Starting in the translation industry

These days having a Masters qualification in translation is an almost essential pre-requisite, and will be the foundation on which you build your career path.

When looking for a freelance translator, translation agencies agree that there is no substitute for experience. Remember, any experience is good experience, and with no prior knowledge of the industry, offering your services for free can be a good way to bolster your CV. It is advisable to consider translating for charities, or start an internship as an in-house translator, as both are excellent ways to gain the valuable experience that employers require.

The rest of this section will cover:

Tips for a newcomer to the translation industry

Mercedes currently works for TranslateMedia London as a Project Manager. In the video below she recounts her experience as a graduate, and offers advice on how to create a CV and provides an insight into the workings of the translation industry.

Writing a professional CV: the dos and don’ts to better sell your skills

DO include DON’T include
Personal data: Name, Address, Telephone, email website Age or Date of Birth, Photo, Marital Status and Number of children
Personal profile: three sentences to explain:

  • Who, professionally speaking, are you?
  • What do you have to offer to the employer?
  • What are you looking for?
Your (international) qualifications
Course Modules appropriate to the job application
Professional Experience (better expression) Work experience (sounds unprofessional)
How to order your Professional Experience section: Job title, company, location, dates Lists of individual jobs you did as a freelancer or otherwise
How to order your Professional Experience section: Job title, company, location, dates Lists of individual jobs you did as a freelancer or otherwise
Languages you speak
Use universal fonts: Helvetica, Arial, times New Roman, Verdana Don’t use quirky fonts.
Font sizes: Headers 11-12 pt text 10 pt
References available upon request Do not provide names and contacts, in order to respect privacy


Make your CV relevant:

    1. Read through the Job Description carefully.
    2. Highlight the key responsibilities and skills.
    3. Research the company, culture, and mission statement.
    4. Highlight the requirements in the person specifications.

Gather evidence by making notes on how you match the Job Description. Note where you would evidence these areas on your CV.

Tweak your professional experiences in order to better match requirements. Do not simply make a list of your previous jobs. It is important to choose only your relevant experience while explaining the key responsibilities of the position. This should show your professional achievements and demonstrate how you will be able to benefit the employer!

Cover Letters – the pieces of the puzzle:

  • Page Setup: open your new word document. Select ‘Page Layout’ and set 2cm Margins for all sides (top, bottom, left, right). Stay classical and consistent with your CV when choosing the font…
  • Dear… : When you’re applying in English there are some formal aspects to consider. If you know the name of the recipient, you can write “Dear –then title- XXXX”. But if you do not know their name, you must then write “Dear Sir/ Madam”.
  • Purpose: Here you state what the letter is for. Some appealing openings are: “I am writing to apply for…”, “Further to your ad for the above position…”, “Please find enclosed my application for …”

Your letter should mirror the job specifications by explaining why you are the right candidate for the position. Keep it simple and clear. It is vital to pick your skills and achievements that can boost you application. Remember, you letter should explain:

  • Who you are
  • What are your strengths
  • How you match and fulfil the job specification

The last effort! Be positive and look forward by using two or three lines to thank the ‘examiner’ and include a gentle but pushy ‘goodbye’, requesting next steps.

Here are some good examples: “I very much hope that my profile is of interest”, “Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require further information”, and “I look forward to hearing from you in due course”

We wrote the guidelines in English because is the worldwide working language but, as a linguist, make your localisation skills shine, starting from the job application!

Rates: what will you earn

The issue of rates can be a difficult one to resolve. It is true that as newcomers to the industry, recent graduates are likely to undercut their competition to attract work. But it is important to remember not to undersell yourself, as clients may not trust a translator with a cheap rate.

You can generally expect to earn between 0.04 GBP to 0.08 GBP per word for translation.

This is a result of several factors that can help to determine the amount you can charge for your work:

    • The language pair that you work with significantly affects the rate of your translation. More common languages such as French, Spanish, German etc. do not demand high rates. Whereas less common languages such as Danish, Korean, and Vietnamese are more lucrative for translators.


    • Language direction can also directly influence the rate that you may charge. For example, Chinese to English translators can charge more than English to Chinese translators, as there are fewer English speakers who know Chinese.


    • Your Specialism is also influential in the determining of rates, as the more niche the subject matter, the fewer people will be qualified to undertake the translation. For instance an expert in skin graft technology in any language will be in a good place to win all the work on user manuals, skin graft techniques, and handbooks…if it gets translated.


    • Remember to charge for evening and weekend work. Companies often need urgent translations that require the translator to work anti-social hours. As a flat rate, we would suggest that all translators should charge a 25% urgency rate surcharge.


Rates advice

      • Charge competitive, not cheap rates. It is very tempting to drop your rates to win work, and that is certainly a good option. But there is no need undermine your skill by charging an extremely low rate, as cheap may not be trusted. Keeping the rate high enough that it is fair and reflects the work involved is a good idea.


      • Set a minimum fee that is reasonable. This tends to be around 15 to 30 GBP to mitigate for the accounting and administrative work that goes into even a small job.


        • Keep the translating process transparent. Always let your client know if the work you are doing is going to cost more than anticipated, BEFORE going ahead with the extra work. Nothing is more frustrating for clients, agencies, or direct clients, than a supplier coming back with a much bigger bill than was originally agreed without prior agreement.


An experienced translator with a steady stream of contacts and work can expect to earn between £30,000-£40,000 p.a. However, it is possible to earn more.

Volunteer translation experience

      • Ashoka– this social enterprise charity use the slogan ‘Everyone is a Changemaker’ to respond to societies challenges. With many worthwhile causes, it is a great place to start translating, particularly for those who know French and Spanish.


      • International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL)– an organisation that needs help from able volunteers to translate children’s books, the ICDL web interface, bibliographic information about books, and author biographies. All languages are welcome.


      • Streetfootballworld– currently looking for native English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese speakers to join their international volunteer translations team. Streetfootballworld use the power of football to promote issues such as children’s rights, social integration, and environmental protection.


      • Translators for Kids– a not-for-profit group that is partaking in many worthwhile causes, including the translation and publication of a collection of stories written by underprivileged children from around the world.


      • Translations for Progress– a charity that was specifically created to help students hoping to find good experience as a translator.


      • Translators Without Borders– an organisation that undertakes the translation of documents for humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders, AIDES, and Handicap International FIDH.


      • Khan Academy– The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organisation with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.


    • Global voices international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world. Global Voices encourages participation and contribution and welcome volunteer translators and proofreaders.

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