Language is not logical, as even those behind the very best attempts at machine translation will happily attest to. Indeed, if I were to try and decode this article into German using something akin to Babel Fish, I'd end up with something closer to Fermat's Last Theorem than a guide on how to be a butt-kicking, name-taking freelance translator.
For prose in one language to reach another without it being cruelly and sometimes hilariously mangled, it needs that human touch. Many people understand translation is spending long hours burning the midnight oil with a dictionary in either hand, but that simply is not so. Being bi-lingual is one thing; being fluent and understanding the connotations and implications of prose in each language is an entirely different thing. And let's not forget about all that comes with working to be a skilled writer, as a complex and difficult personal enterprise.
Taking all of the above into account, as a freelance translator, your job will lie not in the hard, fast and loose distilling of basic meaning from one language to another, as in real-time verbal translation. No, instead you'll be faced with taking a written manuscript (be it technical or classical) and carefully translating it into the target language.
Sounds difficult? Certainly, but it's also rewarding! A writer who wants to rise to the top of his or her craft does well to take the time to not only write well, by the standards of their peers, but also to intimately comprehend the syntax and grammar of their chosen language.
One of the most oft-recommended pathways to marked improvement in an area like freelance translation is to dedicate yourself to intimately learning a second language beside your own mother-tongue. Besides the infinitely rewarding consequences (whether you're looking for new social connections, a complex intellectual challenge or simply a way to qualify for far-flung international work), it can also act as a doorway to lucrative employment. As with most things, the more work you do, the better you get, the more work you get to do.
Why? Not only are translators rare, but they act in themselves as gateways to new markets. Right now, you're reading this article in English. While the native audience for the language is huge, an even greater percentage of the literate world has no access to it for a lack of English-language skills. Unlocking that massive percentile can mean a vastly improved gross turnover for any organization with a significantly established interest.
So, if one presumes you've got a serious handle on at least two languages and an eye for the written word, how do you go about cultivating a successful career from such a useful skill? Firstly, you build up your portfolio, and you make a name for yourself. Find magazine or newspaper articles and translate them (with all original credit attached, of course), and then post them to a free blog you can set up through online services such as Google's Blogger and Wordpress' blogging platforms.
As a step up, translate book prose from small or local book and magazine publishers, and attempt to get in touch with the appropriate publishers about producing a translated work. Never underestimate the value of pro-bono work. If it comes to that, look for restaurants and businesses that deal or sell using your languages of choice, and offer to provide them with the appropriate alternate signage should they be lacking it, or, alternately, should you find it lacking.
Websites often will accept offers to translate their content into new languages to increase their appeal. Trawling the SourceForge or FreshMeat databases for projects to fan-translate older video games scripts or to produce official translated versions of open-source software can net you with impressive credentials when you look to accept contract work from larger organizations.
Don't forget to practice technical translation, since we all know how prolific those little user-instruction booklets bundled with your latest microwave or vacuum cleaner are. You know, the ones with the seventeen different sets of translated instructions?
It won't be unusual to discover your writing skills can be just as in demand as those that power your incredible translation abilities. Always keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to combine the skill-sets of a writer and translator, as one who not only writes the original material but then goes on to translate it!
Translators often have to actively sell their skills to the market through cold calling and constant inquisitiveness regarding any potential need to produce translated material. Always draw the line at begging; but by the same token, don't be afraid to go in for the hard sell when you think it’s appropriate. Impress with your willingness to seek out work and to prove yourself, and you can often find yourself already in the door.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Konradt has been a professional freelance writer for more than a decade. He writes regularly on freelance writing and writing careers.