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  • Writer's pictureAlfonso De Luca

Practicing with Volunteer Work is Underestimated: Translators without Borders

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

So, you've been following along, and you're asking yourself 'Ok, I'm a beginner, it's 2023, and I have almost no clue how the market works, or how to break through it - if not for the precious overview you gave me in your previous post.' Don't worry! We'll get everything done - step by step. So, let's talk about the next logical thing: you need to hone your translation skills. In particular, we'll talk about volunteer work with Translators without Borders, and why you should not underestimate it as a beginner.

Several Ways to Improve

Perhaps, your university studies didn't give you enough practical experience to get into the job market. Or, you're just starting from scratch and have never touched a translation but want to become a freelance translator without a degree. Either way, you need to fine-tune your linguistic skills. Translating itself it's a continuous work of self-improvement in terms of vocabulary, writing, how you perceive the meaning of the source text, and how you can deliver the same message to the target. What you can actually do is what really matters in the end.

Now, depending on your field of specialization, there are different ways to practice different types of text. I will give you both ways to improve your translations in a more general way, and also in some specific fields: gaming, software, marketing, and television - the ones that I know about.

About the general ones: volunteer work and competitions are two very effective ways to practice. Once you are more confident in your skills, you'll keep practicing in parallel as you start and keep applying to agencies - we'll get there, don't worry. For now, just know that you need to practice A LOT.

Why Volunteer Work?

Now, you might be reluctant to do volunteer work, and also feel frustrated doing something for free while what you're really looking forward to is making money for a living with translations. I understand, and that's totally reasonable! But this is an effective path you can follow to get to that goal. I did it for years without even knowing I could make this my career. Now, remove the not knowing part from that, and you'll realize that you need to do volunteer work just as long as it takes for you to get good enough to consistently pass tests. And for the most skeptical ones out there, we'll also explore translation job portals that require no particular experience to get some exposure - although less effective. No worries, we've got everyone covered!

Remember: you need to reach high-paying clients, and for that, you need to make yourself a name in the industry. After that, you need professional experience, and agencies are the first step towards that. But you need to pass their tests - and that requires practice! That's what it takes if you're to be a successful freelance translator. Time. Patience. Perseverance. No black magic. You'd better get started now!

Translators without Borders

If you want to practice with different types of text, and also start to understand what you like - and do not like - to translate, a good idea is working pro bono for Translators without Borders, "a global community of over 100,000 members helping people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak." Here you also find the webpage with the information you need to know to apply as a translator, along with the 'Join us' button itself. Down the page, you can read the requirements - basically, everyone with basic computer knowledge and who's at least 18 years old can contribute. Just apply. Do it now!

Personally speaking, I did not volunteer for Translators without Borders specifically - I followed a different path, which we'll talk about in the future. But practice is practice regardless. And I read resumes of very good translators who also volunteered for Translators without Borders in their beginnings. Also, it's possibly the best-known portal for volunteer translators on the web. You'll not only practice your skills, but you'll also learn how to manage deadlines - which is crucial in any job, more so in the freelance translation business.

What Comes Next?

In our path towards honing your translation skills to break through the language industry, next up we'll dig into another volunteer work portal, this time focused on subtitling work - TED. If you're to become a fully-fledged linguist able to work not only on text but also videos, it's a mandatory skill to have for all aspiring audiovisual translators out there. Stay tuned!



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