What do translators do? Insider answers

Domenico Trimboli

By Domenico Trimboli



Surrounded by piles of books, armed with pen and paper on one hand and a dictionary on the other one, pondering over the meaning of obscure, archaic terms? I have the impression that’s the way some people think of translators. But it’s far from the truth.

A day in the life of a translator

As a translator for 10+ years, here was my typical day when I was doing this full time:

  • As I start working around 9 AM, first thing I will check my email and to do list for the day. If I got any email overnight from clients in different time zones, I’ll answer straight away. I check my email once an hour or every couple of hours throughout the day, till 6 to 7 PM.
  • I take care my more urgent projects between 9:30 and 12:30. By this time, I am usually done with all projects due on that day.
  • I have a long lunch break from 12:30 to 2:30 PM. I’ll still check my emails from time to time, but I only answer if there’s anything urgent.
  • From 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM, I work on projects for the following days/weeks; actually, nowadays I am working less hours, so I’ll probably just work for 1 or 2 hours. Back when I was in full sprint mode, though, I always worked 3 to 4 hours in the afternoon.
  • If I have any admin task to complete, I’ll take the last 30 minutes of the working day to deal with it. By 6 PM I am usually done for the day, and I head off to the gym, walk the dogs or do anything else away from my screen.

Where do translators work?

Most translators work from home. Some work in their pajamas, others use a more formal attire. The most fortunate of us have a dedicated room with a proper desk, chair and PC. Others add a desk to one of the rooms, mostly the bedroom or the living room. I have also heard of translators working from coworking spaces.

Can you live off being a translator?

Yes. Some translators choose to pair translation with a different job, either for the money or to get out of their home at least for part of the day. But you can absolutely live off translation only. Actually, you can also make a lot of money translating. You just need to know how to become a translator.

Do translators travel a lot?

Not at all. Translators work from home, so they don’t even need to get out of the house. But if you are wondering if we travel a lot, you are probably confusing us with interpreters.

What is the difference between translators and interpreters?

Translators take a text written in a given language, which they are fluent in, and convert it into a different language, usually their own mother tongue. The keyword here is ‘written’. Interpreters, on the other hand, work with spoken words, which they translate orally.

When you hear a foreign leader on TV, speaking your language in a different voice, you are looking at an interpreter working their magic. Translators don’t do that. Translators can also be interpreters and vice versa, but that is not always the case. For example, I have never been an interpreter, and I think I’d make for a pretty bad one.

Do translators work long hours?

As freelancers, we are able to choose our own hours… in theory. I never open my laptop earlier than 9AM, and usually call it a day by 6PM. But that’s not always the case.

Some days translators have no work, nothing to translate at all. On those days I take care of invoicing, payment registration, everything that has to do with the admin side of a freelance business. In the past, I did some marketing – kept my CVs updated, researched translation agencies to contact and the like. Nowadays I do very little marketing, so if I have nothing to work on I’ll simply take the day off.

Other days are pretty busy, and a translator can end up working 10 or 12 hours. Urgent projects do happen, and I don’t say no to a good client of mine unless I really can’t help them.

What kind of projects do translators work on?

Not just novels or books! Literary translation is only one of the many areas translators can have, albeit the most famous one. I have never translated a book in my life and I don’t think I ever will.

I mainly do game localization projects and translate contents related to Forex/cryptocurrencies. A few years ago, creative translation and transcreation was also one of my main areas of business, but that has dried up a bit over the years.

My projects vary from 200 words (game updates, short emails to clients and the like) to 80,000 words (a whole crypto exchange website, or a brand new video game). The average project is around 3,000 words, more or less one full day of work.

Is translator a stressful job?

It depends a lot on who the clients are. Working 12 hour days at $ 0.03/word for specialized texts, then having to chase the client to get paid 90 days later, is stressful. Working on interesting projects at a fair rate, making a living from home while setting your own hours, is amazing.

If you want to be a translator, you need to know it’s an isolating job – you’ll spend a lot of time at home, your colleagues may live 12 hours away, and you don’t get many chances to socialize. Other than this, I’d say it’s pretty good.

Is being bilingual enough to be a translator?

No. All translators need to be fluent in two languages, their native tongue + a foreign one, but that’s just one of the requisites. They need to be good at researching terms and concepts online. They must have an eye for detail. And if they want to make good money, an area of expertise helps immensely.

Oh, of course they also have to be able to stick to deadlines. Money-managing skills are a must to stay in business when work is slow. And marketing is something most translators need to be somehow good at, even though most of us are actually introverts.

A bilingual with good writing skills and some business foundation can run a translation side hustle. If they want to level up and become a ‘real’ professional, though, they’ll have to work on their translation skills.

What do translators charge per word?

It depends on a lot of factors, mainly language pair, area of expertise and experience of the individual translator.

However, most translators charge something between $0.05 and $0.15 per word. There are exceptions of course, on both ends of the spectrum, but that’s what most professionals charge. Here is what they make instead.

Similar Posts