Useful translation practice?
November 16, 2009 3:47 AM   Subscribe

I want to hone my translation skills (English to German), but I'd like my translations to be useful/needed.

I work as a freelance copyeditor for German publishers and would like to start doing translations. More specifically, I'd like to do non-fiction translations from English to German. I've line-edited many English-to-German translations and I think I'd be well suited for doing translation work myself. I'm a native German speaker fluent in English. (FWIW, I also have a PhD in Philosophy).

The problem: apart from translating shorter passages for fun or for friends, I haven't done any professional translation work, yet. Although my translations are certainly OK (i.e. semantically correct and stylistically adequate), I think I need some more practice - but I find the prospect of putting in a lot of work, for example by translating random books/articles and then just filing away the result, a bit demotivating.

So here's my actual question(s):
- I imagine there must be many organisations or individuals who need English-to-German translations, but cannot pay for a professional translator (e.g. charities). I'd love to help, and I'm OK with not receiving any compensation. But how do I find these people/organizations?
- I'd also be ok with translating fiction for practice - but, again, only if I could then put the results on the web without violating copyright regulations, and if there's (at least minimal) demand for a translation. How do I find such texts?
- any other ideas for improving my translation skills and making myself useful at the same time?
posted by carrot to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Individual (or small company) developers who are releasing things for free or cheap in the iPhone App Store would benefit from having their app descriptions translated into the local language of the person downloading. I release a few apps and think it would be beneficial (not to mention polite!) to have my descriptions appear in the right language for each app store. We don't have money to pay translators so have either not bothered or relied on Google Translate in some cases.

MeMail me if you'd be interested in translating app store descriptions or even elements of an app's user interface into German.
posted by BOfH at 4:04 AM on November 16, 2009

Put up an ad on craigslist and advertise your services.
posted by PowerCat at 4:12 AM on November 16, 2009

Maybe advertise on student union webpages of German universities, offering the service for English-speaking students (charging a nominal rate) and also on expat-in-Germany (etc) websites ie exberliner, expatica, toytown and in listings magazines for German cities such as Zitty, ie to translate peoples' English documents into German for Behördengänge etc... and "Mechanical Turk"?
posted by runincircles at 4:32 AM on November 16, 2009

There is a need for Wikipedia articles (some of which are quite long and thorough) to be translated into various languages. A few years ago now, I saw a list on a WikiProject page of articles that the group wanted translated into English and did some transations of well-written German and Spanish articles.

Some nice things about doing this sort of thing are that (a) real people will read and potentially benefit from the translations and (b) there are no issues to do with translating copyrighted text and (c) you can pick topics that interest you in some way. Although some Wikipedia articles are badly written, there are plenty that have been carefully produced and edited.
posted by sueinnyc at 5:13 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Check out this article with some useful pointers toward sources of pro bono translation. The article's a little old and not all the links may be active any more.

The other virtually limitless of source of productive translation material is Wikipedia. Pick out texts that are present in the English-language Wikipedia and not available in German, and translate them.

It would be particularly helpful if you can figure out what field of translation you think you might like to specialize in and translate texts in that field. The occasional philosophy text may come your way, but if you actually want to make a solid living as a translator, it is a good idea to be comfortable translating the sorts of texts that comprise the bulk of the global translation market, which can roughly be divided into: legal; business/financial (there's plenty of work to be had translating financial statements, e.g.), medical, and technical (various sorts of engineering, IT/telecom, etc.).

With a background in philosophy, for example, legal might be a good choice.

I myself transitioned from editor to translator a couple of years ago, and I have tons of suggestions not directly related to your immediate question. Drop me a metamail if you want to hear me ramble on at greater length.
posted by drlith at 5:25 AM on November 16, 2009

You could probably find a translation agency that would be willing to pay you very little. If you MeMail me I might have some suggestions. I'm the opposite, an American translating into English, and I regularly turn down opportunities to do shit work for very little money.

I have to disagree with drlith: philosophy does not equip you to translate legal writing. At least not in my case.
posted by creasy boy at 5:56 AM on November 16, 2009

If you want to translate just for practice (not pay), you could find articles in that you think are interesting (or that relate to a marketable subject) and that have no counterparts in Translate them and add them to You don't need to ask permission from anyone. This can become an exercise in frustration when other people start messing with your work, but that's a wikipedia-culture issue.

Working for agencies doesn't pay as well as working for direct clients, but it can be a way of getting established.

Most importantly, I suggest searching out a mailing list for EN<>DE translators and joining it. If there is a local translator's association, show up at meetings. If there is a national translator's convention in Germany, attend it, pass out lots of business cards, and shake lots of hands. This has been the best way of meeting good clients in my experience.
posted by adamrice at 8:15 AM on November 16, 2009

Open source projects, like Open Office, often need help with translations. You could also try translating poetry or literature that is beyond copyright, and that you are interested in, and creating a blog with the work you do. It would not only hone your skills, but be a useful marketing tool in the future.
posted by bwonder2 at 12:36 PM on November 16, 2009

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