The Translator Diaries is a series that looks at how current freelance translators made it into the career. In this set of interviews, we will learn what makes them so passionate about translation, how they established themselves, and what obstacles they have overcome to succeed as a translator.

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Clare Goodman (@blaue_hortensie) is relatively new to the world of freelance translation and is currently halfway through completing an MA in Legal Translation at City University in London. Her story begins in 2010, when she was living in Germany during her year abroad as part of a 4-year BA degree in French and German.

Kate (Clare) Goodman

At what point did you know you wanted to become a translator, Clare?

I had previously been curious of the translation industry as I had attended several language careers presentations at university; the main focus of these tended to be translation and interpreting, as these are obviously careers in which fluency in a foreign language is vital and central to the career, rather than just an extra asset that might occasionally come in useful. 

How did you go about getting experience?

When most of my classmates were signing up to do their year abroad at a foreign university, I was busy applying for translation internships and was extremely excited to be given a paid position at a company in Berlin. It was there that I had the opportunity to gain a realistic insight into the industry and quickly became aware of how valuable the ability to translate was, especially when combined with an area of expertise, such as medicine, technology, or law.

What made you opt to study for a postgraduate qualification?

I think being able to specialise in a particular field is incredibly important and is likely to make you very attractive to clients who require a translation within that field. I chose law as it is an area in which I am genuinely interested. Legal translations are also becoming increasingly in demand as more companies are going international, more people are buying property abroad, etc.

I think this qualification will reassure potential clients that I have a solid knowledge of both English and German law and am able to apply this knowledge to the source text in order to create an accurate translation of a legally binding document. I want my clients to have peace of mind that I actually understand the true nature of their important document and am not just someone who is fluent in another language is and blindly translating.

Surely peace of mind = more clients, more work! I think, however, that networking, marketing yourself and gaining all the translation experience you can is just as helpful as a postgraduate qualification.

How did you find it when you were first setting up as a freelancer?

It was in Berlin that I first decided to freelance. I sent so many emails to charities, companies and local businesses explaining my current situation and many of them were happy to give me a chance (albeit, not for a great deal of money to begin with!).

I went on to work for various individuals and companies through networking. All this really means is meeting new people. Although I did find clients by attending conferences/translators’ events, I also found work by talking to people on the train, and even down the pub.

As a result, I now have experience in translating a wide range of texts, from real estate, to plaques in museums, to company brochures, to film subtitles and children’s books. Never be afraid to ask and offer your services – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

How can freelancers who are just starting out build up their portfolio?

Once clients see you can do a good job, they’ll give you more work and even recommend you. Gradually you’ll be able to spend less time marketing yourself, and more time translating. I see myself as still being very much on the ladder to becoming an established, successful translator, and am unsure whether I will apply for an in-house position or go freelance full-time once I have completed my MA, but it is certainly a worthwhile career that I will continue to pursue, because I enjoy the challenges it presents and love that every translation brings an insight into a new subject. I love learning new things and translators never stop learning.

Next week, Sarah Pybus (@PybusTrans) will be talking about the difficulties faced when attempting to go freelance straight after a Master’s degree and the importance of in-house experience.