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FAQs on Getting Started

Where can I learn about the fields of translation and interpreting?

How can I get in touch with other translators and interpreters?

What are the best ways and places to meet other translators and interpreters?

Where do I find translation and interpreting courses?

What background and qualifications do I need to become a commercial translator?

Is there work out there?

How do I find work?

Should I translate only into my native language, or is it OK to translate into my second language as well?

How do I register myself as a business? Should I incorporate myself as a business?

Is it worth it to go to the ATA conference?

What kind of insurance do I need?

What types of software do I need?

Where can I find the best language resources? 

How do I become certified as a translator or interpreter?

How do I get my translations certified?

Can I earn a living as a translator?

How much should I charge?

How can I tell whether a potential client is reputable?

How can I avoid email scams disguised as offers of work?

If I do work for an agency, how do I make sure I get paid?

Do I need to join the ATA as well as the NETA?


Where can I learn about the fields of translation and interpreting?

The ATA will send you its free start-up kit for beginners on request, Getting Started: A Newcomer's Guide to Translation and Interpretation (www.atanet.org), along with its client education brochures Translation: Getting it Right, and Interpreting: Getting it Right, which are also available online.


The US Department of Labor has written up a fairly comprehensive overview of the different types of careers possible in translation. You can download it at

http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/interpreters-and-translators.htm.


If you are interested in literary translation, contact the American Literary Translators Association directly at www.utdallas.edu/alta/.


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How can I get in touch with other translators and interpreters?

There is a host of online forums and discussion lists where practicing translators exchange information. A few well-known sites:
www.groups.yahoo.com/group/NETA/
www.proz.com
www.translatorscafe.com, look under Forums or TCTerms
community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?nav=start&webtag=ws-languages&redirCnt=1, the Languages Forum

There are also many associations you could join, such as these: 
American Translators Association, www.atanet.org
International Medical Interpreters Association, www.imiaweb.org
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, www.najit.org
International Association of Conference Translators, www.aitc.ch
International Association of Conference Interpreters, www.aiic.net
The Interpreters Guild of America, www.interpretersguild.org
International Federation of Translators (FIT), www.fit-ift.org


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What are the best ways and places to meet other translators and interpreters?

You could attend the New England Translators Association's annual conference in May (details are posted under Conference in March each year) or some of the many educational seminars offered by the American Translators Association (www.atanet.org and www.atanet.org/conferencesandseminars/index.php), or even the ATA’s annual conference, held in a different city each year.


Where do I find translation and interpreting courses?

See T & I Classes. The ATA also has a list of courses in translation and interpreting: www.atanet.org/careers/T_I_programs.php.

Corinne McKay has an online course, Getting Started as a Freelance Translator, as well as a book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. Cost of course is $350.



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What background and qualifications do I need to become a commercial translator?

There are no government-mandated requirements, only market requirements.

Ideally, a freelance translator needs the following:

  • Excellent language knowledge: sound understanding of source language (= language translated from) and good writing skills in target language (= language translated into);
  • Translating talent, to do good work at commercial speed (near-bilingualism is half the battle, talent is the other half);
  • Training (see T & I Classes);
  • Subject knowledge (technology, medicine, law, business);
  • Computer skills;
  • Business sense: people skills (networking with other translators, dealing with clients);
  • Financial knowledge.

Expert translator and long-time NETA member Ilse Andrews advises:
- Start by asking yourself these questions: Am I an excellent writer in my target language (i.e., my first language)? Do I really understand the finer nuances of the source language? Am I willing to take writing courses in the target language, and advanced courses in the source language? Would I accept a mentor or tutor for some time? In what subject areas will I be a competent translator? Do I have a trusted colleague, friend, or family member who would proofread my translations and suggest changes?

See the article by M. Eta Trabing of the Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters for more ideas on the skills you need in addition to being bilingual, at www.catiweb.org/becoming08.htm.



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Is there work out there?

There is a lot of work; in fact, the US Department of Labor is projecting a 46% growth in employment for interpreters and translators between 2006 and 2016. (See their outlook details.) However, some translators are much busier than others. Some are so busy they start subcontracting and become agencies. At the other end of the scale, many translator hopefuls never find any work at all. The work available varies according to language combination and field of specialization.


How do I find work?

Make a market plan, as with any new business. If you do not know how to do this, take a course at SCORE (see https://boston.score.org/) or a local community college. Many translators get started by registering with agencies. You can google translation agencies. Agencies vary in quality and solvency, from the very good to the very bad. See Riccardo Schiaffino's website for ways to do a background check on agencies. Other translators get most of their work through referrals and networking. To get started on networking, become active in translator organizations and in discussion groups, write articles, attend NETA and ATA conferences, and/or give speeches to industry trade groups. Here are some well-known websites where you may be able to find work:

www.translatorscafe.com Directory of translators, interpreters, and agencies; posts jobs
www.translatorsbase.com
www.rahul.net/lai/companion.html The Translator's Home Companion, clearing house of information, has list of online job sites
www.proz.com “Online workplace” for translators and clients to meet
finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/tr_jobs/ Yahoo! translation and interpreting jobs

For more ideas, see Corinne McKay’s online article, “How to find your first translation clients,” at http://atasavvynewcomer.org/2013/11/05/finding-your-first-translation-clients/.



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Should I translate only into my native language, or is it OK to translate into my second language as well?

As a rule, professional translators translate only into their native language. Few individuals are truly balanced bilinguals, i.e., have learned the second language very early in life, taken it consistently in school and college (or in an intensive translation and interpretation program) and also used both languages over a number of years as everyday languages. A balanced bilingual would be able to write correspondence and term papers in either language with complete ease. Fluency in the target language for shopping, easy conversation, or everyday activities is not enough for translation.


How do I register myself as a business? Should I incorporate myself as a business?

It is not necessary to register your business, but you can file papers with your town hall to be registered as a DBA, “doing business as.”

To incorporate your business, you would file articles of incorporation with the secretary of state for your state. There are pros and cons to incorporation, the cons being mostly that it requires time and money. The main pro is that you can protect your personal assets because they are separate from your business assets, which belong to the corporation. If you function as a sole proprietor, which most freelance translators do, you are liable for any claims against your business. For a proincorporation article, see www.inc-today.com/incorporation-articles/insider-secrets-about-corporations-or-why-should-i-incorporate.html.



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Is it worth it to go to the ATA conference?

Although the ATA conference is quite expensive, many people find the seminars to be interesting and educational. You may not get enough new work as a result of attending to justify the cost, but past attendees have found other benefits, mainly, the contact with other translators and the enjoyment of finding people with your language combination or specialization. You can also meet in person the people you’ve been in contact with only online, and earn continuing education credits to maintain ATA certification.


What kind of insurance do I need?

As of July 13, 2005, the ATA liability insurance plan had about 400 participants, roughly 200 of whom were agencies. 4800 individual translators were listed at the ATA website (presumably, the most commercially active members) so just over 4% had taken out the insurance. Agencies have much greater liability exposure and, not surprisingly, of the 356 corporate members (pretty much but not necessarily the same meaning as “agencies”), there were 200 participants, so there we had nearly 50%. Some things to think about before buying:
  • What is my risk tolerance (Can I sleep at night without purchasing coverage)?
  • How much property do I have at risk?
  • Do I believe that having insurance increases the likelihood that I’ll be sued? (“deep pockets” theory – countered by “don’t tell them!”)
  • What is the claim history of ATA’s policy? (As of July 20005, there were about five claims per year, most of which were quickly resolved. One claim that wound its way through the courts was for well over $100,000; others were much “smaller-ticket” items.)
  • What is the potential liability arising from my work? (Do I translate operating instructions for dangerous machinery, or pharmaceutical-prescribing information which involves potential – albeit not historical – risk?)

The ATA also offers disability and life insurance. See www.atanet.org/membership/sponsored_services.php#liability.

For more considerations on liability insurance, see the Language Realm.


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What types of software do I need?
At a bare minimum, you would need word processing software (Microsoft Word is obviously most popular) and Adobe Reader to be able to use PDFs.

You should also have software for compression and decompression of archived software, and for file format conversions. Some kind of terminology or glossary management software is useful. Finally, depending on your languages and whether you often work with the same sorts of documents or repetitive texts, translation memory software like Trados, Wordfast, or STAR Transit, among others, could be invaluable.

To manage your workload, project management software is useful, as well as software for word counts and for recording and tracking time spent on a project, if you are paid by the hour.
Several Netans swear by Dragon Systems’ Naturally Speaking dictation software, particularly if they suffer from carpal tunnel or other hand complaints.


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Where can I find the best language resources? 

The Translation Journal, at www.translationjournal.net, is a very useful online magazine run by Karen Hodgson. It contains language-related articles, a Q&A section with tips, tools, book reviews, online resources, and more.

The Translator's Home Companion, at www.rahul.net/lai/companion.html, is a tech-heavy website that contains national and international newsletter and newspaper links; lists of glossaries, tools, courses, etc.


The ATA Chronicle is another significant resource for translators and interpreters.


How do I become certified as a translator or interpreter?

If clients are looking for a certified translator, you should be clear about whether they actually want a certified translator or a certified translation. (See How do I get my translations certified? below.) 

If you want certification as a translator, you could take the ATA certification exam. This is a three-hour session where you choose two out of three passages to translate. Once you are ATA-certified, you must maintain your credentials through attendance at language-related seminars, conferences, and other means described on their website. See www.atanet.org/certification/index.php for details.


To be a certified court interpreter, you must pass an examination. There are two levels of certification, state and federal. Not all states offer state certification. The
 
Office of Court Interpreter Services in Boston offers occasional court interpreting classes as well as the state certification exam and information on the federal court exam. Their number is 617-878-0269. For information on certification of federal court interpreters, see http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/federal-court-interpreters/federal-court-interpreter-certification-examination

For more information on court interpreting and certification, see www.najit.org.

For information on training, see T & I Classes. See also Introduction for Clients on this website.


As of October 10, 2009, a new certification process came into being for medical interpreters, available nationwide and organized by the International Medical Interpreters Association. Certified medical interpreter status is available in Spanish, Russian Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Industry-leading certification credentialing service PSI confirmed that the exams meet their standards for educational and psychological testing and that the certification process adheres to the best practices of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. For more information see www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org. Also, go to www.imiaweb.org, the website of the International Medical Interpreters Association, and click on Certification.


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How do I get my translations certified?

Any time clients request a certified translation, you should clarify with them whether they actually mean notarized, or they just want a stock phrase attesting to your credentials, plus your signature.

Some translators charge an extra fee of $10-$20 for obtaining notarization. Good places to find a notary are your bank, town hall, or local library.

For a stock phrase, the certification format should include the certifier's name, signature, address, and date of certification. A suggested format is:


Certification by Translator

I, (typed name) , certify that I am fluent (conversant) in the English and ____________ languages, and that the above document is an accurate translation of the document attached entitled ________________________.

Signature 
Date 
Typed Name
Address

For translations for the USPTO (United States Patent Office), notarization is not required. Patent attorney clients will usually provide a template.


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Can I earn a living as a translator?

For some honest salary and other financial information, see Bureau of Labor statistics and this article in US News. Both provide helpful information on expected income. Obviously there are many variables that can alter these figures, but they provide a good rule of thumb. See also Translation & Interpreting Rates.


How much should I charge?

Market data on rates charged by other translators can be found on some international websites, such as aquarius.net, and discussion lists. You can ask other translators, but many things affect the rate you should charge: amount of experience, degrees, your location, popularity of your language combination, subject matter and knowledge of it, etc. The ATA was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in 1994 for possible price-fixing, so some translators feel it is illegal to discuss rates. For more information on rates, see T & I Rates.


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How can I tell whether a potential client is reputable?

To find out about agency reputations, consider joining a payment practices list, such as the tcr list or www.paymentpractices.net. While both are international, the former tends to center on US agencies, while the latter centers on European agencies. Both charge a nominal fee. Both are tightly monitored and have rules that you disobey at your peril (for the benefit of all)! The World Payment Practices forum on Yahoo is a free service that reports on agency reputations. Note: There is no guarantee that the agency itself isn’t reading what you write, so it’s advisable to be temperate in language and stick to the facts. ProZ.com has a Blue Board under Directories with feedback on working with clients. The service is free, but you must be a paying member to get full details. And TranslatorsCafé.com offers similar services under Community, Hall of Fame and Shame for members. You can also post a message on the NETA discussion list to ask about the agency.


Other tips:

  • Agency membership in a professional association such as the ATA is a plus.
  • Do not start work without a purchase order (also known as a job order, work agreement, assignment sheet, etc.). 
  • Read the contract carefully before signing it. Most are fair and reasonable. Some contain terms that may not be to your advantage, such as saying that the translator will not be paid until the agency is paid by its client. NETA's model contract can be found here.
  • Some agencies require a test passage to be translated. This could be a good sign (they care about quality), but the passage should be no longer than 250 words. Some translators feel they should not provide this work free of charge.
  • Beware of "cattle call" emails. Some agencies send mass emails to translators offering work, then accept the translator who responds the quickest with the lowest bid. This practice tends to depress rates and compromise quality.

To find out about a direct client, do everything possible to make sure the person is legitimate:

    ·  See if the person has a LinkedIn account, and if you have any mutual contacts.
    ·  If their email address is linked to an organization, call it to verify their identity.
    ·  No phone number and no mailing address are red flags.
    ·  Ask for references.
    ·  Require a down payment (translators request anything from 50% to 100% up front), and make sure the payment           

       goes through before you proceed.


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How can I avoid email scams disguised as offers of work?

Every translator has received at least one email offering work that is actually a scam. These are some red flags to watch out for any time you receive an unsolicited request for translation:


Misspellings or awkward English in the email

Few or no details about the project, such as language combination and subject matter

No agency name, address, or phone number given

Terms that sound too good to be true


The Proz website has a good summary of common scams and how to investigate unknown potential clients. You can also check the online directory of known translation scammers here.


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If I do work for an agency, how do I make sure I get paid?
If you have doubts about a particular agency, have them pay via PayPal or credit card (set up a merchant account), take payment in advance, or request COD. Google “payment practices” +translation for other suggestions.

Do I need to join the ATA as well as the NETA?
NETA is not affiliated with the ATA, but we do support each other. We offer ATA certification exam workshops and sittings because some agencies use certification as one of their criteria for selecting translators. (Check atanet.org and click on “Certification”). So the decision is really up to you.


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