Why I love being a translator

It’s not always great being a translator. It can be unstable, with too much work one week and none the next. Sometimes customers may pay you late or not at all (thankfully I haven’t experienced this with any of my fantastic clients). You’re never going to make millions, and the deadlines can be very stressful. But, I love being a translator. Here’s why.

1. It’s flexible

This is the number one thing I love about being a translator. It gives you so many possibilities and so much flexibility. Of course, you can choose whether to work in-house (in an agency or for a large organisation with translation requirements), or to freelance. I’ve been a part-time freelancer for the last two years, and I’m finally making the transition to full-time freelancer. Being freelance gives you much more freedom than you have with a full-time contract or a 9-5 office job. For a start, you can decide your own work schedule.

Of course, the adage holds true: instead of ‘being your own boss’, actually, your clients or customers become your boss. However, within that remit, you have a lot of freedom to decide your own workload and hours. If you’re an early-bird like me, you can work from 7am-2pm and then call it a day. Or you can work from midnight to 6am if you feel like it! If you like to split your work into two sessions and take a big break in the middle, go ahead. And you can decide which days to work too. If you prefer to work on Saturday and keep a weekday free for chores, you can. You decide when to take a holiday, and when to have a heavy or light week. Basically, within reason, you can have any schedule you like.

What’s more, you can also decide where you work from. Forget the office: if you’re freelance you can work from your bed, the park, the beach or your ‘coffice‘. And you’re not tied to any one location either. If you’re a travel freak like me, freelancing is the perfect way to follow your dreams without sacrificing your career. From now on I’m ‘digital nomad-ing’ – working from my laptop no matter where I am.

2. It combines writing and languages

Two of my favourite things! I’ve always been obsessed with learning languages, and it’s amazing to be able to use them in my daily work. It means that every day I get to read new things in German (or another language), research them and figure out how to say them in English. I learn new vocabulary and phrases all the time and get a better grasp of the written language over time. However I also get to use my other favourite skill – writing. I’ve always spent hours and hours of my free time writing everything from book and music reviews to fanfiction to essays and blogs, but now I actually get paid for it.

3. It’s always different

Unlike some jobs where you deal with the same thing every day, as a translator you can be translating an employment contract one day and medical records the next. A marketing brochure on Monday and a financial report on Friday. And you do get a choice about what area you choose to translate in. If you’re especially interested in fashion, finance or food, you can choose to specialise in that area and do most of your work in an area that you actually enjoy reading and writing about. Every time I do a new translation I learn something new from reading and researching that topic, or at least a few new words or terms.

4. You make your mark on the text

No matter what you translate, from which language and in which subject area, your translation is always unique! No matter how banal and everyday a text is, no two translators could possibly translate it in the same way. From which translation you decide to use for a certain term, to your turn of phrase, to any of the hundreds of tiny decisions you make in any text, you actually put your own personal stamp on the translation. Unless you’re a literary translator, we don’t often get credit for our work, but I think if I come across one of my texts somewhere, I’ll recognise it as my own. We all have our own personal style and you can put your own tiny personal touches on every piece of work.

5. I find it exciting to bring a message from one language into another

You know when you switch on the tv and a Swedish drama, a Chinese kung-fu movie or an Arabic news report comes on? Without translation, you’d have no idea what was going on at all. We can all enjoy Chinese technology, French foods, Spanish books, Japanese anime, German journal papers, Danish tv shows and so much more, thanks to translation. We probably all come across translated products almost daily. And we probably don’t even think about it, because the information and the message have been converted into our language so skilfully that we can seamlessly understand and appreciate something that would have been totally incomprehensible before translation. Ok, so I mainly translate much less fun things: reports, contracts, records and so on. But even so, somewhere down the line someone is going to be holding a document in their hands that they can read thanks to me. Somewhere, sometime, someone will be reading a webpage that I’ve translated, or maybe even buying a product that contains a few of my words. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.

What do you love (or hate) about being a translator? Let me know in the comments.

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12 thoughts on “Why I love being a translator

  1. Cool, working from 7-2 or only 7 hours per day. Never did work for me though – the workload has always been huge and thus also my “salary”. But I do take my time off, of course.

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    1. True, but the beauty of it is that you can decide that for yourself. You can decide to earn more or less money and also to spend more or less time working – you decide your own priorities 😉

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  2. Hit the nail on the head with this one! My reasons are all pretty much the same. Mostly I like the variety of it, and how it opens up other opportunities in the same field (languages). Like you, I also love that I’m being paid to write! I still can’t get my head around that one, haha. xx

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  3. When we read this, we’re just sure about 1 thing! this guy has his pockets filled with money! Freelance translation is amazing and clients are wonderful or I don’t know what he or she said!!! Please! stop kidding people! You’re speaking about an eutopia we all were living in before being translators! You invited us to comment! so, let me tell you something! Everybody imagine themselves translators! Each idiot who knows how to spell his name correctly or not in two languages imagines ot so easy to translate! When you’re working in a pluridisciplinary firm, everybody criticize your work, steal it and tell you you’re an idiot, and that it’s not too difficult to translate! That they have an other job, but can easily do yours, but need you just for appearances! When you’re a freelancer! you’re never paid at time! never! Working from 2 to 6 and I don’t know what!!! You work day and night, you lose your health working as a slave! Why? Because you were not paid for your last work and you need this f****** money the other customer promises you, but that he never gives you! And when you’re paid!!! You spend all your money in medecines! Because you didn’t sleep enough! You broke your back on the computer and you never enjoy your time! Work never stops, so you don’t notice that you’re spending all your time working! And when you have one day for you!!! You’re doing the homework, because you’re living in such a mess!! And I’m not talking about the social life! I’m talking about a single translator, with no children , no other responsabilities but himself! Please! Stop posting lies like these! The only translators who are happy with their job are those who don’t work! They have some convenants, have stamps to put on papers and that’s all! We have an amazing job, we have the chance to learn with each new translation, each one has its story for us! But we have no chance to practice our work professionaly! Day by day, translation after another, customer following another, we just learn how to hate our field, and how to get tired! My comment is longer than your own article, but your words are really hurting! You’re speaking like a student filled with dreams, not as a practical person… P.S. Leaving aside those people who give you a googled text to just correct, filled with mistakes everybody can imagine, a trick to pay less, because it’s a correction not a translation!!! claiming that they made it themselves!

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    1. It seems like you work in a market where you are constantly underpaid and paid too late. Sure, work is a lot but that is not a bad thing. If it is too much work for you just not accept every offer you get and structure your work and you should have a decent workload. I think it is worth noting that it works for the majority of translators but obviously not for you. I would think about re-structuring your way of work

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      1. No, he is totally right! I just want to say this advice to all students around the world: don’t major in translation ! Don’t! I’m a second-year translation student and I extremely regret wasting myself in this major, it shouldn’t even be called a major.

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  4. Sorry about what I’m going to say, but!!! Are you sure you’re a translator? Because when we look on translations, ex: movies and documentaries, from English to French! we realizethe use of so many “faux amis”! about French or English to Arabic, we see that the arabic is not really used but many words are just borrowed as natural arabic, knowing that the equivalent exists in the language, but translators of both combinations are too lazy to check the list of false friends or to refer to a dictionary!

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  5. The best thing about translation job is flexible and you can work from any location. Being in a translation industry, I completely understand that language learning isn’t for everyone. We’re not born with the ability to learn a language, this is something that takes time and dedication. I started learning French at a young age, and although it wasn’t something I chose for myself, I soon realized that I was interested in languages.

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  6. I love my job for the same reasons you list in your article! (It seems to me, as if I wrote it.)
    I think without passion, nothing great can be accomplished and you can never be satisfied with what you do.
    I have been translating for more than 20 years now, since I was in high school. I love anything that has to do with “writing and translating” so I’m pretty much enjoying my full time work. Even when having an overload (I can work 15 hours a day), I enjoy that very much in any case. I am at my peace in my working corner at home, playing some music in the background, without any other stress, other than the job to be done. I start my working day around 10 and (try to) finish at 6 or 7 (sometimes less or sometimes more, according to my schedule, but try to keep an 8-hour working schedule). In any case, even if I don’t have any projects to do during office hours (so rare), I am always taking care of other aspects of my job, learning new services, checking agreements I have left pending, systematizing documents, folders, databases with all workflow data, preparing draft invoices for the end of the month, making statistics which will serve me in the future and always thinking on ways how to extend my knowledge and fields of expertise.
    Having a mobile office is the best part, as you may choose to go spend a month at the beach and work from there. So you have two pleasures at once. :))))))

    So, as you see, you really need to LOVE your job. I do what I LOVE and I get paid for that, this is amazing for me!
    And I am married and need to take care of every day home duties, especially cooking for my husband (luckily we do not have children, so I devote myself to my working passion and my special loving Half :). My husband is also a hard-worker and we have almost similar working schedules and enjoy each-other in the evening hours spending together.

    Down part of this freelance profession is the time that as much as you think you own, it owns you, as it always depends on the projects that are coming, deadlines, and sometimes you need to multitask at your best to do many projects in parallel. It’s very true that you can always choose to say no. Of course you can, but this profession hangs upon the projects you take care of and also agencies or clients need reliable and always ready collaborators, otherwise they may choose to cooperate with other translators if you keep refusing jobs, and this is not very convenient either. You need to keep cooperations going and also extend the list as much as possible, as you never know how many or when projects will come to you. Having many clients ensures that you will be never left without work. 🙂 This is the good and the bad part of it, as there may be times when lots of these clients need your services at the same time. That’s when the multitasking Superman comes to play. 🙂
    The other down part is going out and meeting with friends. There may be days I don’t even get out of home for days in a row as I have tight schedules and high volumes of work. But this is not a big problem for me actually, as when I meet with them at least I enjoy my time, knowing I don’t waste my time often in coffee shops, but making my time with friends valuable. (Sometimes less is better and more precious). 🙂

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