Which of these 8 challenges are you facing as a translator?

June 30, 2015
Which of these 8 challenges are you facing as a translator?

Every career choice comes with its fair share of challenges, and working as a freelance translator certainly isn’t exempt from that fact. Over the course of your career, you’ll come across a number of practical and occupational challenges, and in order to help you be aware of some of them, this Hub post will take a look at some of them, specifically those facing the modern translator. 

Internet access

Whilst a more practical challenge than the others in this post, having reliable internet access is absolutely vital for working as a freelancer in the contemporary translation scene. Unless you wish to limit your client base to people who live close to you (and if you do you’ll be severely restricting your business!), then constant internet access is vital. Without it you won’t be able to run your business, and if you’re attracted to freelance translation because of the freedom and location independence it affords, then this is something to keep in mind when chasing that dream.

Syncing with different time zones

Having access to a global market of clients is fantastic, but be sure to double check any times arranged for meetings and, most importantly, deadlines. It’s easier than you think to miss a deadline by simply making a time zone mistake. Further, be aware that if a client wants a piece of work returned by a specific time, then depending on where you both are in the world, you may actually have less time to complete a project than it may seem at first, unless of course you want to work through the night!

Keeping up with cultural changes

Cultures change over time, and as a translator you’ll need to maintain a cultural awareness of both your native language and also the languages you translate from. When new cultural trends and colloquial sayings arise, your clients will expect you to be able to accurately localize them in the target language. Obviously, the more languages you translate from, the more cultural factors you’ll have to keep abreast of, so specializing in one or two languages could be the best way forward.

Staying on top of language evolution

As with culture, language changes over time too. New words are added to vocabularies and new grammatical rules can be adopted and old ones discontinued. Language evolution tends to affect more informal text initially, but formal text isn’t immune to alteration either. Some translators think that because they learned a language 20 years ago, they’re still perfectly competent at translating the language! Be sure to keep brushing up on your vocabulary and fine-tuning your understanding of a language's grammatical rules. The best way to do this is to use your second language as much as possible, so try participating in online discussions or making friends with individuals who speak the language. 

Collaborating with other translators

With increasing interconnectedness comes increasing potential to collaborate with other translators on larger projects. Whilst this was always possible in the past, modern translation makes this practice more of a norm than previously. Translators tasked with working alongside other translators to complete a project will have to ensure that good communication is facilitated, which can be hard for a number of reasons. We’ve already touched on time zone problems above, but actually communicating with another translator can prove problematic too. For example, if two translators are working on a project, and both are translating a source text into their native tongues, then they will probably have to communicate with each other in their shared, common language: the language the target text is in. Ideally, a good project manager from a translation company will be able to facilitate accurate communication between translators. But if you’re working independently, then actually communicating accurately can take time away from the translation work itself.

Increasing competition from other translators

Another effect of an increasingly interconnected world is that clients have the potential to choose from a far wider pool of translators. A quick web search will present clients with some of the most active and renowned translators, many of which are often larger companies. For the independent translator, trying to stand out from the crowd can seem overwhelming! However, it’s important to remember that potential access to a wider pool of clients will help offset this problem to a degree, and trying to specialize in a specific niche should help you stand out to potential clients.

Competition from machine-based translation 

It’s not just fellow translators that prove to be competitors, the modern translator also has to factor in machine-based translation. Machine translation is easy to use and free, with solutions such as Google Translate offering the ability to simply copy and paste foreign-language text and click ‘translate’. Thankfully, this sort of translation is still vastly inferior to human translation. But it does make one wonder how many potential clients are happy to settle with inferior translations when trying to save money, and it leads individuals involved in the translation industry to speculate about how the technology could evolve, and whether new breakthroughs in this technology might bring significant disruption to human translation.

Pricing yourself accurately

With the wide variety of translators from across the globe, the rate of pay that translators charge varies greatly. Translators who live in some countries may charge less for translations than you do, and alternatively translators who live in expensive countries may charge more. It can be worrying to think that clients might be getting significantly better value from other translators, and deciding how to put a price on your service can prove to be quite challenging. Be assured in your ability and over time you’ll be able to establish yourself as the go-to translator for your specific niche.

Final thoughts

Do these challenges resonate with you? If there are any challenges not mentioned in this article that you think significant, why not discuss them with us below? We’d love to hear what you have to say!

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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