3 Signs You’re Cut Out to be a Freelancing Translator

Have you ever wondered if you should just dive into the world of freelance translation?

There are many people who should. After many years of working with hundreds of translators, we have come to the conclusion that there are some professionals who are just cut out to excel as freelancers.

Here’s what we mean…

A freelance translator is someone who earns a full-time living from freelance work that enables him to pay all his bills. As our own experience with our members at Overseas DTP shows, not everyone manages to or is willing to pull this off.

Some of our translators are language enthusiasts with certifications who juggle languages during weekends just because it’s fun, but others epitomize Germanic seriousness and English professionalism even when they are working from a home also occupied several 2- or 4-year-olds. Here we are concerned with the latter group.

We have seen a lot of our translators transform from rookies into top-earning pros over the years. Nearly all of them who succeeded possessed these three habits. If you have them, rest assured, you’re going to be a rock star in the freelance translation community.

You’re Self-Disciplined

The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. estimates the number of full-time translators in America to be 61,000. These people work in offices, where there are plenty of incentives to meet deadlines. Freelancing is different.


When left home alone, most of us prefer to binge-watch Game of Thrones, munch on whatever extra food we can get our hands on, and like our friends’ baby pictures on Facebook all day. Those are signs of impulsive behavior.

Congratulations, if you are not impulsive. Being so hungry and driven that you need no external source of motivation is the first sign you are going to be a successful full-time freelance translator.

Our top-earning members make to-do lists and stick to them. They find ways to prioritize things and be accountable — and it reflects in their earnings.

You Aren’t Fixated Over Perfection

Deborah Smith is a British translator. She recently won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Korean author Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian. If you are nervous that your translation may never win the next Booker, you are doomed as a professional.


Successful translators are emotionally strong. They aren’t singularly focused on perfection, whatever that means. Their goals are more mundane and manageable.

If someone asks a successful translator to render a German technical manual into Russian, she will not be discouraged because she can’t write Russian like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, or Victor Pelevin. She will bring all her skills to table and translate the manual correctly before the deadline and move on to her next task. You have to be like her to be successful.

Don’t take that to be an excuse for shoddy work. No one likes that. But if you can manage deadlines, produce correct and readable translations on a regular basis, you will do well as a full-timer.

You Love Languages

Translation isn’t a glamorous or highly-paid profession. Most translators work behind closed doors. Think about it: How many translators can you name? Ditto with money.
Unless you work for international organizations, such as the United Nations or the European Union, the salary is not usually on par with some other professions, such as programming.

So if you are entering the profession only for those reasons, you aren’t unlikely to make a six-figure income. A crucial ingredient is missing – love.

Kato Lomb of Hungary was among the world’s first interpreters. She spoke over a dozen languages; five of them fluently. How could she do it? She writes in her memoir How I Learn Languages? that she is absolutely in love with languages. Today she is considered a legendary figure in the translators-interpreters’ community.


To be successful, you have to develop a love for languages. If you already have, you are all set.


Gig economy is taking over. Within the next four years, 40 percent of U.S. workers will be freelancers or contractors. Translation will not be immune to this trend.

You can can be a top-earning full-time freelance translator if you possess self-discipline, a willingness to produce quality work under deadlines, and a love for languages.

Looking for translation work? Let’s have a chat. Write to us on jobs@overseasdtp.com.

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