How to Work as a Freelance Translator

A career in professional translation can be personally rewarding as well as lucrative.  For those with a love of language, few roles can compare to the enriching experience of being involved in the language services industry.

Would you like to work as a freelance translator? There are plenty of excellent benefits to doing so. Some of the perks of being a freelance translator, for example, include being able to work from anywhere, cutting out the daily commute and the minimal expenditure involved in pursuing this line of work.

If you are interested in pursuing this line of work, there are a few things you should know. This article will provide a brief overview of what is needed to break into the field of freelance translation and help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

Being Fluent in at Least Two Languages

It may seem elementary, but if you want to be a professional translator, you must have more than a passing knowledge of the language pairs you plan to work in. You will need to be highly proficient in both the source language (the language you will be translating from) and the target language (the language you will be translating to).

You will also need excellent writing and grammar skills in your native language, so you should enjoy writing, as you will be doing a lot of it! Most clients will look for a translator who has an intimate understanding of the regions whose languages they will be translating from and to, so it also helps if you have studied or lived in both.

Being familiar with a specific country or region also opens up avenues for you to specialize in localization. This skill provides companies with the ability to adapt their products or services to specific locations and is in high demand. Positioning yourself as an expert in translation and localization can further your success.

Translators Need to Be Tech Savvy

You don’t have to have a degree in IT to be a translator, but you should have an above- average ability when it comes to computers. You will need to use various programs throughout your career, and the ability to quickly learn different modalities will be a plus.

Most translators use Microsoft Word to do a majority of their work, so a basic understanding of this software is necessary. Even if you are accustomed to free platforms like Google Docs, many of your clients will likely want their deliverables in Word format.

Using Computer-Assisted Translation Software

Being able to use computer-assisted translation (CAT) software is vital to your success in the language services field. This type of software can assist you tremendously, and most professional translation services generally require a working knowledge of one or more CAT tools.

CAT tools can help you translate by using previously stored or crowdsourced words and phrases. They help speed up the process by lessening the amount of work needed to translate a document. CAT tools are interactive and have a few main characteristics that set them apart from basic machine translation software. They use translation memory to store information about languages and do a better job (than machine translation tools) at editing text and assessing the quality of the copy.

Education and Translation

If you are fluent in both the source and target languages and have excellent writing skills, you should be able to begin your translation career without a formal education. However, furthering your linguistic studies should always be a goal.

There are many ways to participate in language services education. These range from acquiring certifications from agencies like the American Translators Association to university courses at the Masters level. This becomes even more important if you choose to specialize in a particular field, such as medical translation or legal translation.


How to Gain Translation Experience and Advance Your Career

If you are just starting out, you will need to focus on building up the most important asset of all – experience. Education is one thing, but hands-on work in the industry is the real test of skill.


If you have no prospects lined up, a simple way to build up your resume is through volunteer work. Nonprofits and charities are often unable to afford translation prices at large agencies. Using your skills to help out in this capacity not only gives you some excellent experience, but it is also something to feel good about as well while you gain valuable experience and a glowing testimonial.

If you are unable to volunteer, even working for a more modest translation cost can help out an organization in need.

Freelancing Websites

There are opportunities available for entry level translators through freelance platforms as well. Websites like Upwork, Fiverr, and People Per Hour often post jobs related to translation.

Social Media

It is worth using your professional contacts on social media to help you gain experience. Develop professional Facebook, Instagram, and Linked in profiles. You can also join translation portals like the Translators Cafe and the Chartered Institute of Linguists to help you identify entry-level opportunities within the translation industry.

Translation Agencies

Translation agencies provide an excellent way for new freelancers to start working in the field. You will need to produce top-notch deliverables and work hard, but once you are established, this method can gain you the valuable experience you need. It will also enable you to get repeat assignments and a steady income – all while growing your own freelance business.

Another advantage of going through an agency is that they are the ones investing in marketing, accounting, and acquiring new clients, allowing you to focus on honing your craft.  You may want to work with multiple agencies and platforms to get you up and running. This will help you sample a variety of jobs for freelance translators, to see what you like best. You can always scale back once you have determined which avenues are the most valuable for your personal and professional growth.

Translation Specialization

It is natural when you are first starting a career to work on as many projects as you can, across a broad range of specialties. But as things progress, it is likely you will find yourself drawn to one or two areas of expertise. Specialization can set you apart and help you earn more income as a freelancer.

Perhaps you have worked in other professions before and enjoyed them. Developing your expertise in your favorite areas can attract more clients than if you were to provide general translation alone. There are virtually no limits when it comes to the areas on which you can focus in your work as a translator.

Globalization has resulted in the need for skilled translators across all industries and sectors. Anything that once required a writer now requires a translator as well. We already discussed how essential localization experts are to the industry. Here are just a few additional specialties to consider by sector:

  • Travel and tourism
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Marketing and business
  • The environment
  • Government and politics
  • Medical
  • Legal

Other Noteworthy Translation Specialties

The area of copywriting is a wide, open field that can be applied to just about any industry. Popular brands that are taking their products to the global market need their web pages and promotional materials to look just as good in the target language as they do in the original and many develop bespoke content marketing strategies for each country in which they operate in order to achieve this. Copywriting is already big business. Specializing in this field as a translator has tremendous value.


Perhaps you enjoy taking the spoken word and creating a written version of it. Transcription services do just that. You listen to an audio file and provide a verbatim transcript of it so that it can be read as well as heard. Accuracy and a fast typing speed can open up transcription jobs in many languages.

Proofreading and Editing

Someone has to check work for consistency and ensure it is grammatically correct. Once you have some experience under your belt, editing and proofreading the work of other translators can be both enjoyable and financially rewarding.

Self-employment as a Translator

Translating isn’t all about your language and tech abilities. You’ll need a range of skills to run a professional freelance translation business. If you aim to be self-employed, you are most likely a motivated individual. That’s good, because you may be surprised to find that being a freelance translator requires you to wear two hats:

The first hat is the job of translation itself. Once you have some regular assignments, you will be happily plugging away at different projects and honing your skills doing something you enjoy.

The second hat is that of administration, and it is a lot more involved than you might think. If you’ve worked as an employee in the past, your employer took care of the administrative parts of the job. Salary, taxes, benefits, scheduling, expenses, advertising, marketing, and workspace were all controlled by the boss.

As a freelancer, you aren’t just a worker; you are the boss as well. As such, you will need to devote some time to ensuring your business runs smoothly – and set your translation rates to cover the time you spend on these administrative tasks. Here are a few critical tasks that aren’t to be overlooked.

Setting up your online presence

Setting up and maintaining a portfolio and web presence is vital for clients to find you and see that you are a credible and reliable professional. Developing even a basic website that features your rates and past work is a good start. Your professional social media pages will need regular updates as well.


You will want to develop an accurate budgeting system to ensure that you account for your income as well as your expenses. There are many unforeseen expenses you probably haven’t thought about yet. Certifications, printer ink, software, and other expenses can all add up. Having a system in place so you know how much you are making and what you are spending is paramount to your success. While you are at it, you should be sure to set up a separate business account.


Now that you’re self-employed, you will have to pay your own taxes. This will vary depending upon where you are located, of course, so be sure to research the tax laws in your country. Make sure you are withholding the proper amount from your income to avoid penalties and fines.

Time Management

This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of being a freelancer. Some people will work too much, not allowing themselves enough time to care for their physical and mental well being. Others will procrastinate and take time off and end up having to stress at the last minute to meet deadlines.

The reality is there is no one-size-fits-all way to maintain a good work schedule. It will depend on many factors. If you have a family that also needs your time, you will have to set aside time for them. If you have other hobbies and interests, you will want to maintain these as best as you can. Finding a happy medium is where most freelancers find the best success when it comes to being self-employed. In translation as in everything else, there are advantages to having an ethos of ‘moderation in all things!’


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