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!

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