What Do Freelance Translators Do? The Real Answer May Surprise You

Being a freelance translator is about more than just transferring words from one language to another.

Since you've already had some translation training, you of course know that the basic job of a freelance translator is to take a text in one language and “recreate it” in another for an audience who speaks the target language.

But you also know that the translation process goes deeper than that.

In the sphere of practical freelance translations, you'll be called upon to do many things you may not expect, some of which may surprise you.

Let's go beyond the words and look at what freelance translators really do.

Freelance translators are psychologists

The glory of working for an agency or in-house is that you can focus on the translation work itself.

But a freelancer has to understand clients.

Who they are. What makes them tick. What they expect.

Digging deep into your clients' psychology to figure out how to meet their expectations is a huge part of working on your own.

Get psychological: What do clients want? How do I meet those needs? 

Freelance translators are anthropologists

When you start out in translation school, you buy a pile of books (or subscribe to a ton of online dictionaries) to do your work.

The problem? Very often, people do not use words the way the dictionary does.

A freelance translator is not a lexicographer, but rather an observer.

You need to understand a living language that people use every day.

Freelance translators are detectives

When you work in-house or for an agency, you have a project manager who gives you (or should give you) instructions about the purpose of the text.

They may give you documentation, sources and a glossary.

But as a freelancer? You have to find that stuff all by your lonesome.

You have to dig up information and sift through sources, dictionaries, language corpuses, and documentation.

Put on your investigator's hat: No one else but you can dig up clues to the best translation.

Freelance translators are artisans

As skilled craftspeople, we take the lump of clay that is the source language and mould it into something new.

These new forms have infinite possibilities, so we use our craft to make the best shape for our audience. 

Freelance translators are athletes

It takes a particular type of mental gymnastics to blend words together from a language that has its own style and structure and create the same effect in a completely different idiom.

We do incredible linguistic walkovers and backflips every day to bridge the gap between languages.