How Long Does It Take to Become a Translator?

How long does it take to become a translator? I gave this post the above title because I thought people would be curious about it, but I am already regretting it. What kind of title is that? That is a lot like a student asking, “How many hours do I have to study to get a good grade on the test?” What absolute answer can there be to such a question? However, I thought it would be helpful to answer the question even if the answer is a little vague, so I am bravely starting this post.
From many testimonies I’ve heard (ProZ is a discussion place and a playground for translators, so there are many pieces of advice and confessions), many people seem to be saying it takes three years. I think this answer could be disappointing to people trying to become a translator. “*Gasp* Am I supposed to live off of nothing but water?”

It’s really stifling, I know. But what in this world works out well as soon as you start it? No matter what kind of business you start, won’t it always be difficult in the beginning? [bctt tweet=”No matter what kind of business you start, won’t it always be difficult in the beginning?” username=””]
Furthermore, it takes longer for freelance translators to settle in and find their place than people in other businesses. I wrote this somewhere, but have you ever met anyone around you who needs translation work done? I’ve almost never met such a person. To be completely honest, as someone who has no final consumer clients, I’ve actually never met such a person. So, if you want to make money quickly, you shouldn’t translate. (This is not at all to say that a translator doesn’t make a lot of money and will become poor. As I’ve emphasized previously, while being a translator won’t make you a fortune, it pays pretty well.) Everybody eats, so if you open up a restaurant (and operate it well), you’d probably start making money pretty quickly, don’t you think? However, because most people don’t need translation, isn’t it obvious that you won’t make money quickly?
Because few people make a living from freelance translation and many people and organizations in the world need translation, however, even though there may not be any near you, it’s worth giving translation a shot in the long term. It’s just that it takes a lot of time. You have to dutifully do each project to increase your clients one by one and improve your reputation, but that takes time. I’m going to analyze the aforementioned three years for you with my experiences as the basis. (Overall, I agree with the three years concept. Of course, it’s not an exact number, everybody’s situation is different, and the amount of effort and time invested is different for everyone, so the number itself doesn’t mean too much.)
“To settle down” is a very ambiguous expression, so I will specify it in two stages.

  • Stage 1: The period of time from the moment you first start translation until you are able to make ends meet only from translation.
  • Stage 2: The stage where you start to develop and enjoy the translation business through specialization, client upgrade (getting rid of clients that you don’t like for whatever reason and replacing them with better ones), etc.

These two stages aren’t clearly distinguishable, but they do seem to happen in succession, so I consider them the two stages of settling down as a translator.
When first starting out in translation, you’ll probably think just accomplishing stage 1 alone would be so great. Of course, the amount of time it takes getting to that stage will also vary infinitely depending on your language pair, your skills before starting translation, and the amount of effort and time you invest after starting translation (whether you do it part time or full time, etc.) Even so, on the basis of my own experience, I will venture to say this will take around a year and a half to two years. At around that time, I was able to make ends meet through translation alone without another source of income.
Logically, once you graduate from stage 1, you can go straight to stage 2. In other words, once your income increases enough for you to survive on translation alone, it’s then time for you to upgrade your business. However, it’s possible to just remain at that first stage. Or you might end up just increasing your workload without upgrading. That happens when you don’t have a long-term strategy in your translation business. However, a smart translator will move on to stage 2. While there is no end to stage 2, I think getting to the state where you’re relatively satisfied will take around another year or year and a half. Getting through stage 2 is a little bit easier. The reason is because you’re at the stage where you no longer have to spend time doing other work and are able to focus only on translation, which makes increasing workload and securing new clients a little easier. At the very least, it’s going to be easier than first starting out and getting through stage 1. At stage 2, your translation skills are still important, but what’s really necessary is thinking about and studying the business side of translation. [bctt tweet=”Your translation skills are still important, but what’s really necessary is the business side of translation.” username=””]
In my opinion, if you’ve reached stage 2, your work and life as a translator is actually quite good. Of course, it’s pretty busy if you consider it so, but if you’re not overly ambitious and you plan out your work and life from a long-term perspective, your life is probably already more leisurely and abundant than those of most people on earth. Of course, when you first chose translation, it had to be a path that you really liked and was right for you, and you still have the task of shaping your work and life to continuously grow your business over the long term. By the way, for a translator, work and life are very intimately related to each other. Becoming a translator is more than choosing a career, it’s choosing a lifestyle. [bctt tweet=”Becoming a translator is more than choosing a career, it’s choosing a lifestyle.” username=””]
For those of you starting translation for the first time, I think you should give a lot of thought to how you can graduate from stage 1 before you start looking at stage 2. Maybe you can have another part-time job while making efforts to become a full-time translator, or perhaps you can try living off of your savings for a year and a half… As the German saying goes, every beginning is difficult. However, if you think this is the direction that’s right for you, have a little courage. Even though it takes longer than other businesses to become stable, thus making it easier to give up on in the process, if you make time your friend and steadily walk in the direction where each small advance lays the path for another small advance, there will one day come a time when you graduate from stage 1. [bctt tweet=”If you make time your friend, there will one day come a time when you graduate from stage 1.” username=””]
That alone will make you very happy. No, you will be happy even before that, as there are people who continue to translate part time. Those who chose that path have already graduated from stage 1.

To all of you who are first starting out, good luck!!! And check out my post about What You Really Need to Know to Become a Translator.


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