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Translators on… brings together a collection of industry professionals, each sharing their experience and advice on certain topics of their career, offering a wider, more authoritative range of opinions than a single source. Want to know more about the series? Watch the launch video.


One of the things I love most about the translation industry is that the professionals it comprises have such a diverse range of backgrounds.

If you want to become a doctor or lawyer, you study medicine or law and then do a work placement. All very predictable stuff. Yet with a number of different albeit equally valid routes into translation, it’s pretty hard to bet what another colleague’s academic or professional background is. That diversity makes us something rather special, don’t you think?

Although not impossible, it is trickier to launch a translation career straight out of uni rather than building up some industry experience first. But it can be done, so let’s first hear from contributors who set up as a freelance translator pretty much straight away and see how they did it.

1-1Setting up as a freelancer immediately after graduating requires a lot of groundwork to be done while still studying, as these translators did. Working as an in-house translator, on the other hand, can form a strong foundation for a later career in freelance translation. In my own experience, the guidance and tutorship of more experienced translators was an invaluable opportunity to get my career off to a solid start, whereas working for a translation company quickly teaches you about the practicalities of the industry, not to mention a touch of empathy for project managers.

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We also have a few teachers amongst us. After all, if you study languages, you can only ever be either a translator or a language teacher, right? But seriously, teaching a language – whether it’s your source or target – encourages you to analyse its grammar, vocabulary, styles and registers, an incredibly useful skill for a career in translation.

1-3And having had another writing-based career certainly won’t do you any harm.

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And then we have translators who have joined us from a different industry, whom I’ve always believed to be in a very privileged position. Having built up expertise in a certain field, they can then bring that knowledge with them to translation as a specialism, or at the very least some life experience.

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So there is clearly no single way to do it.  There is no single qualification that will make you a good translator. What matters is having the linguistic fluency, the very broadly-defined translation skills, the specialist knowledge and industry experience, however you acquire them, plus the dedication and determination to run your own business, and an understanding of what clients are looking for and how you can provide it.


In the next Translators on… we’ll be looking at how exactly our contributors made the transition from studying or working in another field to full-time freelancing.