Webinar question: small-diffusion languages

This is post #5 in my ongoing series of questions from the webinar on “Getting Started as a Freelance Translator” that I presented for the American Translators Association in December 2010.

A participant asks: Do you have any advice for small (exotic) language translators? My native language is Hungarian.
Short answer: Hmm. Tough to answer this in one sentence. Let’s move on to the longer answer.

Longer answer: First, how small is too small when it comes to small-diffusion languages? My sense is that there is enough of a market for Hungarian and similarly-sized languages to support a freelancer. For example, Hungarian is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. That alone would seem to generate a fair bit of work, since any industry that is regulated in the EU (i.e. pharmaceuticals and medical devices) is required to produce product information in the official languages. However I do think that some languages are just so small/exotic that there may not be enough work to support a freelancer unless you really know where to look. For example, I once talked to a project manager at a fairly large agency who happened to be a native speaker of Albanian. She told me that in her multi-year tenure with that agency, she had never seen an Albanian project come through their pipeline. But let’s say that you translate a language that is small (i.e. Hungarian) but large enough that you can make a go of it as a translator. Here are some ideas:

  • Team up with other translators and form a small, single-language agency. Many large agencies probably struggle to deal with high-volume projects in, say, Hungarian. While a medium to large agency can probably assemble a German (French, Spanish, etc.) team to translate 100,000 words in a week, they may panic when they have to deal with a similar situation in Hungarian, Slovene or Maltese. So by forming a small team of translators, you could be a one-stop shop for other, larger agencies. Instead of spending a whole day on the phone trying to find 8 Greek translators who are available for 2 weeks, the larger agencies could just call you.
  • Find clients who really need you. Various sources have said that the European Commission can only meet 70% of its demand for Romanian, Latvian and Maltese interpreting because it cannot find enough qualified candidates. Especially if you translate one of the EU official languages, European governmental entities are probably a good target.
  • Be open to a variety of subject areas. Beginning French, German and Spanish translators are often advised to specialize as narrowly as possible in order to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. My instinct about smaller-diffusion languages would be the opposite: especially if you’re going to accept outsourced work from larger agencies, you probably need to accept a wide range of subject areas.

And now over to the readers! I’m probably not the best source of advice on this topic since I translate a large-diffusion language, so let’s see if we can get some tips from small-diffusion translators out there!

10 Responses to “Webinar question: small-diffusion languages”
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