Tips for translators in small languages

There are languages like Spanish (tons of work, lots of translators), and languages like French and German (good amount of work, not a surplus of translators), and then there are languages like Tagalog, Nepali, Bulgarian, Amharic, Icelandic, and so on. What are some pathways to a viable freelance business if you do one of those languages of lesser diffusion?

  • Assess the demand. You only need enough work for one person, but in some languages, that may be a struggle. Consider adding additional services like interpreting, editing, voiceover, etc. You may have to be a little more open to offbeat jobs than someone who translates German or Japanese.
  • Expect to be asked to translate anything and everything in your language. You don’t have to say yes; never take on anything that’s outside your capabilities. But expect that clients will think of you as “the Haitian Creole translator,” not “the Haitian Creole pharmaceutical translator.”
  • If you want to work with agencies, blanket the field. Get a membership to Payment Practices (not an affiliate deal) and sort out the highly-rated agencies; for example those rated 4.0 or higher in the two factors that PP rates. Then start cranking out the applications; aim for three to five per day. Every agency that could potentially use you, anywhere in the world, should have your resume on file.
  • If you want to work with direct clients, look for trade ties between your non-English country and the US, the UK, or other English-speaking countries. Most countries have some sort of economic development authority, foreign direct investment authority, or similar entity. Look there for ideas, then contact companies related to those industries that might need you.
  • Consider translating into English with a native English-speaking proofreader. Normally I don’t recommend going anywhere near translations into your non-native language. But for small-diffusion languages into English, I think it can work, and sometimes it’s the only option. First, there just aren’t that many native English speakers who translate from Lingala or Khmer. Second, lots of these niche countries are fairly major tourist destinations for English speakers, very few of whom speak a word of the local language. So you might find work translating for, say, resorts in Indonesia or the Philippines or Thailand that want to attract English-speakers.

Readers, especially those of you who translate in these smaller-diffusion languages…any thoughts on this?

11 Responses to “Tips for translators in small languages”
  1. Irish linguist February 25, 2016
  2. Palomnik February 26, 2016
  3. Evelyna Radoslavova March 1, 2016
    • Kyle Callahan February 1, 2017
  4. Tamara March 1, 2016
  5. Ben Desjardins March 4, 2016
  6. Maryam March 8, 2016
  7. Tapani March 16, 2016
  8. Jennie April 11, 2016

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