Getting started as a translator, How do i do that?

Starting out as a translator can be quite overwhelming, there is a lot to learn and to take into account. In order to give beginning translators some guidance, we asked our in-house translator Dide to write about her experiences starting out, and to give some tips to new translators.


There are many paths to becoming a translator, and many blogs, tips and lists identifying the five, seven or ten things you should do to make that journey easier. However, whilst these tips are good, and we’ll be giving some of our own, remember that each story is unique and you can make it even without following any of the advice. Like I did, for example.

You first need to ask yourself what kind of translator you’d like to be: freelance or in-house, part-time or full-time, written translation or film and audio subtitling, translation or interpretation and so on, to suit your character and the lifestyle you want to lead. Some translator tips will apply to all types of translation, but a fork in the road will come where the tips diverge.

The most common route is to study languages at university and then get special certificates in translation, such as an MA in translation or other certificates. An MA like most masters, provides the opportunity to network, make translator friends who might refer jobs to you in the future, as well as meet those hiring.

But how do you get to this point if you haven’t studied languages at university?

My personal experience getting started:

Because I grew up bilingual and have lived in different countries I have knowledge of quite a few different languages before I went into translation. Though I could get by in many languages, and still can, I decided that I would mostly focus on two languages. So I translate from German and French into English, although I have also occasionally translated from Turkish into English too.

After training myself independently and getting some qualifications to prove my levels, I started doing paid freelance work alongside my then-actual job. I found the majority of these via a freelance translation website, as well as speculatively emailing translation companies. If you want more work though, you need to be quick at accepting work when it is sent to you as there are a lot of freelancers looking for translation jobs. Having said that, the companies I freelanced for generally didn’t have much work left over from their in-house teams, so the work was irregular. This is why I then applied for a part-time in-house role, so that I would have more regular work and therefore a more regular income to finance my life.

I had, however, already had experience as a publishing editor, teacher and writer, and these jobs had relied on my language skills without directly requiring them. This also meant that I had considerable experience in developing a keen eye for detail, using different style guides, and generally having a good grasp of grammar, lexis, syntax, culture and context. So when I started getting regular translation freelance jobs, I had some experience to build on. I knew that I wanted to work remotely and part-time, which meant that I decided to leave my previous job. It wasn’t want I had wanted long-term, as I didn’t want to live in or commute to a city, and I needed more time to focus on other side projects/careers. The other thing I knew was that I wanted work to be more regular than the freelance work I was getting. I still get freelance work offers, but I have been ignoring them for many years, so I receive them less and less. Nevertheless, this shows that, usually, once you are in a client’s freelance base, you will remain there for a while.

My tips for translators starting out

Firstly, I want to mention that such recommendations are likely to be subjective. For instance, some translators would highly recommend you become a member of a translation association, do a training course on a CAT tool, and start marketing yourself ferociously through social media, websites and blogs. Of course, it is important for translation companies to know you exist to offer you work. The tips I have listed are what I, personally and subjectively, think are important for every translator, no matter where they are in their career – at the start, middle or veering towards the end.


As I briefly mentioned earlier , clients and employers tend to look for translators who specialise in a specific topic. Or another way of putting this is that specialised translators might initially find it easier to get work from companies or individuals specialising in their area of specialisation, for example, medical translation companies hiring translators with medical experience. Though such specialisation will make it easier for you to find work and is something to consider whilst you are training, it is not necessary. I had experience in many different fields and therefore wasn’t necessarily a specialist in one field. I had experience in editing and translating literary, academic, advertising, marketing, legal, technical, automotive, transportation, travel, logistics, luxury, retail, medical, engineering, scientific and governmental, texts. However, interestingly, throughout the years working part-time in-house for my current employer, I became their in-house specialist in the legal field, although I still translate advertising/marketing and technical texts the most. I’m not quite sure why and how my specialisation came about, perhaps because the other in-house translator(s) already specialised in automotive texts, there was more need in my languages for the sorts of texts I was given. But the point I am trying to make is that specialisation will likely happen at some time for you in your life as a translator. But that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to only translate documents from your field of specialisation, even though you will probably do that the most. As I said, I translate whatever I am given, and sometimes it’s in a field that the client thinks is my specialisation and sometimes it isn’t. Recently, for example, I’ve been really enjoying translating content about green energy technology.

Gain Experience:

As I’ve also mentioned, try to gain experience, paid or not. I had irregular paid translation experience before I decided I wanted to work as a translator (rather than doing the odd job here and there for extra cash). This made it much easier for me to get a consistent part-time paid job, which allows me to do other things that are important for me at the same time. Experience is therefore important both in terms of your CV (in attracting the job that you want) and in terms of personal growth and development. So whether it’s volunteering to translate at events for free or checking out what your university might offer if you’re still studying, or just informally interpreting and translating for friends and family, start gaining experience.

Keep improving and learning

Practice makes perfect. And without practice, any skill will gradually recede. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep reading, writing, listening and speaking in your learnt languages. If you live in the middle of nowhere and there’s no-one around to speak and write to, there are still other ways to practice these skills, such as through online conversation or by having a pen-pal. Even if you don’t really have time for this, you could nevertheless read an article, an Instagram post, a book in your learnt languages, listen to podcasts and music in those languages, or watch films and documentaries in those languages, with or without subtitles. I think it’s probably a good idea to watch with and without subtitles, so you vary your subtitle use. This is because it’s good to see what you understand without the subtitles, but since words can be translated in different ways and be equally good, it’s useful for you to see how other people translate. Another common exercise that many translators do is to compare different translations. This will help you further realize the different ways in which a similar idea can be expressed, whilst honing your own skills.

Consuming native content in your learnt languages is important too as you truly understand how people of that language communicate, why they choose the words they do, and how best those words can be expressed in your native language. It’s also advised to make it a habit to consult the dictionary, so that you have it by your side when you’re reading in your learnt language for fun, or when you’re translating professionally. Reading and learning in this way can help you improve, but it can also be useful in terms of teaching yourself to incorporate dictionaries into your own professional practise, especially as synonyms for a particular word might then come to you quicker.

What it comes down to is: the more you spend with your learnt languages, the quicker translation will be for you, and the easier it is to notice little details that you might have otherwise missed.

Practice your own native language

I am sometimes asked to assess translations from translators applying to work as freelancers for my employer, , and I am much less likely to pick or favorably grade a translator who hasn’t mastered their own native language, or even someone who has but is sloppy and careless about it. So make sure that you are an expert in your own language, in terms of grammar and vocabulary of course, but also in terms of naturalness, context, tone and register, to name a few. Because the job of translation is not just literally translating from one language into another, but to make it sound and read in a natural and appropriate way.

These are just a few tips I think could help translators starting out, but there are many routes to translating professionally and successfully, so please don’t feel like something is closed off for you because you didn’t follow the usual route. If you have the characteristics and skills of a translator, and gain experience, you will eventually find the job you’re looking for. Good luck!

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