How To Become A Translator – The Ultimate Guide

‘Can you make money off of that?’

‘Is that even a real job?’

If only I had a penny for every time I got this answer when I said I am a freelance translator, I’d be sipping Martini in my Manhattan rooftop with a view. And yet, the answer to both questions is a resounding YES. Every day, thousands of people make a living translating online. I am one of them.

YOU can be one of them.

And if you read on, I will explain exactly how to become a translator, step by step.

Skills and qualifications to become a translator

To become a translator you need to speak two languages. Your mother tongue, plus a second one. You don’t need to be able to translate both ways – in fact, professional translators only translate into their native language. But it doesn’t end there, as you need knowledge in a specific area, also called subject matter expertise.

Linguistic mastery

Do you speak more than 2 languages? Kudos to you, but you don’t need more than that. At the beginning, I recommend to stick to your native language (we call it target language) plus the second language you know best (source language).

There’s a caveat, though.

If you aspire to become a translator, you can’t be an average speaker of your native language. You have to be a great one. You can’t afford typos, grammar errors, basic word choice and elementary school syntax. If you are lacking proficiency in your target language, knowing how to become a freelance translator won’t help you.

Subject Matter Expertise

Every day, millions of words are translated to and from dozens of languages, in every field you can think of.

Some are very easy, things even a bilingual child could translate. Others belong to specific industries, and you need to know the topic to understand and translate them the right way.

If you want to make money as a translator, you’ll be working on a lot of the latter kind of contents. To do that, you need SME – Subject Matter Expertise – in a given niche.

You may have noticed I did not include a degree in translation as a prerequisite to become a translator. That’s because it’s not. It can help, but if you don’t have one, you don’t necessarily need it. On the contrary, a specific niche is fundamental.

How to find a niche?

We all have niches we are already knowledgeable about – you need to find yours.

Look for the sweet spot. Areas of expertise with actual demand, but a limited number of specialized translators.

Spanish speakers fluent in English who want to do video game localization are dimes a dozen. Spanish speakers fluent in English who understand financial instruments and commodity trading? Now we’re talking!

Some niches may not have enough demand for you to make a living off of your translation work. I am passionate about football – and I know a lot about it. Over the years, I worked on some interesting football games, but it never became a major source of income for me. There is simply not enough demand in my language pair to only live with football-related projects.

Other areas may have very high demand, but so many translators that prices are pushed down all the time, making it difficult to find a place in the market.

Note

Bonus tip: if you see translation as a job for the long term (I’m talking 10 to 20 years), plan ahead. Pick a field that’s creative, in which AI won’t be able to replace you any time soon. Automated translation is advancing at a quicker pace than you’d imagine.

All clear, thanks. Now, where do I find projects?

Volunteer translation portals

Before we discuss about paid jobs, how would you feel about working long hours on projects that are quite challenging without getting any payment? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Yet, volunteering as a translator allows you to gain (unpaid) work experience, and I can recommend just the right path for you – join the Coursera Global Translators Community (GTC). Why would you ever want to translate for them?

  1. From the moment you start translating, for money or for free, you are a translator. You can add that to your resume, and the clock starts ticking to add experience in the eyes of your future clients.
  2. The GTC uses Smartling, a famous CAT tool (specific computer programs designed to support the translation process). Which means you can learn how to use it and add that to your CV.
  3. It gives you real-world experience of what you could potentially dedicate hundreds of hours to if you choose to become a translator.
  4. You can work on contents from a variety of industries, which makes for a great way to start building a niche.
  5. Your work gets reviewed. I strongly recommend to look at the review, see what they changed and what they kept the same, treasure the improvements and grow your skills.

Important note: currently (2023), on Coursera GTC you can find translation projects from English into a lot of other languages, but not projects into English. There are other websites that offer volunteer translators a chance, but none I would recommend like Coursera.

How about paid translation projects?

Anyone ever reading this guide

I thought you were going to ask – after all, this is the reason why you clicked on this guide.

Paid translation projects are everywhere, you just need to find them… or help them find you. (and here are 15 websites that help you to do so)

Job boards at general freelancing websites

Upwork, Freelancer.com, PeoplePerHour and the like. If you are not familiar with them, they are websites where clients meet professionals who can do work for them. Like everything in life, they have pros and cons.

Pros

  • Professional translators don’t hang out here. So it’s much easier to deal with the competition.
  • A lot of jobs are posted every day in several language pairs. Which means you can keep perfecting your proposals every day.
  • There are virtually no chances of your translation to be reviewed by somebody else, so there is a lot less pressure on you as a beginner.

Cons

  • Professional translators don’t hang out here. The prices you see here are very low, so they prefer to find work elsewhere.
  • All the translation gigs posted receive see a lot of proposals. Chances to be selected are slim.
  • There are virtually no chances of your translation to be reviewed by somebody else, so you won’t improve as a translator.

Should you try them? Should you avoid them? That depends on your goal.

Interested in making a buck on the side working from home? You can get to 2-300 $ per month in a couple of months and just keep going from there. And if that’s your goal, you should check out my top 3 websites for freelance translators.

Want to make a full time career out of this? Probably not the right choice for the long term, BUT you can still learn a lot on how to present yourself to potential clients.

Back when I started, I made more than 10,000 $ on Upwork. It taught me a lot, and gave me the foundation I needed to succeed elsewhere.

I was enthusiastic about it, and told all my friends about it. Do you know how many made any money off of it? Zero. Some wanted to, but they didn’t know how and never managed to crack the code.

Just like my friends, plenty of aspiring translators sign up on these platforms, try to get jobs for a couple of weeks, fail and quit saying ‘this is not for me’. It can be. And I’ll tell you how.

How to become the translator clients want to work with on freelancing platforms

Preliminary research

Every language pair and portal is different.

I can’t tell you what kinds of jobs you will find on Upwork for Arabic to English or on Freelancer.com for English to Chinese.

You have to find out yourself with some study first.

Open your website and go to the job board for translators, then use the keyword ‘Your target language’ (French, Spanish and the like).

Browse all the jobs you can find there and see if you can find recurring themes. This method is effective, but has a big flow – you’ll only see jobs that are still unassigned.

So for the next 7 days I want you to set up email alerts and monitor the job board to see what clients need.

Plenty of technical documents? A lot of projects on Forex and crypto contents? Business and marketing?

See what gets a lot of requests, choose one area and model your profile based on that.

Profile

Keep it simple. Most clients won’t reach out to you directly on Upwork, but create a job post and wait for proposals. If they find yours convincing, they will click on your profile to see who you are. You don’t want to lose them here.

Your profile should have all your important info high up, which means first indicate your language pair and area of specialization as you would on your business cards. See ‘Preliminary research’ to make it relevant.

Don’t have an area of specialization that fits? You are just starting out and are still unsure? Use something like ‘I help businesses succeed on the Spanish / German / Whatever market’.

List the kind of documents you have worked on in the past. This includes any volunteer work you may have done on Coursera or as a volunteer on other platforms. If you never translated anything before, you can still use this tactic and mention the kinds of documents you feel comfortable with. ‘I can translate blog posts, emails, social writeups, product descriptions and promotional materials for your company’ is more targeted than ‘I can translate anything you need’.

Unfortunately, the most important part of any profile is the review section, and you’ll start with zero reviews. Once you get your first reviews, getting more projects will become much easier.

Important: once you do get those projects, always ask clients if you can use their projects to build your portfolio. The more impressive the gig, the better it is to include it. Ideally, you want a portfolio that’s 3 to 5 items, in different areas that are often requested on the platform. When a client sees you have already completed a project that’s quite similar to theirs, they’ll be much more inclined to give you the job.

Proposal

The most important piece of the puzzle. Send good proposals constantly, and luck will find your way to you. Send bad proposals, and you can stay at 0 jobs, 0 reviews for years.

What makes a proposal good – or even better, great?

  • Short. Clients don’t want to know anything about you except the reasons why you are a great fit for their project. When I first started on Upwork, I used to send 3,000 character-long proposals. And they only ended there because that was the character limit. Thank God I stopped.
  • To the point. Cut the chitchat and the formality. Tell them why you are perfect for the job. Similar projects you worked on in the past. Time spent in their industry in your previous job. Knowledge of the industry-specific terminology. Anything that
  • Visible. I mentioned it before – clients receive a lot of proposals. Do you know who gets the job? Most of the time it’s the first translator who seems to be a great fit at a reasonable price. The first. More on this in the following section.
  • Priced correctly. You’d think the client could up their budget if they found their perfect match? Think twice. Not in here. They have a budget and they need to stick to it. Most of the time they will indicate what the budget is. If it works for you, send a proposal. If it doesn’t, move on.

Proz.com & Translatorscafe

You used Upwork, Freelancer.com or another portal as a springboard. You are getting consistent work, but the rates are low. You now have more experience and are ready to play the more lucrative game.

Or maybe you start with a well-defined area of expertise, so you can charge a bit more from the get-go.

Whatever the case, Translatorscafe and Proz.com are ready to welcome you.

These websites are exclusively dedicated to translators. On both you’ll find training, a strong community and of course… jobs. Let’s see how.

Job boards

Think of Proz job board as the Upwork job board… on steroids. More jobs, higher expectations, possibly higher rates.

The same rules I discussed for sending proposals on freelancing portals apply. You want to be quick. You want to go straight to the point.

There are a few differences though:

  • In most cases, you will be expected to send a CV with your proposal.
  • You will often be asked to take a short (unpaid) translation test.
  • Some posts may be quite specific. You can make your proposal a bit longer to expand on why you are the perfect fit.
  • The project may or may not come immediately. Translation agencies often use Proz to expand their DB of translators.

Translators directories

So far we have only seen how to promote your translation services on different job boards. This is a quick way to take on a new project or client, but that’s not all there is to translation portals.

In fact, I would say the job board is the second most important part of these portals. The first being their translators’ directories.

This is where translation agencies go to find new translators when they acquire a new account or need to add a new member to an existing team of translators.

Ranking at the top of a directory allows you to get a steady stream of leads so that you can avoid periods of limited work. Plus, if you are contacted in this way, your chances of turning a prospect into a client are much higher.

Here’s an example of a proposal I got from the Proz directory. The client had already screened English to Italian video game translators, liked my profile and reached out directly. I got the job. They were lovely to work with.

To make the most out of the directory, you need to:

Rank as high as possible in the directory so that clients are more likely to find you.

Have the best possible profile so that they are impressed enough to reach out.

How to rank high on the proz.com/translatorscafe directory

WARNING

This is an effort that will only pay off on the long run. And it takes a lot of time. Did I do it myself? Yes. Do I recommend doing it? Only if you are aiming to make translation more than a simple side hustle. Otherwise, focus on other options.

To rank as high as possible on a translator directory, you’ll have to prove that you are good. To do that, you’ll have to answer questions asked by other translators. If your answer is selected as the best one, you will be awarded points.

On Translatorscafe, these are called TCTerm points. On Proz, they are called KudoZ points.

If you want to play this game, set an alert to receive questions in your language pair and in your area of expertise via email as soon as they are published. Timing may not be a huge factor when the question asked is in a very specific niche, but for broader questions, it’s everything.

This is a question asked in the Spanish > English language pair. Domain is law/patents. As the term is pretty easy, there is a clear winner after 18 hours (see the number of Likes).

For any correct answer, you’ll be awarded points a) for your language pair and b) for the area of expertise the OP selected for the question.

A smart approach to this would be to answer just a few questions to get a few points.

Right now, if I search for a German to English translator and select ‘Medical’ as field of expertise, the first translator has 1350 Kudoz points. That’s 335+ Kudoz questions awarded. An incredible amount of work which I’m sure it’s paying off… but not everyone wants to do it.

To just rank in page 1 for that same query, though, you only need 32 points – 8 Kudoz questions. To rank in page 2, 8 Kudoz points, or 2 Kudoz questions. Trying to be on the first page for your language pair and fields of expertise is always a good idea.

Proz/Translatorscafe profiles that work

Clients usually browse the directory filtering for language pair and area of expertise. If you did the hard work to accumulate Kudoz/TCTerms, your profile will be at least on page 1. Now you want to capitalize on that.

First, use your tagline to your advantage. Imagine you were looking for a Chinese to English translator specialized in tech. What profile would you open?

If you don’t have a niche to use here, please go back to the HOW DO I FIND A NICHE section. If you have too many and they don’t fit, you are doing something wrong. You don’t want to be a jack of all trades.

If you do this right, potential clients will click on your profile. This is your time to shine.

The most important section is the Bio (Proz)/Background (Translatorscafe). Here you can write more about you and your expertise in your areas.

Don’t make it a list, but break it down into sections. You want at least:

  • One introductory session. A few lines about you should be enough. Don’t undersell yourself. If you are a beginner, don’t say you are a beginner. People can figure it out themselves when looking at your CV.
  • One section per area of expertise. Include the kind of contents you have worked on in the past. Newsletters? Quarterly reports? Court documents? Write it down. If that was volunteer work, there is no need to specify it.
  • One final section with the CAT tools you use, contact details and other, potentially relevant information.
Is it worth paying for a proz.com membership?

TLDR: Yes

A Proz membership can help you a lot in various ways.

  1. You get to see the jobs posted on the job board – and quote on them – before anyone else. This gives you a significant advantage – since clients receive dozens of proposals, timing is key for your message to even just be read.
  2. If you want to rank on the translator directory, members are always ranked before non-members. Consider the amount of time it takes to rank high in the directory. If you are not interested in paying the membership fee, don’t even start.
  3. If you are a beginner, the Plus package gives you access to more than 800 hours of training materials. You can get to know the basics of most topics, simply by paying for the membership. Just as important, you can write about it on your CV.

Most of the time, you just need to get one single translation job through Proz to pay for the membership. Or one single recurring client to pay for it over and over again.

Translation agencies

You don’t want to work at low rates on Upwork. And you are not interested in answering job posts on Proz. How to become a translator without doing any of that? It’s still possible – by working with translation agencies.

This is basically a numbers game. You reach out to as many translation agencies you can find. Average response rate is between 1% and 5%, and that includes ‘thanks, but no thanks’ answers. Even when you receive an answer, that is NOT a job coming your way, but a confirmation you have been added to their database of translators.

Keep in mind that the agency is likely to receive several applications per day. Most go straight to the bin. Only some cover letters are read. Even fewer resumes get opened. The best make an impression.

There are three things that can make a difference:

  1. Your first contact email + follow ups
  2. Your resume
  3. How persistent you can be

How to write a cover letter for translators

Subject line

This has to be on point, and there is little chance to customize it. First, use your language pair. Second your areas of expertise. Third any points in your favor.

‘DE>EN translator specialized in automotive, mechanical engineering MA’.

‘EN>ES medical translator, PhD in Pharmacology, ATA Certified’

‘KO>EN cosmetics translator, 10+ years of experience in the field’. This also works if you worked in the field in a different role.

‘EN>DK video game translator, passionate gamer since 2000’

If the agency is looking for a translator in your language pair, they are likely to open your message. If they work in your area of expertise, they are likely to open your message. If they already have translators for your language pair and SME, the last part will have to make a difference. If they think you can be better than their current pool of translators, they’ll probably want to know more anyway.

Email body

First, please try not to start with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’. If the agency you are targeting is a small to medium one, try to find the name of the person that’ll read your email. If it’s a big one, they’ll probably ask you to fill out a form.

Keep your email short and to the point. Cut the fluff – you are not applying for a job there. Things like values, mission and the like are not relevant. They want to know if you are capable of handling translation projects in your language pair and field. The more proof you can give them, the better.

Keep this short, ideally capping it at 250 words. Your goal in this phase is convincing them that it’s worth opening your resume. If possible, close your message inviting them to do something. Simply connecting with you to further discuss your collaboration works.

Important note: if they want to know your rates, they’ll specify to include them in their website. Unless they do, don’t include rates, payment terms and anything related to money in this phase. This discussion will come at a later stage.

Translator cover letter sample

All good, but what does it look like in practice?

In 2013, I started to reach out to translation agencies. I paid a professional CV + cover letter writer to create the best copy for me. I had little success.

Discouraged, I asked an extremely successful translator for advice. This person also ran a very small agency in their area of expertise. Which meant they were used to receiving applications from translators every day.

Here is the email I was using:

Dear Sample Agency Team

I am writing to express my strong interest in joining the team at Sample Agency. With expertise in English / Italian translation and an undergraduate degree in Languages for Interpreting and Translation from a CIUTI certified university, I believe I would make a strong addition to your firm. More specifically, with my focus on financial translation and my comprehensive knowledge of Forex trading, I believe I could strengthen your firm’s already impressive service offerings.
I have built a reputation for serving as a trusted language service provider and take pride in providing the highest quality financial translation services. I am passionate about drawing on my expertise to help clients engage international audiences and capture lucrative new markets. Please note my demonstrated success:

·         Leveraging a deep grasp of Forex trading to translate fundamental and technical analyses, educational materials and informative collateral.

·         Meeting even the most aggressive project deadlines; completing 100% of projects on time and to exacting standards.

·         Delivering translated materials that read as if they were originally written in Italian for native Italian speakers.

Attached, please find my resume, which provides the details of my background. I am confident that you’ll find that my qualifications and career aspirations will make me an asset to Sample Agency. I look forward to speaking with you about how I might help you meet the needs of clients looking for Forex-related translation services.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Domenico Trimboli 

The feedback I got was extremely valuable. Here goes:

Dear Sample Agency TeamIf this becomes ‘Dear XXX team, put this in the junk folder yourself. You’ll save your time and the recipient’s. If the message does not address a specific person within the agency, its chances of even being opened is almost zero
I am writing to express my strong interest in joining the team at Sample Agency.Delete. It’s obvious from your SL that you are applying as a translator
With expertise in English / Italian translation and an undergraduate degree in Languages for Interpreting and Translation from a CIUTI certified university, I believe I would make a strong addition to your firm.Delete. So far, nothing interesting for anyone
More specifically, with my focus on financial translation and my comprehensive knowledge of Forex trading, I believe I could strengthen your firm’s already impressive service offerings.Start from here, reformulate as follows. ‘I’m an English > Italian translator, and I specialize in the translation of financial documents, especially those that concern Forex trading.’
I have built a reputation for serving as a trusted language service provider Add: and I’ll be happy to provide references from satisfied customers 
and take pride in providing the highest quality financial translation servicesDelete: everyone says they provide quality services
I am passionate about drawing on my expertise to help clients engage international audiences and capture lucrative new marketsKeep this sentence 
Please note my demonstrated success:
 
Leveraging a deep grasp of Forex trading to translate fundamental and technical analyses, educational materials and informative collateral
If possible, provide examples
Meeting even the most aggressive project deadlines; completing 100% of projects on time and to exacting standards. Delete – It is a given that you are able to meet deadlines
Attached, please find my resume, which provides the details of my background.Delete ‘which provides the details of my background’, it’s obvious
I am confident that you’ll find that my qualifications and career aspirationsDelete ‘career aspirations’, they are not interested in those
will make me an asset to Sample Agency. I look forward to speaking with you about how I might help you meet the needs of clients looking for Forex-related translation servicesThis is ok. You can also use ‘I’d like to call you and explain to you why I believe I’d be an asset for your financial translations – please let me know when would be a convenient moment for you, and of course, please let me know if you would like more information about me – in this way, you are asking them to do something. If they do, they are at least mildly interested.

Final email:

Dear [Person within the Sample Agency team],

I’m an English > Italian translator, and I specialize in the translation of financial documents, especially those that concern Forex trading. I have built a reputation for serving as a trusted language service provider and I’ll be happy to provide references from satisfied customers. I am passionate about drawing on my expertise to help clients engage international audiences and capture lucrative new markets.

Please note my demonstrated success:

Leveraging a deep grasp of Forex trading to translate fundamental and technical analyses, educational materials and informative collateral.

Delivering translated materials that read as if they were originally written in Italian by expert Italian speakers.

Attached, please find my resume. I’d love to call you and discuss why I believe I’d be an asset for your financial translations – please let me know when would be a convenient moment for you, and of course, please let me know if you would like more information about me.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Domenico

162 words. Straight to the point. Easy to read. Nowadays it’s not what I’d use. Maybe it’s not be the perfect email. But it’s pretty damn good.

Writing your translator resume

If you did your job, vendor managers will be looking at your resume. But what do you put in there? And how do you organize it?

Key information

These include:

  • Name and surname
  • Language pair
  • Contact info + Professional profiles (Proz/LinkedIn)

These need to be immediately visible.

Summary & skills

When you are first starting out, your professional experience is unlikely to amount to much. That’s where a summary statement can help. Here are a couple I have previously used in the past with good success:

Native Italian speaker with specific expertise localizing marketing collaterals and transcreating advertising copies in a wide range of industries with a focus on the IT, food and beverage and sport industries.

Native Italian speaking translator with higher education in translation and specific expertise localizing videogames. 8 years of experience as videogame translator, more than 5 million words translated specifically in this field. 20 years as a video game player.

A few suggestions:

  • Keep it at less than 50 words
  • Use power verbs
  • When possible, include numbers

Skills can also be helpful to help readers understand you at a glance. My recommendation is to include 4 of them right below your contact info. Generally speaking, a 3 to 1 ratio of hard to soft skills is perfect.

Examples include:

PhD in Electrical Engineering – 2M words translated in this field – Avg response time 30 minutes – Legal translation course in 2022

BA in Translation – Gamer – Fantasy Expert – 5+M words in game loc only

Professional experience

For translation/foreign languages/linguistics majors (catch 22?)

I know, I know. It’s absurd.

Everyone wants translators with experience. But how can you gain experience if no one wants to work with someone with no experience?

First of all, unless you have been paid to translate something, it would be unethical to even call this ‘professional’ experience. That’s why I recommend to call this section ‘Translation experience’ instead.

If you followed the advice in Volunteer translation projects, you have something you can write here. Now it’s all about organizing it in the best possible way, so that it showcases your abilities.

Generally speaking, building a great Translation experience section is easy when you have years of experience. But at the beginning there is only so much you can do.

That is why I recommend to give more importance to other fields. Or to look for work in places where a resume for translators is not even requested.

For professionals coming from a different field

If you are coming from a specialized field, you do have experience, albeit not specific in translation. Focus on the language-related tasks you completed in previous positions. Or on the superior knowledge of your source-language culture you acquired by dealing with it daily.

Were you ever asked to translate materials by your boss/colleagues? Write it down. Were you the only person in your company who dealt with clients who spoke a certain language? That’s impressive. And soft skills like problem solving, adherence to deadlines and the like are important in every industry.

Don’t discount your previous career(s) because it’s not in translation. You may be surprised by how many things you can recycle in your translator CV.

Education

If you have a degree in linguistics, translation or language studies,, that is amazing. How can you improve this further, though? Two ways:

  • Acquire certifications that demonstrate your competence in your areas of expertise. You don’t have to spend a lot on them (even though you easily can). Places to go are Coursera, your university (did you know some allow students to take single classes?) or specialized education providers in your niche.
  • Continue developing your skills in translation. The Proz.com full membership offers plenty of CPDs in several areas, and some that are not included are still relatively cheap (50 to 100 $).

A couple of courses per year make a great impression. They show that you are serious about your profession and niche. Plus, they allow you to widen your skillset.

If your degree is in a different field, you are actually one step ahead when it comes to your niche. If you worked as a travelling nurse for 5 years, it’s clear you can handle medical terminology well. Potential clients will wonder, though – can they actually translate them?

Help them to choose you by taking courses in translation. Again, Proz is a great place for you, and their membership is probably a bargain.

Don’t have a degree in languages or translation? As you start to gain clients and make money in the process, save it. Were you thinking of making this more than a side hustle? The next step for you is taking the Certificate in Translation (CertTrans) exam.

Other questions

I worked as [X] for two years while attending university. Should I include this position in my translation resume?

You should if:

[Waiter]

  • You were hired for the job because you were fluent in more languages.
  • You constantly spoke and refined those two languages while at work.
  • It was a fancy place, where you had a chance to deepen your knowledge of the food and beverage industry.

[Pharmacist]

  • Because of your workplace location, you regularly attended to clients in your 2 working languages.
  • You took improvement courses in those languages.
  • You got in touch with medical professionals who deepened your understanding of certain areas.

[Marketing exec]

  • You oversaw operation in different markets, dealing with local languages.
  • You revised marketing & sales copy in two languages, making suggestions to improve them.
  • You worked in a multicultural office with colleagues coming from different linguistic backgrounds.

Otherwise, it’s not relevant and therefore should not be included.

FAQs

1. How long does it take to become a translator?

‘It depends’ is a good answer, but I don’t think it solves your problem. Do you want to make an extra couple hundred bucks a month working evenings and weekends? If this is just a side hustle for you, and you don’t care much about what your hourly rate ends up being? You can get there in as little as a month.

But careful. You joined the race to the bottom of the translation market to start out. Now none of your clients want to pay you more as you grow your skills as a translator. Every time you want to up your rates even by 5 to 10%, you’ll have to start over. No bueno.

Position yourself at a professional level from day one, and you will land higher paying translation jobs. This is a slower process, but also one that can be more sustainable on the long run.

It only takes one or two decent clients to get you to around 1000 $ per month. Finding them is probably going to take you 6 to 12 months.

You may have great months where you make 2500 $, and others where you make 250 $. It’s part of the process, and something that happens to good translators all the time.

Lastly, if you made it this far you may be hoping to make a living as a translator. Is this doable? Absolutely? Is it quick? Well… usually no.

Being a translator as a full time job will require you at least 5/6 clients (but 10 would be better). It takes time to get in touch with them, do a few projects, establish mutual trust and finally consider them loyal clients.

If that is your goal, 18 months is a reasonable timeline to get there. It took me 3 years back when I started, but I was only doing it part time, and I didn’t have anyone like me guiding you through the process.

2. How much can I earn as a translator?

That depends on three factors – your rate per word, how fast you can translate, how much work you receive from your clients.

Your rate per word

Rates per word can vary significantly in the translation world. Generally speaking, anything from 0.01 to 0.05 $ per word is quite low, but this is what you’ll get on generalist freelance platforms. 0.06 to 0.1 $ per word is average, and what most translators earn in common language pairs such as English to FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) for translation jobs in semi-specialized fields. 0.1 to 0.15 $ per word is a good rate, which you should aim to get once you have 3 to 5 years of experience translating in a specialized domain. If you can get more than 0.15$/word from your clients, you are probably reading this out of curiosity.

Your hourly output

As a guideline, the general daily output for a translator is estimated at 2,000 words. Divide this by 8 working hours and you have your estimate – 250 words per hour. Is that all there is? No. With the help of CAT tools, this number can easily jump up. Plus, the more you specialize, the quicker you’ll become to translate contents in your niche.

I can easily translate 500 words per hour in my domain of expertise. And if the text is simple, 750 isn’t unattainable.

Hourly output is often undervalued, but it’s just as important as your per-word rate (if not more).

The amount of work you get

This is pretty straightforward. The more jobs you get, the more money you’ll make. Once you start getting stable, long-term clients, you can spend less time crafting proposals and negotiating rates and more on the activity that actually makes you money – translation. And of course, the more clients you get, the more likely you are to be booked most of the time.

3. Is it hard to work as a translator?

There is a reason why ReportLinker found that freelancers are more optimistic and happier than traditional workers.

Or why a second study performed by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found an astounding 97% of contractors reported they were much happier than their permanent counterparts.

Don’t get me wrong, being a translator can be challenging. From time to time, you’ll have to work extra hours to keep the client happy. Your business can be subject to the feast or famine syndrome, especially in the beginning. And you may surprise yourself working in your pajama more often than you’d like.

Conclusions

As with any online freelance gig, becoming a translator is no easy feat. But if you:

  • Already speak two languages
  • Want to be your own boss
  • Enjoy reading and learning new things
  • Aspire to work anywhere you want and set your own hours

Then there is no other career path I’d recommend more.

Dom