Translation from Graduate to Freelancer

Translation from Graduate to Freelancer

Transition from Graduate to Freelancer

Academia has always been one of the foundation stones of the language community’s existence. Faculty and students contribute significantly to language practices, developing the technologies we use and the methodologies we use to transform source texts into target deliverables. Yet we are becoming aware of the disconnect that exists between lecture hall and language lab and the modern business environment. In fact, it’s misleading to speak of the business environment in the singular: there are numerous environments out there, each with its own quirks. How can we expect new graduates to transition with their new skills into this pot pourri of diverse situations with all their idiosyncrasies? In many cases, new starts have been thrown into the deep end with a sink or swim mentality.

Colleges and universities turn out countless thousands of languages graduates every year. Yet how many follow careers in the language industry and how many of those become freelancers? The total number of language graduates is different from the total number of successfully transitioned young freelancers. There is no data available (to our knowledge) but the general consensus is that only a small percentage of language graduates become freelance translators and interpreters. Although there are a few academic institutions which are specifically specialized in localization and the largest percentage of graduates remain within the translation industry, the majority of language graduates around the world end up working in companies that their language is necessary to do business but not as translators and especially not freelancers.

To examine each of the areas mentioned above in terms of problems students have with them.

Language Practices

Language practices – translation, interpreting, editing, localizing, etc. – require students to make a substantial leap when they undertake professional language work. There are, of course, innate difficulties like unfamiliarity with specialist vocabularies, challenging subject matter, strict stylistic rules that must be followed and so on. New professionals often find themselves inadequately prepared due to the lack of professional-standard training materials in educational establishments. Universities are faced with keeping pace with corporate developments that move so fast that it is difficult to incorporate new material into course syllabuses in a timely manner that educates students efficiently. Even if students do graduate well-prepared for the professional world, lack of experience can be a real hurdle. Experienced professionals have often invested heavily in their own education and earned their experience the hard way in order to achieve a good working status. Their success makes them very desirable to LSPs, corporate translation departments and senior interpreting jobs. Sometimes they do take newly-minted professionals to ‘ghost’ for them because they cannot cope with the demand for their services by themselves. But what credit do those young professionals receive? That depends entirely on the disposition of their mentor/employer.


We are all familiar with the hell-for-leather race that tech companies are in to produce newer, faster, more sophisticated, ground-breaking, ahead-of-the-curve tech that will be the next killer app in the language industry. How can education possibly keep up with this madcap situation? It can’t. But it can try to partner with corporations to try and equip itself with user licenses for mainstream software apps. Different institutions, however, use different resources for students to learn. Some experience is better than none, right? Even if they do manage to kit their labs out, how they cope with technology’s wild pace of change? Then there is the situation where a language graduate hoping to freelance has massive set-up costs and worrisome maintenance costs. Language graduates may well spend in excess of 6 years qualifying themselves to try and jump aboard the Tech Express as it thunders along at breakneck speed. Language graduates are usually deeply passionate about their languages and are ambitious to put hard-earned skills to best use, but they also need to pay the rent.

Methodology/Project Management

One of the uphill struggles new language professionals face is lack of experience with some of the highly sophisticated business models we rely on now. Learning curves can be steep and that can be demotivating. Some businesses and language associations are well aware of this and have responded by initiating mentorship programs along with other training methods designed to assist new freelancers come up to speed quickly and successfully.

Without a methodology language projects would lack control, which would impact quality, deadlines and consistency. We can add version control, cost management and many other metrics that would be next to impossible to determine without a controlling framework. While it is the case that most university language courses offer at least a module in project management, it is the same situation as with technological tools that management tools are very diverse throughout the industry. Newly graduated professionals may well have a basic grasp of methods and methodologies, but it is only when they gain employment in companies that they receive specific training. As for those who wish to freelance their skills, it’s an uphill struggle and one that just might not work out well for them.

Translation Commons Provides Solutions

Translation Commons exists to tackle all of the above problems with solutions that empower students and new language professionals with the tools and techniques currently at use across the language industry. We also rely heavily on experienced professionals who recognize that the industry is imperilled by a shortfall in fully trained entrants. Our educational establishments struggle heroically to meet ever-changing demands and commercial entities invest in resources, personal development programs and so on to ensure that their multilingual requirements are properly met. This is an ongoing situation but the goals of Translation Commons to make available the best open source tools, to offer mentoring opportunities and to facilitate discourse on the issues affecting us all in our work across the globe.

We say that Translation Commons is ‘powered by translators.’ Our objective is to elevate language professionals to their deserved place in the business firmament. Too often in the past, professionals have been exploited and young professionals badly neglected. Many corporate employees at regular workday level have also been discouraged by corporate policies that while addressing economic issues are formulated in ignorance of language issues. Decisions on the purchase of tools in the corporate environment do not always take freelancers’ needs into account. The result is a fragmented supply chain in the language industry. Translation Commons does not seek to disrupt the industry, but to enable an equable supply chain that makes logical business sense while embracing a massively diverse group of professionals in pursuit of seamless, global communications.

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