Case Study: What’s it Like to Work as a Translator?

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HomeWorkingClub readers have told us on several occasions that case studies are a great way to explore potential ways to make money online. So far, we’ve covered a range of home-working opportunities, from providing freelance recruitment services to working as a freelance writer. Now, it’s time to take a dive into freelance translation.

While interpretation work is also worth a look for linguists working out how to make money online, it requires a different skillset to providing professional translation services. There are some obvious commonalities between translators and interpreters (the most obvious being that they need to speak two languages fluently!), so it’s worth exploring how to become an interpreter if you love languages. However, today we’re focusing on working as a translator.

There are plenty of freelance jobs available for those providing online translation, from quick tasks on Upwork to long-term arrangements with translation agencies. Those providing translation service that require specialist knowledge (think medical translation or financial translation) can quickly bump their translation income up above average, as can those who specialise in in-demand languages (such as working as a Chinese translator).

To explore the world of professional translation in more depth, we’ve consulted those who provide translation and interpretation services for a living.

Making Money Online: What Do Translators Earn?

Translators’ incomes can vary quite significantly. In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the 2018 median pay for a translator was $49,930 or $24.00 per hour. Over the ten years to 2028, the job outlook for translators is projected to rise by 19% (much faster than the average, according to the BLS).

Hands with globe painted on

In the UK, PayScale reports that the average translator earns £23,021 per year, but those looking to be the best online translator can earn plenty more than this through the provision of specialist knowledge as part of their service. Providing services such as certified translation can also help to bump up this salary.

If you’re looking to make money online through freelance work, and you speak a second language, professional translation is definitely an avenue worth exploring.

If you’re keen to know more about working as an online translator, the case study below should serve to inspire you. You can also check out our detailed article on how to find translation jobs online, to get you started.

Freelance Translator Case Study: Part-time Translation for Stay-at-home Parents

We talked to Hilary, a part-time translator who uses translation to earn money online while also being a stay-at-home parent.

How long have you worked as a professional translator?

Approximately 15 years.

Do you translate full-time or do you undertake any other types of work?

I am a stay-at-home parent and work as a translator online in my spare time.

What first attracted you to a career in translation?

The art of translation has always been one of my passions. Moving thoughts from one language to another is not only challenging, but it also illustrates both how similar and how different cultures are.

How do you ensure that your language skills stay up to date?

Primarily by reading and by communicating with others in my field.

Language booksWhat is the best part of being a professional translator?

The intellectual challenge and the flexibility of the work.

And the worst part?

Sometimes the jobs can be quite simple and boring. But they’re still important to the client!

How do you find your translation clients?

I find most of my clients through Tomedes, though sometimes I get referrals from friends and acquaintances.

What is the hardest translation task that you’ve ever completed and why?

A client wanted a chapter from a Renaissance text on alchemy translated into English. It was very challenging because of the specialized language and the in-field references.

Have you ever turned down a translation project and why?

Yes! Sometimes I turn down projects that are clearly a student’s homework. As a former teacher, I can’t bring myself to do someone’s homework for them!

Do you speak any other languages in addition to those that you translate for a living?

I have studied Ancient Greek and Sanskrit. I am conversational in Spanish and Mandarin.

Translation

How to Make Money Online Through Freelance Translation

Hilary mentioned above that she works mainly through one translation agency, Tomedes, as well as finding clients via friends and acquaintances. Those looking for a full-time source of translation income can register with multiple agencies, as well as finding their own clients. Online job boards such as Upwork (you can read our Upwork review here) also supply a steady stream of translation jobs.

As with most freelancing work, there’s an element of paying your dues for those looking to make money online. Agencies, job boards and work obtained through friends will all vary in salary and difficulty substantially. To build up your reputation initially and earn some positive feedback that you can quote on your website or online profiles, you may need to take on lower-paying work than you would ideally like. However, it’s a pretty quick field to establish your reputation in and thus provides good scope to increase your rates, particularly if you offer specialist knowledge as part of your translation service.

Freelance Translation Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Flexible schedule
  • Varied workload
  • Plenty of scope to establish multiple sources of income
  • Potential to expand into providing interpretation services if you particularly enjoy the work

Cons:

  • Some projects are less exciting than others
  • Specialized language can make some translations particularly challenging

Making Money Through Translation: Conclusion

If you speak two languages fluently and want a flexible job that means you can work from home, freelance translation could be the career for you. You’ll need a keen eye for detail and a genuine interest in using your language skills day in, day out, as part of your work (or you’ll tire of it pretty quickly!).

Translation can be rewarding financially as well as satisfying work to undertake. For those with additional skills (such as transcription, which you can use for video translation tasks) and expert knowledge in a particular subject, translation can be particularly worthwhile as a freelance career.

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