First of all, start developing your career in translation while you are still studying! It’s much more difficult to start when you graduate from the university with virtually no experience – the pressure to start making a living out of translation is much greater and establishing yourself as a translator takes some time. I know that when you study languages it’s very tempting to give language classes here and there to earn some extra money. Moreover, the rates for teaching languages are higher than rates for translators at the beginning of their career (at least in the bigger cities in Poland), but if you really feel that translation is what you want to do in the future, it would be good to devote some time to make your start easier. How to do that? Here are some tips that worked for me:
1. Create your profile on career portals and websites for translators
You don’t feel it is necessary, because you don’t have anything to write about? It’s not true! You are a student of translation, don’t you? Write it! Describe the types of texts which you enjoy translating during translation classes, write about language certificates if you have any, add your picture and contact details (and for heaven’s sake please choose a professional e-mail address – no email@example.com!), and keep updating your profiles when you gain any additional experience, skill, academic degree. Think about your hobbies. Maybe you have some expert knowledge in a certain field such as photography, computer games, fashion, sailing, etc. because you enjoy doing it in your free time. Some translation companies might look exactly for you. You may also write that you are willing to do some translations for non-profit organisations and initiatives…
2. Become a voluntary translator
I started translating as a volunteer when I graduated from the first year of my studies. You think it was too early and I wasn’t qualified enough? Well, charities usually need to translate some very basic texts – no rocket science, trust me. If you have a basic knowledge about translation techniques, advanced command of the foreign language and willingness to check everything you are even slightly unsure about (and get used to doing it – that’s the essential part of being a translator), then go ahead! However, the fact they don’t pay you, does not mean you may translate carelessly – you are building your brand as a translator! Where to look for potential voluntary translation jobs? Try for instance Translations for Progress, Translators without Borders, translating subtitles for TED.com (that’s a fantastic initiative for beginner translators) and websites for NGOs in your country.
3. Spend at least 30 minutes twice a week on browsing for potential jobs/internships/educational opportunities and send CVs
You won’t start gaining experience if you don’t look for opportunities. Don’t hesitate to send your CV – it’s not true that translation agencies cooperate only with graduate translators. I established my company and started translating for some big players on the market 4 months before I graduated. And even if they won’t add you to your list of translators, you may try again after several months.
4. Take part in a translation internship, even if it is not obligatory at your faculty
You may take part in an in-house internship or do it on a remote basis. Sometimes such internships are paid and sometimes not, but nevertheless they are a fantastic way to learn a lot about translation, see how the whole process of translation looks from different points of view (project manager, translator, reviewer, proofreader, terminologist, etc.). If it is compulsory to take part in an internship during your studies, don’t treat this task as a nuisance you have to get over with as soon as possible. Be ambitious, ask questions, work willingly and try to show your best. There is always a chance that you will get hired. I am pretty sure that without two internships that I took part in while still a student, I wouldn’t be with my career where I am now.
5. Tell everyone you know that you are a translator-to-be
The more people know about it, the bigger the chances that someone will give you your first real translation job. And translating for family and friends is one of the best ways to start. It may sound a bit workaholic, but yes, even your cousin’s wedding is a good occasion to advertise yourself :-). Not to mention all the parties the student life is so full of ;-). If you are shy and introvert, get prepared earlier and think about some strategies, such as asking someone about his/her opinion on a blockbuster movie and then moving on to discussing how it was translated into your language and saying that “hey, I am actually going to be a translator myself, if you ever need any translation, don’t hesitate to contact me”. Ask your friends/partner/members of your family to introduce you by mentioning that you are a very promising young translator (or something like this). My husband who is absolutely brilliant at such introductions fixed me up with my first medical translation that way :-).
6. Get down to your studies
It is very often said that translators should continuously develop themselves to be competitive. Yes, sure that’s true, but you will never have that much time and opportunities to learn as during studies. Therefore, apply yourself to translations your tutor ordered you to do and ask for feedback so that you won’t repeat your mistakes in the future when they might cost you an interesting client or your remuneration.
7. Ask your university tutors about their first years as translators
When you and your colleagues are tired of listening to one another lecture on translation techniques, try persuading your tutor to tell you something about their strategies to survive on the market. How did they start? What are the most common pitfalls waiting for young freelance translators and how to avoid them? How do they approach clients? What are the current translation rates? Of course, some of them may not be willing to share their trade secrets, but it is still worth trying.
I hope you will find these tips useful. All of them worked for me and many of my friends and are easy to implement in practice. If you have any questions or doubts and if you would like to share your own ideas, please feel free to comment here or on Facebook or on Google Plus.