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How to Start a Translation Career: A Guide for Students

Previously, we wrote about the University of Leeds’ MA in Applied Translation Studies program, managed by Dr. Dragoș Ciobanu. Aside from leading a cutting-edge translation program, Dragoș has also spent time working as an in-house translator and cooperating with various translation experts on an international level. We asked him how he would advise students who are interested in establishing a successful translation career.

To begin, Dragoș noted that the advice he gives aspiring translators largely depends on the country and the language pairs of the graduate and stated that “it may be easier to find in-house project management jobs than in-house translation jobs.”

“Those happy to go beyond their comfort zones will always be in high demand.”

Additionally, he stated that he has “never had a student who was genuinely keen, made the most of their training program and professional networking opportunities available to them, and did not have a job or a promising freelance career before graduating.”

Even when it comes to setting up a freelance business, the success always depends on the proactiveness of the individual: “Those who are happy to learn and do more, go beyond their comfort zones, and be professional in every circumstance will always be in high demand regardless of the industry involved.”

This may leave you wondering where to start - let’s get right into it.

What steps should a student take to start a successful translation career?

  1. First of all, make sure that your target language standard meets the requirements of the clients – in a European Language Industry Association (ELIA) survey taken in 2013, employers were asked the biggest issue they had with incoming translators and the most common response was the quality of the graduate’s native language.

  2. Specialize in only one field initially – just as you can add languages later on in your career, you can also add specialties. Being proficient in language and translation theory is not enough to create a quality translation, it is important to have an understanding of what you are writing about.

  3. Pay close attention to the requirements of the clients. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in order to obtain clear instructions and make sure that your translations meet their needs rather than your own idea of how they should be done.

    This step may vary if you are working with agencies as opposed to your own clients. Agencies should, and often do, know what their client needs, but checking their terms and conditions very carefully before working with them is always a good rule to follow. It is important to understand who will be held responsible if the client is unhappy with the quality of the translation. If the translator is solely blamed for the outcome then it may be wise to consider looking for a different agency or language service provider. Without shared responsibility for the end product, the agency has little incentive to put in the necessary work to learn the client’s specific needs.

    Often, your client may think they understand what they need, but are actually misguided. What your clients have is a problem and it is your job to find the most suitable solution without patronizing them in the process.

  4. Take time to clearly understand the technology involved in a localization workflow, the people involved, and their roles. Unfortunately, many linguists are not aware that they are actually part of a chain, which means that other people and tasks depend on them performing these tasks to a certain standard and within a specific time frame.

  5. Do not translate with the expectation that there will be someone else to revise your work afterwards. Some LSPs don’t do the minimum amount of revisions they promise their clients and even when they do, spot-checking is more common than a full revision.

  6. Join your local or national organizations and take a look at their professional codes of conduct. Be an active member of the industry!

  7. Join professional social media groups and discussions. Don’t hesitate to share information with your colleagues – after all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

  8. Bolster your experience while giving back to the community by getting involved with initiatives such as the Translation Commons and, after you have acquired a little more experience, Translators without Borders.

  9. There are numerous opportunities to learn: look for relevant training courses, webinars, and conferences – invest in yourself. At the end of the day, this is what will keep you motivated moving forward.

In summary, as an active member of the localization community, it is important to provide high-quality service that is tailored to the needs of your clients. Your pricing should be fair to clients while remaining high enough to keep you motivated. Understand the value of your work, invest in both your specialty and your technical set-up, and compete with quality, not with rates. Lastly, take advantage of the latest language technologies in order to save everyone time and - ultimately - money.

Caption: Senior EU and UN linguists speaking about careers in their institutions to University of Leeds students during the yearly CTS Language Technologies Training Week

It is important to remember that it is not always possible to produce high-level work in a quick and inexpensive manner, but don’t let that discourage you. This leads us to another very important aspect of the translation career:

How does a translator remain competitive?

  1. Continuously work on your specialty: attend the meetings of your local Special Interest Group, take relevant MOOCs on a regular basis, and attend conferences within your target industry. It is also beneficial to build a portfolio of direct clients in addition to the language service providers and agencies.

  2. Never. Stop. Learning. Sign up for a wide range of free webinars available (most CAT tools providers organize them – Memsource included – and so do some LSPs, such as Moravia). If possible, aim to attend at least one industry conference a year – check with the associations in your area or refer to a language technology provider to see what is available.**

  3. Regularly step away from your social circle and try to understand your clients and where they are coming from.

  4. Subscribe to industry newsletters and follow technical trends – here you are spoiled with choices, from the countless varieties of communication channels in professional associations to all the free newsletters, such as The Tool Box Journal (the Basic version). Aggregators, such as Slator, and worthwhile investments like Multilingual or the Premium version of the Tool Box are also important resources to help understand the translation world today. In short, stay up to date.

  5. Use social media for professional purposes. Create a trustworthy name for your “brand” and share useful and relevant material with your clients and fellow translators.

  6. Take the latest translation prophecies (they tend to surface regularly) with a grain of salt, and always seek to find the real story behind the headline. Approach all new technical developments critically and look to see whether they would bring you or your clients any real advantages.

Successfully graduating and finding your first clients is just the beginning. You should strive to get better, seek and welcome change, share knowledge and goodwill, avoid forming strong opinions too early (if at all), expand your social circle, don’t take yourself too seriously, meet your clients’ needs while remaining professional, evaluate situations from several perspectives, and regularly attempt to step out of your comfort zone. Now it is your turn to get started.


About the author

Filip Šanca is the Academic Account Manager at Memsource, working with translation professors and students participating in the Academic Program around the world. He is currently working on his master’s degree in Serbian philology at Charles University.

Would you like to use the same technology as some of the largest translation companies, such as Semantix or Moravia, in your courses? Ask your lecturer to contact Filip at filip.sanca@memsource.com about the onboarding procedure!