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Contemplating a career change: have others started out like me?
Thread poster: Christopher Ensor

Christopher Ensor

Local time: 10:46
French to English
Sep 13, 2012

My first post, so first of all hello to everyone! It's wonderful to find such a wealth of information here.

I've always been fascinated by translation, but only now have seriously started considering making a career of it. However I'm wondering if I've left it too late, or even if I have what it takes to make a go of it. I'd be very interested to hear if anybody else started their translating career from the same position, or if I'm so far away from what's needed that I should just
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My first post, so first of all hello to everyone! It's wonderful to find such a wealth of information here.

I've always been fascinated by translation, but only now have seriously started considering making a career of it. However I'm wondering if I've left it too late, or even if I have what it takes to make a go of it. I'd be very interested to hear if anybody else started their translating career from the same position, or if I'm so far away from what's needed that I should just forget the idea.

A little context - I graduated with a B.A in French sixteen years ago, and moved into the business sector. Since then I've mainly been working in financial companies, but always in an international environment and have used my French on a daily basis. I have also lived and worked in France, although for the last few years I've been in the German speaking part of Switzerland.

The time has come to make a career change, and professional translation has always been something I'd wished I got involved in earlier in my career. I've been researching preparatory courses for the Dip Trans with French as the source language. This would definitely be a challenge, but would also seem to be a sensible first move for someone in my position.

However, without any formal experience or colleagues in the business, it's difficult for me to judge whether making a change to this kind of career is even realistic. I'm under no illusions that building a business would be difficult, however at this stage I'm concerned that I may need more linguistic ability or experience to even become a competent translator.

I realise no one can give a definitive answer to this, but I'd love to find out if anyone with a similar background to mine is now working as a translator. Opinions also welcomed from anyone in the business with a different background who may have a view on this.

Thanks in advance, and sorry for such a long post!

[Edited at 2012-09-13 14:49 GMT]
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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:46
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Me too Sep 13, 2012

Hi ChrisE

I was an architect (still am) and for many years I worked in 2 languages (still do), also doing a lot of interpreting and translating.

After a while I realised that I was interested in translation so I started offering myself around.

I had a lot of experience - far more, I would imagine, than many highly qualified translators with a string of letters after their name.

I had also learned how to take a professional attitude.

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Hi ChrisE

I was an architect (still am) and for many years I worked in 2 languages (still do), also doing a lot of interpreting and translating.

After a while I realised that I was interested in translation so I started offering myself around.

I had a lot of experience - far more, I would imagine, than many highly qualified translators with a string of letters after their name.

I had also learned how to take a professional attitude.

I get plenty of work ! What most practical-minded clients are looking for is good translations - not impressive-sounding qualifications.

So I'd advise you to jump in. The best way to get work is NOT to say you can translate everything, but to do the opposite of that: become highly specialised in some particular field - the one in which you are most expert.

PLUS- most importantly: complete your Proz profile.

[Edited at 2012-09-13 15:05 GMT]
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Christopher Ensor

Local time: 10:46
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Great input Sep 13, 2012

Hi Tom, and thanks for the advice.

The difficulty I see in the Swiss market (where I'm currently based), is the need that most agencies and employers have for qualifications before they consider anyone for work. Experience counts for very little here (in any field) without the little letters after your name to back it up. That's why I've been researching a Dip Trans.

However ProZ is my first time exploring the translating world online, so may well open up more possibili
... See more
Hi Tom, and thanks for the advice.

The difficulty I see in the Swiss market (where I'm currently based), is the need that most agencies and employers have for qualifications before they consider anyone for work. Experience counts for very little here (in any field) without the little letters after your name to back it up. That's why I've been researching a Dip Trans.

However ProZ is my first time exploring the translating world online, so may well open up more possibilities (and thanks for the reminder, yes I must update my profile!).

I'm just wary about investing time and money in a Dip Trans if I either have no chance of getting to that level, or may not need it at all...
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Lucia Leszinsky
SITE STAFF
Get started with ProZ.com Sep 13, 2012

Hello ChrisE,

Welcome to the ProZ.com forum! (Nice first post btw!).

As Tom suggests, you should get started with completing your profile at ProZ.com and making sure the essentials are there.

I'd also like to invite you to check the "Get started as a translator" area:

http://www.proz.com/pages/getting_started/starter

... See more
Hello ChrisE,

Welcome to the ProZ.com forum! (Nice first post btw!).

As Tom suggests, you should get started with completing your profile at ProZ.com and making sure the essentials are there.

I'd also like to invite you to check the "Get started as a translator" area:

http://www.proz.com/pages/getting_started/starter

There you will find information on what ProZ.com offers to starters like you and useful links to get started.

And, please, don't hesitate to let me know if you need any help with completing your profile or with getting the most out of your ProZ.com experience.

Kind regards,

Lucia
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Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 10:46
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
market Sep 13, 2012

I assume this is stating the obvious, but your market is by no means limited to Switzerland! That said, I have no idea whether the other French-English markets are any less difficult.

 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:46
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Join the crowd! Sep 13, 2012

ChrisE wrote:
My first post, so first of all hello to everyone!

Hello Chris, and welcome to the site!

I've always been fascinated by translation, but only now have seriously started considering making a career of it. However I'm wondering if I've left it too late

That's an easy one - you haven't! You'd be among a lot of good company, believe me, and it's a profile that many clients find very attractive.

or even if I have what it takes to make a go of it.

Ah well, that remains to be seen.

I'd be very interested to hear if anybody else started their translating career from the same position, or if I'm so far away from what's needed that I should just forget the idea.

There are loads of us here who have come to translating after another career (or even after several careers). Personally, I worked as a bilingual secretary and later as an analyst/programmer in the UK. Leaving the country at the age of 38 prompted retraining as an EFL teacher, and life in France eventually (at the age of 50) gave me a level of French that allowed me to translate from it.

I graduated with a B.A in French sixteen years ago,
....
and have used my French on a daily basis. I have also lived and worked in France

So you've got the source language education and experience wrapped up already, at least for the FR>EN pair.

I've been researching preparatory courses for the Dip Trans with French as the source language. This would definitely be a challenge, but would also seem to be a sensible first move for someone in my position.

Certainly a very sensible move. However, I'd encourage you to spread those studies over a reasonably long period. I believe the exam's designed for those with at least a couple of years of experience. It might be worth doing something more basic first just to get some of the techniques under your belt. And there are some specifics which need to be learnt: dealing with acronyms, proper nouns, untranslateables, source oddities, etc. Some training centres offer their own certificate as a half-way stage to the diploma.

I'm under no illusions that building a business would be difficult

You are probably in a much better position to start a business than a recent graduate from an MA in translation studies. You have maturity on your side.

As Tom has already said, as long as you stick closely to what you do best (presumably finance/business texts), you should have every chance of developing a translation business in FR>EN and possibly DE>EN.

However, before looking for clients here or elsewhere, take a while out to prepare by making use of all the resources available here on ProZ.com, starting with the Site Guidance Centre here: http://www.proz.com/guidance-center

It will take quite a while to go through everything here, but it will be time/effort well spent, believe me! If you have other questions, come back here.

Sheila

Edited to say that I have duplicated a lot of what Lucia said, but I don't think it matters.

[Edited at 2012-09-13 15:28 GMT]


 

Terry Richards
France
Local time: 10:46
French to English
+ ...
It's doable! Sep 13, 2012

I know because I did it.

My degree is in Engineering and I spent all of my working life in IT (up to IT director level) and concert sound engineering (owned my own sound company). At the age of 50 I took up translating. My total academic translating credentials amounted to a 34 year old "O" level in French although I do live in France.

That was 6 years ago.

I'm still here and making a living.

The "trick" is to concentrate on the subject areas y
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I know because I did it.

My degree is in Engineering and I spent all of my working life in IT (up to IT director level) and concert sound engineering (owned my own sound company). At the age of 50 I took up translating. My total academic translating credentials amounted to a 34 year old "O" level in French although I do live in France.

That was 6 years ago.

I'm still here and making a living.

The "trick" is to concentrate on the subject areas you know well. After a while, you pretty much know what the next sentence is likely to say before you even read it. Your business experience is worth far more than any academic translating credentials.

As for employers wanting credentials, forget it. You are a business, you don't have employers, you have customers. When did you last check your mechanic's credentials, or your plumber's or baker's?
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Christopher Ensor

Local time: 10:46
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Wonderful Sep 13, 2012

Thank you all for your quick replies and excellent advice. You've given me a bit more confidence that I'm not barking up completely the wrong tree with this idea! Right, off to update my profile and explore the links you've posted....

Thanks again


 

Rudolf Vedo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:46
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Definitely doable Sep 13, 2012

I spent 13 years in technical writing and ISO 9000 auditing before starting upon my translation career.

In my experience, passing a recognized certification (e.g., ATA, among others) goes a long way toward establishing credibility in the absence of translation experience.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 10:46
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Best of luck! Sep 13, 2012

I too came to it after several careers and what is known here as 'wandering in the desert', but in fact no contact with the real world ever seems to be wasted.

That experience of business will come in useful once you have found some clients - it will help you to provide the kind of thing they need.

I collected several half-completed qualifications in my twenties, including a fair amount of academic French and German, which I liked, but could not imagine working with. T
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I too came to it after several careers and what is known here as 'wandering in the desert', but in fact no contact with the real world ever seems to be wasted.

That experience of business will come in useful once you have found some clients - it will help you to provide the kind of thing they need.

I collected several half-completed qualifications in my twenties, including a fair amount of academic French and German, which I liked, but could not imagine working with. Then I solved a health problem (which I didn't know I had at the early stages...) I had a training in technical librarianship which has proved surprisingly relevant all these years later, so don't scorn your BA in French.

I married a Dane and could not get into the library world, so after a baby, several unskilled jobs and a lot of night school, I was offered an in-house job with a translation agency. At that stage I needed the support and structure to get back to work, but when we parted company as friends, I found freelancing suited me fine.

I have a postgraduate diploma that exempted me from the Dip Trans - it is not set in Danish very often, but I would have taken it sooner or later. My diploma included modules on law, technical translation and economics, and the librarianship (from before the days of Google ) had introduced me to how to search for terminology or whatever else I needed to know.

Don't tell clients when you took your degree. In freelancing a BA in French is a BA in French, and in combination with X years of living in France you have plenty of ballast to convince them.

Think about your hobbies when looking for clients too - practically every hobby is someone else's lucrative and possibly international business!

Best of luck!
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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:46
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
Never too late Sep 13, 2012

Many of us already had college degrees when translation courses became easier to come by. I finished my translation/interpreting postgrad qualifications 12 years after my BA, when I was already working in something else. That happened to coincide with a market niche, so I got a leg up. The first two years weren't easy, but I kind of eased myself into language services from my other career. I went full-time when the bottom line proved that translation and interpreting were more profitable. So you... See more
Many of us already had college degrees when translation courses became easier to come by. I finished my translation/interpreting postgrad qualifications 12 years after my BA, when I was already working in something else. That happened to coincide with a market niche, so I got a leg up. The first two years weren't easy, but I kind of eased myself into language services from my other career. I went full-time when the bottom line proved that translation and interpreting were more profitable. So you're definitely not the only one.Collapse


 

Georgia Morgan  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:46
Member (2011)
Portuguese to English
Dip Trans Sep 13, 2012

I did the Dip Trans before I had any experience but I did do a preparatory course (distance learning, City University, London) which I thought was excellent (at least, in Portuguese to English). Check them out. I think translating is a flexible, portable skill and one I hope to develop further. I don't, however, think you'll get rich on it!

 

Tom├ís Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:46
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
IT Sep 14, 2012

I started in translation after a self-taught career in IT, so it is perfectly doable. I was 30 years old when I switched to translation.

You will find plenty of information and suggestions in the fora since your situation has been discussed dozens of times over the years, but I only want to give you this piece of advice:

The source language is important, but make sure you polish and improve your knowledge of your native language. Things like correct grammar, punctuation
... See more
I started in translation after a self-taught career in IT, so it is perfectly doable. I was 30 years old when I switched to translation.

You will find plenty of information and suggestions in the fora since your situation has been discussed dozens of times over the years, but I only want to give you this piece of advice:

The source language is important, but make sure you polish and improve your knowledge of your native language. Things like correct grammar, punctuation, spelling (also considering American English spelling) are critical if you are going to translate into English. There are very good books out there about correct English and reading them could be a big plus. When you prepare for the DipTrans or for your work as a translator, reserve a part of your learning time for that type of information.

Good luck!
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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 10:46
Member (2018)
French to English
Me too! Sep 14, 2012

I worked first as an EFL teacher like Sheila then in software development like Sheila and Tomas

The software firm folded in time for me to embrace motherhood, and I started working in a translation agency, like Christine, at the age of 35.

I do think that if you have previous
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I worked first as an EFL teacher like Sheila then in software development like Sheila and Tomas

The software firm folded in time for me to embrace motherhood, and I started working in a translation agency, like Christine, at the age of 35.

I do think that if you have previous experience of a non-linguistic career this is a great way to specialise. And you're in luck because finance is one of the better-paying segments in the translation profession (I did not say that you'll be making the same kind of pay as a trader mind you).

I personally did a Masters in translation prior to striking out on my own but more to build my own confidence than to learn anything, since I had plenty of experience from working at the agency.

Like Christine, I found the agency work very useful. I proofread other, better qualified translators who also proofread me, and going over our work together led to some very interesting discussions that really pushed my learning curve upwards.
Of course not all agencies are that dedicated to achieving quality, and not all in-house translators are that interested either, but you might consider a stint in an agency as a way of getting some all-round experience and insights into how agencies operate.
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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
EU directive Sep 14, 2012

If I'm not mistaken an EU directive was passed a few years ago setting out the academic qualifications a translator must hold in order to practice, or alternatively have 5 years translating experience. The aim of the directive was to raise standards in translation or failing that at least provide consumers with some guarantee of quality. So as you can see, times have changed... This would mean that without doing a Master's an agency couldn't legally send you any work.

What's more, I
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If I'm not mistaken an EU directive was passed a few years ago setting out the academic qualifications a translator must hold in order to practice, or alternatively have 5 years translating experience. The aim of the directive was to raise standards in translation or failing that at least provide consumers with some guarantee of quality. So as you can see, times have changed... This would mean that without doing a Master's an agency couldn't legally send you any work.

What's more, IT, architecture and engineering are specialisations, but business isn't generally held to be a specialisation. Medicine, law and the pure sciences would be other examples. The list really isn't a very long one.

The IOL qualification is recognised in England, but I don't know about elsewhere. It isn't recognised here in Spain. Switzerland would seem to be a very lucrative translating market but I wouldn't be surprised if Swiss agencies have quite stringent entry standards.

Something to think about.
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