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Starting up as a translator directly after University
Thread poster: Marc Fisher

Ben Harrison  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:42
Member (2013)
German to English
Networking is key Jun 17

It took me about six months of doing a part-time job on the side before I could fully make my living from translation after I started out straight after finishing my MA in 2013, but I did have a couple of years of relevant work experience beforehand, plus it was in easier economic times than now.

I got a very lucky break when I went to a translators' conference in Germany in my first year though. I just happened to be sat next to another translator on the plane who was going to the
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It took me about six months of doing a part-time job on the side before I could fully make my living from translation after I started out straight after finishing my MA in 2013, but I did have a couple of years of relevant work experience beforehand, plus it was in easier economic times than now.

I got a very lucky break when I went to a translators' conference in Germany in my first year though. I just happened to be sat next to another translator on the plane who was going to the same conference who knew somebody else who was going there specifically to recruit new translators in my language pair! That client went on to be my main source of work for years afterwards.

I definitely recommend finding the most suitable conference or networking event for your language pair and going there, you never know what might come out of it.
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WS McCallum
Dan Lucas
Rachel Waddington
Cecilia Conte
Kay Denney
 

WS McCallum
New Zealand
Local time: 05:42
French to English
Response Jun 18

Hello Marc,

In reply to your question "Are these very common, I can't say that I have come across a large number of these roles bar SDL and the EU and UN traineeships?"

They are less common than they were (hence my earlier remark about dinosaurs) and approaching the employers directly is advisable.



PS: In your earlier quotation you attributed the following remarks to me but I didn't write them:

"I would recommend seeking some typ
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Hello Marc,

In reply to your question "Are these very common, I can't say that I have come across a large number of these roles bar SDL and the EU and UN traineeships?"

They are less common than they were (hence my earlier remark about dinosaurs) and approaching the employers directly is advisable.



PS: In your earlier quotation you attributed the following remarks to me but I didn't write them:

"I would recommend seeking some type of work as an in-house translator for a firm or organisation - any kind will do. This will enable you to become a translator who is specialised in a particular field.

Specialising in a particular field is essential for the successful translator."

I am of the opposite opinion: as a beginner who wants to become a freelancer, you should seek to work in as many fields as possible. The wider your professional experience, the more likely it is you will be able to survive on the market.
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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:42
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Not so Jun 18

WS McCallum wrote:
I am of the opposite opinion: as a beginner who wants to become a freelancer, you should seek to work in as many fields as possible. The wider your professional experience, the more likely it is you will be able to survive on the market.

I think this is a mischaracterisation of the argument for specialising.

Two points.

First, if clients repeatedly overlook you because you're a generalist, which is by definition where the competition is greatest and differentiation is most difficult to achieve, then you will struggle to survive (and we see all too many freelancers bewailing their lot in this forum, so the problem is a fairly common one). It's not as if Jack-of-all-trades are in short supply, is it? In any industry, differentiation is key unless you have a business model that relies on high volumes to drive down costs and give you an edge in pricing, and that's not really relevant to freelance translators.

Second, there is an implied false dichotomy in your comments. The choice is not between "specialist" OR "generalist". You can certainly be a specialist in a specific area while taking on general work. To put it another way, acquiring a potent specialisation does not necessarily mean turning down work in areas other than those in which you specialise. It means, as I pointed out earlier in the thread, that you have a particular competitive advantage in certain fields that, if presented effectively, attracts the attention of clients.

I don't sit here in an ivory tower refusing offers of work because they're not related to finance or automotive; if the rate is acceptable I will tackle most things. Moreover, I have found that once I established myself as competent and reliable in my area of specialisation, existing clients started to ask "Oh, can you do...?" in other areas. Mutual trust is a mighty weapon, but you can't start building that until you get your foot in the door with the client.

Regards,
Dan


Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Sheila Wilson
Rachel Waddington
Josephine Cassar
Arkadiusz Jasiński
Jorge Payan
Sandra & Kenneth Grossman
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:42
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Why would a client pay much for a job that thousands of others claim to be able to do for little? Jun 18

WS McCallum wrote:
I am of the opposite opinion: as a beginner who wants to become a freelancer, you should seek to work in as many fields as possible. The wider your professional experience, the more likely it is you will be able to survive on the market.

Apart from agreeing with everything Dan says on the subject, I'd add that a lot depends on your language combinations. If you work in a fairly rare pair then it pays to make it known that you can tackle pretty much everything. You'll be charging a premium rate for every translation anyway, so you can afford to pay for help with terminology problems. Effectively, you're specialising in that language combination.

For two of the world's most common translation pairs, I believe you absolutely have to be a specialist in just a few subject areas. There are so many qualified and experienced translators in those pairs, plus all the ones with no qualifications or experience but who have just as much right to quote for jobs. The "general" jobs will always go to the lowest, seemingly capable, bidder. If you really want to demand sensible rates, you need to go after the jobs that Jo Bloggs who speaks two languages can't hope to tackle well. That means promoting your services as a specialist in that sector. Nothing stops you then taking on jobs in totally different subject areas if you feel you can handle them. I, for example, market my services exclusively as a translator of persuasive marketing texts, but I've translated very many general business documents, some technical texts, etc. I don't recall many as my CV only includes those jobs that are relevant to my marketing message.


Rachel Waddington
Jorge Payan
Kay Denney
 

Joe France  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:42
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
Clarification Jun 18

At this point in the conversation, I think I'd like to clarify something I wrote earlier. I said that specialising was "overrated".

What I was trying to convey was the idea that it's possible to start off without having an absolute wealth of knowledge in one specific area - that you don't need a specialisation at the start. It's also possible to carve out your own niche along the way.

Dan is absolutely correct that "differentiation is key" - but I think that, from the
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At this point in the conversation, I think I'd like to clarify something I wrote earlier. I said that specialising was "overrated".

What I was trying to convey was the idea that it's possible to start off without having an absolute wealth of knowledge in one specific area - that you don't need a specialisation at the start. It's also possible to carve out your own niche along the way.

Dan is absolutely correct that "differentiation is key" - but I think that, from the perspective of someone who also joined this site as a newbie a few years ago, there are a lot of voices that give the impression it is utterly impossible to find reputable and respectable clients who pay fair rates without industry experience in a given field. I've seen for myself that that isn't the case.

Having decades of experience working in the finance/legal/construction sector will certainly carry a lot of weight with clients. Such experience undoubtedly beefs up your credentials and gives you a depth of knowledge that other translators will lack. At the same time, there are hundreds of graduates in their early/mid-20s leaving university in the UK with degrees in languages and translation, and I think it is unfair and misleading to suggest they aren't equipped to work as a translator. It's just a question of knowing your limits and being committed to learning as you go; it's a different career path.

By no means am I trying to mischaracterise anybody's words, but the discussions in these forums sometimes give the impression that industry experience is nigh-on essential. I am trying to offer a counterbalance, based on my own experience.

Of course, DE>EN is a more lucrative language pair than FR/ES>EN, I don't deny that. As you note, Shiela, the competition in these common pairs is fierce. I'm just trying to open up the big picture.
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Dan Lucas
Chris S
 

WS McCallum
New Zealand
Local time: 05:42
French to English
Point scoring Jun 19

Dan; no need to turn me into your straw man. Learning the general ropes at entry level does not preclude one from becoming a specialist later on. But if one becomes a specialist too soon, does not know how to do other things, and then loses one’s specialist client or clients, well you get the picture….

Sheila - Marc wants to translate French, so talking about “rare pairs” is off-topic at best. The assumption that you can charge a premium rate for such pairs depends on your a
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Dan; no need to turn me into your straw man. Learning the general ropes at entry level does not preclude one from becoming a specialist later on. But if one becomes a specialist too soon, does not know how to do other things, and then loses one’s specialist client or clients, well you get the picture….

Sheila - Marc wants to translate French, so talking about “rare pairs” is off-topic at best. The assumption that you can charge a premium rate for such pairs depends on your and your client’s location and the language direction. There are plenty of general translators in the world who are getting along fine, so I find it difficult to lend much credence to your broad generalisations.

This thread is not about oneupmanship: Marc needs practical information; not point-scoring.
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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:42
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Wow! Point scoring??? Jun 19

WS McCallum wrote:
This thread is not about oneupmanship: Marc needs practical information; not point-scoring.

Well, it's nice to know we agree on one thing, anyway.


DZiW (X)
Dan Lucas
Beatriz Ramírez de Haro
 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:42
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Tell me yours Jun 19

WS McCallum wrote:
Dan; no need to turn me into your straw man.

It was not my intention to deploy a straw man argument, but I shall leave it to others to decide whether I did or not.

But if one becomes a specialist too soon, does not know how to do other things, and then loses one’s specialist client or clients, well you get the picture….

Well, no, not really. I still don't think there is such as thing as "too soon" in relation to developing a specialisation. I would argue that the number one problem we see on the forum is freelancers - often young or newly graduated - failing to find enough work at rates that will keep body and soul together. It's a pernicious problem and I believe specialisation can (and usually does) help.

Yes, I agree that you may lose a specialist client, just as you may lose a general client, but that doesn't leave you any worse off than before. On the contrary, you will have likely obtained better rates and more useful experience by dealing with that specialist. Of course, the idea is to gain many specialist clients within your niche, as well as any generalists you can pick up.

And as for "not knowing how to do other things", the whole point about general translation is that it does not require any particular knowledge, which is why generalist freelancers run the risk of being seen as fungible (and hence lower-value) elements in the process.

I personally have been an outspoken advocate of would-be freelancers giving up on the idea of translation and using their linguistic skills to work in a different industry for ten years or so. I believe that ideally they should come to translation only when they have a solid base of marketable skills or knowledge outside translation. That, to my mind, is a form of "knowing how to do other things" that has real value.

This is my truth, and you have already told me yours.
Now Marc has heard both sides speak, and defend their arguments.

Regards,
Dan


Sheila Wilson
Jorge Payan
Beatriz Ramírez de Haro
 

WS McCallum
New Zealand
Local time: 05:42
French to English
Adversarial approach Jun 19

"This is my truth, and you have already told me yours. Now Marc has heard both sides speak, and defend their arguments."

Dan, I am finding your adversarial approach to giving career advice rather over the top, to put it mildly. This is not a court room. My original passing comment made was simply because Marc misquoted me and cut and pasted someone else's opinion with mine.

Telling poor old Marc to buzz off for 10 years and do something else is not really going to get
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"This is my truth, and you have already told me yours. Now Marc has heard both sides speak, and defend their arguments."

Dan, I am finding your adversarial approach to giving career advice rather over the top, to put it mildly. This is not a court room. My original passing comment made was simply because Marc misquoted me and cut and pasted someone else's opinion with mine.

Telling poor old Marc to buzz off for 10 years and do something else is not really going to get him into the profession.

That is all.
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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:42
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
It's called the marketplace of ideas Jun 21

WS McCallum wrote:
Dan, I am finding your adversarial approach to giving career advice rather over the top, to put it mildly.

The ProZ.com forum is a place to share opinions, and to have them tested. Repeating the consensus helps nobody. I am not in any way attempting to discourage you from expressing your thoughts - indeed, they provide a useful counterpoint - but there is nothing wrong with pointing out they may not be convincing in all respects.

This is kind of important. Just as a reminder, you are advising someone on their future career. Marc and others like him deserve more from the veterans here on the forum than a tacit agreement not to challenge each other's views - not to be "adversarial", in other words.

Telling poor old Marc to buzz off for 10 years and do something else is not really going to get him into the profession.

Yes, that is correct, it's not going to get him into the profession, and there's nothing wrong with that. If he doesn't have the tool set to allow him to avoid the soul-killing drudgery implicit in the lower reaches of the freelance translation market, he should think very carefully about whether he should jump in or not.

Ultimately, there are many ways to succeed. Your approach evidently worked for you, and mine worked for me. Others have different stories. What matters is that they are heard, and that members (particularly the younger ones) have a chance to evaluate them.

Cordially yours,
Dan

EDIT Incidentally, "this is my truth, tell me yours" was a phrase apparently often used by Aneurin Bevan when, after giving his own view on an issue, he would invite others to change his mind. It was a signal that he was open to being persuaded, not that he was adversarial. Perhaps I should have spelled that out.

[Edited at 2020-06-21 19:11 GMT]


Jorge Payan
Sandra & Kenneth Grossman
 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Fact check ;-) Jun 21

WS McCallum wrote:
My original passing comment made was simply because Marc misquoted me and cut and pasted someone else's opinion with mine.

Actually, if you check, he didn’t, lol.

I stand somewhere between you and Dan. Industry experience can obviously help in some ways but will often be too specific. In practice, a translator will need a broader knowledge than you are likely to gain in your decade in industry. Ten years as a car windscreen fitter won’t make you a better translator of car engine specs, and automotive translations specifically relating to windscreens may be in short supply. It also won’t prepare you for the linguistic aspects of translation, which shouldn’t be forgotten.



[Edited at 2020-06-21 19:34 GMT]


Jorge Payan
 

WS McCallum
New Zealand
Local time: 05:42
French to English
Fact checking Jun 22

Chris S wrote:

WS McCallum wrote:
My original passing comment made was simply because Marc misquoted me and cut and pasted someone else's opinion with mine.

Actually, if you check, he didn’t, lol.




[Edited at 2020-06-21 19:34 GMT]


Chris S - He did in fact. If it may please the Court, I submit the following 3 items of evidence:


1. My original message

In-house employment 16 Jun


Hello Marc,

I was where you are a long time ago. My advice may be greeted with howls of derision and comments about the last of the dinosaurs etc., but consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department: you will get to see how the profession works from the inside and will have mentors. All too many freelancers these days have no agency or office experience; they are good places for picking up the practical skills you will need and gaining specialist knowledge, whilst providing a regular income as you learn the ropes.

2. Tom in London’s response - 16 June

Get a job 16 Jun

“WS McCallum wrote:
.....consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department....”


I would recommend seeking some type of work as an in-house translator for a firm or organisation - any kind will do. This will enable you to become a translator who is specialised in a particular field.

Specialising in a particular field is essential for the successful translator.


3. March Fisher’s conflation of the two - 16 June

@all 16 Jun

Many thanks for all the replies, they have been invaluable.

I will look for either an in-house role or traineeship, or failing that, a graduate scheme in another field that interests me for Sept 2021.

Tom in London wrote:

WS McCallum wrote:
.....consider getting a position in a translation agency or a large company or government organisation with a translation department....
I would recommend seeking some type of work as an in-house translator for a firm or organisation - any kind will do. This will enable you to become a translator who is specialised in a particular field.
Specialising in a particular field is essential for the successful translator.


Are these very common, I can't say that I have come across a large number of these roles bar SDL and the EU and UN traineeships?

I rest my case Milud.


 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Er... Jun 22

WS McCallum wrote:
Chris S - He did in fact.

No, he didn’t. Rachel Waddington did, but Marc Fisher didn’t. Case dismissed.

[Edited at 2020-06-22 13:36 GMT]


Jorge Payan
 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:42
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Er .. Jun 22

Chris S wrote:

WS McCallum wrote:
Chris S - He did in fact.

No, he didn’t. Rachel Waddington did, but Marc Fisher didn’t. Case dismissed.

[Edited at 2020-06-22 13:36 GMT]



What did I do? Are you saying I misquoted someone? Confused ...


 

Richard Purdom  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 18:42
Dutch to English
+ ...
Don't let the doommongers put you off. Jun 22

Marc Fisher wrote:

Hi all,

How realistic is it to find regular work as a translator in the FR/ES->EN language pairs directly following the conclusion of an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies? This would be with no real core specialism (such as legal, medical etc.).

Is it possible to make enough to live and to get experience? What would be a realistic price per word to get a reply from agencies in the first place?

I have experience translating on a voluntary basis for an NGO who have been delighted by my professionalism and efficiency. However, I have found quite a lot of doom and gloom on Proz forums and Facebook groups when it comes to pursuing a professional career as a translator. It can be disheartening to read as I have wished to pursue this career path and elected to do this course for this exact reason.

I understand that the Coronavirus situation may have an impact, but this will have an impact on all graduate employment opportunities anyway.

Many thanks,
A concerned postgrad!


Hey, don't forget that the people writing reams on here bemoaning the profession are the people with lots of free time to write on here bemoaning the profession! Makes you wonder why...

I can't comment on your language pairs, but as a proper native translating into English you might find yourself at an advantage. It seems you already have some experience, so use it, forget the unicorn rates on here, and be realistic about what the market is prepared to pay. If you're good, you'll get work, specialised or not, it's as simple as that really. I would say good luck, but all you really need is some talent and a bit of the old elbow grease.


 
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