Becoming a Translator
By Oisin Harris, Toby Smollett and Niina Bailey
Have you ever wondered how to become a translator? If the answer is yes, this article is for you. We have compiled different courses where you can study translation at different levels. In addition, you will learn how to pitch projects to publishing houses, which is an important skill for a translator. Many translators choose to become freelancers, so you will also find information on how you could go about that.
What courses are on offer to help you become a translator? Many, as it turns out. The following list is UK-based and focuses specifically on literary translation.
The University of East Anglia offers a BA in Translation, Media and Modern Languages.
The London Metropolitan University offers a BA (Hons) in Translation.
The University of Nottingham offers a BA in Modern Languages with Translation.
The University of East Anglia offers an MA in Literary Translation.
The University of Warwick offers an MA in Literary Translation Studies.
The University of Essex offers an MA in Audiovisual and Literary Translation.
The British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT), based in the University of East Anglia and founded in 1989 by the late author W.G. Sebald, offers a Summer School.
The University of Bristol offers the Bristol Translates Literary Translation Summer School.
Literature Across Frontiers offers translation workshops.
Additionally, there’s a wealth of videos from panels of past London Book Fairs on how to get started as a translator. These are accessible here. Finally, whilst not a course per se, it’s well worth checking out the Emerging Translators Network if you are an early-career literary translator. Good luck!
Although pitching can be neglected by aspiring translators, it is one of your most important skills – your pitch is the difference between having a great idea and a fully realised project. Rather than being an obstacle to your success, it is in fact an opportunity to show your ability, enthusiasm and knowledge.
The first step is to make sure that this project can be undertaken. Research your source text to check that nobody has translated it before (unless you feel that a new translation is necessary – if so, be ready to explain why) and then contact the relevant publishing house to ensure that the World English Language rights are available.
Then, gather the materials for a professional and enticing pitch. The jewel of this will be your sample translation, but it will need to be supported by answers to the simple question any publisher will have: “why?” For this, it might help to separate that question into two: why should the work be translated now, and why should it be that publisher who publishes it? In addition to those two questions, the publisher may also ask the question of “why you?” For this, you will want a CV, but you will also want to present yourself professionally and demonstrate your wide range of skills. For example, you could share some relevant research you undertook for your translation.
Ultimately, even the greatest pitch can be turned down, but preparation and diligence will help tip the odds in your favour.
One road that aspiring translators can take is going freelance. It is unlikely that a translator would be hired by a publishing house on a permanent basis, as publishing houses do not usually have in-house translators. Because of this, a lot of translators choose to go freelance and work for themselves. This might mean still having another job or source of income because translation generally does not pay that well, especially when starting out.
As freelancers do not work for anyone, they need to find jobs themselves. This means networking and letting people know that they are there in order to find clients. This can be done by going to literary and translation events and introducing themselves to people there. In addition, having a website describing the service being offered and contact information can be useful so that they can be found online. Being active on social media, like Twitter, can also help. Another thing aspiring translators can do is join freelance platforms like Fiverr or professional associations like the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI). People who want translation services can use these platforms to search for translators.
Working as a freelancer will require certain qualities. One of the most important ones is discipline. Freelancers do not commute to work each day and work for the contracted amount of hours, so they need to be disciplined in the way they work at home and make sure they get the work done.