Aunt Tania’s advice for an aspiring translator

I met some people at an event in Glendon college (where I take a course right now) and they asked me how to get started as a translator. I think I am very well qualified to answer this question: when I decided to switch from software development to being a full-time translator and technical writer, I started, practically, from scratch, and in less than 2 years I got to a level where I can support myself and my family, being a sole breadwinner. About 90% of my last year income came from translation.

So, here’s my advice to an aspiring translator in the form of questions and answers.

Q. I want to find some translation work and I don’t know where to start.
Register yourself on translators’ portals like, and/or Fill your profile, including a photo. Don’t forget to add any relevant experience. Apply to the posted jobs that fit your profile.
If you are a first or second generation immigrant, you may try to apply to a translator agency in your country of origin. Their rates will probably be much lower, but what you need at the moment is to get your foot in the door. Besides, you presumably have good understanding of modern English slang and cultural realities, and you can offer translation into real live language that people speak in North America, not something learned from a mouldy book.
Network, network, network! People often post jobs in translators’ forums. Participate in such forums, answer some questions, ask some questions. You never know when it might come handy. (For translation to and from Russian, there is Ruslantra, some forums in LiveJournal and Город переводчиков. Sure there are some for your language, too. Find them.) has forums for various languages. You can also get kudoz points for answering people’s questions there.
Once more: network, network, network! Facebook and LinkedIn are your friends.

Q. How do I get references? What do I write in my resume?
Ask around: you might find a relative or a friend who needs something translated in your pair of languages. Do it for them. For free, if there is no other way. You will get some experience and something to write in your resume about. For me, Million Artists was such a project.

  • Find a project under Creative Commons license or a similar one and attach yourself to it. For example, right now I am involved in translating Cory Doctorow‘s Someone comes to town, someone leaves town into Russian. You are very welcome to join me or start translating it into your own language.
  • Check your local ethnic community and/or church/sinagogue/temple. If you live in Toronto or some other large city in North America, there must be a number of people speaking the language you translate to and from. If there is no community of people speaking your language, why don’t you organize such a community? You will get some priceless networking in the process.
  • Check settlement agencies, too. They might need someone who can speak this particular language (you never know). Again, maybe no payment but tons of priceless experience, networking and a line in your resume.
  • Q. Do you recommend getting an official certification?
    You might find it worthwhile. I decided not to go for it, at least in the nearest future, for the following reasons.
    1. Most translations do not require certification. The only ones that do are official papers. And almost anyone can translate passports and birth certificates, as opposed to, say, texts on medicine. If you can specialize (in technical, medical, scientific texts etc.), it will give you a competitive edge. For example, I, being a software developer with many years of experience and a degree in applied mathematics, specialize in IT, technical and engineering texts. Usually, when you apply for participation in a project conducted by a large company or agency, they will ask you to do a small test for them (usually not more than 500 words), and if you pass it, no one will ask you if you are certified.
    2. ATIO’s process of obtaining a certification is prohibitively complicated, quite expensive and a lot of hassle. Besides, you will have to pay annual membership fee and spend money regularly on advertisement to attract clients. If you are a notary or a paralegal, it might make sense for you because people will come to you anyway and it is an additional convenience for them to get their documents translated with you instead of running elsewhere. If you do only translations, calculate how many documents per month you need to translate (i.e. how many clients you have to attract) so your ATIO membership and all the advertisements pay off. If you think it is worth it, go for it.

    For the US, there is ATA, which is much easier and cheaper to join and not so much hassle to get certified. Definitely worth a try, especially if you are in the US. (But you should analyze the cost and benefits anyway.)



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