If you speak more than one language, becoming a translator is an excellent side hustle.
Language services are in demand around the globe, with everyone from the retail sector to the medical community using translation and localization services.
Today, we’re going to be taking a detailed look at what’s involved in freelance translation, including:
- How to get started
- How much you can earn
- Where to find jobs
- and more
Ofer Tirosh contributed this post. Ofer is the CEO of Tomedes, a translation company that he has grown over the past 13 years to serve customers around the globe with high-quality translation and localization services.
How to Become a Freelance Translator
To become a freelance translator, you need to:
- Decide which services you’re going to deliver
- Set your rates
- Establish an online presence that advertises your services
- Connect with clients who need translation work undertaken
With the right degree of enthusiasm, you can work through each of these steps pretty quickly. Working from home in online translation and localization is a fairly easily accessible – at least to those with the right language and tech skills.
Language Skills Required to Become a Translator
This one is probably pretty obvious:
In terms of linguistic ability, you need to be fluent in two languages. Not kinda-sorta-can-get-by fluent, but really, actually fluent.
Tech Skills Required to Become a Translator
You also need to be handy behind a keyboard. While machine translation (that is, translation completed entirely by computers) can’t yet compete with human translation in terms of quality, professional translators certainly rely a number of computerized tools.
These computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools help you translate faster and more consistently by remembering key words and phrases as part of the translation process.
Popular options include:
As is the case in so many industries, time is money when it comes to working as an online translator. As such, mastering the correct CAT tools can mean a significant jump in income.
How Much Do Freelance Translators Make?
Let’s cut to the chase. How much does a freelance translator make?
According to Payscale, the average translator salary is just shy of $50,000 a year. On a freelance basis, that works out to about $20 an hour, with rates as high as $35-40 an hour for specialized translation and localization work.
That means if you’re looking for an extra $1000 a month, you’ll probably need to find 10-15 hours a week worth of translating jobs.
While it’s not the best-paying gig in the world, it’s not bad given the low startup costs and ongoing overhead of working as an online translator.
Connect with Other Translators
Many established freelance translators have spent years working from home. As such, translators are already ahead of the curve in terms of remote working, with long-established systems in place for everything from peer support to finding work.
If you’re a new online translator, tapping into these networks is essential.
You can find advice from those who’ve been providing translation and localization services for years, which can help you to avoid any newbie pitfalls, such as under-quoting for complex jobs–or missing the warning signs of a difficult client.
Here are are a couple communities to check out:
- Things Translators Never Say (TTNS) – An active, award-winning Facebook group for translators and interpreters.
- Translators and Interpreters (ProZ) – The large and active official group of the ProZ translator community.
Where Can I Find Freelance Translation Jobs?
When it comes to finding translation jobs online, you’ve got lots of options.
Translation agencies are a good starting point. Many are happy to give new translators a trial and, once the translator has established their abilities, the agency does all the legwork in terms of finding clients, chasing invoices, and so on.
Of course, the drawback with working through an agency is that the agency will need to cover the cost of providing its services, which often pushes down the rate of pay that the freelance translator receives.
Many translators therefore prefer to find their work directly, taking care of their own marketing, billing, and other essential admin.
Freelance Translator Sites
These community-focused sites include plenty of job listings, enabling freelance translation professionals to connect directly with those in need of their services.
The rates on these sites vary by the languages being translated, the complexity of the project, and the desired turnaround time, but are generally in the $15-30 an hour range.
General Freelance Sites
A search on Upwork for job postings containing the word ‘translation’ at the time of writing brought up 3,800 results:
A search for ‘localization’ resulted in nearly 500 hits.
These postings include both one-off projects (at budgets up to $3000!), and ongoing hourly freelance work.
Job sites like these tend to divide opinion, in large part due to steep fees, potential scams, and the need to take on fairly low-paying jobs to build up your reputation.
However, with a bit of perseverance, they can turn up regular clients who are happy to pay decent rates. They’re also well suited to those looking for a side hustle with flexible hours.
What Are the Different Types of Translation?
New translators will quickly find that clients are searching for more than just language skills.
Those in need of translation usually want someone with expertise that matches their business sector. For example, legal firms will look for legal translators, marketing firms for marketing translators, and so forth.
Providing specific expertise like this means that the client can be confident that they’re getting the industry-specific knowledge they need. It also means you can charge more for your knowledge!
What is Localization?
While translation takes content in one language and converts it into another, localization goes much further. It essentially adapts the content to suit a particular audience, reshaping it as required to fit with the target audience’s cultural norms.
This process results in content that feels to the intended audience as though it was written for them originally, rather than having been adapted.
What Are the Main Elements of Localization?
Localization is a detailed process that incorporates a wide range of factors.
Content must be adapted to ensure that measurements, idioms, cultural references, and more suit the target audience.
Remember when GM tried to sell their Chevy Nova in Mexico? “No va” in Spanish translates to “[it] doesn’t go” … not exactly an ideal name for a car!
Imagery must be updated as well. Technical factors come into play too, particularly when it comes to website localization. That process requires consideration to be given to everything from coding language to payment systems in order to deliver a project successfully.
Poor localization can result in a less-than-optimum user experience. This can reduce engagement levels and, ultimately, result in the company missing out on potential revenue.
Is Demand for Translators Growing?
Over recent years, much has been made of the potential for machine translation to revolutionize the way that we tackle language barriers.
For instance, apps like Google Translate can be super helpful when traveling. Using your phone’s camera with character recognition to translate signs and menus is like living in the future.
But machine translation has its limits. While having the advantages of being both free and instant, it can’t yet deliver the same finesse that human translation can. As such, the doom and gloom predictions that human translators would be replaced by machines have failed to pan out.
Instead, demand for freelance translators is booming. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for interpreters and translators for 2018-2028 stands at a growth rate of 19% (which is far faster than the average job growth rate for that period).
The study sites increasing globalization and a more diverse population as the primary drivers of that growth.
Machine translation technology has influenced the translation and localization industry in other ways.
Those looking for a profitable translation side hustle would do well to consider providing post-editing machine translation (PEMT) services.
PEMT services are translation services where the translator works with a client who has used a computer to translate their content and is unhappy with the result. The translator works with both the original content and the machine translation in order to deliver a final translation that accurately reflects the source material.
The attraction of PEMT is that it can be both faster and more cost effective than a traditional translation service.
One notable study showed that human translators could produce 503 words per hour when working from scratch, versus 685 words per hour when post-editing a neural machine translation of the same source material.
From the translator’s perspective, PEMT isn’t for everyone. Working with machine-mangled copy can be a distressing experience for those who love languages and who are used to providing regular translation services!
However, if you can get past that, you may find that providing post-editing machine translation services is a profitable side hustle that you can deliver from the comfort of your home.
Is Becoming a Translator a Good Side Hustle?
Providing translation and localization services is a side hustle that will stand the test of time.
First and foremost, working as an online translator means that you can provide your translation service from home. In these times of social distancing and non-essential business closures, that’s a major plus point.
Working from home also comes with its own advantages, from cutting out office expenses to eliminating the need to commute to work. Translators can even work in their PJs and take power naps as a regular part of their working day, should they so choose!
You can often choose your own hours, and fit your translation work around other commitments.
What Other Jobs Can Translators Get?
Another reason that translation is such an attractive long-term side hustle is the flexibility that it gives to the individual freelance translator to use their transferable skills to pick up additional work.
Translators work with language day in, and day out. That means that they are often well placed to consider alternative jobs, including:
- multilingual content writing
- maybe even voice over work?
Translators have the scope to try their hand at delivering a number of other language-related services.
Building a portfolio of side hustles in this way means you can create a flexible income stream to better weather external political, economic, or health-related disasters.
Part of a Growing Freelance Trend
In the UK, freelancers account for 6% of the overall workforce.
It’s reasonable to assume that these figures will be increasing over the coming years, including being bolstered by those providing freelance translation and localization services.
Have you done freelance translation work? What do you think of this field as a side hustle or new career?