When I was first learning French, I never thought of it as a potential income.
But one day I read about the requirements to become a French translator, and everything changed.
And I will show you how to do the same.
If you are wondering how to become a French translator, you can follow the path I took in six practical steps.
They can lead you to governmental work, office work or a freelance career, depending on what type of job you are looking for.
If you want to learn the process I used to make money translating, read on to find out!
What Makes French Translation a Great Career Choice?
If you thought French was the language of the past—that now only English matters in the globalized world—let me tell you that you are wrong! Your French passion can translate into a career in French translation. Check out some of these examples of why French translation is an in-demand career.
French plays a crucial role at the United Nations.
As one of the working languages of the UN, French remains a powerful language of diplomacy. When I say “working language,” I mean that it is one of the six languages used for official business at the UN. Therefore, the UN offers several career paths for translators, including interpreters (verbal translators), editors, terminologists (translator of specialized/technical vocabulary) and proofreaders.
Also, thanks to protocols like the “Minimum standards for multilingualism of United Nations websites,” the UN makes sure that all six official languages are equally represented in their communications. If you are interested in how to become a French translator at the UN, check out the United Nations Language Careers site.
Governments around the world routinely employ French translators.
The use of French translators is not just limited to the UN. Many governments also employ translators.
For example, check out this page from the CIA. Of if you are allowed to work in Canada, you are in luck! Thanks to Canada’s official bilingualism (both French and English are official languages), there are lots of jobs available in translation for French speakers. You can read about how bilingual jobs in Canada are staffed here.
Check out the state, provincial, city or federal agencies where you live to find local opportunities for French translators.
French is set for dramatic demographic growth this century.
Far from the fears that French will disappear, France boasts the highest birth rate in Europe. But this pales in comparison to the potential number of French speakers that will be born in Africa this century, not to mention the fact that French is spoken on five continents. Needless to say, French is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Want to make sure your French skills are marketable in this varied field? Check out the authentic French videos on FluentU. You will hear French from a range of areas in and outside of France, in all types of videos from TV commercials to inspiring speeches to news reports.
Plus, every video comes with interactive subtitles—click any word for an instant definition and to see other videos that use it in different situations.
For example, this is what you see when you tap on the word “suit:”
And FluentU’s “learn mode” lets you practice all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you are learning. This is a great way to ensure that you’re able to translate any French word in any context.
The videos are organized by genre and level, including two advanced levels. Best of all, you can get this fun, immersive French practice wherever you go on the FluentU iOS and Android apps.
What Are the Tools of the Trade for Professional Translators?
Technology has made many aspects of translation easier. Not only are these tools incredibly popular, they are now expected of most professional translators.
Have a large text to translate? Make sure you use Trados.
If you have to choose one piece of software to do translation work, it should be SDL Trados. In many job postings on translation sites, the clients will explicitly request experience with Trados. But what makes Trados so useful?
Imagine you have a one-page translation.
A professional translator could finish that in a matter of hours, and provided they “let the translation rest” overnight and review the next day, they can deliver in two business days.
But what happens when you have a translation of 500 pages?
Translating word-for-word is time consuming. So Trados recognizes repeated texts and provides an automatic translation. You just have to review.
Use ABBYY FineReader to turn scanned images into editable documents.
Another scenario that translators confront is having to make a translation of an image. For example, someone can send you a scanned image of their birth certificate. Such a document contains both text and design elements that need to be incorporated into the translation.
With ABBYY FineReader, you can load images in JPG format, for example, and produce an editable Microsoft Word document that converts images to text. Again, all you have to do is edit.
If your translation includes a lot of design, Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Illustrator are excellent options.
Microsoft Word can produce excellent translations and surprisingly accurate designs thanks to its table functions, but sometimes a translation will only include a little bit of text and lots of design. In this case, Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Illustrator are excellent options.
For example, a client might want to translate a tourism brochure. Sure, you can do it in Word, but Publisher offers all the design features of Word and more. Like ABBYY FineReader, Adobe Illustrator also allows you to convert images of words to text and can form editable shapes based on the design elements in the document.
How to Become a French Translator: A Pro Shares Their Career Tips
If you already speak at an advanced level, you are ready to start monetizing your French skills. But how to go about it? With the mass of people who speak foreign languages and ever evolving technology, it can be tough to get your foot in the door, but by following the procedure I used, it can be done!
1. Start by doing free translations for NGOs and volunteer organizations.
When I had reached an advanced French level, I got into translating by doing free translations for Translations for Progress. It is a site that puts you into contact with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who need translations.
Although they do not pay you, they offer a correction for your translation so you will be actively building both your translation skills and your resume. Plus, you will sometimes get prizes for your work. For example, I received a flash drive and a tote bag from an NGO.
When you are at this stage, always start translating French to English (or whatever your native language is). It is easier for you to produce a flawless final product in your native language.
Eventually, when you feel confident, you can try English to French. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that some professional translators only translate into their native language for ethical reasons, assuming that they can only write truly perfectly in their native language.
2. Apply to be a secretary or assistant in an established translation office.
Although many translators operate entirely online, others have physical offices and several employees. This offers a great opportunity for you to get your foot in the door, see how professional translation work is done and network with experienced translators. Just open Google Maps in your area, type in “translators” and see what is there!
Recently, I had the opportunity to work as a bilingual assistant in a small translation office (four employees). The job opening was as an assistant, but most of my day was spent translating so that my boss, a certified translator, could review and approve my work.
The nuanced grammar I learned and the experiences that my boss shared with me could not be found working as a freelancer. In fact, if you dream of being a self-employed French translator, working for a while in a translation office before going freelance can really boost your resume.
3. Register on translation job and freelance sites.
Usually, you will have to negotiate prices and the client will stipulate several conditions, such as due date, years of experience, native language and software to be used. Moreover, these sites offer forums for translators where you can learn valuable information about translation.
4. Create an all-star French translator profile on social media.
While working at the translation office, I found that we received far more work from Facebook than from the translation job boards. If your business is not on Facebook today, it might as well not exist!
All you have to do is create a profile for your translation services and Facebook browsers can find you. LinkedIn is also a great platform to put your work experience as a translator.
As the operator of my office’s social media accounts, I found that there are a few strategies you can use to make your professional French translator account stand out.
- First, think of a catchy business name with the word “translations” in it.
- It is a good idea to design a logo for your account so you look like the real deal.
- Make sure to list the specific translation services you provide, such as “essay translations,” “college application help” or “certified translations” (if that is the case—more on this below).
In my experience, very few translators focus on social media marketing, so it is a great opportunity to attract clients.
5. Know how to price and provide discounts when first starting out.
It is difficult to say how much you should charge for your translation work, because it depends on the language of the translation and the country in which you are based. For example, in the U.S., you can find prices ranging anywhere from $25 to $75 per page, depending on the timeframe and type of document (design elements can raise the price).
You can also charge per word. I have seen prices from 10 to 15 cents per word for French. Keep an eye on your competition, such as the prices other translators advertise on their websites or winning bids on job boards, to set your own prices accordingly.
Many translators will offer promotions when they are contacted by a new client. For example, if you normally charge $25 per page, you could offer to do a project for $10 a page. This way, there is less risk for the client and they will come back for more work in the future. Another strategy is, if you have a multi-page project, you can offer to do the first few pages for free.
6. Join your country’s association of professional translators.
This should be a given, but once you have a solid foundation of work experience, you should join your country’s translation association.
In order to join many of these organizations, such as the American Translators Association, you must pay for and pass an exam, then pay dues. By passing the exam you will officially become a certified French translator and can market yourself as such.
This allows you to do translations in the public sector, such as being an expert witness in court if a translated document is disputed. Legal documents also typically must be translated by a registered translator. Plus, many clients will prefer registered translators because it is a recognizable standard of quality.
Despite the rise of technology, translation remains a great career option for language enthusiasts. As you well know, Google Translate just cannot match a human touch. Although translation is more complicated than most people think, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you will be prepared to take the steps needed to become a French translator. And by translating, even the expert French speaker will take their French to new heights!
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