Going Freelance as a Translator

Going Freelance Unprepared

The prospect of graduating with a translation degree and immediately entering the market as a freelance translator, able to charge whatever price and work whatever hours you want, sounds tempting. Unfortunately, life is often not that simple. It may seem self-evident that being a freelance translator means relying entirely on your own resources, but this fact is often overlooked by young graduates, for a variety of reasons.

It may seem daunting to face another long period of time living abroad after graduating, and many graduates may be unwilling to undergo another year away from home. Becoming a freelancer, therefore, appears a lucrative alternative. Perhaps a graduate does indeed opt for an internship at a translation office, but erroneously chooses a bad company or has an otherwise bad experience on the first rung of the translation ladder. Any number of factors may drive a graduate to become a freelance translator before they are properly prepared, as freelance work could not be more different to that of university.

From a material perspective, it is almost compulsory for a freelance translator to invest in translation tools such as Trados and specialist dictionaries, not to mention a computer which can easily handle several programs running simultaneously for many hours at a time. Many will find their ageing university notebooks or laptops simply unable to cope, or will find that a larger monitor would much better facilitate working with several programs and windows.

From a professional perspective, a budding freelance translator may be tempted to constantly request proof-reading help and advice on lexical choice from his/her friends or foreign colleagues, in light of the non-existence of quality assurance systems guaranteed within a translation agency. This, however, is in no way a sustainable approach to translation. A freelance translator must rely on him/herself to find the best solutions and to hunt down all errors, as other people have their own work to do and do not wish to be frequently harassed or detained to sit and (metaphorically) hold a freelancer’s hand throughout a translation. This gives rise to a further point worthy of consideration: a translation graduate must be self-critical and analyse his/her strengths and weaknesses. There is no point in a freelance translator accepting a legal translation about contracts if he/she has absolutely no idea what a contract looks like. It is far wiser to either first choose to specialise in one particular subject or to gain sufficient professional experience in a translation agency, all the time supported by that agency’s quality control safety net, before diving into freelance work, the quality of which is the deciding factor in whether the client will return with more offers.

One final consideration is that although a student graduates with a translation degree, that student’s time at university will not in any way reflect the translation profession itself. Translation, as a profession, is one in which translators work under constant time pressure from multiple clients at the same time. University does not provide preparation for this, and graduates are strongly advised to take the time to gradually adapt to life as a translator instead of jumping in at the proverbial deep end and confronting the freelance market. Indeed, jumping in at the deep end may hide additional consequences: a novice freelance translator may celebrate the fact that he/she has quickly adapted to the workload by pushing him/herself too far and accepting too much work at once, thereby accidentally forcing him/herself to work abnormally long hours in order to avoid losing any clients. This, again, is not sustainable and does not end well.

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