What always surprises me when people demonstrate an interest in doing translation work is how little people read on the subject. Translation is an art of words – it’s not a scientific formula. If it was, you could simply program a computer and route all of your translation work through it.
As we’ve all seen from services like Google Translate, though, machine translation is still a novelty and a convenience at best; it’s not ready for prime time. And it likely never will be, because translation is as much about soul as it is about literal definitions of words. But words are at the core of the work, so the best way to prepare for it is to read deeply on the subject.
The first thing to know is that working as a translator is more than just scanning a source document and rendering it into your dominant language. I’ve known a lot of people who have announced, with great fanfare, they were going into freelance translation work, only to wash out a few months later.
If you’re considering working as a translator, I’d recommend reading Corinne McKay’s excellent book How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. It’s an invaluable resource which will give you a lot of information about starting out in this field, including some common mistakes and bad assumptions people make.
Your Go-To Guide
Another book I think every translator should have on their shelves (or in their Kindle) is The Translator’s Handbook by Morry Sofer. This is the sort of book you reach for over and over again, because it contains so much information – extensive annotated lists of dictionaries, lists of translation-oriented software and websites, and places to find of translation work. It also has sections on computer-assisted translation, translation memory software, localization of websites, and machine translation.
The Business Side of Translation
Of course, working as a translator is also a business, so it’s a good idea to make sure you have a firm grasp of business basics. I’ve known some truly talented translators who had to close up shop simply because they didn’t understand how to conduct a freelance business.
Towards that end, I always recommend The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business School Approach to Freelance Translation by Judy and Dagmar Jenner. Judy and Dagmar Jenner are well-known within the translation community, and their book is written in an accessible way, giving step-by-step details on how to market your services and grow a client base. It’s the next-best thing to actually having a business degree.
Finally, since we translators are verbal types, I think stories and anecdotes often work better than dry numbers and statistics, so I always like to mention Chris Durban’s The Prosperous Translator: Advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee. The book is based around presenting problems and then suggesting creative ways of solving them. You’ll certainly encounter some of the scenarios discussed within in your own career, so it’s well worth your time.
No one enters this business knowing everything they need to know. Some of it you can only gain from experience, but reading is an incredibly important tool for us. Start with these recommended titles and then seek out your own library of resources.