From V.R.: I am quite active in the swing scene (lindy hop, a jazz dance from de 1920-40s) and I love reading blogs about the culture, the music, and so on. I would like to start translating and subtitling Swing-based blogs and podcasts and offer my services to those websites/blogs/youtube channels. But I didn’t study anything related to language professionally speaking, I am in fact an engineer. I would like to know which courses or what type of education do you find important to have in order to be able to translate and actually charge people for doing so. I’ve already translated some interviews and subtitled a couple videos for a friend, but I can’t see how to charge people for doing so. What’s your advice?
The Translator’s Aunt: Dear V.R., many people like the idea of earning a living translating and subtitling but don’t realise how much of a personal investment it is to get to the stage where you can really make a career out of it. Millions of people speak multiple languages, but that doesn’t automatically make them able translators. So I think you’re right in wanting to seek further education in order to have a firmer footing if you’re serious about pursuing this ambition.
There are many courses out there, from online continuous professional development courses focusing on business development, like the 8-week course I run, to 2-year Masters programs in translation at your local university. If you have no linguistic background, then I highly suggest looking into university-level academic courses to gain skills in translating and subtitling. Beyond that, practising your writing skills is essential, and that often means translating and subtitling for free (for friends or worthy associations and causes for example), since this will also help you build references and a portfolio.
Once you feel confident in your linguistic skills, you may find it beneficial to gain accreditation from a local or national translators’ association, for example. This can often give you greater credibility, allow you to access further professional development courses (because you should never stop learning), and help you build a network of trusted colleagues. It’s also essential to get as much feedback as you can on your work from other translators and by doing test translations for agencies.
It’s great to have a focus or specialisation when you’re a translator, but you should also be careful not to choose something too narrow, or an area in which there is simply not enough demand or funding for your services. You may want to translate only Swing-based blogs, but you’ll likely find that you’ll have to branch out into other areas if your intention is for this to be an activity that pays your rent. You may find your engineering background is very useful for this, since you have knowledge of terminology and understanding of processes that others don’t, and this immediately gives you an edge in this field.
The bottom line is that becoming a professional translator, i.e. making this activity your full-time living rather than a hobby or sideline, takes a lot of time, work and persistence. It’s not as easy as many people would like it to be, but it is possible. Start by gaining academic qualifications or a professional accreditation, build your references and prove your skills, and begin interacting with and learning from the online translators’ community. That should set you off on the right path!