How to Become a Freelance Translator: Work, Jobs, Advice

A translator is someone fluent in two or more written languages. Hence, fluency allows them to offer their services to translate written documents into another language. Freelance translators are independent contractors or self-employed entrepreneurs. Corporate translators are employees who work for one company. It’s very similar work.

However freelance translation can sometimes be more challenging. A freelance translator works for many different clients rather than for the same company. This means you have to get up to speed very quickly. Most of all, each client or client company may need something slightly different. It’s very crucial as a freelance translator to be able to quickly identify and understand what your client’s needs are first. Taking time for this up front enables you to provide the translation they require in a time frame that meets their project need.

Interpreters Versus Translators

There’s a huge demand projected through 2022 for interpreters and translators. You may be most familiar with language interpreters. These are people who interpret the spoken word. You may have seen interpreters on television or in an office, at a school assembly, or public meeting. But there are some subtle but important distinctions between interpreters and translators.

The primary difference is that translators typically deal with written documents. Interpreters deal with spoken language. If you are fluent in English and American Sign Language for example, you could interpret for the hearing impaired. If you are fluent in reading Braille, you could translate for individuals who are visually impaired.  In addition, you could translate for companies with customers or staff that are visually impaired.

Another important difference between interpreters and translators is language interpreters often work in view of people. They interpret live conversation between several people as it’s happening. It’s a more rapid and sometimes more stressful environment. Translators focus on the written word. This means translators are more often behind the scenes. They may deal with several staff people or a group of people at a time. But for the most part, translators complete the work and then present it in written form.

Most Commonly Spoke Languages:

  • English (1,500 million speakers of English worldwide)
  • Mandarin Chinese (Bloomberg’s most useful language other than English)
  • German (Gives a definite edge in western work world and international trade world)
  • Spanish (4th most spoken language worldwide, most in demand by U.S. employers and most often studied by U.S. college students)
  • French (2nd most useful language according to Bloomberg)
  • Arabic
  • Japanese
  • Portuguese

What Kind of Documents Do Freelance Translators Work With?

In today’s worldwide marketplace, it pays off to know what languages your readers or potential customers prefer. Knowledge of the target audience allows businesses to be proactive and to have documents and advertisements translated. This is the primary role of a freelance translator.

  • User manuals
  • Court and Legal Documents or Contracts
  • Billboards for Sales Campaigns
  • Business Reports
  • Safety Information
  • Sales Brochures
  • Prospectus
  • Annual Reports
  • Speeches
  • Catalogs
  • Policy and Procedural Documents

It is also important to know that there are many different types of clients, many different roles. You can find yourself working with big legal firms like and big brands like Microsoft. Then you have the other end of the spectrum where you will find local hospitals, online SEO agencies and even freelancers looking to start their own website.

Most Lucrative Languages for Freelance Translators:

When it comes to freelance translators, it’s not a one rate fits all industry. The language or languages being translated can mean different compensation for freelancers. A translator is paid more to translate Arabic or Mandarin Chinese to English than for someone to translate a document from English to say Italian.

  • Arabic
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Danish

As a matter of fact, English to Italian translation and English to Portuguese commanded the lowest rates according to an ATA report.

What to Look for in a Freelance Translator

The Right Language Combination

First of all, freelance translators are not the same as language interpreters. Interpreters are orally proficient or fluent in multiple languages. Freelance translators are skilled in the nuances and details of the written word. Their knowledge of details enable them to translate from other languages into their native language. So an English speaking native translates documents written in Italian or Mandarin Chinese into English. Yet a native speaking Russian is not the best person to translate your Russian document into English. A qualified freelance translator may translate from multiple languages into their native language. But a professional translator shouldn’t offer to translate from their native language to their non native languages.

The Right Level of Translation

In addition, translations can be “for information” translations or “for publication” translations. Make sure you know the difference between these types of translations. Take time to clarify which type of translation you want from your freelance translator if you are a client. “For information” translations are loosely translated. These are designed to give you the basic information and understanding from the text. “For publication” translations are more formal, more thorough, and will translate details accurately. Providing a “for information” translation for a business publication, contract agreement, or advertisement could damage a client’s business or brand.

The Right Level of Technical Knowledge

Furthermore, one of the important things to look for when choosing a freelance translator is someone with an in-depth knowledge. The more your freelance translator knows about your subject area or topic, the more accurate the translation. If you want to become a freelance translator, be sure that you have the in depth knowledge of subject matter you will deal with most frequently.

Resources for Freelance Translators

There are tons of resources available for those who wish to become freelance translators. Below are just a few of them:

How To Become a Freelance Translator?

Finally, the very basic requirements to become a freelance translator are to hold a Bachelor’s degree and to be fluent in at least two languages. One of your languages should be English.

Other Potential Requirements

  • Certification through ATA (American Translators Association)
  • Criminal Background Check
  • Court Translator’s Exam (if you want to translate for courts)
  • Master’s degree in Linguistics, Translation, or Interpreting
  • DELF- certification of French-language for those who aren’t native speakers. It’s given by the CIEP for France’s Ministry of Education. The DELF is a lifetime certification in four distinct diplomas.

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