As anticipated in my last article, in the next few weeks I will be tackling what I think are the five main issues that ‘newbies’ face when they decide to start a freelance career in the translation and interpreting industry. These are the issues I identified when preparing my seminar Moving the first steps in the translation industry, which was intended for translation students or graduates, or for professionals with linguistic skills who are stepping into translation from a completely different industry.
This first article will be dedicated to what I believe is the first issue that newbies face: the lack of experience.
I guess that the no experience – no work cycle is something you’re all quite familiar with: for almost any professional job you need experience. But no one is willing to give you the opportunity to build that experience.
It’s a vicious cycle, and it can make you feel very frustrated. However, if this cycle were unbreakable, no one would have jobs, right? So let’s see how to get out of this spiral.
As said above, I am assuming that if you’re starting a freelance career in the translation industry, you either studied or are studying translation. Or maybe you decided to change careers completely and apply your previous, specialised knowledge to translation. This means that you DO have some kind of experience.
Think of all the texts you have translated during your years at university. All the hours spent training in the booth. Think of any on-the-job training you might have done, such as mock conferences for interpreters. Or, if you come from another industry, all the years spent as an engineer or a marketing specialist. That is valuable experience. It’s marketable.
Since translation requires knowledge of specific subject areas, any job you might have had before entering this world could be really valuable if you want to show that you have experience in that field. Think, for example, of someone who has worked in a fashion retail outlet for a few years and decides to move into translation for the retail or fashion industry. Potential clients will value your previous experience in that sector, because it means you have deep, hands-on knowledge of that sector.
Finally, experiences abroad, such as work or Erasmus placements, are extremely valuable: when you live in a foreign country you get to know its culture and its language intimately, and this is crucial in translation and interpreting.
When you approach a potential client, highlight these experiences, but more importantly the skills that you acquired through them. Let them know that you have the right skill set to help them with their translation or interpreting needs.
If you wish to earn more practical experience, I believe there are two main ways to do so.
The first one is through an internship program in a company, organisation or translation agency. International organisations, such as the United Nations and the European Union, offer internship programs for translator and interpreters. There are also many translation agencies that offer internships for students and recent graduates. Not all internships are paid, unfortunately, and it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re willing to work for free to gain experience.
The second way is volunteering: however, be careful here, as volunteering doesn’t mean exploitation. Do some research to see if the people you’ll be volunteering for are ‘worth it’. If they’re a for-profit organisation, working pro bono is not the right thing to do: for-profit organizations should pay for their translation or interpreting services, even if they support a very good cause. If the organization is genuinely not for profit, then go for it. You’ll build experience and you’ll contribute to a cause. These organisations usually reimburse your travel, accommodation and board expenses if you’re an interpreter. Here are a few examples of not-for-profit organisations that require interpreters and translators from time to time:
- La Via Campesina, which often organises international conferences and meetings.
- The Agape Ecumenical Centre, which organises international political and theological camps every summer in Italy.
- Translators Without Borders, which is always on the lookout for volunteers. For example, there is currently a high demand for Arabic, Pashto, Greek and Farsi/Dari speakers to help tackle the European Refugee Crisis.
- Translators4Children, an organisation of translators and doctors helping children in need.
- More volunteer opportunities can be found on the Facebook group Babelistas.
With inexperience, unfortunately, comes vulnerability. Quite often, just because you’re inexperienced, you’d do anything just to start working. But you have to know where to stop, otherwise you’ll fall into a trap and you will compromise your future career.
Here are some of the traps that newbies fall into and that should be avoided.
As I said before, volunteering can be a really good thing, but beware for whom you’re doing it. If a wealthy company gets professional translation or interpretation services for free, then why should others pay for the same services? This kind of reasoning would eventually lead to a collapse of the whole industry.
Rates can also be a source of exploitation: just because you’re inexperienced doesn’t mean that your hard work is worth close to nothing. Accepting low rates devalues your work and everything you’ve done to build your knowledge. Besides this, you’ll be ruining the market for everyone. If there are good translators who work for peanuts, agencies and direct clients will get used to having good quality at a low price. But eventually, you may become frustrated because you can’t live off your work, and the quality of it will be affected, as will your reputation.
The same goes for working conditions: being paid after six months, accepting to work incessantly night and day because of impossible deadlines, doing simultaneous interpreting alone, just to name a few examples, are all things that will have an impact on the quality of your work and ultimately your reputation.
Finally, and this is a point that I will also stress in my next articles, not researching can result in terrible situations. You should research your potential clients. You should research the market you’ll be working in. You should research what the ethics of the industry are. Failing to do so could result in the possibility of not getting paid, or not receiving projects because you and your client work in different sectors or at different standards. It could result in working against the “health” of the translation industry.
There are a lot of very interesting articles covering the topic of inexperience traps. Here are some very good examples that I’d prompt you to read:
- Twelve traps newbie translators fall into by Rose Newell
- 12 mistakes “less experienced” freelance translators often make in their business by Tess Whitty
- How to ruin your translation business by Audra de Falco
My final thought is: knowledge is the key to avoiding these traps. And knowledge will indeed be the main topic of the next article.
How do you sell your experience or build it if you don’t have it? Which traps did you encounter along your journey and how did you avoid them? Leave a comment below to share your personal experience and thoughts!