Language and translation blog

Top tips for translation students (and all newcomers!).

Here are my top tips – followed by lots of great advice from other translators (scroll down to the quotes below)!


Work at a translation agency – yes, really.

Working at a translation agency will give you a good overview of what translation work is out there and help you decide on a specialisation. You might be surprised to find that there is a big demand in an area that really interests you.

You’ll probably also have the opportunity to read other translators’ work, learn about project management and customer service, and get used to the administrative tasks that have to be done. You’ll hopefully also be able to chat to other translators who are further on in their careers – and who are likely to be happy to give a few tips and tell a few stories.



Embrace free downloads and research technology

In an ideal world, your university would be providing top-quality courses that introduce you to CAT tools, voice recognition, and machine translation. But life isn’t always like that.

However, technology is an important aspect of the translation industry and it is very useful to know what options exist and how to use the products. Your future employers might even expect this, giving you a bonus on the job market.
So my advice would be to download the software (there are usually trial versions available), watch some YouTube videos, and get going. Of course, you may decide that some (or even all) of these products are not your thing. And that’s fine too. But that decision (for or against these technologies) will certainly shape your career. So it’s best to get informed while you’re still at university.



Join Facebook groups for translators

Facebook is a great place for getting an insight into professional discussions – about the future of translation, pricing, invoicing, client acquisition… you name it! The groups will give you an idea of what your future life as a translator could be like. This is particularly relevant for those of you hoping to go freelance – but the information and insights will be relevant whatever you end up doing later. Teachers at university frequently only work in academia and are therefore not usually the best source of information on the world of work outside of university.

Facebook groups are also used to advertise the occasional internship and post translation jobs (just watch out for companies expecting you to work for peanuts). So you can keep an eye out for that sort of thing as well.



Work on a specialisation (rediscover your second love)

Think about what area you would like to work in. What are your interests? Which other subjects did you consider studying? Do you have work experience in a different area?
Once you’ve made a decision you can keep a look out for workshops, conferences, and courses – that way you can work on becoming an expert in your field of choice and hopefully meet some potential clients along the way!
…Oh yeah, and if you’re lucky enough to live in a country where further education is free or at least cheap – take advantage of it!

Here are some more top tips from 12 other translators – with very different specialisations and language combinations! 


Know your worth. First by looking at what you could earn by doing other jobs, then by looking at how much you are earning for your clients. And then price your skills accordingly.


Keep honing your native language skills. Read books and newspapers, write for yourself or in forums/blogs/whatever, watch the news, ask people with more experience to proofread your translations, use every opportunity to gather feedback on your writing (real human feedback, not an agency’s machine QA), listen to high-quality radio broadcasts, be honest about your weaknesses and do something about them (e.g. have punctuation rules on hand if that’s something you struggle with), know your grammar and grammar terminology so you can look up tricky questions, practice justifying your translation decisions using adequate terminology (because you will be asked to do this, and while a gut feeling may be nice to have, a) it doesn’t always lead to correct decisions and b) it isn’t a very convincing source to quote when a client is questioning your choices or asking for explanations).


Invest in advertising – but never promise things you’re not sure you can handle!


Don’t undersell your skills.


Specialise. (Start on it right now.) Read voraciously. Write every single day. Find and engage with a mentor. Seek out a creative and experienced reviser. Treat those revisions like gold. Live in your source language country for at least a year, and ideally several years. Translation is a craft, so like all craftspeople, learn everything you can from those whose work you admire.

Here are 7 more in a post on the NCATA website clear back in (wait for it) 1997.

Re-posted last year on the Savvy Newcomer:


1) Sell a service and not just words. I.e. add value to your translations.

2) Give feedback to your clients, e.g. to help them improve the source text.

3) Network extensively, but not aggressively, because you never know who could need your translation services. Jobs are given to people known (80%, according to LinkedIn)

4) Aim to have different types of client, agencies and direct clients.

5) Dare to step outside your comfort zone occasionally – that will provide learning opportunities and enable you to develop your skills

6) Plan your work so you always can make time to help your preferred clients and/or have time for CPD, voluntary work, attending informal professional events and, last but not least, your family and hobbies!


Speak to your clients, not to your fellow translation colleagues, learn digital marketing, delegate whatever is not valuable for you, have a presence online, forge alliances, look for agencies/clients in tier 1 countries.


Keep track of the time you spend working (including admin), calculate how much you are making per hour, apply taxes and fixed costs, calculate your net rate per hour.


Read, read and read, both in your source and target language. Good books and other high-quality sources, FB et al don’t count. A subscription to the Financial Times or another similar publication is very valuable.


I’d recommend students look for temporary work or internships in the industries they wish to specialise in, or general formal business environments. I temped a lot as a student and it really helped me get to know the lay of the land.


Source language skills, especially for English-native speakers (who tend to skate by a bit…): don’t settle and assume because you got a first at university you’re now fluent and don’t need to learn. I got a first in German and nope, I would never have got to where I am now if I’d not worked on it. Find ways to get your brain thinking in that language as often as possible. For example, visit the source country and socialise there when you can, and visit relevant business events. Also look at opportunities for immersion even when you’re not in the country, e.g. by playing adventure/action-adventure games that force you to gather all information and interact (dialogue choices) using that language, or engaging in online communities.


Know your limits. Live in your source country. Watch and read everything, no matter the topic.


Specialise in topics you love and join clubs and networks where you will meet people who have those same interests but are probably not translators and who might give you work. That way you will really enjoy the translations you do – and that enjoyment will be evident in your translations.


A big thank you to everyone who contributed to this post!

Language and translation blog

Translation agency or freelancer? The pros and cons.

Top 3 advantages of translation agencies


  1. Multiple Languages. You need your text translating into many different languages. Translation agencies have a big database of external translators they work with. Often based all over the world. Looking for individual freelancers for all of these language combinations would take up too much of your time. An agency takes care of this administration for you.


  1. Dealing in bulk. You have a huge amount of text that needs to be translated within a short period of time. There is simply too much for a one-woman show. Sometimes a job has to be split up between different translators and an agency will have several translators working with the same language combination. This means that you won’t have to hunt for additional translators yourself – or ask your go-to translator to outsource or project manage. Something that individual translators may have little experience in or little time for – but that agencies specialise in. They have dedicated project managers for organising the translation of large projects.


  1. Speed. Agencies often have translators based in different time zones – so if you need something translating immediately, they will almost certainly find someone who will get the job done.




Top 3 disadvantages of translation agencies


  1. Cowboys. There are a good few cowboys out there. Agencies who use the CVs of talented translators to get a job, but give the work to less expensive ones. Agencies who promise proofreading by a native speaker, but give the job to the cheapest bidder. And those who deliver high quality translations initially, but later give the work to less experienced translators. It can take time to find out which of the agencies are the good guys.


  1. Less communication. It will not usually be possible to speak directly to the translator doing the work. The only option is to pass on messages through the agency. Equally, it is more difficult for the translator to contact you if they have any questions. So if you’re looking for a translator who you can work with directly, who will discuss the text with you and become part of the project, an agency is not the best option.


  1. Less personal. Rather than having one dedicated translator, whose style and working method you know, you are likely to have several different translators working on your texts. The relationship will be less personal and the new translators may not be aware of what makes your company tick – and what is important to you. Your own go-to translator will be more involved in the project, making them more likely to go the extra mile – pointing out inconsistencies, making suggestions and reading through the text that one last time.




Language and translation blog

Do I need a native speaker for my translation?

Is your answer to one of these four questions a yes? Then I’d say that a native speaker is the way to go*:


  1. Is it a marketing text? If you want a piece of writing that will push your customers’ emotional buttons, you need someone with an excellent feel for the language. Someone who understands all the nuances and connotations – as well as the culture in the target country. There are a few exceptions, but in most cases, a native speaker is the best bet.


  1. Will the text be printed? If the translation is going to be printed, there’s a good chance it’ll be around for the long run. Whether it’s an article, a book or slogan, this is a text that will be re-read. Readers also expect a higher level of quality from printed texts. Slightly odd Facebook posts might not be noticed – mistakes in a book will be. Your text needs to not only be accurate, but to flow and sound natural – as well as be a pleasure to read.


  1. Will it be read by other native speakers? If your readers are distracted by awkward language – or, at worst, cannot understand the translation easily – your message will not get across. Good writing skills are still a sign of professionalism and show that you take yourself seriously. If you’re aiming to attract an international readership, this isn’t something to cut corners on.


  1. Do you want to target a specific country? Different grammar, different expressions, different spellings. There are so many details (small and not so small) that make sure that your translation is at home in its country of publication (the USA? Britain? Canada? Australia..?). If this is important, your best option is a native speaker. They probably won’t know how to write any other way!



Is your answer to one of these four questions a yes? Then a non-native might be a better bet:


  1. Is it a legal text? In this case, a perfect understanding of complex sentences is vital – and an excellent knowledge of legal systems doesn’t hurt either. With legal texts it isn’t a problem if the sentences stick closely to the original. In fact, a similar sentence structure can be an advantage if people at a meeting are reading the text in different languages. The easier it is for everyone to find the same sentence, the better!


  1. Is it simply about communication? If your client has an important query, your priority will be to provide them with the right information as quickly as possible. If you have a native speaker on hand to get the job done, then great. But this certainly isn’t a must.


  1. Are the technical details more important than style? With a complex technical text, your priority will be to find someone who truly understands the content and is familiar with the terms in both languages. So your go-to translator might be a native speaker – or they might simply be a talented expert in the relevant field.


  1. Does your firm need internal documents translating? Finding a competent native speaker isn’t always easy or quick. And in this case, it’s important to find someone who is familiar with the company jargon. An internal translator may not be native – but they can make sure that office news hits those inboxes as quickly as possible.





*Of course there are always exceptions – some people are non-native but brilliant (you know who you are)!