How To Become A Freelance Translator In The USA

So, you want to be a freelance translator?

Here’s the brutal truth how to become a freelance translator:

There are WAY too many people in the world today that think “ to speak another language is enough to become a freelance translator”.

They say, “if I speak another foreign language, I can certainly offer freelance translation services”.

If only it were that easy…

If you’re serious about freelance translation services, you need to be a professional linguist, website designer & creator, and marketing manager.

Otherwise, you will waste your time, efforts and money.

Well, today I’m going to show you which skills every freelance translator needs in order to step into an exciting and challenging world of working at home with an infant, or in your pajamas (as some do) and being your own boss.

become freelance translator

The downside:

Freelancing in translation and localization industries is competitive. There are established freelance translators offering premium services, while some are barely charging at all. How can you fit in and make a living from freelance translation services?

Do you want to know my experience?

When I started out as a translator, I really knew nothing about the freelance career. Except how to translate and localize websites, which is what I’ve been doing since I graduated from the University. Instead of worrying about my vast knowledge shortfall, I only worried about one thing — how to find ways to learn and get better. Thankfully, a healthy combination of mishaps and triumphs during the first years taught me a great deal about how to achieve freelance success in translation and localization business.

Here is the wisdom:

Today it is very difficult to survive and even thrive in the competitive world of freelance translation and localization.

To succeed as a freelance translator, you have to be, first and foremost, a very good linguist and a translator. You should translate into your mother-tongue. As a native speaker, you have a more natural and practical knowledge of the various linguistic elements of your native language, such as semantics, syntax, morphology and lexicology than the translator who translates into a foreign language. In addition, you can render cultural elements such as proverbs, idioms, metaphors, collocations, swear words and others into proper equivalents in your mother tongue because you are born and bred in the culture into which you translate these culture-bound aspects.

freelance translator

Competition in translation and localization industry is becoming fierce. Your brilliant skills in translation won’t be enough to make a successful career in translation sector. There is a host of other essential skills you need in your locker… How many have you got?

Tweet What skills every translator should develop

Don’t even think about becoming a freelance translator unless you have these 4 essential skills

freelance translator

1. Technical skills
Having a professional freelance translator website is an absolute necessity. A great website can simultaneously operate as a marketing tool, a store platform, a display of works and skills, a communication channel and as an engine for branding. Of course, you can hire web developers who will help you launch a website. I would not advise you to do so. I would strongly recommend you to take some web-building courses, purchase a few books or just keep reading blogs on how to launch and keep web-sites. As a freelance translator you have to build your own business and empire and you will have to keep your website daily updated.

Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you: today there is no need to know coding to build fetching web pages from scratch. You can create your own unique web presence by going for a plain WordPress blog with a ready-made theme. All you will have to do is just to look for images from stock resources, edit them with Canva and upload to your website.

2. Marketing skills
When you launched a website, you need to dress it in a smart way. Like with technical skills, you will have to master marketing ones as well. And there is a wide range of options for this: you can either enroll in the courses, purchase books or study online free resources. What should you learn to do?
First of all, develop your freelance translator marketing strategy, carry out keyword research, i.e. find the keywords which will bring your prospects to your website.

Start blogging on the topics you are an expert and with relevant keywords in translation business. Create social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin). Each has their advantages as well as their drawbacks. No matter which platform you go with, take the time to master them because you will want to be active in order to have any success. If you choose Facebook or LinkedIn, you should consider joining several of the groups they offer. Pick the ones that your client base would likely be involved with and then become active. Ask thoughtful questions, give helpful answers whenever someone needs one. No matter which platform you join, you will be able to post updates anytime you publish a blog post on your website. Be sure to write an enticing blurb, provide a link and a photo. This will get people clicking off the social site and onto your blog where you can get them to subscribe to your newsletter.

3. Time management skills
Time management is one of the necessary significant skills to be possessed by a freelancer translator so as maintain a productive work schedule. Most importantly, this skill is associated with creating estimates of work that you are going to do. As a freelancer translator, you have to impress your clients by providing timely delivery of work. Therefore, you have to estimate how much and what type of task you can perform within a particular time.

It is essential to know how you spend your time. That may seem obvious, but how many times have you sat down at your computer only to get up two hours later without having done what you set out to do? E-mail and web browsing can be real time-sinks. A good way to get a handle on how you spend your time is to install an application tracking program on your computer. These let you know which applications and websites you have open and how much time you have spent on them. This information can be a real eye opener and good time management doesn’t get much easier than that.

4. Customer service skills
As a freelancer translator, when you bid for a project there are probably at least five, possibly ten other highly skilled translators bidding for the same work. A few years ago your price and your portfolio were the most important factors in winning work, today it isn’t strictly true. Today the price isn’t a large factor in most business decisions. What truly matters is the customer support. Great customer service delivers a great working relationship, and it’s relationships upon which quotes are accepted and invoices are paid. It’s not your translation or localization project, but rather the relationships you build that put money in your bank account.

How to Become a successful freelance translator

The first thing I tell people who want to know how to become a translator is to get some sort of accreditation or certification. Having credentials provides documentation that you have the skills required to translate or localize professionally. Many universities offer advanced degrees and professional certifications in translation, and provide courses where you will learn the above mentioned skills and knowledge. I have prepared a list of Top U.S. translation schools for your reference:

Adelphi University (ADELPHI)

Adelphi is a place of opportunity where students gain the skills, knowledge and exposure to thrive as professionals and active citizens in an interconnected and fast-paced global society. Adelphi prides itself on a distinguished 120-year history.
Adelphi students are making their mark across academic fields and country borders. They have been recruited to leading universities for graduate work and to premier global companies, such as Google, to pursue rewarding careers.

American University (AU)

AU offers Graduate and Undergraduate certificates in translation for Spanish, French, German and Russian.

Boston University

Boston University’s Department of World Languages & Literatures is an intellectually vibrant and collegial community of scholars engaged in teaching and research about literature, film, and media culture in more than a dozen languages. The Department offers cutting-edge, communication-based instruction in Arabic, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University aims to educate students who will have language skills. The linguistic department offers programs of study (Linguistics, TESOL, English Language, Editing, and computing technologies).

City University of New York

Skilled instructors have the educational background and the real-world experience to best prepare you for work in this exciting and growing field. The courses run at night from the convenient Manhattan location and the program can be completed in a year. This is a non-credit certificate program. Institutional Member: American Translators Association, Society of Medical Interpreters. Fluency in both English and Spanish is needed, including strong writing skills in both languages.

Columbia University in the City of New York

Literary Translation at Columbia (LTAC), a component of the Columbia University MFA Writing Program, offers Writing students the opportunity to pursue coursework in literary translation as part of their studies. LTAC is not a formal translator-training program; rather, it was created out of the belief that an encounter with literary translation is beneficial to a writer’s development and imagination, while conversely the skills involved in writing well are also essential for translation. LTAC offers workshops, seminars and master classes in literary translation each semester that are open to all students enrolled in the Writing Program, as well as to students in other graduate programs on campus when space allows.

Durham Technical Community College

The course is designed to improve the quality of Spanish to English and English to Spanish translation. Emphasis is on the practice of translating English to Spanish in a variety of prose styles. Upon completion, students should be able to demonstrate usage and understanding of the processes involved in translating. Additionally, students will be introduced to sight translation, the oral interpretation of a written text from one language to another.

Institute for Applied Linguistics, College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State University (IAL)

The curricula provide a firm foundation in translation studies and translation practice for students in Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish while the Ph.D. program provides advanced training in translation studies and language informatics.

Department of Comparative Literature, Indiana University (IU)

Founded in 1949, Indiana University’s Department of Comparative Literature is one of the oldest and most comprehensive in the United States. The department have pioneered developments that have helped to move the discipline beyond its origins in European literary and intellectual traditions, and, with the cooperation of colleagues in other departments and programs, they now stand at the crossroads of the humanities, providing the students with a rich and illuminating range of approaches to literary study.

Kennesaw State University (KSU)

The team of globally active teachers and scholars in the Department of Foreign Languaes invites you to explore and to become proficient in one or more of the fascinating languages, cultures, and literatures of (in alphabetical order) Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Monterey Institute of International Studies, Graduate School of Translation & Interpretation (MIIS)

The Institute offers professional graduate programs, certificate and short-term programs, as well as a wide variety of language learning options. We educate and prepare students to be global changemakers.

Michigan State University (MSU)

The Department of English at Michigan State University (MSU) offers M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in literary, cultural, and film studies. Our programs seek to promote innovative approaches to the study of literature, culture, and film that cut across traditional periods and national and disciplinary boundaries. Comprised of a diverse faculty who publish in literary, cultural, visual, and ethnic studies, the Department of English fosters rigorous intellectual exchange in and out of the classroom, as well as with scholars from other universities through our Speaker Series and annual Critical Institutions Symposium.

Kalamazoo College (KZOO)

Kalamazoo College is dedicated not only to international education and study abroad but also to proficiency in a second language. All students consequently are required to demonstrate at least an intermediate level proficiency in a language other than English. Kalamazoo College regularly offers Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin and Spanish.

Northern Illinois University

The department offers Highly engaged and well-published faculty, Undergraduate Majors in French, German, and Spanish, Teacher Licensure in French, German, and Spanish, Minors in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish, Courses in Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Portuguese, Tagalog, Thai, Two active collegiate honor societies, Popular Gen Ed courses, Graduate Studies in Spanish, Graduate Certificates in German, Spanish and Foreign Language Instructional Technology

Northeastern State University

The Department of Languages and Literature seeks to provide its students with a variety of strong, effective liberal arts academic programs in several undergraduate majors and minors, in general education courses, in its participation in interdisciplinary programs, and in graduate studies. In addition, the department offers certificates in English as a Second Language and Writing Program Administration, and provides courses in other languages of scholarly interest, including French, German, Greek, Japanese, Latin, and Russian.

New York University – School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU)

For more than eight decades, the NYU School of Professional Studies has provided comprehensive, professionally oriented educational experiences to students from the New York metropolitan area, across the country, and around the globe.
What makes the learning experience at the NYU School of Professional Studies so unique is the ongoing connection to the financial, civic, and cultural facets of New York City. Academic offerings reflect thriving NYC industries. Classroom learning experiences are supplemented by field trips and networking events that incorporate the City’s diverse resources. The School’s students join a learning community that is truly “In and of the City.”

By | 2017-05-25T14:27:20+00:00 January 5th, 2017|

About the Author:

Translator & localization specialist, Wordpress website developer, SEO and online marketing expert. Able to develop and shape your company's voice and style in Russian & Ukrainian to ensure that it’s clear, accessible, and culturally relevant for your customers and partners throughout the Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking world.

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