Work abroad as a translator

Working Abroad as a Linguist

Are you fluent in another language besides English? Or would you be willing to become fluent in one? Then, according to Carla C. Avenia Koency you have almost all you need to start carving out a career as a location independent freelance translator.

So, what do translators do? Let’s clarify: translators work mainly with written text, translating it from their weakest language into their strongest. Some translators have a couple of weak languages, and one strong one, whereas other translators may have one weak one and two strong ones. These “strong” languages are also known as mother tongue, native language or target language. The “weaker” languages are those that you learned after your native tongue, so these are also known as second language. Therefore, translators translate into their native language only – which they assumedly have a perfect grasp of – to ensure the quality of the work their produce.

Most translators become specialists in one area of translation, such as legal, medical, marketing, financial, literary, etc. These specializations can go even further, into very unique niche subjects such as poetry, cooking, quantum physics, cardiology, divorce law, and more. As a translator, your specialization should be in a subject in which you already know the vocabulary, therefore, related to past university studies or current hobbies, for example.

Business Skills
Now that you’ve narrowed down the services you can offer as a translator, it’s time to market your skills. Wether you are already abroad or you’re still at home preparing your trip abroad, you can start by one simple step: setting up your personal website, detailing the services you offer, rates, contact information, and if possible, previous work samples and references. If you’re barely starting out and don’t have previous work samples or a portfolio of sorts, you can always take on some volunteer translations in order to build one.

This website will be your presentation card when you go through the next phase of your plan: approaching potential clients. These clients can come in the form of translation agencies, or private clients (individuals and companies). The approach is simple: identify potential clients interested in your services (based on your language pairs and specialization), prepare a presentation email detailing what you have to offer, press send and work offers. With some online marketing experience, you can also make your website visible and receive job offers through it. Remember that freelance translators rely primarily on word-of-mouth to continue in business. So, by making sure that each job you turn in is of the highest quality, your clientele will grow by itself.

Work Abroad as a Linguist

What’s Required?
Some claim that specialized studies in translation are necessary, but they are not: they are useful, but not a requirement to get started in the field. Many translators are professionals in another field of study, who also happen to be fluent in another language. When it comes to medical or legal translation work, this hands-on experience with the lexicon is sometimes even better than actually having a translation degree. Many universities offers shorter diplomas designed to give you an overview of translation, tecniques, and specialized software. Otherwise, if you acquire experience and practice, you can just certify your skills by testing them in front of internationally reknown translation associations, such as ATA.

Take Off
Once you have a steady stream of work coming in, there’s nothing stopping you from spreading your wings and becoming “location independent”. As long as you have a mobile phone close to you and steady access to the internet, you’re free to live and work from anywhere. The world is your cubicle, go explore it.


About the Author: Currently based in Marseille, Carla Avenia Koency has been living abroad as a freelance translator since 2007. She works with Spanish and English, specializing in economics/finance, marketing, sociology and NGO’s/humanitarian aid. She has translated material for Nokia, Unicef, Orange, and the Cartoon Network, among others.

Her blog, Globetrotting Texan, covers travel, the expat lifestyle and fashion and she can be found on Twitter @caveniakoency.

Image courtesy of gTunes

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2 comments to Working Abroad as a Linguist

  • Suzy  says:

    A good friend of mine is a translator as his profession. He doesn’t have a website, but he uses ProZ I believe to get most of his work. Sounds like a great way to live anywhere in the world and work.

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures  says:

    In another life I will be a translator in the UN and I will speak 10 languages.

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