Freelance Translator Job Facts

Freelance translator jobs are one of the lesser known, and better, sources of consistent work for writers with the language skills to do them.

Types of Work

Freelance translator jobs have two basic forms of employment which look quite similar, but there are important distinctions:

  1. Bid-based: This is the most common form of employment. Bids are made for a translation job, with a contract job for the successful bidder. These jobs can be highly erratic, and their main redeeming feature is that they form the basis of a portfolio as a translator.
  2. Contracts: This is a standard outsourcing contract, usually starting as a contract for a single piece of work on a bid job. However, these contracts also form the basis of a potential ongoing relationship with the employer. Good translators aren't easy to find, and the natural development of a good working relationship is that more work, usually on the same basis as the contract or in some cases much better, flows through regularly.

The bid-based jobs can suffer from having to provide a low quote to get them. This is a piecemeal approach, sometimes requiring many bids to get a job, and it doesn't stack up well in comparison to good contract work. The contract jobs are true freelancer jobs, with better income and much more regular work.

The Work Environment

This is a large and rapidly expanding area involving many different types of work and industries, and freelance translators tend to specialize in various forms of translation according to preferences and qualifications.

The skills required are a good indicator of the nature of freelance translation work.

  • Native language speakers: Good quality native speakers are by far the most successful translators and most in demand in the employment market. This can often be two way translation work, particularly through industry or academic sources. Demand was originally driven by the increasing requirement for good English translators, but has also been rapidly rising in Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Urdu and Russian.
  • Technical skills: The large amounts of media materials, technical and professional information in circulation around the world are primary drivers and job creators for freelance translators. Technical and academic writing accounts for a lot of the work of freelance translators in all industries, and it's quite common to find fully qualified people in the sciences or other professions acting as translators.
  • Journalism media and publishing: The written media are natural avenues for translators. Many major global sites like Elance.com and job ad aggregators like craigslist include regular translation work. These translation jobs are default modes for multilingual journalists and writers, acting as additional income sources, and they provide regular bread and butter work and contracts.

Wages

Dependent on bids, contract rates, or terms of employment.

Hours

Extremely variable, because of deadlines and volumes of work.

Career Dynamics

Freelance jobs can be important assets in getting regular translation work, demonstrating your levels of skills and proven achievements. The regular employment market is geared to supplying the higher paying translation roles, particularly in media, technical, and academic areas. Media, technical and academic translation can be extremely lucrative work, and these jobs frequently double as professional portfolio material, showing a strong knowledge base.