Could You Be a Freelance Translator? By Aline Lechaye

Could You Be a Freelance Translator? By Aline Lechaye

Are you bilingual, or perhaps trilingual? Maybe you lived or studied abroad. Maybe you were raised bilingual. Whatever the reason, do you consider yourself fluent in your various languages? Can you jump easily from one to the other? If the answer to those two questions is yes, then you might be able to become a translator.

While the ability to speak multiple languages does not automatically make you a good translator, it does give you a better start than the guy who pastes everything into Google Translate and hopes for the best.

Translating is the process of turning words from one language into words of another language. The good news for you is that it requires little to no muse participation. The even better news is that, once you’ve got a number of satisfied clients on your contacts list, you’ll seldom find yourself out of work.

How do you ensure that you can provide quality translating services and become the translator your client comes back to and recommends to other potential clients?

Don’t Set Random Deadline

Too often, new translators are unsure of their actual translating speed, so they give themselves impossible deadlines. Giving your clients incorrect estimates and then explaining to them that you need more time is not a good way to convince them of your efficiency. When discussing deadlines, keep in mind that translating usually takes about twice the time it takes to write a piece of the same length.

Stick To Your Contract

Negotiate the terms of your contract before you start work, and then stick to those terms. Do not take terms you’re not happy with and then try to bargain for better ones later on. Having a contract signed in advance will also keep the client from trying to change the terms for his benefit after you’ve done all the work. For a sample translator’s contract, go to


Always proofread. Don’t let clients think you’re a sloppy worker. Check your translation for grammar and spelling mistakes, and also do some back-and-forth checking between the original and your translation to make sure you haven’t made any translating errors.

But what about the financial side of translating? How do you find clients? How do you set your rates?

The first and biggest thing you can do to promote yourself as a translator is to have “translator” and the languages you specialize in printed on your name cards and listed on your website. People are more likely to call you if they have your contact info and your area of expertise within easy reach. They are less likely to call you if you tell them you’re a translator and scribble your number on a napkin.

If you’re experienced in scientific, business, medical or other technical fields, then sending your contact information along with work samples to related companies may land you a job. Posting ads to college bulletin boards and forums can inform interested students and professors who are looking for someone to translate academic papers.

Spreading the word among friends and family can have surprising (and profitable!) results. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you translate. No one will know otherwise.

There are lots of job listings for freelance translators online. There are also professional translation firms that hire freelancers to work with their clients.

Translation rates can be calculated by the word, by the hour, or by the project, but per word rates are the most widely used. In general, the more complex the content, and the more obscure the languages involved, the higher the per word rates. For fiction, the popularity of the book counts as well. Rates for a bestseller would be higher than for an unknown book.

Beginning translators start out at anywhere from 1 to 5 cents per word, sometimes lower if the subject matter is relatively easy, such as a recipe or a product review. Semi-pros can command 10 to 20 cents per word, though $300+ per thousand words is considered normal for a technical piece. Semi pro hourly rates average $30 to $60 per hour. Some translators calculate hourly rates depending on how many words they can translate in an hour, and then multiply it by the appropriate per word rate.

Translating may not seem quite as glamorous as novel writing or magazine editing, but it is a job that gives you flexible hours and a steady source of income. It can prove rewarding to use your language skills for profit, and it can be a relief to turn to a non-creative job on the days when writer’s block strikes.


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Aline Lechaye is a translator, interpreter, and writer who resides in Asia. She can be reached at