Starting out as a freelance translator can be tough. If you are just about to take your first steps into the world of professional translation, don’t let a lack of experience dampen your confidence. After all, we all had to start somewhere. As an experienced linguist with many years of translation and editing, as well as teaching translation at university, I wanted to share my top tips for providing high-quality translations that will keep you and your clients happy.
Collaborate and be transparent
Don’t be afraid to ask questions (no matter how silly they may sound!), to make comments and provide constructive feedback, and to even decline a job if you think you don’t have the right expertise for it. You’re not alone, you’re part of a team, even though you’re working as a freelancer. Whether it be your project manager, other translators, your editor, or the client, share any doubts you might have with them so you can make informed decisions and show them how committed and diligent you are. Any feedback you provide at this stage is also really useful as it saves time for whoever will be working on your translation after you, like your editor, of course, but also the client or the team in charge of laying out the final translated document (this is known as desktop publishing or DTP in short). If the deadline is too tight or the source text is unclear, or even worse full of mistakes, then don’t keep it to yourself – share it with your team!
Don’t take your linguistic skills for granted
There is nothing wrong with questioning what you know – quite the opposite! As is the case in every profession, we’re always learning and we need to stay up to date with the latest developments in our languages and regularly check what we assume we already know. Don’t hesitate to go back to your basic translation resources such as bilingual and monolingual dictionaries, not just for definitions but to see how words are conjugated as well. In doing so, you will avoid grammar, spelling and accuracy mistakes, as well as any mistranslations. Don’t forget to use a spell checker and carry out quality assurance validation checks to be extra sure! Typography rules can also be tricky to follow. If you can’t remember when you should italicise a word or what the differences are between a hyphen, en dash and em dash, then don’t guess or leave it for the editor to fix, look it up in a dedicated resource, and check each time if necessary. Consider a language to be alive: it evolves and it changes. We should always adopt a progressive approach to our translation skills and keep on learning.
Translate the context, not just the text
We’ve all heard the golden rule that you should read the whole text before you start translating it. Maybe, rather than just reading the whole text, you should know the whole context: Who is the client? What’s happening in their industry? Do they have a website? (In which case, has it been translated into your target language and is it a trustworthy translation?) Do they have a glossary and a style guide you should follow? Is there a reliable translation memory available? Who are their main competitors? Which websites or suitable articles can you use as benchmarks for the correct terminology and tone? Where will the translation appear? Who is the intended audience? Are there character restrictions you should follow? The list of questions to ask yourself really is endless! But don’t despair, getting into the habit of translating the whole context and not just the text helps to improve your style, idiomaticity and fluency, all of which help you to distinguish yourself as a professional human translator and a cut above any machine.
Always be consistent
Consistency is vital in any high-quality translation. Being consistent means making decisions, and sticking to them and it applies to many different linguistic aspects. Here are some examples:
Make sure you always translate terms as specified in the client’s glossary, or according to the terms you can find on their website or to the terms used in their industry or field of specialisation. Don’t change them to synonyms.
In a bullet point list, you can end each item with a semicolon, a full stop or no punctuation at all. Follow the style guide or choose a method and remain consistent throughout your translation.
Be consistent with who is speaking in your translations so that you don’t confuse the reader. For example, when you’re referring to a company consider if you should use ‘they’ or ‘we’ and stick with your choice.
Decide if you will capitalise words such as Website or Internet (if that applies to your target language) and keep them capitalised all through your translation.
Tone of voice
Will you be using the formal or informal voice? And if you’re translating into languages such as German, Spanish or French, will you be using the formal or informal address of ‘you’? Hopefully this is all covered in your client’s style guide, but it’s important that you keep the same tone of voice in your translation.
And finally, specifically for French (because I’m a French editor), if you start translating a document and decide to use the imperative clause in the first title, you must make sure that every other title is translated using the imperative.
Although it may seem obvious, always take the time to read your final translation to check for any inconsistencies and any last-minute changes you might need to make before you submit it to your editor. You’ll be surprised at what you might find!
Work with the right partners
As a new freelancer, it can be hard to know which translation agency will be the right fit for you. For me, a good agency to work with is one that is trustworthy and reliable. That means they send you regular feedback, provide you with all the resources you’ll need to do a great job, remain responsive and answer your questions in a timely manner, and offer you acceptable payment terms and conditions. Make sure you are fairly compensated for all your hard work! At AJT, we value and support our translation partners, and as a company, we act according to a strict Code of Ethics.
In other words, be professional, collaborative, consistent, honest, and transparent, and expect the same from your translation partners. If you’d like to learn more about working with translation agencies, you might be interested in these 5 traits that agencies look for in freelance translators.