Machine Translation: Will it put freelance translators out of work?


This blog post will attempt to shed some light on Machine Translation (MT) and the impact it is having on the translation industry. Most freelance translators use CAT tools (Computer-Assisted Translation), to assist them with producing and managing effective and efficient translations. CAT tools are not to be confused with MT; they are software systems that enable translators to build and expand translation memories, that store previous source and target translations for quick and easy reference when working. CAT tools also assist with producing the finished translation in the required format and offer an extensive range of quality management tools. In a nutshell, they allow translators to produce high quality, accurate work faster. MT, on the other hand, is the full translation of a text by a computer without the need for any human involvement.

MT is not as new as some might assume; the concepts can be traced back to the 17th century, although research into producing a fully automatic MT system gained pace in the 1950s. If we fast-forward to the present day, advances in MT have been significant and MT systems are now available commercially to work alongside CAT tools and are freely available on the internet for public use.

There are three main types of machine translation: rule-based, statistical and neural.

The rule-based approach is system based, a manually determined set of language and grammar rules to define the correspondence between the source and target languages. Statistical MT has no knowledge of language rules and works by training the translation engine with a very large volume of bilingual and monolingual corpora. Neural MT is the latest approach that makes machines learn to translate using neural networks.

This easy accessibility of MT certainly has its advantages: if I still had contact with my childhood Dutch pen pal, whom I met on a campsite in France, I would not have to rely on my next-door neighbour who ‘spoke a little Dutch’ (I don’t speak any) to glean the gist of her letters. Google translate would give me a pretty fair idea of what Jessica was saying in a matter of seconds, even if not written in an altogether idiomatic manner.

In addition to the benefits for individuals, the advances in the availability of MT systems and the quality of the translations they produce have, understandably, impacted upon the translation industry. However, is it realistic to consider that MT will eventually eradicate the need for human translators altogether? My experience so far tells me that, no, this is not on the cards anytime soon. The translation industry is very much alive and the demand for human translators is real.

As with most things, there are constraints and limitations with MT. Translation is extremely complex and requires translators to make a great number of decisions about every minute detail of the text. Translators must use their knowledge, not only of lexical meanings, but also of social, cultural and political contexts, of the norms associated with terminology use in specialised fields. Translators have to identify nuances and ambiguities and know how to react appropriately to these to transfer them into their target language. Translators must bear in mind the intentions of the original author and attempt to realise the same effects on their target audience. Those translators who have completed specialised training courses, such as the MA in Translation Studies at Exeter, are trained to do exactly this. These areas are where humans have the definite advantage.

There are, however, circumstances where it is understandable for a company to opt for translations produced using MT. Perhaps it is only the gist of what a particular website is saying is needed, or a technician requires nothing more than an overview of an instruction manual and there is no requirement whatsoever for it to be disseminated further or published. In situations like these, MT can prove a much faster and a more cost-effective solution.

However, for content that is creative or literary, or content for which a translation of publishable quality is required, then the skills of a human translator are usually deemed necessary. Marketing texts are particularly problematic for MT and examples of poor-quality translations that have been published or displayed in some format or other are abundant. (These are the translations that leave you laughing out loud!)

Whilst I do believe there will always be a need for human translators, I do also feel freelance translators can embrace these technological advances and use them to their advantage. With MT comes the need for both pre and post-editing services, that can prove to be less time consuming than full translations (if working with a quality MT system). There will, I feel, for the foreseeable future, be a need for a pair of human eyes to read through a text and check for errors of meaning, vocabulary, syntax etc., as well as cultural relevance and appropriateness. Both language and culture are constantly developing, changing and evolving and the human ability to recognise this and adapt accordingly is crucial.

Translators should not feel threatened by MT, but instead feel proud they are able to use their knowledge, expertise and intuition to deliver higher quality translations, than those produced by automated systems. There will always be customers relying on high-quality translations and currently MT, with no human input at all, cannot reliably deliver. If anything, I feel that MT should allow companies to value the skills of human translators over machines and freelance translators should embrace the opportunities presented to further their editing skills and range of services offered, safe in the knowledge that MT does not yet give them too much of a run for their money!

“Anyone who is bilingual (or who speaks another language) can be a translator” – is this true?

By Rebecca Ellerker, Freelance Translator

translating text

Yes and no.

It is commonly perceived that anyone who speaks another language can translate and this topic has received a fair amount of attention from scholars and translators alike. Those of us who are bilingual, or have the skills to communicate in another language, will have often been asked to do ‘a quick translation’ to help family and friends. I remember being on many family holidays, even as a teenager (early on in my language learning journey), and my monolingual parents asking me to translate in supermarkets or tell them what street signs were saying. I was able to do it; we purchased the things we needed, and we got where we needed to go. However, this type of ‘translation’ or ‘communication’ is a far cry from the work I do as a professional freelance translator.

To arrive at a satisfactory answer to this question, we need to consider what it means to be ‘bilingual’ (or have the ability to speak another language) and what a translator actually does. A concrete definition of bilingualism is hard to come by; definitions range from the, ‘the fact of being able to use two languages equally well,’(1) to ‘a fluency in or use of two languages.’(2) The important point to note here is that there are two strands featuring in these definitions of bilingualism: language use and language competency.

Speakers of more than one language will often find that their proficiency in their second language is defined by the circumstances in which they have learnt or used it. For example, when I graduated from my undergraduate degree, I had spent extended periods living abroad and had consequently developed a strong level of fluency; I could conduct my daily life in France and Spain without any problems whatsoever. However, when I started my first graduate job, a matter of weeks post-graduation, working in European finance for a large multi-national company, I rapidly realised that I had much to learn in terms of corporate financial terminology!

Turning now to the act of translation: this can be an activity as simple as transferring words from one language into another. Rather like the kind of ‘translation’ I performed on my early family holidays. However, often professional translators work with complex, specialist or technical texts. Translating then becomes much more than the simple transfer of words and the translator must focus on producing a target text that transfers the meaning of the source text in a manner that is accurate, reliable and appropriate to its intended audience and function.
Professional translators must have their wits about them. An overly literal translation is rarely acceptable and the translator must consider every aspect of their translated text: lexical, functional and cultural elements, to name but a few.

A translator must have an eye for detail and will have, more often than not, an in-depth knowledge of their chosen specialism. Translating a legal document, for example, requires the knowledge and skill to produce a flawlessly written legal text in the translator’s target language. Likewise, translators specialising in marketing slogans must have a thorough awareness and understanding of both the source and target cultures to ensure that their translations are appropriate and effective for their target audience. A quick internet search for ‘marketing translation fails’ reveals countless brands that have made errors due to a lack of cultural understanding and awareness. Errors that professional freelance translators cannot afford to make.

So, if we have established that a person with knowledge of a second language can translate words from one language to another, but that this fact does not necessarily make them translators, then, logically, we should consider how linguists can learn the relevant skills to become proficient, capable translators.

A course such as the MA in Translation Studies at Exeter provides the perfect opportunity for those who have the knowledge of a second (or third…) language, to develop their ability to translate and become skilled translators. I recall many years ago being asked to translate a legal letter for a family friend who was in the process of purchasing a house in France. Whilst I had the ability to understand the words, and look up the direct meaning of the words I didn’t know, I realised that I certainly wasn’t capable of reproducing the letter accurately and, importantly, reliably in English. I learnt then to truly value the skills of the professional translator and understood that being bilingual did not mean that I could automatically consider myself a translator. Having now successfully graduated from the Translation Studies course at Exeter, I am proud to say, at last, that I feel able to call myself a ‘Freelance Translator’!



Career paths after studying MA Translation Studies

By Rebecca Ellerker, Freelance Translator

MA Translation Studies

Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey 2018 reveals that students undertake a postgraduate taught programme, such as the MA in Translation Studies, for reasons related to career and employment prospects. Typically, students studying the MA in Translation Studies are motivated by their personal interest in languages or a particular area of the translation industry. They often embark on the course with a view to pursuing a career in the translation sector, or even a career change towards translation.

An MA in Translation Studies is an industry recognised qualification and prospective employers are increasingly seeking professionally qualified applicants. Graduates of the programme, at the University of Exeter, know that they have the skills to set them apart from less-qualified rivals and are employed across a range of jobs in the translation and languages sector. A commonly asked question by prospective students of the programme is, what jobs do graduates actually end up doing after their studies?

This blog entry will explore some of the common career paths followed by Translation Studies graduates.

There are several career pathways available in the translation sector that hold different levels of appeal for each individual. The impact a career has on lifestyle is an important factor to consider: where to live; whether to work individually or as part of a team; a willingness to live abroad or to relocate to a new town / city; flexible working hours or a more fixed routine. Other considerations relate specifically to the area of the translation sector an individual is wanting to pursue, such as making use of any pre-existing specialisms, a tendency towards literary / non-literary translation, or a desire to be creative and have more freedom.

Having considered these areas, many graduates follow one (or more) of the career options below:

• Freelance translator

Freelance translators are self-employed and usually work from home. Freelancers are able to pursue a range of different translation options including both literary and non-literary texts, general translation and many opt to develop their own specialism. Freelance translators work with clients directly or secure work through an agency. The freelancer is responsible for every aspect of their business; in addition to concentrating on providing quality translations to their clients, they must also dedicate time to securing work, responding to emails and developing their marketing strategy, producing accurate quotes and invoices and showing commitment to maintaining their professional development. Freelancing and self-employment can be wonderfully flexible and rewarding; however, working alone from home may not suit everyone.

• In-house translator

Many large international companies who have a regular high demand for translation will employ in-house translators. This can be a great way for translators to gain valuable experience and build a specialism. While the work may not be as varied as freelancing (depending on the company in question), being employed (rather than self-employed) can offer more job security and has particular benefits. Often graduates who take positions as in-house translators will progress their careers and secure promotions either in a different company or in the same one. It is fairly common for graduates to gain experience in-house before looking to go freelance.

• Translation Project Manager

This is another employed option where successful graduates work in the translation industry, often for a Language Service Provider (LSP) or a translation agency. Project Managers ensure that translation jobs are completed on time and to a high standard. They will liaise with clients to secure work and negotiate appropriate rates, and then analyse the documents to find a suitable translator to complete the translation. Project Managers are responsible for the work flow from initial client enquiry through to final delivery. This can be an excellent way to gain industry experience and develop contacts. Translation Project Managers can progress within their roles to more senior positions with additional responsibilities.

• Post-translation Editor

This position can overlap with certain elements of the Translation Project Manager role; however, many translation agencies employ editors specifically to review the work of translators. Editors fine tune a text before it is delivered to the client, ensuring that it is of high quality, that it is accurate and written in an appropriate style. Editors will look for orthographical and typographical errors and will make appropriate corrections. They are also responsible for ensuring that the original meaning of the text is retained and is expressed in authentic natural-sounding language, any quotations included are referenced accurately and any style-guides used are adhered to.

• Transcreation and copy-writing

There are times when translators will be called upon to be more creative and rather than work from a finalised source text, they are required to use their cultural knowledge to adapt a source text when necessary to ensure that it will function in the target culture as intended. This can often mean changing a text substantially from the original and requires the translator to have a thorough understanding, not only of the languages and cultures in question, but also of the purpose and function of the text. The translator must ‘translate’ the text and at the same time ‘recreate’ it. It may be that there is no concrete source text at all, but rather a comprehensive set of instructions from a client about what it is that they are wanting to achieve. This type of work offers much more scope for creativity and many translators offer a combination of services including transcreation and copy-writing.

• Further academic study

Some graduates choose to continue their academic study and embark on a PhD programme in a field related to Translation Studies. Students who choose this option will either apply for funding or self-fund their programme.

To find out more here about the University of Exeter’s MA Translation Studies course.

Mentoring and professional development – part 2

‘Industry Panel Days’ are often organised for MA Translation Studies students


Written by MA Translation Studies graduate Rebecca Ellerker

The previous blog post concentrated on the culture of mentoring between academic staff and students. In this post I would like to highlight the many opportunities for students to work with leading industry professionals, in addition to the many different ways in which the MA in Translation Studies programme has been designed to ensure that graduates have rigorous professional training.

At the very heart of the programme there is an emphasis on providing students with the industry’s required knowledge, understanding and skills. In fact, the quality and standard of the MA in Translation Studies at Exeter is recognised by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL). The university is rightly proud to be one of the CIOL’s preferred education providers, meaning that successful students (following external verification and moderation) are awarded exemption from one of the units in the Diploma in Translation (the CIOL’s gold standard professional qualification). In addition, the Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) recognise the standard of the MA programme and offer the prestigious MITI status to high achieving graduates (those with a translation dissertation and a distinction overall and or those with a merit overall, but having gained a distinction grade in their translation dissertation), who have demonstrated sufficient professional experience.  Students are eligible (and encouraged) to join both organisations as student members, allowing them to experience the professionally high standards of the industry and the many benefits of belonging to these organisations.

Focusing on the academic content of the programme, the course has been developed to ensure that students have wide exposure to as many different areas of the translation industry as possible. Such is the emphasis on professional development that many of the assignments have been devised to provide students with opportunities to hone the skills required not only to work as a translator, but also to secure work and understand the professional role and responsibilities of a translator. Students can experience industry-standard activities such as a mock-pitch to a potential publisher, subtitling a short clip and acting as an interpreter at a conference. In fact, interpreting proved to be such a popular experience that a new module, ‘Introduction to Interpreting,’ was launched in September 2018. Alongside modules in translation theory and the practice of translation, module choices  are available to allow students to concentrate their professional development in areas that interest them most, be it specialist or literary translation. There is also the option of embarking on a work placement/project, or a module that focuses specifically on the translation profession and the use of CAT tools (computer-assisted translation).

Alongside this very thorough academic programme, the course tutors have worked tirelessly to use their networks, contacts and alumni to provide an enriching programme of events and experiences designed to boost students’ professional development and their exposure to the professional industry. There are many opportunities to meet and engage with leading industry experts, many of whom work in local translation companies, are freelance translators, or have close links with the professional bodies. There are special guest lectures on offer where professionals share their experiences and mentor students on topics ranging from setting up a freelance business, to working in particular translation fields, such as academic or technical translation.

Other professional-training events have included an ‘Industry Panel Day’ organised for Translation Studies students, at which a panel of five industry experts agreed to share their experience and top tips for working in the translation industry, as well as answer any questions posed by the students. The inspirational mentoring the students received at this event was invaluable and provided an insight into first-hand experiences of how to make a successful career in translation. Perhaps the most profitable part was the opportunity to informally network and make lasting contacts over lunch.

Translation Studies students may also take field trips, such as the one I went on to London to visit one of the top Language Service Providers (LSP) in the country. Students were given a presentation by the company and were then invited to complete a mock-project management exercise. As before, the students were able to gain a real understanding of how the industry operates in practice and were able to add to their list of potential contacts.

This wide range of enriching experiences highlight Exeter’s commitment to ensuring their graduates are well-equipped in order to succeed and compete as professionals in the translation industry. It is clear that professional development and mentoring during the MA in Translation Studies go hand-in-hand; students are privileged to benefit from high quality input from the academic staff, as well as a diverse range of opportunities to profit from professional industry experts.

Mentoring and professional development – part 1

Written by MA Translation Studies graduate Rebecca Ellerker

Mentoring plays a key role in the Translation Studies MA programme at Exeter. The Translation Studies department is built around a team of highly-qualified and skilled staff. Their knowledge and expertise with all that relates to translation, its theory and history, as well as the practical and specialist side of translation is second to none. The staff are at the core of Exeter’s carefully crafted syllabus; they are skilled mentors and have designed a programme that meets the needs of the students and provides ample opportunity for them to grow and develop their practice and theoretical thinking. The result of this mentoring is that students are enriched with the knowledge and skills they require to pursue their chosen careers in translation-related fields.

However, the staff, as mentors, are not there simply to provide students with ‘the answers’ but rather to guide them towards finding ‘their own answers.’ At the very core of this mentoring is the relationship between the mentor and the mentee: most often (but not exclusively) the tutor and the student. As a recent Translation Studies graduate I am certain that the course’s greatest strength is the fundamental emphasis placed on the relationship between staff and students and how this enables students (and perhaps even staff too) to reach their greatest potential.

At Masters level many of those enrolled on the programme bring with them vast and varied life-experiences that are both welcomed and valued. Part of the mentoring process that is so integral to the programme is that students are encouraged to contribute to the content of the course, allowing themselves to develop the skills required to succeed, whilst contributing also to the mentoring of their peers. There is a very genuine sense that staff and students alike are valued for the knowledge and experience that they bring to the course.

So, what does this look like in practice? The programme is delivered through a series of lectures, seminars and workshops (amongst other activities – see part 2) – all of which require active participation not only from the staff, but from the students as well:

  • During lectures, tutors deliver content, but also take time to ask probing questions, designed to develop and deepen students’ thinking and understanding;
  • During language specific practical workshops, students are encouraged to take the lead in sharing and discussing their own translation strategies and solutions. Tutors then carefully structure their input in order that students can reflect and improve upon their own practice;
  • In seminars students are asked to take turns in preparing and delivering presentations. The tutors join the remaining students as active listeners and use their own knowledge to further challenge and develop the group.

Underpinning this entire process are, of course, the strong relationships that are fostered between the staff and the students. These relationships are developed from the very beginning of the programme, when staff treat students as fellow professionals from the outset. The Translation Studies students have a dedicated Translation Studies laboratory, equipped with dual-monitor computer stations and up-to-date translation software; there is also a Translation Studies study room and lounge where students can relax with a coffee and the latest translation journals from the professional institutions, or benefit from a quiet environment in which to work on their latest assignments. Tutors take time during one-to-one sessions to get to know the students. One-to-one sessions are offered at several points during the programme to allow students to discuss arising issues, assignment feedback and to seek further guidance and assistance if required. Students also have sessions scheduled during assignment writing periods to enable in-depth discussion with their tutors relating specifically to their own ideas. The mentoring received really comes into focus in this environment as students are able to reflect on the these conversations and improve upon their practice and academic writing.

Post-graduation, I am now working as a freelance translator and I feel extremely privileged to have completed the MA in Translation Studies at Exeter and to have worked alongside such a dedicated and committed team of tutors. I am absolutely certain that I have the confidence, skills and knowledge to pursue this career path largely thanks to the mentoring and lasting-relationships that I developed during the course. In part 2 of this blog I will explore the many professional development opportunities that the MA in Translation Studies offers.

The benefits of an MA in Translation Studies for professional translators

Written by MA Translation Studies student Rebecca Ellerker

Firstly, let’s state the most obvious benefit: MA in Translation Studies graduates are awarded a qualification that is recognised by employers, clients and professional bodies. In a competitive industry, translators who have successfully gained an MA in Translation Studies stand out from those who haven’t committed to a higher-level qualification. When bidding and competing for work, this could be the key to securing contracts. In addition, professional bodies in the industry offer student membership options, providing access to a wealth of resources and support. These can be converted to a full membership upon graduating and entering the industry in a professional capacity.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has published ISO 17100:2015 relating to Language Service Providers (LSPs). It states that all translators employed by LSPs must have either a degree in translation (or related subject) or several years of experience. For the novice translator without a degree in translation, this represents a problem and the most effective solution is to embark on a programme of postgraduate study.

It must be said that having an MA is not in itself a guarantee of a quality translator; however, the programme at Exeter is structured to build rapidly students’ skills with a carefully balanced mix of practice and theory. Successful students engage critically with the course content and develop the required knowledge and abilities to succeed as professional translators. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits the course offers:

  • Throughout the core practical modules, students work with a range of texts that have been chosen specifically for their level of challenge. The opportunity to work alongside teaching staff and peers, and to discuss the translations in depth, is invaluable. It allows students to build their own translation processes and methods as they develop in confidence and ability.
  • The MA in Translation Studies can be tailored to cater for individual interests. Students benefit from a wide exposure to different areas of translation, such as specialist translation, literary translation and professional training in the use of CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tools.
  • The course places a great deal of emphasis on building professional skills and preparing graduates to work in industry. Students who engage fully with the summative and formative assessments are able to hone many of the required skills: how to effectively use CAT tools to increase productivity; how to pitch effectively to a publisher; or strategies for translating technical terminology.
  • The summative translation assignments completed during the programme form the beginnings of a professional portfolio. The University of Exeter has links with the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), allowing students who reach a sufficiently high standard, to have their work assessed by a CIOL moderator for exemption from one of the corresponding DipTrans exam units.
  • Students can choose to benefit from a work placement module. This provides the opportunity to work in the industry and gain experience and contacts, as well as try out and improve newly learnt translation skills.
  • The final component of the MA at Exeter is the dissertation, and for those wishing to work professionally as a translator, it is the perfect opportunity to work on a larger project of individual choosing, tailored to suit students’ preferred specialisms and/or areas of expertise. Similarly, a high level of attainment in this module allows graduates exemption from the examination to achieve the sought after MITI status (Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting).

The MA in Translation Studies is more than a means to an end and offers successful graduates much more than a piece of paper. Arguably, the wealth of experience from the teaching staff, fellow students and alumni, the emphasis on professional preparation, along with life-long contacts and networks, are amongst the most important benefits of the course.

How to become a translator

Written by MA Translation Studies student Rebecca Ellerker

The translation industry is unregulated and as such there are no formal requirements to meet in order to be able to call yourself a translator. As you would expect, this lack of regulation leads to a wide variety of skill and quality amongst those working in the industry. However, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has published ISO 17100:2015, which relates to translation and sets out processes to follow, as well as the qualifications a translator must hold in order to be compliant with the standard. In addition, the Institute of Translators and Interpreters (ITI) recommends that all potential new translators gain a formal translation qualification prior to entering the profession.

In this blog post we will explore the skills and qualifications recommended for translators and look at different translation career options.


 The most obvious skill a translator requires is the knowledge of one or more language, in addition to their mother tongue. In order to translate effectively, translators must have an excellent understanding of their source language(s), excellent writing skills in their native language, and a solid grasp of the culture in the countries where both are spoken.

Following on from this, more general skills are required in order to succeed as a translator:

  • the ability to research and acquire the additional linguistic and specialised knowledge required;
  • resilience and strategies to continue in pursuit of ‘the perfect translation;’
  • curiosity and a willingness to learn – both in terms of translation skills and technologies as well as subject content;
  • oral and written communication skills in both the source and target language – producing clear translations is not the only aspect of this job, translators also need to liaise with project managers and clients;
  • time management skills – translators need to keep on top of work load, deadlines, and, in the case of freelance translators, all the other activities associated with running a business, such as marketing and accounting.


The ITI recommends that an MA in translation or translation studies, such as the MA programme at Exeter, or the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL)’s DipTrans qualification gives translators credibility and an edge in a highly competitive market. Holding such a qualification means that translators adhere to the requirements set out in the ISO and also enables them to apply for membership of the professional bodies (CIOL and ITI). Translators who boast such qualifications and accreditations are set apart from those with little or no training and experience.

An MA in translation not only gives participants the required knowledge and skills to successfully translate, but it also provides an understanding of the history and field of translation as a whole, as well as practical training in preparation for the industry. Through professional courses, translators are introduced to the translator community, the importance of which should not be underestimated; it is a great way of securing invaluable contacts, potential work and support from other translators.

Job opportunities

There are a variety of job opportunities for translators, all of which suit different individuals and personal circumstances. Prospective new translators should give some thought to how they would like their career to progress.

Different options include:

  • Working as an in-house translator or project manager for a translation agency or a Language Service Provider (LSPs); this option provides stability and security and allows translators to build up a wealth of experience.
  • Opportunities at major institutions such as the European Union (EU) or United Nations (UN); this usually requires translators to live abroad and often provides excellent career progression.
  • Working as a freelance translator, the most popular option according to the ITI; whilst this requires translators to set up their own business and secure their own work, it does afford the most flexibility and allows translators to work when and where they choose.

Five steps to becoming a translator:

  1. Assess yourself against the skills listed above; if there are shortfalls in your skill set, address them. If it is related to the technologies used in industry, take a course! If it is language related, make an effort to improve by taking every opportunity to practise your source language (listen to the radio, watch films, talk to friends, read books, etc.). In terms of your native language skills, the most important thing any translator can do is READ. Read as widely as you can to develop an awareness of style and improve your vocabulary.
  2. Gain a translation qualification. Research post-graduate study options and consider an MA in Translation Studies. The programme of study at Exeter provides a well-balanced curriculum of theory and practice (including in the use of Computer-Assisted Translation, or CAT, tools) to ensure that you graduate with the necessary skills and support to succeed in the industry.
  3. Join professional bodies: CIOL and ITI. These provide excellent support and resources for networking and development at any stage of your career. This also gives a clear message to any potential clients that you can provide a quality translation service.
  4. Gain experience. Translate as much as you can and use your contacts and networks to secure work. Use any prior skills, experience and qualifications to build your specialism. Perhaps you have a background in law or finance? Use this to your advantage.
  5. Finally, be willing to keep learning. Translation is a career in which you will never stop building your skills and gaining new knowledge. As with other careers, the best professionals are those who are willing reflect on their experiences and practice, learn from any mistakes they make, and continue to progress.

A day in the life of a freelance translator

Written by MA Translation Studies student Rebecca Ellerker

It’s 9:15am, I’m back from the school run and sitting down to start work for the day. I’m a freelance translator and I work from home in my sunny garden office (well sunny today at least!). I say, “start work for the day,” but the truth is that I have already had a quick check of my emails on my phone while the children were finishing their breakfast! I had an enquiry from a new client about a potential translation – today is going to be a good day.

I’ve got several items on my to-do-list and the first of them is to finalise and send a recent translation. I’ve finished my draft and now need to complete a line-by-line bilingual check. All done and I’m happy I can now press send. Before my career change (I used to be a teacher), I thought translation was a simple act of transferring one language into another. Just like that – quick and easy if you understand both languages, right? Wrong. Actually, a large part of my day is spent reading, researching and thinking. Am I sure I’ve understood exactly what this sentence means? Am I certain that this expression is used, in this way, in this particular context? What precisely do we call that *insert random item* in English? Google search is a translator’s best friend!

So, having submitted my translation, I need to produce and send my invoice, particularly important if I want to get paid. I love this aspect of working for myself and I know that there is much more to my working day than translating. I’ve sent my invoice and before I move on to the next task, I need to reply to my new client enquiry. Getting back to clients promptly is important; I take a look at the potential translation, run my analysis and produce and send off my quote…fingers crossed they’ll get back to me to confirm the job. Getting used to not knowing when my next project will arrive and learning to trust that it always does (with a lot of marketing I might add), has been one of the greatest challenges to date.

This week I have a large translation to complete by Friday, so I’ve set myself daily targets to ensure I get there; planning my workload in realistic daily quotas is helpful. I’ve found that clients especially love it if I deliver a translation early and happy clients means repeat business – in fact most of my work comes from repeat business (the very best kind of feedback).

Like many freelance industries, starting out can be tough and I’ve spent a lot of time working to secure new clients. I’m amazed at the power of networking. Every freelance translator I’ve met has been so friendly and helpful; there is a real sense of community and I’ve had several clients passed to me from other translators. Of course, they also come in handy when there’s that one word that I just can’t find the perfect solution for – translator friends to the rescue!

After grabbing a quick bite of lunch at my desk (I don’t do this every day but today I want to pick the children up from school), the rest of my afternoon is spent ensuring I meet my word count for the day. If I don’t, I have been known to finish off in the evening. As a teacher I used to work almost every evening and it was something I wanted to get away from. Now, however, I feel totally differently about it. The flexibility of my work is one of the biggest perks and I know that if I need to work in the evening or at the weekend it is because I’ve gained some time elsewhere. More often than not it’s because I’ve been able to fit my job around my family and not the other way around. I feel very lucky to finally be able to say that.

What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter?

Written by MA Translation Studies student Rebecca Ellerker

The answer to this question is not as complex as it might appear. The terms ‘translator’ and ‘interpreter’ are often used interchangeably by those who are none the wiser and many people are not aware that they are in fact two different professions.

Translators work with written texts and transfer meaning from one language into another. Not only do they require excellent skills in terms of both their source language(s) and their native language (the target language), but translators also need to have a solid understanding of the culture systems in the countries where both are spoken. Virtually all professional translators only translate into their mother tongue, and above all, they need excellent writing skills and an eye for absolute accuracy. A good translator uses all of their knowledge and skills, alongside thorough research and extensive use of reference materials, including monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, in order to produce accurate translations.

Interpreters, on the other hand, work with spoken words, facilitating communication between people across different languages. Like translation, interpreting also requires outstanding language skills, and the similarities between the two do not end there. Interpreters also need an in-depth knowledge of the culture and conventions of both the source and target language countries and, importantly, confidence in their linguistic abilities. However, due to the oral nature of interpreting, interpreters are required to work in both directions between the two languages. They must be able to transfer the meaning of the original message, paraphrasing where necessary, on the spot, and without the use of reference materials.

There is a wide variety of situations, industries and sectors that require the services of translators and interpreters. The different text types that translators work with is equally diverse and as such translators often specialise within a particular subject area or a certain industry. In the case of interpreting, however, there are three main areas: conference, business and public service. Within these sectors the most appropriate type of interpreting also varies and includes: simultaneous interpreting, where the interpreter transfers the spoken message as the speaker is talking (usually via microphones and headphones from an interpreter’s booth); consecutive interpreting, where the interpreter listens to the whole speech, makes notes, and then relays the content to the participants in their own language once the speaker has finished; and liaison interpreting, where the interpreter relays the message several phrases at a time.

The Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) has offered the simplest and clearest answer to the original question: ‘Translators write. Interpreters speak.’ So, if you are a French company wishing to launch a new product in the UK and the sales brochure has been written in French, you need a translator. If you are an English-speaking academic presenting at a conference in Spain, you need the services of an interpreter.

How Much Do Translators Earn?


The job site Indeed reported in April 2018 that UK translators earned an average £24,115 per year over the past 36 months.

As the graph above suggests: translation salaries vary considerably. They depend on a number of factors including the country of employment, language pair, language direction, specialisation and whether the translator works as a freelancer or in-house employee.

Earning Variables:

  • Language Pair and Direction Language pair refers to the language being translated to and from. For example, a translator may convert Chinese into English, French into German, or Vietnamese into Spanish. The direction of translation between two languages is also an earning variable. Translating Chinese to English is more valuable than English to Chinese because there is a lower supply of English speakers proficient in Chinese than there are Chinese speakers proficient in English.  Language pair and direction influence the earning potential of a translator because of supply and demand. Languages like French and German are in high demand but there are also lots of professionals that can translate them. For languages where demand exceeds supply, such as Vietnamese, translators tend to earn more.
  • Evening and Weekend Work It is possible for translators to charge more when they work evenings and weekends. A freelancer may choose, for example, to add a 25% surcharge to their normal rate. In reality, not everybody does, nor is it necessarily a good idea.
  • Speed The length of a project depends on its specific requirements, but as a general rule, a faster translator can get more work done in less time, and thus has the potential to earn more money. This isn’t always true. Quantity without quality is a sure-fire way for a translator to lose clients and earn less in the long term.

In-House Translator Salary

On average, translators in the UK earn a starting salary of £18,000 to £21,000 per year. They may earn over £30,000 in more experienced roles. In the US, the average salary for a translator is $40,000 per year (Sources: Glassdoor, Totaljobs, LinkedIn — via Translate Media). Translators for the European Union and United Nations tend to earn the most. As a result, these positions are extremely competitive.

Freelance Translator Salary

The salary of a freelance translator is much harder to determine than that of an in-house translator because they have more control over the type, quantity, and price of the work that they do.

As a translator, freelancing has its financial advantages and disadvantages. A highly skilled and experienced translator could earn over £40,000 per year as a company employee. As a freelance translator, they could earn as little as £10,000 per year or as much as £100,000 per year. Simply, freelance translators must have the ability and skills to run their own business.

Freelance Earning Variables:

  • Clients Freelancers can work directly with clients or through an agency. An agency is responsible for finding and communicating with clients. They then ask a freelancer, or a team of translators, to work on the client’s project. Working with an agency is perhaps the less risky employment type, but it may mean lower pay, as the agency earns a proportion of the client’s budget. Working directly with clients has its advantages and disadvantages. It could mean working on higher value projects, but to do so requires better sales, marketing, and communication skills.  Without these, the salary could easily be much lower than working with an agency or as an employee.
  • Business Skills Freelance translators are essentially self-employed business owners. They are responsible for finding their own work, marketing themselves, and selling their services — directly to clients or through an agency. As previously discussed, this has its financial pros and cons when compared to working as an in-house translator. Ultimately, the better one’s business acumen, the more likely they are to earn a high salary. Some freelance translators need a job on top of their translation work, others earn hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.


There is a massive gap between the lowest and highest paid translators, which may be explained by the fact that the majority of translators are freelancers. By nature, the income of freelancers varies considerably. In the UK, in-house translators earn between £18,000 and £30,000 per year. Average income in the US is $40,000. Freelancers can earn a lot less or a lot more. They need business skills like sales, marketing, management, and communication.  Overall, translators can anywhere between £18,000 per year and £100,000 + per year.