Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Freelance Translator

For expats moving to Brazil, the go-to profession is usually teaching private English lessons. This is a great option and one that will probably see a much greater demand with the World Cup and the Olympics right around the corner. When I went to Brazil, I didn't get into teaching English because I had already arranged a job as a part-time in-house translator for a Travel and Tourism company.

In addition to working with the company, I spent hours a day trying to establish myself as a freelance translator. Now, about 6 months later, I am starting to see my efforts pay off and I can really see a profitable and fulfilling career in my future. The hardest part of becoming a freelance translator is figuring out where to start. I though I would offer some of my advice and explain how I got started, for anyone who is interested in a possible career as a translator.

1) Know two (or more) languages. This is pretty obvious, but absolutely necessary. Although my Portuguese is not fluent, it is advanced enough to understand fully 99% of what I read. (For that last 1% I email the boyfriend!) Also, with any translation project you will always translate into your native language. So for me, I translate from the "Source language" (Portuguese) to my "native language" (English).

2) Do cheap or volunteer translations. My first "job" as a translator was proofreading subtitles for an independent film. It was volunteer. I then signed up with onehourtranslation.com. This company offers quick translations for companies that need expedited services. They only pay .05USD per source word (words in the original document) and .09USD per source word for expert translation (legal and technical documents). I get most of my experience and income from this site.

3) I got a wide range of translation experience through the site onehourtranslation, and I built up my resume with translation projects of legal documents, magazine articles, twitter, texts, emails, food packaging, CVs, forex, diplomas, transcripts etc... I finally had a full enough resume to feel confident sending my resume to translation agencies. I started sending my resume to 3 agencies per day, all of which I found online.
***Remember, even if you work with Port>Eng, agencies in countries other than the US/UK and Brazil/Portugal need freelance translators too.

4) Choosing a price is difficult for me. I am still shooting pretty low because of my lack of experience, but I have been able to raise my price since I started. Most companies will pay per source word, and I end up making about $20/hour-$40/hour depending on the content of the translation.

The great thing about sending your resume into so many different companies is that you will be stored in their database. Now, I receive random emails from companies that I don't even remember contacting. Work seems to be popping up all over the place now and I'm actually having to turn some people down.

The downside to translating for agencies across the world, is that if they scam you, there is not much you can do about it, except to blast them on your blog..like I am about to do:

ASHIS SHAH from language world. SCAM SCAM SCAM!!! If you get a project from this man, RUN AWAY!! May the bad karma you have acquired lead your business to failure and financial ruin. He will arrange a translation, and once you have turned it in, he will tell you that he assigned it to another translator because you didn't respond soon enough. He will blame the different time zones on the miscommunication. Then, when you turn in an agreed upon translation, he will ignore you and never pay you. SCAM SCAM SCAM!!!

If you have any questions about starting as a freelance translator, feel free to write me. I'm no expert, but I'm learning a little more each day.


  1. I'm also a freelance translator! I've been in Sao Paulo for over 3 years, but actually got my start in the area over 8 years ago (my first job out of college was project manager at a translation agency).

    I think translation is similar to teaching English in that a lot of people seem to think anyone can do it. There's actually quit a bit of theory behind it, just like TEFL, and while you don't necessarily need to get a Master's degree in translation, knowing what you're doing and taking the time to learn more and gain experience will go a long way.

    90% of my clients are outside Brazil for a couple of reasons. 1) Rates are pretty ridiculously low. One agency balked at my rates and offered me 2 cents a word instead. Umm, no thanks. 2) The whole idea that translators should really only translate into their native language accepted around the world isn't so accepted here. No matter how good your second language is, I personally feel strongly that it's unethical to translate into a non-native language. There are plenty of people with sub-par English translating for super cheap. You get what you pay for (and I'm sure we've all seen menus and signs around that are examples of their wonderful work).

    A pretty good book for reference on the business side of things is this one:
    I know the author and she's great.

    Besides your blog, there are other ways to get non-paying clients. Before working with a new client, check out the Payment Practices list or Proz.com's Blue Board. And if they're being shady, leave a review.

    Also, anyone wanting to make this a career should really think about joining ATA, or another local translation organization. ABRATES is pretty dead and I'm not sure it's worth it.

    One other thing I want to say, though, is I'm not a fan of recommending that people work for really cheap. Much better to do volunteer work for a non-profit or NGO that really needs it than to perpetuate the existence of shady agencies who think they can sink rates to below minimum wage levels. Check out Kiva or Translators without Borders. I got a lot of experience in the beginning with an internship and a lot of places are open to that if you ask.

  2. Thanks for all the advice, it's great to hear from someone with more experience in the area!

  3. Thanks for the tips, Nancy. I have contacted a few organizations to work on volunteering as a translator; I want to gain some experience this way and then I can use them as references on sites like www.onehourtranslations.com.

  4. Thank you for the tips. I've lived in Chicago for the past 3 years (my English is pretty decent) and I'll be moving back to Brazil in a month!!! I'm so after jobs (thought about teaching ESL (actually took a course on it) and/or Portuguese for foreigners), but what I reeaaally reeaaally want to work with is translations. So thanks again for the tips. Greatly appreciated. ;)

  5. Great tips,I teach Portuguese as a second language and working as a freelance translation it is in my plans.


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