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Starting up as a translator directly after University
Thread poster: Marc Fisher

Marc Fisher
영국
Local time: 11:49
French to English
+ ...
Jun 15, 2020

Hi all,

How realistic is it to find regular work as a translator in the FR/ES->EN language pairs directly following the conclusion of an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies? This would be with no real core specialism (such as legal, medical etc.).

Is it possible to make enough to live and to get experience? What would be a realistic price per word to get a reply from agencies in the first place?

I have experience translating on a voluntary basis for
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Hi all,

How realistic is it to find regular work as a translator in the FR/ES->EN language pairs directly following the conclusion of an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies? This would be with no real core specialism (such as legal, medical etc.).

Is it possible to make enough to live and to get experience? What would be a realistic price per word to get a reply from agencies in the first place?

I have experience translating on a voluntary basis for an NGO who have been delighted by my professionalism and efficiency. However, I have found quite a lot of doom and gloom on Proz forums and Facebook groups when it comes to pursuing a professional career as a translator. It can be disheartening to read as I have wished to pursue this career path and elected to do this course for this exact reason.

I understand that the Coronavirus situation may have an impact, but this will have an impact on all graduate employment opportunities anyway.

Many thanks,
A concerned postgrad!
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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
네델란드
Local time: 12:49
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Marc Jun 15, 2020

Marc Fisher wrote:
How realistic is it to find regular work as a translator in the FR/ES->EN language pairs directly following the conclusion of an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies?


When I was in college (oh, 20 years ago) the general agreement was that it takes a freelance translator about 1-2 years before becoming self-sufficient. The timeline is slight shorter now that you have the internet and translation agencies, but it may still take many months before your monthly income exceeds your monthly expenses. Still, I don't think it's any more difficult or less difficult to get off the ground than 20 years ago. And if you diligently approach agencies from the Blue Board, I think you can achieve success. But it'll take time for clients to become repeat clients.

What would be a realistic price per word to get a reply from agencies in the first place?


Prices are under pressure at this time, so prices don't go up. This means that what you charge today will either stay the same or go down. This means that you should not try to get a foot in the door by charging a lower rate. Charge a living rate right from the start. If rates generally went up with experience, I would have given different advice, but the fact is that your rate will stay mostly the same for many years to come. Hard won existing clients won't tolerate rate increases.

I understand that the Coronavirus situation may have an impact...


Hardly any. The biggest English-speaking market has a government that doesn't care about the virus, and so that market will continue to provide a lot of work for quite some time to come.


Kaspars Melkis
 

Marc Fisher
영국
Local time: 11:49
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Samuel Jun 15, 2020

Samuel Murray wrote:

What would be a realistic price per word to get a reply from agencies in the first place?


Prices are under pressure at this time, so prices don't go up. This means that what you charge today will either stay the same or go down. This means that you should not try to get a foot in the door by charging a lower rate. Charge a living rate right from the start. If rates generally went up with experience, I would have given different advice, but the fact is that your rate will stay mostly the same for many years to come. Hard won existing clients won't tolerate rate increases.


Would this be the case for all language pairs? I was perhaps under the impression that with a common language pair, such as FR/ES->EN, it would be very hard to procure much professional work at a decent rate when you have no experience.

[Edited at 2020-06-15 18:35 GMT]


Blessing Akpanabasi
 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
영국
Local time: 11:49
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Other experience Jun 15, 2020

Hi Marc,

I can't really answer your question because I started work as a translator over 20 years ago, and things have changed massively since then.

But I would seriously recommend you consider getting some experience in the world of employment, if you can, before becoming a full-time freelance translator. This will give you a chance to learn more about the world of business while someone else is paying your wages, and perhaps an opportunity to pick up a specialism. Thi
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Hi Marc,

I can't really answer your question because I started work as a translator over 20 years ago, and things have changed massively since then.

But I would seriously recommend you consider getting some experience in the world of employment, if you can, before becoming a full-time freelance translator. This will give you a chance to learn more about the world of business while someone else is paying your wages, and perhaps an opportunity to pick up a specialism. This could prove invaluable when you do take the plunge.

This was the advice I was given back when I started out. I didn't want to take it either, but ended up doing so simply because I couldn't get enough work to support myself at first. Looking back, I am glad it worked out that way.

Anyway, good luck whatever you decide.

Rachel
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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
네델란드
Local time: 12:49
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Marc Jun 15, 2020

Rachel Waddington wrote:
But I would seriously recommend you consider getting some experience in the world of employment, if you can, before becoming a full-time freelance translator. This will give you a chance to learn more about the world of business while someone else is paying your wages.


Yes, I agree. This was my route as well: I could not cut it as a freelancer straight out of college, but then I landed a job at a newspaper, where I learnt almost more about translation from my colleagues than I learnt in three years studying translation at college. Five years later, I went freelance full-time.


Beatriz Ramírez de Haro
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
스페인
Local time: 11:49
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
What do you think? Do you feel ready? Jun 15, 2020

Do you have any experience at all of the world of work? Holiday jobs? Internships? I see you've done a couple of stints in universities in France and Spain as an Erasmus student, but I see little that would prepare you to set up a freelance translation business. That doesn't stop you doing very well, but it does make it less likely.

If it weren't for Brexit, the obvious next step would be a job in one of your source language countries. A couple of years in each country as an indepe
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Do you have any experience at all of the world of work? Holiday jobs? Internships? I see you've done a couple of stints in universities in France and Spain as an Erasmus student, but I see little that would prepare you to set up a freelance translation business. That doesn't stop you doing very well, but it does make it less likely.

If it weren't for Brexit, the obvious next step would be a job in one of your source language countries. A couple of years in each country as an independent adult earning a living would make a vast difference. But that's now closed to you unless you have an EU passport.

Add to that the dire recession we're likely to see as a result of the pandemic, and I'm afraid it's going to be very tough. If you can take a part-time job -- in any capacity -- I would recommend it. As Samuel says, most freelance translators take a good few months, if not years, to really get established.
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Joe France  Identity Verified
영국
Local time: 11:49
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
It's not all bad Jun 15, 2020

You're right that there's a lot of doom and gloom on these boards. A perfect storm of falling rates, machine translation and COVID means that some translators on here talk as if the world is going to fall in on our heads.

There have been plenty of forum topics down the years about people starting up straight from uni. I started out in 2016, so hardly yesterday, but perhaps more recently than the majority of members here. I've been freelance for three years and consider myself prett
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You're right that there's a lot of doom and gloom on these boards. A perfect storm of falling rates, machine translation and COVID means that some translators on here talk as if the world is going to fall in on our heads.

There have been plenty of forum topics down the years about people starting up straight from uni. I started out in 2016, so hardly yesterday, but perhaps more recently than the majority of members here. I've been freelance for three years and consider myself pretty successful considering.

I'd probably sum up my advice as follows:

- Echoing Rachel's comments above, get a job that isn't trying to be a freelance translator. I worked in-house as a translator for six months. I didn't enjoy it, but the experience was invaluable, in terms of CAT tools and translation technologies, translation as a business, and developing the stamina to translate for 8 hours a day. Whether you hone your skills as a translator or develop a niche elsewhere and come to use those skills and that knowledge later, beef up your CV before you send it to agencies as a freelancer. I know from experience that this isn't necessarily the good news you want to hear...

- If you are going to go freelance, you won't make a fortune straight away. When I set out on my own, I worked part-time in cafes until I had enough translation work coming in for that to be my job. There's every chance you'll basically end up working two jobs for a while, but you can make it through.

- The world hasn't stopped because of COVID. Some translators have been hit (very) hard because of their specialisation, because their agencies have lost work, and for a host of other reasons. I can't speak to your specific pair, but the world hasn't stopped turning and, as world leaders put economics above citizens' health (looking at you, BoJo), business is still happening.

- Having a specialism (legal/medical/engineering) is overrated if you translate competently and write well as a young translator - you can still make a living. Just know your limits, don't sell yourself (too) cheap at first and don't bite off more than you can chew. That said, you almost certainly will bite off more than you can chew - which brings me to my final point: Learn from your mistakes! If you're anything like me, you'll make plenty.

I'm sure some people on here will disagree with these points. Good luck whatever you choose to do!
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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
영국
Local time: 11:49
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
God gave you eyes - specialise Jun 15, 2020

Rachel Waddington wrote:
I can't really answer your question because I started work as a translator over 20 years ago, and things have changed massively since then.

I started full-time about five years ago. I don't think the situation has changed that much over that time, at least not for me. Specialist knowledge has, without a doubt, been the driver of what modest success I have had.

But I would seriously recommend you consider getting some experience in the world of employment, if you can, before becoming a full-time freelance translator. This will give you a chance to learn more about the world of business while someone else is paying your wages, and perhaps an opportunity to pick up a specialism.

I agree with Rachel. You've done a lot of reading, it would seem, so follow what your eyes have been telling you: it's tough to succeed without a specialisation of some sort. It's tough for any business that doesn't differentiate itself. My standard advice to people like you is to go and work in an industry for 10 years and learn something useful. Then come back to translation.

I personally don't see why people hold back from specialising. It doesn't cut you off from other work, but it makes you more than averagely attractive to prospective clients in certain areas. Anybody with a reasonable amount of intelligence and (more importantly) drive can become familiar with an industry or discipline. It takes time and hard work, but it is also an enriching and often absorbing aspect of professional life. So what are you waiting for?

Dan


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Lara Garau  Identity Verified
아르헨티나
Local time: 08:49
Member (2020)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Be good Jun 15, 2020

Marc Fisher wrote:

Hi all,

How realistic is it to find regular work as a translator in the FR/ES->EN language pairs directly following the conclusion of an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies? This would be with no real core specialism (such as legal, medical etc.).

Is it possible to make enough to live and to get experience? What would be a realistic price per word to get a reply from agencies in the first place?

I have experience translating on a voluntary basis for an NGO who have been delighted by my professionalism and efficiency. However, I have found quite a lot of doom and gloom on Proz forums and Facebook groups when it comes to pursuing a professional career as a translator. It can be disheartening to read as I have wished to pursue this career path and elected to do this course
Many thanks,
A concerned postgrad!



Hi there! My pair is a lot worse in popularity than yours (English-Spanish), but I can tell you there's work. You just have to be good. This is not to brag, but the better you are, the more work you get. Maybe at first it'd be better that you aim for companies rather than direct clients to gain experience.

Take proofreading tasks! You don't know how many clients I've got who had very poor translators when I joined their company.

Bear in mind that the better your translation is, the better reputation your client has with their end client. So give it your best every time. Double check everything, even small things you think you know. And make sure your client knows you do your best for their sake.

The situation right now is quite grim, though. Since the pandemic, lots of clients stopped sending work and there are a lot less job postings, but I'm sure it'll get better.

As for specialization, you can take free courses on coursera, canvas network or whatever. That'll help you get the knowledge to face any test. I'm currently doing a course on autopsies delivered by the University of Oviedo to improve on my medical knowledge, and I've taken some in general medicine, genetics and even on addiction.


I hope this post helps!


Angie Garbarino
Rachel Waddington
 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
영국
Local time: 11:49
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree Jun 15, 2020

Dan Lucas wrote:

My standard advice to people like you is to go and work in an industry for 10 years and learn something useful. Then come back to translation.

Dan


I think that is good advice. There are things that it's really, really difficult to learn without getting 'out there' in the real world. The most successful translators seem to be the ones who have a solid background in another field.

Without that there is a real risk of getting stuck in a cycle of low-paid work from disreputable agencies, whilst earning so little that you can't afford to take time out to do the things you need to do to move upmarket.

Sorry if that sounds a bit doom and gloom, Marc, but you are just starting out so you are in a position to avoid those pitfalls.


Jorge Payan
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WS McCallum
뉴질랜드
Local time: 00:49
French to English
In-house employment Jun 16, 2020

Hello Marc,

I was where you are a long time ago. My advice may be greeted with howls of derision and comments about the last of the dinosaurs etc., but consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department: you will get to see how the profession works from the inside and will have mentors. All too many freelancers these days have no agency or office experience; they are good places for picking up the practical
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Hello Marc,

I was where you are a long time ago. My advice may be greeted with howls of derision and comments about the last of the dinosaurs etc., but consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department: you will get to see how the profession works from the inside and will have mentors. All too many freelancers these days have no agency or office experience; they are good places for picking up the practical skills you will need and gaining specialist knowledge, whilst providing a regular income as you learn the ropes.
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Christel Zipfel
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Chris S  Identity Verified
영국
Swedish to English
+ ...
Take a good look in the mirror Jun 16, 2020

Are you an exceptionally talented linguist with extraordinarily strong writing, research and marketing skills and supernatural powers of persuasion?

If so, go for it.

If not, I would consider the advice the others have given you.

It’s very hard to get your foot in the door without any contacts.


 

Tom in London
영국
Local time: 11:49
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Get a job Jun 16, 2020

WS McCallum wrote:

.....consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department....


I would recommend seeking some type of work as an in-house translator for a firm or organisation - any kind will do. This will enable you to become a translator who is specialised in a particular field.

Specialising in a particular field is essential for the successful translator.


Jennifer Forbes
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Marc Fisher
영국
Local time: 11:49
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@all Jun 16, 2020

Many thanks for all the replies, they have been invaluable.

I will look for either an in-house role or traineeship, or failing that, a graduate scheme in another field that interests me for Sept 2021.

Tom in London wrote:

WS McCallum wrote:

.....consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department....


I would recommend seeking some type of work as an in-house translator for a firm or organisation - any kind will do. This will enable you to become a translator who is specialised in a particular field.

Specialising in a particular field is essential for the successful translator.


Are these very common, I can't say that I have come across a large number of these roles bar SDL and the EU and UN traineeships?


 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
영국
Local time: 11:49
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Separate question Jun 16, 2020

Marc Fisher wrote:

WS McCallum wrote:

.....consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department....

I would recommend seeking some type of work as an in-house translator for a firm or organisation - any kind will do. This will enable you to become a translator who is specialised in a particular field.

Specialising in a particular field is essential for the successful translator.


Are these very common, I can't say that I have come across a large number of these roles bar SDL and the EU and UN traineeships?



That's a separate question and I think you might get more responses if you start a new thread.

[Edited at 2020-06-16 12:45 GMT]


Jorge Payan
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