To Freelance or Not to Freelance, that is the Question

“A majority of translators are freelancers.” This is one of the things I was told at a translation and language workshop I attended in London. It’s both a terrifying and freeing prospect as someone who both loves independence, but also prefers financial stability and certainty. However, in order to make it as a freelancer, one must operate themselves as a business, constantly network, practice self-control, and have good time-management skills. Freelancing can often be a feast and famine industry, in which even well established translators have periods where they barely (or don’t) make ends meets and other periods where they are so busy that they can’t take on all the projects they have.

I have always straddled the line, working full time plus, doing hourly or salaried as well as taking on freelance projects when I could. When I graduated with my Masters in Translation, I had no intention of embarking on a full-time freelance career. I wanted the golden grail of translation jobs, the full-time salaried position in translation.

My near obsession with looking job aggregate sites has been very useful in understanding the market. Most of these salaried Japanese translator jobs are actually administrative assistant and interpreter jobs at manufacturing plants.  (The difference between translation and interpretation is a topic for another day.) While I can’t claim an interest in automobiles or manufacturing, obtaining such a job was my goal as a means to live out my dream to straddle the line of having the benefits of a salaried job yet performing translations.

Yet as I’ve gained more experience in different fields in Quality Assurance, Administration, Interpreting, and Sales, the more I realize that I don’t feel fulfilled working as cog in the wheel for someone else. I yearn for the adventure and independence of freelancing. I yearn for trying to live out my dreams as much as my natural realism tells me the chances of simply making ends meet, or much of a paycheck, are slim. Nothing makes me happier than slowly parsing phrases in a document, learning obscure information about ballet to properly translate French song titles in Japanese into English, combing through complicated official language in government and company publications, understanding new idioms and proverbs, and simply seeing the complexity of language.

Many people who study translation are interested in literary or entertainment-related translations. However, 90% of translations commissioned are technical; after all with global business it’s important to translate user manuals, specs, trade agreements, contracts, and tax and insurance forms. I know Arabic translators that dream of translating poetry, Japanese translators who are interested in the game and anime translation industry, and literary scholars who dream of translating untapped works of literature. Such dreams of highly sought after fields are a tricky thing. Realistically a majority have their dreams crushed or have to compromise on them, yet I do know people who have made it into their beloved field and have the skills to make phenomenal translators in these genres.

For myself, while I enjoy examining the choices made in subtitles of drama and anime, the turns of phrase in musical translations, and the flowing phrases needed for literature, I prefer dense official texts. Official statements by government bodies, new years greetings by CEOs, newspaper articles, lease agreements, and academic articles and conference papers. Something weighty that I can sink my teeth into and research new topics.

In order to translate full-time, in the long run it’s advised to have a specialization. At the moment I am a generalist, mostly experienced in business and academic documents, particularly in the humanities. My own personal goal is to specialize in the field that I debated studying for my masters, international law, but that is a long term goal and only time will tell if I have the time or money to fulfill it.

So here I am at the beginning of this journey, the first step in starting my own entrepreneurship, creating a website to sell my services to direct clients and to one day live out my dream of full time freelancing. After all, one can neither fail nor succeed if they don’t take a chance on achieving their dreams.

I welcome you to Latham Sprinkle Translation and Editing, providing business and academic translations and document review services. I look forward to developing this site and writing my blogs about topics in translation, Japanese language, and general linguistics. Whether you are interested in Japanese translation, need a document reviewer to check a finished translation for layout, or want a proofreader to edit an English or Japanese document, please contact me. Also, if you are interested in learning more about translation, language, and specifically the Japanese language, please check out my blog in the future.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step — Laozi


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