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”
  1. Eve Bodeux March 2, 2011
  2. Caitilin Walsh March 2, 2011
  3. Eve Bodeux March 2, 2011
  4. Catherine Christaki March 2, 2011
  5. patenttranslator March 2, 2011
  6. Tess March 2, 2011
  7. patenttranslator March 2, 2011
  8. Vikas March 3, 2011
  9. Kevin Lossner March 3, 2011
  10. patenttranslator March 3, 2011

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.