When I first started studying translation, I thought that I couldn’t translate until I had experience.
And I couldn’t get experience until I at least made it through more of my studies. I mean, I couldn’t start translating right away, could I?
What did I know? Who was I to think that I could jump right into a profession and be a professional translator?
Didn’t I have to wait my turn?
Unfortunately, nobody ever told me otherwise so I went on believing that. That is until I got my first job translating for my wife’s friend’s parents. They didn’t care that I hadn’t finished my degree or that I hadn’t done any “professional” translation. They wanted someone that could get the job done.
My wife talked me up to her friend. Her friend told her parents. And I got the job without even knowing about it at first.
You don’t need to know everything to start.
I had a professor in college during my master’s degree program. One day he told us he had a secret to share.
Our class of six students was having a hard time understanding the advanced morphology concepts he was trying to teach.
He said, “You know, as an undergraduate, you think you know everything. As a master’s degree student, you realize that there are some things you just don’t know. And when you get your Ph.D., you finally understand that you don’t really know anything.”
You’re not going to know everything when you decide to start translating professionally. The best teacher is experience and to gain that experience and become better, you have to put in the work.
Not study. Work.
But I get it.
I understand that you might not have as much knowledge in your specialization that you want before you start translating specialized material.
Maybe you’re going to school to learn that stuff or are gaining it my experience.
Either way, if you want to start translating but are not quite ready to dive all the way in to translating your area of specialization, there is something you can do.
Start by translating these four types of documents.
These four types of documents don’t require any type of specialized knowledge.
Any translator that knows their two languages well and understands principles of translation will be able to start translating them right away.
Birth certificates are an easy money maker for translators and can be a great stable of work for any type of translator.
The reason that birth certificates are a good type of document to start with is because they are all pretty uniform. If you’ve seen one birth certificate you’ve probably seen 95 percent of all of them.
And if someone is coming to the United States from another country and wants to receive basic services, he will almost certainly at some point need a birth certificate for himself or his family members.
If kids need to register for school, they’ll need their birth certificates most likely translated into English.
That’s where you come in.
You can offer a service where you translate the document and do some desktop publishing to make it look as close to the original as possible.
Then you get it notarized and send it back to the client.
You could charge anywhere between $25 and $50 a page. You could even offer more money for a faster turnaround, say 24 hours.
How’s the market?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), nearly 1 million visas were issued in 2013 for permanent residence in the United States.
These numbers don’t even include the 9.9 million nonimmigrant visas that were issued in 2014.
Now, in terms of legal immigrants to the United States, what language are you most likely to find work in, in terms of translating birth certificates?
So the three countries that provided the main source of legal immigrants from 2011 to 2013 were Mexico, China, and India. That means that if you can translate from Chinese or Spanish into English, you have the biggest pieces of the pie to choose from.
Not a bad way to start out your translation business.
School records tend to fall into two categories: diplomas and transcripts.
Diplomas are fairly straightforward. They’re similar to birth certificates in that they tend to follow similar formats.
Here’s one I did a while ago:
Transcripts, on the other hand, aren’t as straightforward to translate as birth certificates.
That’s because they’re not quite as uniform as the certificates are.
For one thing, students take different classes. Some classes offered in Latin American schools, for example, are not even offered in the U.S. and so it can be challenging to come up with equivalents, especially when the accepting college or university wants to see that all the prerequisites have been taken.
Second, grading systems in every country are different. One country might grade on a ten-point scale. Another country might hand out letter grades. Still another country might only offer pass/fail grades. Translating those grades into the grades needed by the accepting university or college can be difficult.
Here’s an example of one I did a quality check on for my wife’s cousin who lives in Peru.
As you can see, not only did the names of the classes need to be translated, but you’ll also notice that the grading system is based out of 20 points, 20 being the best.
In fact, the person who did the original translation, after speaking with the transcripts’ owner, ended up adding a note to the translation indicating that a score between 11 and 20 was considered a passing grade.
Those are the types of challenges you can face when you translate transcripts. Still, a lot of them need to be done. Students aren’t only coming to the U.S. to study, they’re leaving the U.S. to study abroad.
Start marketing those translation services now and you will find clients.
Marriage certificate translation is not quite as popular as school records, but there are still a surprising number of people that need to have their marriage certificates translated.
These people usually all into one of two categories (speaking as someone from the U.S.).
The first are U.S. citizens that decide to get married to other people (usually other Americans) in an overseas location.
This is all well and good, but what some people forget is that in order for that marriage to be recognized back here in the states, there are a lot of hoops that you might have to jump through.
Here’s what the U.S. State Department says about getting married overseas:
In addition, once you have the proper documentation, you’ll need to have it translated into English in order for U.S. institutions to recognize it.
The second category of people needing translated marriage certificates are people from overseas that need to have their marriage documentation translated in order to apply for the various types of U.S. visas and gain immigration status.
In this case, the marriage certificate itself might not be the only thing required. As a translator, you might be asked to also translate marriage registration documentation.
I was asked to translate a marriage certificate a few years ago. When I got the file, it not only contained the certificate but also the civil registry.
Here’s the civil registry paperwork:
I’ll be upfront here and say that I’ve never had the privilege (?) to translate a death certificate. Actually, I’m glad I’ve never had to because that makes me sad to think about.
But here’s why it shouldn’t make you sad.
According to the LA Times in 2006 (a while ago, I know, but one of the stats I could find), more than 6,000 people died in 2005. Some were due to natural causes. Some due to traffic accidents or natural disasters.
Whatever the cause, once a person dies overseas, a foreign death certificate is issued to the next of kin.
Well, in order for that next of kin to register that person’s death and ensure that proper benefits are received, that certificate (and other paperwork) has to be translated into English.
Again, that’s where you come in. You translate the document, do some desktop publishing magic to make sure it looks as close to the original as possible, and you’ve just earned yourself anywhere between $25 or $50 for an hours work tops.
Certificate Translation Process
OK, so if you think you want to get started tomorrow translating these types of documents, here’s the process I’ve used to get business.
Feel free to use it exactly as I have or modify it to your own personality and business.
It’s basically five steps:
- The interested party contacts you and lets you know the situation. What kind of document (obviously) they need translated.
- They email you a copy of the document along with their name, email address, and street address where you can send the translated document(s).
- You send out the invoice for the translation. I usually charge a $55 flat fee that includes shipping and independent notarization at no additional costs. You can charge whatever you want.
- After payment, you start the translation and use desktop publishing techniques to match the form and design of translation as close to the original as possible.
- You then certify the translation and take it to be notarized, after which you mail it back to the person.
It’s not hard and any level of translator can get started with this process.
Any questions, let me know.
In the meantime, check out my new Translator’s Market book for the ultimate list of translation agencies needing your translation skills.