tips for translators


You’ll find a Translation Institute anywhere

If you are starting to get interested in translation (at any age), the next translation institute probably isn’t very far. Contrary to what most people would think, most universities do have a separate translation and interpretation department within their faculties of linguistics, and there is a plethora of other options as well, like schools for linguistic mediators, as some of them like to be called. You don’t necessarily need to study at a university, but a variety of private institutions satisfy the same need. Just approach your university or ask around, or use the internet. Even if you live in a small town, there is probably somewhere you can go to take up some sort of translation course.

You don’t need a Degree

Even if you can’t find an official school of translation anywhere nearby (although they are widespread, as said above, especially in countries such as Germany, France, or Italy), you should know that owning a degree is not a strict requirement as translation is not a protected profession. Anyone who thinks they are good enough in more than one language can do it. It’s just that with a proper translation degree you can charge more, and you get an excellent preparation for your job.

Translators earn a lot of Money – if they do Things right

Which brings us to the next point, the remuneration. As much fun as translation might seem in the beginning, it soon becomes just as boring and monotonous as any other job. So you will want to earn some money for the hassle to be worth it for you. If you manage to approach your job in the right way, you can start out for example by advertising your services on online translation platforms, and then gradually build a reputation – online and in real life – by networking and providing quality services. In my case, it only took a few weeks after graduating from university and I was already translating websites into German like a pro, or interpreting at fairly large events. Accept that the money is not so great at the beginning, but gets better and better, and work the crowd.  

Translation Degrees prepare you to do Loads of Things

In the modern world, the equation degree = job in that sector is no longer valid. Translators for one find employment in many different sectors; many much more interesting and fun than actual translation. Some of my ex-colleagues work in tourist offices, advertising agencies, as online marketers, and in a variety of other fields. But the translation degree covers so many different aspects that it is a great way of preparing for a variety of different jobs.


Are you interested in studying translation, and need more information? Just let us know in the comments, and we’ll be more than happy to help out. Or have you studied translation and now you work as something completely different? We’d be interested in hearing your story, too!





People love writing about this topic; after all, we’re all in in for the money. No-one can claim they are still having that much fun doing translations after a couple of years in the business. All things considered, translating is quite a boring, solitary exercise, whichever way you look at it. BUT… it gives you a certain freedom which only freelance work can provide (the ability to travel when you want, the lack of a superior etc.) which more than compensates for these obvious disadvantages. And it usually pays well, too. Even if you don’t always manage to negotiate your desired rate, if a job is reasonably well-paid, you will still earn more in an hour than most people in a whole morning.

So how should you go about getting the money off your clients? Here’s a few things you should consider:


  1. In the initial email, be as clear as possible.

There is a certain temptation NOT to mention the money too much in the initial email correspondence, and to refuse to mention exact payment terms to the client, just because you’re too embarrassed to bring up the topic, and you don’t want to make it look like you’re only after the money, and for a whole lot of other reasons, especially if you’re a young translator and you’re new in the business.

However, if you are not clear about your terms in the beginning, it becomes much more of a hassle afterwards. A client is simply not very willing to discuss payment details after the work has been completed, not necessarily because they don’t intend to pay you, but because it is no longer an urgency for them and they’re already deep into something else. That’s just the way business goes. Paying people is simply the last thing on an agenda when there’s a lot going on.

Here’s how I do it: At the end of the “quote” email (the one where you tell the client how much damage you’re going to do to their budget), include a whole paragraph (3 or 4 sentences) about how you would like to get paid. Here’s an example:

“Payment has to be completed on the same day the text is delivered. Payment options include PayPal, wire transfer, and credit card. All payment details are included in the invoice issued together with the translated text”

You see, this block of text, for example, does not sound overly aggressive and still it includes all the necessary information. By accepting your quote, the client implicitly accepts these terms. You have it in writing and everything is reasonably clear before you even start. Not all clients will read your emails thoroughly, but you can always remind them later just by saying that “we’ve already agreed on this in out initial email correspondence” or something along those lines.


2. Don’t bother with formal quotes.

Sometimes, people will demand a “formal quote”, which is supposed to be some kind of document which looks a bit like an invoice and includes your company details etc. I regard this as a waste of time. If you’re a serious freelance translator, you’re probably working on another project already, and you will barely have enough time to answer all your emails. I have often refused to issue formal quotes, and it has never been the reason for my not getting a job. Again, it depends on how you say it. Try something like this:

“Hi, I am sorry but we don’t do “formal quotes”. We regard email correspondence as perfectly valid for official quotes and to be honest, we are always extremely busy so we try to keep paperwork to a minimum. Please just treat the previous email as a formal quote. Thanks!”

Your clients are after the best service and the best price, so don’t be shy about telling them what you think. They will accept your offer based on these simple metrics and not based on your skills as your own personal secretary.


3. Payment terms: NOW, please!

I have had many a discussion about this particular point with colleagues, but let me get this off my chest. Ask for the money immediately after the delivery. Or if possible, before! General business practice this is not, but, hey, it works for me! It the initial email, clients are informed (see point 1) that they have to pay me immediately on delivery. When the translation is done, I send them an email saying that (a) the translation project is finished, and (b) they have to pay right now in order to receive the document. I include wire transfer and PayPal/credit card as payment options (more about that later) and demand proof of payment to be emailed to me. Most banks include an option to send a confirmation email about a transfer to the beneficiary, so it is usually not a problem for the client to send you proof of payment. Sometimes, a client might insist that it is impossible for them to process the payment right now, because they are out of the office or for whatever reason, but then it’s still up to you… You can either trust the client and send the text anyway, or you can insist that if you don’t get paid, the text will not be sent. As translation projects are usually rather urgent, this leaves them with no option. Even if the client is well pissed off at you by now, it would take them much longer to find someone else to do the job (plus potential legal trouble with you).


All in all, if you’re running a translation business, however small it may be, getting people to pay you on time is essential for your peace of mind and for the proper functioning of your business. It is important to be as straightforward as possible about this, and find the right tone when you bring up the subject.


What are your experiences with good, bad, and non-payers? Which payment methods do you use? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


translation delivery times

It’s very important not to deliver your translation too late early.

Being on time is important, but dangerous

Remember when you were just starting our as a translator, and you were so happy when you finished translations ahead of schedule? “Yeh, I’m the fastest translator! Let’s send this off now and the client will be delighted!”

Yes, but… Sending translations off early has some disadvantages that we should be aware of:

  1. It can cause a bad impression with the client. Seriously. Imagine you just agreed, through gritted teeth, to pay a translator 100 euros for a few paragraphs, and then you get the translation after two hours! Surely, someone’s taken the ****, right? You’ve just paid your translator 50 euros per hour. Surely they haven’t taken the work very seriously? …. It’s very easy for a client to think that you haven’t taken the work all that seriously when you deliver the text much too early. That’s logical. Who would like to spend a fortune on a translation only to find out that your translator barely spends any time with it? Clients, of course, usually are not aware, and cannot be expected to be, really, that a) you’re the world’s best and fastest translator b) your translation memory did it for you because they’ve send you the exact same text a week before already c) you really didn’t give a **** (though surely that’s not the case, right?).
  2. It raises expectations. Translation deadlines are tight enough. Especially if you’re like me, i.e. you yourself set your deadlines as tight as possible, just so you have to get down to it and don’t waste your time reading the sports news. (There’s just too much interesting stuff on the internet, isn’t there?) So, the only thing you don’t want to do is make your client believe it can be done even faster. But this is exactly the impression you give a client when you send off a translation before the deadline. Their reasoning will be, if he delivered it in a day last time, surely he can do it in a couple of hours, too?

It’s pretty obvious from the above that there is only one good time to send off your translated document: right on the deadline, or just before. Well, let’s say if you want to cause a good impression but avoid the pitfalls described above, as a rule of thumb, you could argue that one hour before the deadline is just right. You’re early, but not too early. And you’re not too late, either.


Yes, but I want to get rid of this now!

OK, so now that we’ve agreed on the time of delivery, there’s only one problem: We don’t want to sit around until the deadline when the work is already done. Let’s say there is nothing else to do for the rest of the day, and we just want to get out of the office, you know, out into the world, or get drunk on some whiskey, or erm, take the girlfriend out for some ice cream (yeah, right…). We could take the document with us on our modern, intelligent phone, but chances are we’ll forget to send it off after a few glasses, or a few cups of ice cream…


Luckily, Microsoft Outlook 2010 has a solution for this (and previous versions might have, too, but I can’t tell as I have never used Outlook before the 2010 version): Delayed Delivery. From the ribbon, under “Home”, when sending off an email, you have the option right there:

delay translation delivery

Make sure your translation is sent off at exactly the right time.

Just click on “Delay Delivery” and then check the box “Do not deliver before”, and set your time. You need to have an active internet connection and leave Outlook open (or minimized) for this to work. You email will stay in your Outbox and it will be sent at the exact time which you specify.


In the series, “Better Translating”, we try to help you set yourself up as a professional translator and be more efficient by using the right software and hardware, and knowing how to use it. Any suggestions? Let us know in the comments.


know translation clients

Knowing who your clients are will give you a decisive advantage when doing business.

One of the major characteristics of running a translation business, no matter whether you work as a freelance translator or in an agency, is this: You often don’t know who your clients are. And I don’t mean, “You don’t know them well”, as you would if you had a normal business, say, if your were a dentist or a hairdresser. In that case, you would know what they look like, who accompanies them, more or less where they live, and whether they tend to be well-natured or rather ill-behaved. It’s rather a lot of information about a person, if you look at it this way. As a translator, however, more often than not all the information we have on a person boils down to one single piece: their email address.

I think most of you would agree that this is a major disadvantage for translators when dealing with their clients. Age, professional background, nationality, etc. play an important role in knowing how to deal with an individual client, and, last, but not least, which rates to charge them. You will talk to a person your age in a different way than you would to an elderly gentleman, right? It is all too easy to offend a client by using too casual a tone in an email; or the opposite: sometimes clients can be intimidated if the language used is too formal.

Now then, here’s how to find out what’s behind an anonymous email and actually get to know your clients. And they don’t even have to notice you’re “spying on them”. Let’s get started.

LinkedIn and Facebook connectors for Outlook

I’ve said previously I am an Outlook fan. It’s mainly because the software is so feature-complete and extendable. It is mostly because of two absolutely essential plugins that I can never use another email program again: The LinkedIn connector, and the Facebook social connector.


Here’s an email from your client… and, look at this! He sent you a photo with it!

Granted, installation of these add-ins is rather complex. In typical Outlook fashion, the whole operation will fail at least one before finally installing. Or… it might never work. Just make sure you get the correct version of these plug-ins (32- or 64-bit) and good luck to you.

However, once they are installed, these little gadgets are incredibly useful. They are actually the two pieces of ingenious software which have helped me the most in making life easier for me when writing emails to clients, and receiving job offers. They do two things very well: Whenever you receive an email, they pull up the respective profile photos from Facebook and LinkedIn, identifying the author of the email by their respective email addresses. And secondly, you can easily add any person you’ve ever had correspondence with to your LinkedIn profile with one click. By just looking at the photo you gain a whole lot of information. You can guess (more or less accurately, at least) a person’s age and the kind of person they are, which makes dealing with them a whole lot easier.


People search engines

There are numerous of those out there, but the most reliable is 123 People. These search engines allow you to enter a person’s name or email address and promise you to find all data on the internet related to these people (or companies as well). Facebook, Twitter profiles, articles etc. They don’t always work as well as they should do, but trying doesn’t hurt, does it?


Will they pay me?

If you haven’t been paid for work at least once in your professional career, hold your hands up! It’s the very nature of translation work that makes us easy victims for non-paying companies: To translate means to work between two cultures, languages, and often, different countries. To go after a non-payer in a country other than your own is a right hassle, and while it is not impossible for us to eventually get our due thanks to a combination of lawyers, government agencies, and colleagues, more often than now it’s not worth the extra hours put in to get what are often relatively small sums of money.

So, if I can recommend one website for a freelance translator, it has toc Payment Practices. You can get a free trial or sign up for a year-long membership which shouldn’t set you back more than a couple of dollars. Payment Practices’ database contains information on 10057 translation agencies and clients worldwide, 6616 total responses and 1891 comments on those buyers. Agencies are rated by the responses of freelancer translators, so you should always look up new clients and agencies on this website before agreeing to work for someone you do not know. Great website and absolutely worth your money! For a couple of quid you might save thousands…


Which strategies do you use to find out more about your clients? Are you worried at all about working for someone you’ve never met? Any solutions to add to the list? Let us know in the comments.

german english email

Email is the main communications medium for translators. These days, because of the popularity of blogs and because it is getting easier and easier for freelance translators to have our own websites, we are likely to receive most of our jobs in our inbox.

Finding the right email program to suit your personal needs is thus key to efficiently dealing with correspondence with clients and colleagues. Many people swear on GMail, but there’s no doubt also Microsoft has come a long way with Hotmail, and as far as webmail clients go, Hotmail now matches GMail feature-per-feature (if not for speed) and many might argue it is even a bit nicer to look at. I nevertheless recommend the use of a full-blown desktop email client to manage your mail, for the following reasons:

  • They double as a storage solution for your received files and attachments. You might accidentally delete a document for translation (or worse, a translated document) from your hard drive, but chances are you’ll find it by doing a search of your desktop email client.
  • They make all your email available offline. Which means that clean-up and organization can be done on a plane or train, or whenever your internet connection is down. (It’s advisable to clean out your translation inbox every now and then, or use email productivity tactics like Inbox Zero to stay on top of everything.)
  • Plugins and Extensions go a long way to making your life easier. Xobni is a great search extension, for example, and the Plugins for Linkedin and Facebook (which deserve a separate post) are great for a quick lookup on the sender of an email.

Currently, there are not so many email programs out there which satisfy the needs of a freelance translator in terms of function, looks, and ease of use. Apple Mail is solid and nice to look at, but not feature-complete enough to be a valid solution for professional translators. Postbox is a better effort, like Apple Mail, but with bells and whistles, though the lack of proper calendar integration is a great drawback. In my opinion, it’s a toss-up between Postbox and Microsoft Outlook. Outlook 2010 is a lot more satisfying than its predecessors, and while it’s still rather slow and prone to the occasional crash, it is the most complete solution. Try both and decide which one you want to spend your money on. Do not waste your time with any of the thousands of alternative email apps out there; they’re either limited in functionality, or rather behind the times. Take your choice between the two and learn to use them properly. I know what you’re thinking: It’s only an email application. However, it is probably the one software you are going to spend the most time with, so let’s get to the bottom of it and see if we can make email management easier to do and speed it all up a bit.


In the following couple of posts, we will look at some handy ways of attaching and saving files, researching your clients using Outlook, and making sure emails  get delivered not too early, and not too late. Watch this space.

What are your strategies against email overload? Which software do you use and why? Sound off in the comments.




In parts I, II, and III of our Guide to becoming a more efficient Translator, so far we have looked at the design of our offices, the setup of our PCs and monitors, and the perfect web browser to use while translating. Once we have have all that in place, it’s time to think about the actual translation process… and the right software to use. We will talk about receiving project orders, billing, and organizing your file system at a later point in this series, but chances are that, while you’re busy honing your organizational skills, you’ve got some translations coming in. Let’s take a look at how we can get this done more efficiently (and take some of the pain away from translating)…

For all those new to translating, it is important to know that there is amazing software out there which helps you abbreviate the translation process by about 50 %, if you are using it correctly. If you are a young translator, and have only just started work as a freelancer, or for an agency, chances are you still translate in Microsoft Word. I never translate in MS Word; even for the shortest translation, I use a CAT tool, and I recommend that you do the same. “CAT” means “computer-assisted translation”. CAT software works with translation memories, i.e. anything you’ve ever translated is saved in a central database and re-used whenever similar sentences come along. Over the days, years, and months, this allows you to build up a huge knowledge database far bigger than the amount of information you would be able to store in your brain; unless you’re an exceptional talent, of course. It can also become a great lookup tool and as such, really makes translating more enjoyable. Never translate in MS Word again; get the right software as soon as you can.

Translation software is ridiculously expensive, but it’s a worthy investment. The main competitors are DejaVu, Wordfast, MemoQ, and SDL Trados Studio. It’s worth noting that the first two, while they deserve their place in history, almost certainly belong to the past, as they have not been able to keep up with technology developments in terms of compatibility, ease of use, and user interface. It essentially boils down two two alternatives: MemoQ and SDL Trados Studio. MemoQ is to SDL Trados Studio like LibreOffice is to MS Office: much cheaper, in some aspects better, but not as widely used and feature-complete as its rival. If you want to remain at the forefront of translation technology, and make sure the files you produce during the translation process are compatibly with the formats demanded, and delivered by, large clients or agencies, you will almost certainly want to go with SDL Trados Studio. The bad news is: The software is infamous for being overly complicated, buggy, and difficult to work out. The good news: If you know how to work with it, it’s also terribly efficient. And the 2011 version is actually usable in a way the series has never been before.

We’ll look at details of the software and how to use it to speed up the translation process next time.

Do you agree that only novices translate in MS Word? Do you use CAT tools for even the smallest translation, like me? And do you agree with my choice of SDL Trados Studio as number 1 CAT tool? Let us know in the comments.


Step II in our guide to becoming a more efficient translator and making the translation process a little bit less painful is about getting your hardware set up. The classic, still best hardware setup for translators is a desktop computer hooked up to two monitors. If you haven’t tried a dual-monitor set-up, I strongly recommend that you do that tomorrow, and you won’t look back. Promised.

Granted, it’s not always easy to stick to your own rules. I am writing this post from a Sony Vaio laptop with a HD resolution, which means I have to bend over slightly to see the screen, and my eyes tire when I work more than a couple of hours because everything is so small. But that’s because I need the screen real estate in order to fit two open windows side by side (Aero Snap’s your friend), and because I am travelling and working on the road. Once I am back in my office, I will be glad (and my body will thank me) for having installed the classic set-up.

So, here’s the deal. Forget about fancy laptops, tablets, netbooks etc. Get a good old desktop PC. If you assemble it yourself, you might spend as little as € 300 on a quad-core powerhouse with a decent graphics card. Then, get yourself two flat screen monitors, which shouldn’t set you back more than € 180. You see what we did there? We got a great, comfortable, powerful workplace for less than € 500. Once you have your two monitors set up, you might want to have a look at this guide about how to work with a dual-monitor setup, and then find your own preferred usage patterns. Bill Gates uses two monitors, with Outlook on one of them at all times, for example. I use the following technique: During the translation process, I have Trados Studio 2009 on the right hand-side monitor, and the Opera web browser on the left (replace these with your own preferred software. We’ll talk software in the next chapter of the guide for efficient translators.) The reason why the CAT software is on the right screen is that the right side of the brain is the creative one while the left side of the brain deals with things like memory and repetitive tasks. I for one find it much harder to work with a CAT tool or text editor on the left side rather than on the right, while I find the web browser for terminology lookup much more practical on the left. At least for me, that’s how it seems to work. While I work on my websites or blogs, I replace Trados Studio with Outlook in order to stay on top of things at all times.

One more thing: You can be just as efficient with one monitor, thanks to Windows’ Aero Snap feature, which enables you to easily pin two windows side by side, as I am doing at the moment. But that means you would have to have a very high resolution in order to fit enough functions on the screen for this setup to be useful, which in turn will harm your eyes. The main advantage of having two screens, each one dedicated to one activity, is that you can still have everything displayed nice and big, while being able to run at least two programs at the same time.

What do you think of the dual-monitor setup? How many monitors do you use, and which programs do you run on them? Let us know in the comments.