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Navigating the Competitive World of Translation

Another year has passed. May I start by wishing you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR and a brilliant start to 2024!

I'm for sure not the only language professional who found 2023 a challenging year full of insecurity and worries about the future. A quick look on LinkedIn shows numerous discussions and webinars on the potential threat of advanced machine translation (MT) tools used by more businesses, the need for translators to adapt to the many changes, and the inevitable question of whether translators will be out of a job in some years' time.

So, what does the future hold for translators?

However helpful MT tools can be for translating large volumes of text quickly and efficiently, they often struggle with complex or nuanced content. Therefore, they will not replace human translators who are still needed to ensure the accuracy and quality of translations. But there's no doubt that the industry is undergoing major changes.

However, the more I listen to experts, the more I feel convinced that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and MT tools could create new opportunities for translators. They are potentially useful tools to automate repetitive tasks and free up time for human translators to focus on more complex and creative tasks, such as transcreation and localisation.

The world of freelance translation is a competitive one, and the major impact that new technologies and developments in AI are having on the industry is adding to the challenge. But fear not! There are plenty of things you can do to succeed in this business, even in the face of stiff competition and technological developments.

Here are a few tips for translation professionals:

  • Specialise One of the best ways to set yourself apart from the competition is to specialise and find your particular niche. This can be through focusing on a specific industry, and/or a language pair in high demand. Translators specialise in anything from the medical, environmental, or legal fields to marketing, beauty, and the luxury industry. What's your passion? Once you've chosen a niche, focus on developing your expertise in that area. This will make you more attractive to potential clients and give you more bargaining power when arguing for higher rates. Besides reading plenty of books and articles on the subject, listening to podcasts, etc., it's advisable to do a professional course to expand your knowledge and to become a member of a professional association or organisation to attend events and webinars. I have an academic background in international development and social anthropology and a personal interest in yoga, meditation, and mental health, so I'm gradually working towards increasing my knowledge and building on my skills to specialise in these areas in the future. A tip is definitely to choose a specialisation that combines your interests with your business :)

  • Diversify Now is a good time to start working on expanding your business to be able to offer new services in the future. Learn a skill and build on the ones you already have to offer both current and new clients professional language services. I've been thinking a lot about my career path lately. Do I need to make some minor changes to my business, or make the big jump and leave the translation industry behind? I've come to the conclusion that the answer for me (at least for now) is: diversification. Therefore, I went back into teaching Danish in November 2023. I'm currently giving a 2-hour face-to-face class every week but am also planning on offering my classes online in the near future (so if you're considering learning Danish, I'm ready to help). At the same time, I'm taking some online courses on AI to learn more about the topic and a course on SEO for translators to be able to offer my clients a new service in 2024.

  • Market yourself Don't be afraid to market your services to potential clients or translation agencies. Now, this is something I have promised myself to get better at this year. It's not an easy one for me, but it's so important for us freelance translators. Create a website or a blog where you can showcase your work and expertise - and creative skills - and use social media to promote your services to the world. I only just started using LinkedIn on a more regular basis last year, and it really is THE platform for connecting with other professionals and finding job opportunities. During my time as a Premium member, I also enjoyed their free courses on for example digital marketing, writing marketing copy, SEO, and personal branding. I have applied some of the tips from the courses for marketing myself via social media and my website.

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies The field of translation is constantly evolving, so it's important to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies. This will help you to provide your clients with the best possible service and remain competitive in the market. It's a good idea to:

  • Network  Networking is essential for translators and, again, something I want to get better at this year. Attend industry events, connect with other translators online, and reach out to potential clients directly. The more people you know, the more likely you are to hear about new opportunities. If you, like me, live in the U.K., the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) is a good choice for membership as you can join area-specific groups, get certified, and enjoy access to lots of free webinars and resources. Here are some ideas for networking as a freelance translator:

    • Join a professional translator community to connect with like-minded people, both online and in person.

    • Attend industry events, such as local activities in your area and conferences for language specialists.

    • Reach out to and connect with potential clients directly, such as by sending them a personalised LinkedIn message or email.

Concluding thoughts

The world of freelance translation is changing rapidly, but it still offers plenty of opportunities for success. By specialising, diversifying, marketing yourself, networking, and staying up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies, you can position yourself as a valuable asset to potential clients and succeed in this competitive field.

Keep these points in mind for navigating the competitive world of translation:

  • Offer a variety of services. In addition to translation, you can also offer other services such as localisation, editing, subtitling, copywriting, transcreation, and proofreading, and if you enjoy teaching, then why not become a language teacher? Not only will you be more attractive to different clients, but you'll also increase your chances of a steady income.

  • Be flexible and adaptable. The translation industry is constantly changing, so it's important to be flexible and adaptable. Be willing to learn new skills and adapt to new technologies.

  • Focus on building relationships with clients and agencies. Build and nurture personal relationships with your clients and agencies - something that technology will never be able to fully replace. Strong relationships will help you to retain their business and attract new clients through referrals.

Human versus machine translations?


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