If you are serious about becoming a translator, you must be able to fulfil the following criteria, at the very least.
Your standard of education must be very high; with very few exceptions, a degree is essential, though not necessarily in languages – it is a positive advantage to have qualifications or experience in another subject. Postgraduate training in translation is useful. You must be able to write your own mother tongue impeccably in a style and register appropriate to the subject and have a flair for research on technical subjects.
It goes without saying, that you should have a thorough grasp of the languages in your language combination, you must also be familiar with the culture and customs of the country. The only way to do this is by surrounding yourself with the language, i.e: by living/studying in the country where the language is spoken. German is spoken in 5 countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. There is no substitute for first-hand experience of living in a foreign culture, and as an Irishman living in Berlin, Germany, I can only recommend this course of action.
It is best to have a specific field that you specialise in, be it literature, technical, medical, legal.
Have invested in a minimum of equipment and software – At a minimum you should have a computer and appropriate word-processing software; fax machine and internet connection; suitable dictionaries, preferably online dictionaries like LEO, which return results at the touch of button, saving you an enormous amount of time searching through printed dictionaries. A telephone; answering machine (and, optionally, a dictating machine); increasingly, today’s translators are also using translation memory software and other translation tools. In an office translation environment, the use of the Computer-Aided Translation (CAT)-tool Trados has become the standard. CAT-tools like Trados or Déjà vu can cost quite a handful. If funds do not allow, seriously think about taking out a loan to cover start-up expenses. The investment will pay off.
While it is not the industry standard, Wordfast also offers a very resourceful alternative as it has the functionality of Trados and Déjà vu, but doesn’t cost you a penny. Donations, however, are welcome.
Produce a well-typed, well-presented curriculum vitae, briefly describing your education, qualifications and the languages from which you translate (source language/s). For Germany, you should usually include a picture of yourself beside your name and address and choose a tabular layout.
A translator translates from a source language into a target language. You should translate only into your mother tongue (target language). Make sure you mention any other degrees you may have or relevant work experience. Say how you produce your work (word-processing software) and whether you can communicate by email or fax.
Never shy away from asking a friend who works in business or in the language world to take a critical look at your CV before sending it out. It is, after all, your career we’re talking about! In fact, if they can help you even more, all the better.
If sitting at home all the time does not appeal to you, then you should not rule out the possibility of working as a freelance translator with a 9-5 office job. I myself worked in an office where the majority of translators were freelancers.
An online translation forum is a great way of getting your foot in the door. Sign up for e-zines and newsletters.
You should send your CV and a short covering letter to possible places of employment: Not just translation companies though, try local exporting/importing firms of whose products/business you have special subject knowledge. If you are a student, there are plenty of companies out there looking to take on apprentices with a view to later full-time employment.
A-Z Checklist for Translating
Business-like is a word you should not forget! As long as you have an answer to my a-z of questions, and tick them off when you’ve an answer for each one, then you should be ok.
Pre-Translation – You should know…
a) Who is the translation for – this can be helpful when determining the register of your translation.
b) Is there a contact for queries? Make sure you have records of the contact person’s details: name, email, telephone&remember business-like as always. Always keep records.
c) Find out if the language has to be translated into a particular variant. UK English or US English?
d) Are there particular terms that the translation should include for consistency?
e) If working under contract for a translation company, do they have a style guide that you should follow: i.e: Rules for translating dates etc.
f) Are text areas, embedded in tables and images, to be translated as well? If so, knowledge of graphic editing programs is of an advantage.
g) Are you required to use a specific word processing software for the translation?
h) Are you required to use a specific Computer-Aided Translation (CAT)-tool for the translation e.g. Trados, Déjà Vu?
i) Is there a translation memory available for the translation?
j) Before delivering: has the translation been double-checked for accuracy, consistency, spelling, font styles the same?
k) Does the text sound as if it was translated? If in doubt get someone who doesn’t speak the source language to have a quick read through your translation.
l) Where is the translation to be delivered? To the customer’s address, Internet address?
m) When is the translation deadline?
n) How is the translation to be delivered? By fax, email, post?
o) Do copies of material sent have to be returned?
Charging and Extra Charges
p) How will the translation be charged? Time, per word, per sentence?
q) Will there be an additional charge for irregular difficulties?
r) Will there be an additional charge for research? Specialist terminology?
s) Must the translated text be proofread?
t) Will VAT be applicable?
u) How and when is payment to be made?
v) When is payment to be made?
w) What method of payment is to be used? Bank transfer, cheque?
Liability and Compensation
x) Is the translation to remain confidential?
y) Does your indemnity insurance, and you will need indemnity insurance, cover all possibilities?
z) Is the early termination of a job subject to compensation?
And that’s it! If you can answer these questions then you’re one step closer to becoming a professional.
By John Neilan