Hi, everyone. I'm fairly new at professional translation - I've been translating as a volunteer for a charitable organization, translated a short book, and have been working on Gengo for about a month, though my main job is as a high school teacher. I'm planning to leave my job this summer and start a career as a full-fledged translator (JP to EN). My question is: what is the best way for someone with limited experience to break into the field? What sorts of companies or agencies are good to go to first, or are there any other options that would provide a good foothold to start off from? (My eventual goal is to go freelance, but not for some years.)

I would especially love to hear from others in my language pair and particularly from those based in Japan, though general advice is more than welcome. Thanks in advance :)


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    Hi, Craig, and welcome to the world of translating!

    It is great you already have some experience and a small portfolio of work.  That puts you a step ahead of the game.  As far as becoming a full-time translator, the best thing you can do is take a course in translation or even get a degree of some sort in the field.  That will help you gain invaluable skills and understand the profession from the inside out, as well as give you credibility when seeking work and negotiating rates.

    Join local and national translators' organizations (if you are in the US, the ATA can be great and has local chapters which are fairly active.  Just about every country has organizations like this).  See what you need to do to get "certified" either by your country's translating body or as a "sworn translator" in the courts. Attend translators associations events and get to know people.

    There are a lot of online resources and forums for translators, which you probably already know- TranslatorsCafe.com, Proz.com, etc.  Those are a good starting point.  A lot of translators have blogs, newsletters, or are active on Twitter or LinkedIn.  If you write to someone who's work or profile you admire, there is a good chance they will respond with some sound advice.  If you are interested, look into requirements for translating for international organizations- the EU, UN, IMF, ASEAN, etc. (Especially the ones where your languages are official and where your "countries" are members).  

    Not all translators specialize in a particular field, but many do and they make a very good living in their niche.  For example one translator might translate Swiss financial documents into English and nothing else.  Another translator might translate oil and gas-related things into Brazilian Portuguese.  Someone else might work exclusively translating engineering, nuclear physics, or medical documents. Is there a field you have experience or a degree in?  Take advantage of that if there is!

    Above all, make sure you are working ethically- translating always and only into your mother tongue/A language/best language and never vice versa.  Know your limits and what you can and cannot do (do not accept a high-level automotive industry document if you've never driven a car and never heard what an alternator is).  Also know what your work is worth and do not work for less.  What you will and will not accept affects the next translator.  The translation business involves an ongoing "client pedagogy," which can get tedious, but is necessary if you (and others) are going to make a living doing it. 

    Sonja FR>EN

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    Hi, Sonja. Thanks so much for your response!

    I'm really starting from scratch here, so your advice is invaluable. You've given me some great pointers to get started and I'm going to start looking into everything you mentioned right away. I'm really excited to start heading down this path. Thanks again!!

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    Networking can really make a difference in starting a freelance career, whatever your field. Meeting in person is effective, but you can also try it online with social networking websites, and by building an online presence for free via blogs, podcasts, videocasts, etc.

    You can also look for organisations who might be interested in Jp/Eng translations, and send them a resume and a portfolio.

    I yet have to practice what I preach, but good luck!

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    I know this is an old post, but just to add my two yen:

    I'd say that first you need to figure out if you want to work for a company or freelance.  Working at a company will give you the experience and possibly networking connections you need to eventually freelance.  At the same time, the hours will probably long and the salary a lot lower than what you probably make as a teacher.  Many companies are looking for people with experience and/or those that have passed the JLPT1.  JLPT2 is considered bare minimum, but I see few full time jobs that accept it and it may mean having to play catch up with other applicants that have already passed the JLPT1 if you have little or no commercial translation experience.  There are translation work opportunities on Daijob and other job recruitment websites for bilingual Japanese/foreigners.  I had a friend who got scouted as a full time company translator from Daijob because they felt her part time freelance experience was adequate. Either way, if you want to go that route I would recommend drawing up a Japanese resume and getting used to Japanese business lingo/culture if you aren't very familiar with it already.

    I'm a married woman nearing 30, which is like a death sentence if you want to make a career change in Japan.  I can't dedicate the same amount of hours younger and single entry level workers can, and I need a decent salary to survive on.  I also don't live in a big city area.   Luckily I'm married to a Japanese national and don't depend on a working visa to remain here, so it made more sense for me to become a freelance translator.  I started taking looking and taking on part time freelance translation work about a year before I quit my job.  I wish I had had more time to study and pass a certified translator exam, but I worked pretty crazy hours and figured the freelance experience would help me more in the long run.  Gengo is good because it gives you access to a job pool and you can work however little or however much you want to.  There are other online freelancing sites you can use as well, which should come up with a quick Google search.  Each of them has their own system and rules like Gengo, and I'd say a good portion of my time before I quit my full time teaching job was spent researching about the industry, registering with different freelance general or translation sites, getting freelance experience,  trying to network more, etc.  I decided to go halfway in and halfway out and tutor some private students in addition to the freelance translation work I do at home.

    Something I wish I would have done earlier is learning how to use popular CAT tools.  That skill will help you out stand out whether you decide to join a company or go freelance.  As iwamie pointed out, having a portfolio is definitely helpful but can be difficult to put together on short notice.  Many of my freelance gigs in Japan don't give permission for it due to privacy reasons.  On the flip side, many companies only outsource to a small pool of approved translators, so once you get approved for a few, you should be getting constant work.  If your work is good, sometimes they'll refer you on to somewhere else.

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