Translations – the basics of an easy source of income

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To kick off my digital nomad series, I’ll start by the activity which gave me, freelancing-speaking, more results so far: translations. Translating is, in itself, only a subset of the broader service provision category which relates to languages, and one of the most popular too (along with actually teaching a language). When thinking of a way to make money abroad or while on the go, linguistic services are pretty much always on those lists.

People have been learning languages since forever, and there’s a lot of reasons to know another dialect. However, there’s also a great degree of interdependence between traveling and speaking languages. You see, knowing a language is both the cause and / or the consequence of traveling. Many people learn a language in order to travel to where that language is spoken, or at least to communicate with its people. If you are someplace where you don’t know the language, you’ll eventually be pressured to learn it. So given that relation, why don’t use the exact same knowledge, i.e. a language, as an extra income source to make a living?

If you come from a language education background, you have most of these first steps inherently performed. Because I didn’t, I had to go through many problems and prejudices that (still) prevent me from being more successful in translations. That steep road and banging on the wall is enough for another post, so I’ll refer to that later on. I’m not saying that long-time translators don’t have any issues (even the same ones I face now). But this initial piece is for those who want to look at this choice first time in their lives.


So, let’s look at the basics.

1 – If you don’t know another language besides your native, learn it.

You can take face-to-face intensive language courses, online-based courses (such as Babel) or learn it from people you know. Whatever you do, having a real knowledge is, of course, the obvious foundation for translating.

2 – If you don’t have any certificate proving that knowledge, get it.

Most of the methods above will give you that but, if you somehow still need it (my case), don’t despair. Many universities and language centers have “certification days” available. You pay a fee and you take a language test: the certification will mirror your real-time performance. Depending on your knowledge level, make sure you prepare for it because these are usually administered by natives. Mine was taken in FLUP (Portugal).

3 – Practice. 

One thing is to know a language. Another thing is to translate from your native language to another language and vice-versa (or other two languages you know). When you simply talk or write in a foreign language, your mind automatically sets to that idiom. Translations, either in voice or written form, instead force you to think creatively to represent concepts, ideas, and contexts from one language in another one. You should, therefore, practice as much as you can the simple act of TRANSLATING.

4 – Know your strengths. 

Although many translation jobs don’t have a specific subject area, most of them actually have. While you may think you know another language well enough, a couple of documents on a particular topic will soon change your mind. All specialization areas have wide terminologies that no one is ever capable of mastering. So my advice is to hang onto the areas in which you already have a lot of experience, knowledge or even just interest. And then practice exactly that, i.e. translating in those areas. If you have some sort of document showing your knowledge in it, that may also be useful in the next steps of this process.


All of this is BEFORE actually getting out there and finding jobs. That is another article



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