lost in translation
March 16, 2011 2:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I begin getting low-key freelance work in French --> English translation?

Unsure how to go about doing this. I am going to be a masters student with a small fellowship soon (in an unrelated field), and it would be great to have a flexible side gig that I enjoy. I have been doing a bit of volunteer translation for some small NGOs and nonprofits, and would like to know how to progress to getting paying work. I definitely am not the best translator in the world, but this is about translation experience itself rather than French-language skill-- I need practice. I would be fine with working at a discounted rate while I am still low on experience. I have an undergrad degree in linguistics, which might be a marketing point to some potential clients.

How do I step things up to the next level? I have no idea where to start.
posted by threeants to Work & Money (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you located? Which dialect(s) of French and English do you translate? Which is your native language?

If you're in North America, it might not be a bad idea to look into the American Translator's Association, either for accreditation or for networking.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 2:37 PM on March 16, 2011

If what you really want is practice, have you considered signing up for an online translation provider like myGengo?
posted by burnmp3s at 2:42 PM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: I am located in New York City; likely relocating to Atlanta, GA in the late summer; translate standard "Parisian" French; native language English.
posted by threeants at 2:42 PM on March 16, 2011

My girlfriend got a few translation gigs through craigslist (and she's not a translator). She mostly worked for local businesses and grad students (to translate their presentations).

We're in Montréal though - we may have more gigs of that nature available here because of the whole bilingual city thing we've got going on.
posted by agregoire at 2:42 PM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: That looks very interesting, burnmp3s; thanks for the heads-up.
posted by threeants at 2:43 PM on March 16, 2011

you might want to check out www.proz.com as well - this is a forum for translators, loads of excellent advice but also a place where you can pick up some translating gigs.
posted by coffee_monster at 2:54 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I guess my question (especially w/r/t Proz) is that I am aware to some extent of where translation jobs are found, but how can someone with little experience get a leg up and start getting clients?
posted by threeants at 3:00 PM on March 16, 2011

I cannot really help, but I'm very interested in the replies. I have 20 years of experience and I'm yet to find any jobs via Proz (and I'm a member under the paid subscription). I've been trying for five months or so.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 3:32 PM on March 16, 2011

Oh, and I forgot the most obvious answer: through the university you will be attending.

A French friend of mine earned beer money for a few months translating a 19th century travelogue into English for an anthropology professor with grant money. (I think it was about Armenia? Georgia?) It can't hurt to talk to a few faculty secretaries and see if you can get your name pinned up on a bulletin board somewhere.

Also, you haven't mentioned your "unrelated" field. If you have a technical background in both languages, you're going to be making more money translating medical journal articles than you ever will doing fansubs of "Caillou."
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:57 PM on March 16, 2011

posted by war wrath of wraith at 5:56 PM on March 16, 2011

Check out guru.com. My fiance and I have both gotten freelance work off there - I've never done translation but I know that there is a section for it.
posted by radioamy at 8:47 PM on March 16, 2011

OneHourTranslation recently upped their rates from really abysmal ($.03/word) to slightly abysmal ($.05/word) but if you want to get some experience, it's not a bad place to start, especially if you're online and able to check your e-mail all the time and can respond tout suite to any offers. (I think the automated job allocation systems sends out offers to something like 5 translators at a time, wait a few minutes, and then sends offers to another batch of registered translators). I'm not sure how the supply/demand ratio is in French>English. The texts range from stupid love letters across the language barrier to medical reports and other highly technical stuff (all for the low-low rate of ($.05/word!) You're unlikely to get much more than beer-and-pizza money, but you can count the date of your first paid gig as the start of your freelance career!

Do give a paid membership on proz.com a try, too (the job board is heavily weighted in favor of paying members). If you've done your research on the business of freelance translating, you will know that a huge chunk of the volume goes through translation agencies who outsource to freelancers. So don't focus too much about landing direct clients, for one thing--focus on working for agencies (a good agency that specializes in your languages can send you a lot of business). Some smaller agencies can be helpful in showing the ropes to talented translators just starting out. So-called "kitchen table" agencies can have a bad rap, but they're at the bottom end of the food chain in terms of the rates they can offer, and hence many are willing to take a risk on a young translator with not much on the CV other than a semi-related degree, some in-country experience, some volunteer translation work, and a willingness to work for rates that a native-speaking translator with a few years of experience would not.
posted by drlith at 8:49 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could look at oDesk -- it's an online contractor marketplace. I've hired translators via that system before for small jobs.
posted by haykinson at 3:13 AM on March 17, 2011

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