How to Become a Successful Freelance Translator

How to Become a Successful Freelance Translator

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Do you want to learn how to make money from translation?

I’ve already been there! And guess what? I make $20 per hour translating between English, German and French.

What’s my secret?

Let me break it down for you: many companies hire freelancers to translate blog posts, legal documents, user guides, etc. These are golden opportunities to make a quick buck.

So what’s the catch?

In a word: competition.

There are a lot of translators out there, and it is hard to stand out from the crowd. But don’t worry, I will share my hard-earned knowledge in this guide: how to learn translation skills, land translation jobs, and earn a decent salary.

Let’s dive in!

Introduction: My freelance translation journey

My freelance translation journey.

Before we start, let me tell you how I ended up as a freelance translator.

Here is some context: I was writing product reviews for an outdoor blog (more details here). I was lucky because this outdoor blog had both French and English versions. And guess what? My mother taught me how to speak French.

That’s why I asked my manager if they needed help translating some of their articles.

Long story short, I just landed my first translation job.

From one thing to another, I got the opportunity to translate articles for a wide range of websites. With persistence, motivation, and hard work, I was able to earn a decent living!

And you? Do you think you have what it takes to become a freelance translator?

Be warned: translation is not for everyone.

To guide your decision, I have gathered some interesting information about freelance translation: the pros, the cons, how much translators make, and the qualifications required for the job.

Pros and cons of being a freelance translator

There are some aspects of freelance writing you need to know.

Here is why I like this job:

  • Working from home is awesome!
  • As long as you meet deadlines, you have the freedom to work at your own pace.
  • You are paid according to your skills: experienced translators make way more money than amateurs (more about that later).

Nothing’s perfect; there are also some disadvantages to consider:

  • Working alone… You can feel lonely if you don’t get out and socialize while you aren’t working.
  • Freelancing is inconsistent; you have to hustle every day to find translation jobs!
  • Incomes are fluky; sometimes, you get a decent salary, sometimes not.

What qualifications do you need?

Good news: no degree or certification is required to become a freelance translator.

A bulky portfolio and good references are much more valuable than a degree!

However, certified translators have an edge when applying for translation jobs that involve technical writing, finance, or legal matters.

How much do freelance translators make?

Depending on the job, translators can either earn an insignificant or a high salary.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average wage of translators is $30 per hour. However, there is a significant discrepancy between starting level earnings ($7 per hour) and top-level earnings ($60 per hour).

That’s what I experienced as well! At first, I was making about $12 per hour.

And now? I can earn up to $30 in an hour! I’ll teach you how to land top-tier translation jobs later along the road.

Just keep in mind that income in translation depends on the source and target languages. According to the American Translators Association (ATA), the highest paying language pairs are:

  • English to Arabic ($0.19 per word)
  • English to Chinese
  • Chinese to English
  • English to Japanese
  • English to Danish

And the language combinations commanding the lowest rates are:

  • English to Italian ($0.12 per word)
  • English to Portuguese

The type of translation services requested (medical, legal, technical, financial, or business) also significantly impact your earnings.

Let me teach you how to make money as a translator!

Step 1: Improve your translation skills

Learn how to master translation skills.

Now that you have decided to become a freelance translator, you need to make sure your skills are up to par. Just because you speak another language doesn’t mean you can succeed as a freelance translator!

You need training, experience, and familiarity with the subject matter. And that’s not all; you also need to master the basic skills:

  • Excellent reading and comprehension skills in your source language.
  • Good grammar and writing skills in your native language.
  • Cultural knowledge in both target and source language.
  • Decent typing speed.
  • Computer literacy (most translators these days work with translation tools, more about that later).

If you’re unsure if you have what it takes, asking an experienced translator to mark your work is an excellent way to evaluate your level.

In case your level is insufficient, here are the best ways to improve your translation skills:

  • Read newspapers, journals, and listen to the radio in your target language.
  • Collaborate with experienced translators to learn the ins and outs of the job.
  • Spend some time talking to native speakers of your target language.
  • Consider taking translating courses to improve your writing style.

Computer-assisted translation

Unless you don’t want to be a competitive translator, you need to use so-called “Computer-Assisted Translation tools” (CAT tools).

These fantastic tools check your spelling, grammar, and ensure consistent terminology throughout your translation project!

Do you want to know why I use them on a daily basis? CAT tools make you a better and faster translator. That means more money and more leisure time!

Here’s how CAT tools help to achieve this:

  • CAT tools segment the text to be translated in sentences and present them in a convenient way.
  • There are recommendations from Google Translate and online translation services (this is extremely convenient).
  • Finally, if a sentence was already translated in your database: bingo! The tool does the translation job for you.

So, what are the best CAT tools?

I use an open-source tool called “OmegaT”. But you can use other popular CAT tools such as Linguee, SDL Trados, Fluency Now, MemoQ, etc. If you just want a tool to check your spelling and grammar, I’ve been using Grammarly for years and have never been disappointed.

Step 2: Find translation jobs

Learn how to find translation jobs.

Now that you are a decent translator, it’s time to find your first job. And believe me, it can be hard to get the ball rolling!

When you have no professional experience, employers are often reluctant to give you a translation project. Here are some ways to get around this problem:

  • Consider volunteering; some charities and non-profit organizations are searching for translators. It is a great way to get hands-on experience.
  • Translate books and other mock documents to showcase your skills.

Best websites to find freelance translation jobs

Freelance websites are an excellent way for beginners to land low-paying translation jobs.

If you are a beginner, I recommend you build your portfolio on generic websites like:

  • Fiverr – the world’s largest freelance services marketplace.
  • PeoplePerHour – a website where freelancers can bid on jobs.
  • Upwork – a platform that connects top companies to talented freelance workers.
  • Flexjobs – for about $15 a month, you get access to a list of remote jobs.
  • TopTal – through a rigorous screening process, TopTal identifies the best freelancers and connects them to potential employers.

I recommend the following websites for experienced translators:

  • Gengo – the most popular online translation agency.
  • – this platform provides a free CAT tool and job marketplace.
  • Smartling – translate the words on websites, mobile apps, and other tech products.
  • OneHourTranslation – an established translation agency.

Over-deliver for your first clients

It is critical to cherish your first clients.

Why? Simply because if you do a great job the first time, your client is more likely to hire you a second time. You might even be able to convert your relationship into a regular, recurring revenue stream.

Over-delivering for one client doesn’t just impact the amount of translation work you receive from that one client; it also helps you build a strong portfolio that will impress your future employers.

Applying for translation projects

Once you have some experience, you can apply for translation projects. In order to make your translator profile stand out, you need to craft a powerful pitch. Here are the most important things to mention when applying for a translation project:

  • Include your portfolio; it is the only way to differentiate yourself from awful translators.
  • If you have some experience, do not forget to list your references in your job application.
  • Personalize your CV to the translation project.
  • Keep your application brief and concise.

Become a contractor for translation agencies

Another way to find translation jobs is to work as a contractor for translation agencies (so-called Language Service Providers or LSPs).

LSPs usually offer integrated services that include consulting, editing, and other linguistic services.

To get a job, all you have to do is find a translation agency in your area, send your CV and pass your test assignment.

Step 3: Increase your income

How to increase your translation income.

As I said in the introduction, some freelance translators earn $10 an hour, while others make $40.

So what’s their secret?

In short, these translators can do what most can’t. They have authority and specific skills that are hard to learn. Here are a few tips to help you break the glass ceiling.

Pick a niche

Specializing is the best way to land better-paying jobs.

Here is a list of sectors that actively hire experienced translators:

  • Technical translations of owner’s manuals, user guides, etc.
  • Legal translations
  • Video games
  • Websites (you can also specialize in a topic: travel, finance, fashion, etc.)
  • Mobile apps
  • Localization – adapt a product’s translation to a specific country or region.
  • E-commerce websites
  • Copywriting

Note that the length of a translation project is usually linked to the niche. For example, translating a user guide takes more time than translating a blog post. Take it into consideration before choosing your niche.

Build your network

Networking is essential for your translation career. Here’s why: most employers would hire someone they know and trust over a complete stranger. Not to mention another benefit of building a network: it makes translating far less lonely!

Final words

Here’s a short recap of how you can start your career as a freelance translator:

  1. Improve your translation skills.
  2. Land your first translation job.
  3. Build your reputation.
  4. Build a portfolio to showcase your skills.
  5. Make more money by picking a niche.

Now, it’s your turn to make money translating online!

Do you want more?

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