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How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

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Interested in becoming a freelance translator but you don’t have a degree? I have good news for you! You don’t need a degree in order to earn money as a translator.  All you need is fluency in more than one language.

Freelance translation is a great income stream. As a translator you can earn full-time income or money on the side. Keep reading and find out how to become a translator without a degree.

Colorful scattered letters of the alphabet Pinterest image with text in purple and white saying get started as a freelance translator - tips to get you started earning money with translator jobs

What is a translator?

Translators communicate the meaning of words written in one language, called the source language, into words written in another language, called the target language.

Language translation is different from language interpretation. Interpreters communicate the meaning of words spoken in one language into words spoken into another language. Translators work with written text.

Translators are used in pretty much every industry in the world, to some extent.

Freelance translators are self employed and must know how to handle the business end of freelance translation in addition to knowing how to translate a language.

What is a freelance translator’s salary?

Translators can make really good money. Here is the average annual salary for translators in several different countries, according to PayScale.

The United States – 43,281 U.S. dollars a year

Australia – 59,737 Australian dollars a year

India – 399,987 Indian rupees a year

The United Kingdom – 23,101 British pounds a year

Canada – 49,462 Canadian dollars a year

The Philippines – 560,000 Philippine pesos a year

South Africa – 209,482 South African rand a year

Saudi Arabia – 66,000 Saudi riyal a year

What skills should I have to be a freelance translator?

Not just anyone can work as a translator. A successful translator needs to be fluent in at least one language in addition to your native language. You should also have business and marketing skills so that you can successfully market yourself and get translation jobs.

What are the best languages for freelance translators to teach?

Some of the highest-paying languages in the field of translation are:

  • English
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Arabic
  • Dutch
  • German
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Russian

If you want to become a freelance translator and you’re not already highly skilled at a second language, study it until you are.

Importantly, you really should spend time living in a country in which that language is spoken to give you cultural awareness as well as understanding of the language’s idioms and colloquialisms.

The more people there are who speak a language, the more translation work is typically available in that language. For example, you will find more translation opportunities in common languages like Spanish or German than you will in obscure languages such as Njerep or Ongota. However, the more common languages also have more competition amongst translators.

If you’re going to study a language with the goal of becoming a translator, find out which languages are common enough to have a good demand for your services but not so common that the market is saturated.

Translators should always work into their native language, translating from a language in which they are fluent into a language into which they are a native speaker.

The more languages you are fluent in, the more possibilities you have to earn money as a freelance translator.

What types of documents should I translate?

The type of the documents you translate impact how much you can charge as a translator. Translators who translate documents with specialized terminology earn the most. Some of the areas of translation specialization which pay the most are:

  • literary
  • medical
  • legal
  • software localization
  • finance

Knowing how to accurately translate certain types of documents doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to accurately translate other types. For example, a degree in literature will help you with translating literary works but not legal documents. Likewise, a knowledge of the judicial system in your country does not mean you will be good at accurately translating poetry or novels.

Translators frequently specialize in one or more types of translation, using their knowledge of that specialty. You may want to develop an expertise in at least one area – high paying or not – so that you can focus on that type of translation.

Do I need translator training?

You don’t need a university degree in order to become a translator, and you don’t technically have to take translator training, either. However, training can be a big help both in knowing how to translate correctly and in finding translator jobs. There are many online translator training courses on sites such as:

  • ProZ
  • Translator Training
  • MCIS Languages

Do I need to be certified to work as a freelance translator?

There is no mandatory education or certification for translators in some countries but there may be in others. Having certification can be a plus. Find out what certification programs are important for your language or your location and look into joining them.

Are there any translator associations I should join?

It can help to join translator associations. You can consult this huge list of translation organizations and associations around the world, compiled by ProZ, to find translator associations relevant to you.

Can I earn money as a freelance translator with no experience?

Experience is important to getting translator jobs. To get your foot in the door as a freelance translator, start approaching translation agencies as well as businesses that use translators while you’re still studying or training, or sign up somewhere as a volunteer translator. Many translation agencies are looking for new talent.

Where can I find freelance translator jobs?

To get freelance translator work, look on translator job boards like:

  • ProZ (by far the largest and most popular site for translators)
  • Translators Cafe

You can also look for translator jobs by creating a freelance translator profile on sites like:

  • Fiverr
  • UpWork
  • PeoplePerHour
  • Project4Hire
  • Lingosaur
  • ZipRecruiter

Not everyone can become a freelance translator. If you have the language talent to do this, you can make a very good living.

Want to learn more about freelancing? Take my free 7-lesson mini-course Get on the Right Path to Freelancing here.

Cover image by Tessa Kavanagh

Sabina Lohr is a lifelong freelancer turned entrepreneur who created World of Freelancers to help others discover how to work for themselves online and live the freelance lifestyle. She’s always really enjoyed the freedom that freelancing brings, including several years on and off of working online while traveling and living abroad.

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