to count on getting the same amount of money every single week or every payday.
Instead, your income will fluctuate.
Some days you will make more. Some days you won’t make anything.
At least for the first year until you get more established.
If you can’t manage your finances on income that varies (and can vary drastically), freelance translation is not for you.
Disadvantage #2: You Will Do Much More Than Translation
If you thought becoming a freelance translator would free you up to focus 100% on translating, you’d be wrong.
Becoming a freelancer means that you have more things to pull you away from what you want to do, not less.
Not only will you have to actually translate, but you’ll also have to learn accounting, marketing, sales, customer service, and branding.
Or at least be willing to hire people to do these things for your.
You are a one man show.
And even if you do decide to hire out these extra services, you better have at least some idea what’s going on so that you can you be on top of what anyone is doing for you.
Disadvantage #3: Isolation Can Be a Killer
Some people dream of working from home as a translator but would go crazy from boredom in under 3 days if they ever got the chance to do it.
Do you enjoy water cooler talk?
Do you look forward to talking with the guys about your fantasy sports football team?
Do you love eating out with your coworkers every day so you can gossip about your boss?
Then being a freelance translator is not for you.
You will suffer from loneliness and isolation.
You will look for every excuse to get out of the house.
You’ll start watching new shows on Amazon Prime.
You’ll start cleaning things you haven’t cared about for years.
You’ll start new projects.
You won’t last two weeks.
So before you get enamored with the idea of wanting to become a freelance translator, take a good look at whether or not you can succeed and whether or not it’s worth it.
Tell yourself the truth. It’s the only way you’ll reach your goals.
FAQ – Become a Translator
What qualifications do you need to become a translator?
A degree in translation is not necessary to become a translator. However, most clients will require that you have at least some experience translating before they hire you. Certification from ATA (American Translators Association) can also be helpful in getting hired by new clients.
How do I start being a translator?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every translator will have their own way of starting out in the industry. However, some tips that may be helpful include, even for translator side hustles: networking with other translators, joining relevant online communities and forums, creating a strong portfolio of your work, and getting involved with local events and meetups.
How much do translators get paid?
The way translators get paid varies depending on the language, the type of translation, the client, and a number of other factors. In general, though, translators can expect to earn anywhere from $0.10 to $0.50 per word of translation.
How do I become a translator with no experience?
There are a few ways you can go about getting your first translation job without any experience. One option is to offer your business translation services for free or at a discounted rate to get some initial experience under your belt. Another option is to look for internships or entry-level positions with translation agencies or companies. Finally, you can also create a strong portfolio of your work to show potential clients what you are capable of.