Should I Build a Translation Portfolio?

  • Time to read: 6 min.

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Want to know whether or not you should worry about having a translation portfolio?

The answer is no.

Not in the strictest sense of the word, anyway.

Portfolios weren’t even used in the translation industry until recently.

Really, they are just an attempt by failed translators who see their translation as art to try and legitimize their work as viable for the majority of translators who do the job to eat.

My wife’s an artist.

She creates things.



Stained glass projects.

Book covers.

When someone wants to see her work, she sends them to her online portfolio.

It’s a sample of some of the work she’s done.

Translators don’t do this.

And shouldn’t.

A translation portfolio is bad for translators in every way imaginable.

The first reason is simply this:

It might not be legal for you.

Are your translations copyrighted by your client?

Did you sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) regarding the translation?

If so, you are legally bound in most cases to not share the translations with anyone other than your client.

And if you did and got caught, the legal ramifications would be terrible, not to mention the professional ramifications.

Kiss your translation career goodbye.

Besides being legally obligated, though, as a translator you have a moral obligation to your client.

If the client wants to keep the translation private, you should not make it public without the client’s consent.

Even if no NDA was signed.

It’s only right.

Now, what if the translation is public?

Should you still include it in your translation portfolio?

Again, the answer is no.

Here’s why.

As much as translators like to claim otherwise, translations are highly subjective.

What you think is an awesome translation could be looked at by someone else with disgust.

“I could have done a better job,” they think.

“Why did he use that term?”

“What was she thinking here?”

“I wouldn’t have translated it that way.”

A translation portfolio contains translations.

When you show your finished translations to the public (or a potential client), you are opening yourself up to unfounded criticism

Again, translation is subjective.

And a perceived wrong committed by you in your translation could be the basis for a potential client to lower his offer price or not even hire you in the first place.

The final, and probably most important, reason for not using translation portfolios is simply that clients don’t look at them.

Clients don’t really care how about the inner workings of your last translation.

They don’t care how you translated a certain phrase, or what words you chose.

They only care about themselves and their projects and what you can do to solve their problems.

So if a translation portfolio is not the answer, then what is?

The best way to impress clients is to first understand how a client chooses a translator.

When a client who knows or thing or two about the translation industry begins the process of choosing a translator, he looks for three things:

  1. Does the translator have the right language combination? (Both source language and target language.)
  2. Is the translator an expert on the topic that needs to be translated? (If you’re not, become an expert.)
  3. Does the translator charge a price commiserate with the value provided? (Value is more than just price.)

And that’s it.

That’s all you need to worry about.

You don’t need a 12 page resume listing out every translation job you’ve ever done.

You don’t need a translation portfolio with samples of your work.

You don’t need to tell your client about every company you’ve ever translated for.

You just need the three things outlined above.

If you can satisfy the three requirements, chances are you’ll be in a good position to get the job.

If you fail at any one of the requirements, your chances go down dramatically.

If you don’t have at least two of the requirements, your chances of scoring the job go down to next to nothing.

Language, expertise, and value are what you should highlight on your translator website.

If you feel like this is not enough, or you want to add more, don’t fall into the trap of putting your resume or translator portfolio on your website.

Instead, put something useful, like client testimonials.

These can add tremendous value to your website online because they can help to verify your language, expertise, and value.

Lots of translators, though, are afraid of testimonials.

And that’s because most translators are introverts and are afraid to talk to people, even their clients.

If you’ve done a good job for a client, the best way to get a testimonial is to ask.

Most clients won’t automatically give you one.

They have more important things to do.

But if you ask them, they are usually more than willing to provide a good sentence or paragraph about the tremendous work you did for them.

Ask your clients.

Take the best ones and add them to your website so that they highlight your expertise and value.

But please, don’t make them up.

Those are so easy to spot.

And if anyone suspects that they’re fake, you’re done. Translation scams are never worth it.

Nobody will hire you.

Now, if for some reason you don’t have any testimonials or can’t get any, you can do something else.

And no, it’s not uploading your translation portfolio.

Throw that away once and for all.

No, the other thing you can do instead of posting client testimonials is to post the company names of clients you’ve translated for.

Now, only do this if you are legally OK to do it.

But if you are, posting a short list of clients you’ve translated for, as well as their relevant industries, can show your expertise and language ability.

It won’t show what kind of value you added specifically, but at least you’ll get two out of the three requirements.

And that’s better than nothing.

So, quick recap.

Don’t use a translation portfolio. Clients don’t care about them so why should you?

Instead, add things to your translator website that show your language, expertise, and value.

Those are what clients are most interested.

One way to do that is through client testimonials. But you have to ask.

If that’s not possible, add a list of clients you’ve worked with and their industry. That will at least showcase your language and expertise.

OK, got it?

Now, get to work.

Until next time.

FAQ – Translation Portfolio

What is a translation portfolio?

A translation portfolio is a collection of sample translations that a translator uses to showcase their work. It’s usually not necessary to have one, as clients are more interested in your language skills and expertise.

Do I need a translation portfolio?

Most likely not. A portfolio is not necessary to showcase your language skills and expertise. If you have one, it’s usually best to avoid uploading it to your website but instead add things that show your language, expertise, and value.

Does translation work pay well?

It depends on the language, industry, and difficulty of the project. Generally speaking, translators can expect to earn $0.10-$0.20 per word for simple projects, and $0.25-$0.50 or more for complex ones.

Is translation a good side hustle?

Yes, translation can be a great side hustle. It’s a flexible gig that you can do on your own time, and it can be a great way to earn some extra income.