If you think a job as a translator is all about knowing languages and being able to write well, I have some news for you: you’re sorely mistaken.
It takes a lot of different skills to be a professional translator, freelance or no. Of course, you need to be fluent in at least two languages, as well as possess some great writing skills, but there’s much more to it than that. You have to be gifted with technology, know how to manage projects, speak with clients constantly and be very committed to your deadlines.
Because there are so many varied skills involved with translation work, it makes sense that a lot could go wrong. As much as I love my life as a translator and linguist, that’s not to say I haven’t had my fair share of nightmares.
Here are three possible scenarios — you may not find yourself in these positions, and that’s great! But each situation is highly possible, and I’m here to tell you how to avoid them.
1. Incorrect Project Briefings
I say “incorrect” to keep things vague. Sometimes this is as simple as a client misunderstanding the language needed to convey the project in detail, but other times it’s the act of a scammer. You accept a job to translate a 10-page ebook, but suddenly you’re on the hook for a much larger ebook and the associated print and marketing materials that go with it. That’s definitely not what you signed up for!
Whether because of a miscommunication or a malicious act, this can cause you a lot of stress and strife, especially if you have other projects on your plate. The common mistake translators make is accepting the job without the materials or a sample of the materials.
If a client doesn’t want to give you the materials without confirmation for privacy reasons, that’s sometimes understandable — but ask for a screenshot of the materials or a list of the exact materials needed to complete the project. This helps you avoid misunderstandings and can also alert you to a scammer if they’re dodgy with the request.
2. Clients from Hell
Like I said, you have to be able to talk to people and negotiate if you want to be a translator. Even if you’re just working on your own, dealing with a client can be taxing work. It’s bad to speak ill of a client, but sometimes you find clients that are so controlling, inflexible or otherwise difficult that you can’t help but want to scream.
In this case, there’s no real way to avoid these clients 100% — but it’s good to get to know them as much as possible before taking on their project. Schedule a phone or Skype meeting and have a conversation. You’d be amazed at how obvious clients from hell are before you even accept the project. This will help you avoid ‘round the clock emails or ridiculously impossible requests.
3. System Failure
Most translation work is done on a computer now, which is great! Technology and translating go hand in hand. However, technology isn’t infallible. Electricity can go out, hard drives can be corrupted, etc. Relying solely on your laptop or desktop for your translation work is a recipe for disaster.
Make sure that you have a backup measure in place. Sites like Dropbox can store your files in a way that’s easily shareable, making it easier to sleep at night knowing your progress and projects are protected.
Everyone loves Netflix, right? The streaming provider of movies and TV content has quickly become an international media-viewing phenomenon, available in 190 countries. The company produces so much high-quality original content that you could binge non-stop just to keep up with it — and some of us do!
One subset of people who especially love Netflix are translators.
You may be wondering why this is so. What is the secret link that connects translators to a movie and TV streaming service? There isn’t just one reason we translators love Netflix — there are three!
Subtitles are fun for language geeks
Many Netflix shows come with language subtitle options, as well as a myriad of audio options. If you’ve ever watched a Netflix Original in its entirety, you may realize the credits can get pretty long. Observant watchers will realize this is because the credits also list the names of the additional foreign language dubbing and subbing staff.
If you’re a burgeoning translator, I actually recommend you use Netflix as a way to familiarize yourself with a language you’re not fluent in. Set the audio for a show to a language you don’t have fluency in, then set the subtitles to a language you’re comfortable with when it comes to reading fluency. Study the words and the subtitles. Do you recognize repeating words in both the dialogue and the subtitles?
This is also a great tool for those who are already fluent or semi-fluent in a language. This helps translators polish their language skills while also learning cool new words, synonyms, and slang terms. Perfect for language geeks, no?
Netflix is constantly looking for translators
Netflix’s appeal is that it’s global. If they want to serve content-consuming customers in a specific country, they need to have enough content translated into relevant languages in order to expand. Netflix will never run out of the need for translators because there will always be a new market to infiltrate, and new content always needs to be translated. This doesn’t even include existing content that needs translation packages!
If you’re looking for translation work that is simple yet prestigious, always look to Netflix. More translators for different languages cuts down on their subtitling time, and you get to see amazing shows before anyone else!
It’s a cultural smorgasbord
Because Netflix is global, it goes without saying that they have access to a lot of global content. You can find Bollywood movies, Korean dramas and Mexican telenovelas all available on Netflix, even if you reside in an English-dominated country like the United States or Canada.
There’s also the possibility for obscure translation crossovers, as well. Not every piece of content will be about switching from English to French, or from French to Spanish. What about Russian to Portuguese? Japanese to French? The possibilities are endless when you’re a global content curation platform like Netflix.
At the end of the day, media is about language, whether expressed verbally or otherwise. Language makes up how we consume most content — we read it, we listen to it. Netflix gives us a window into the world of media and makes it more accessible to a global audience.
Thus, Netflix is about an interconnected web of language barriers that are finally being broken. What translator wouldn’t love it?
Translating is a global job in more ways than one. There’s the obvious correlation in that as a translator, you probably are fluent in languages from around the world; like French, English, Korean and Russian all in one mental melting pot.
The other aspect of translating as a global business is that many translators actually travel while working on their projects. Some never leave home. Some hop around the country. Some are bonafide globetrotters!
No matter how far you travel — whether to foreign lands or to the corner store — translators on the go need tools that work for their mobile needs. These five tools are great for all translators to use, but they’re especially useful for any translators who need mobile capabilities.
Working on projects that require translations often means communicating with clients from outside of your timezone. For instance, translating a guide from Japanese to English means you may be going to sleep when you client is waking up. WorldTimeBuddy is a handy tool that helps you establish time zones, conversions and differences, even when multiple timezones are in the mix.
It’s always great to have a trusty program like Microsoft Word on your desktop computer, but what if you’re on the go? What if you don’t have access to your own computer? Google Docs is an absolute lifesaver in situations like these. You can create documents, easily share them and also have access to them based on your account — not your computer. It’s also easy to share documents with others via Google Docs, whether it’s with an editor or a client for approval.
Storing data and sharing it with clients are two cornerstones of the translation industry. It’s always great to have hard copies of your completed projects on hand, as well as in progress translation jobs that need to be shared between editors and others. Dropbox is an integrated storage application that can work from your desktop and your web browser. Simply drag and drop files to upload them, then invite other users to share your folders.
Programs like Word have pretty decent spellcheck systems in place…but what happens when you don’t have access to that program? Apps like Grammarly are perfect for translators who need to use online methods to write content. Even though the app isn’t directly compatible with Google Docs, it’s still possible to upload files from your computer or device to the Grammarly app. From there you can see grammatical and spelling errors you can fix in the home document.
Finally, translators on the go don’t always have time for checking emails and onboarding new clients. The process can be rather lengthy without a tool like YouCanBook.Me. Once users have created an account, YCBM connects to their iCloud or Google account and accesses their calendar. From there you can set up an account and share your grid, enabling easy bookings with highlighted availability dates.
Don’t let static programs and apps keep you grounded. Find tools that work for your mobile lifestyle and translate (while making money) no matter where you are!
Make no mistake — I love working in the translation business. This doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t come with some trials and tribulations.
Many graduating French students or bilingual ESL students simply think that because they know another language, they have access to a job that’s easy for them based simply on the fact that they know more than one language — but this isn’t the case. There are a lot of different skills involved in being a translation project manager, from being good with people to organization.
These are just a few of the things I have to experience every day being a translation project manager.
Working with Other People
Are you a people person? If you’re a translation project manager you have to be. A client is someone who you’ll be interacting with frequently, so fostering a good relationship is important to having an easier time managing their project.
Not all clients are alike, of course. Some will be personable, easy-going and a blast to work with — others will be difficult and hard to understand. A translation project manager must adjust themselves accordingly and communicate effectively no matter what personality their client has.
Honing Multiple Skills
Like I said before, translation project managers have to be multi-talented. It’s obviously important to be bi- or multilingual, but that’s just one part of the job. Other necessary skills include:
- Being technologically savvy
- Having communication abilities
- Being literate in multiple languages
- Proofreading and editing
- Language fluency upkeep (if a language isn’t a mother tongue or ingrained, it can fade)
Because translation work is global by design, not every client I work with lives in my same time zone. This is something all translation project managers will have to get used to and talk about with their clients. If they live in 6 time zones ahead of you, a work schedule has to be created that works for both of you despite the six hour difference.
It’s also important to understand time zones from a deadline perspective. If a client wants a piece done by 8 PM, it’s important to remember that’s usually 8 PM their time, not yours.
Even knowing multiple languages, my job still involves technology like Computer Assisted Translation tools. Some projects I can translate easily based on my fluency, but hobby languages can always use some sprucing up. Computer Assisted Translation tools can make the life of a translation project manager much simpler by combining the reasonable brain of a human with the logical knowledge of a computer.
There’s also project management tools. Anyone in any project field has to get used to scheduling their every day to make sure projects are completed on time. If you want to be a translation project manager, you’d better get used to scheduling, scheduling, and more scheduling.
Finally, being a translation project manager can be an extremely stressful job. Though I find my work to be extremely rewarding, the deadlines, clients, and projects can sometimes be overwhelming. The work involves deadlines, some of which are strenuous and hard to meet. Stress is something that happens, and all translation project managers will face it during their career.
But, like I said, the work is also fascinating and rewarding. I love being a translation project manager, and the pros massively outweigh the cons.
Many translation companies have a problem on their hands when it comes to finding new clients, and these potential clients are also affected by it as well. What’s the issue? These translation teams can all seem very…samey. Their marketing strategies tend to line up in a way that’s stereotypical: they’re sticklers for deadlines, always want to provide the highest quality translation, have great customer satisfaction rates and the largest language variety. The list could go on.
This makes it hard for clients to choose the right translation company for them, and it’s also hard on translation companies that haven’t yet figured out a way to stand out from the crowd. Potential clients take note: the best way to determine the quality of a business industry is the quality of the questions they ask before taking on your current project.