How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

So you want to become a freelance translator, and you don’t have a translation degree? Is that even possible? Why would people pay me money if I don’t have a piece of paper saying I sat in a stuffy old college classroom for 4 (ok 5) years.

Well, the answer to that is yes, if you produce quality work, people will definitely pay you. I’m living proof of that. I went from having no experience (without a translation degree) to becoming a full-time freelance translator in a little under 1 year.

To learn how I did it, and how to become a translator without a degree, keep reading. If you’d like to learn more about how you can follow along and learn to create a freelance translation career. Click the link to sign up and you can also get a free translator cheatsheet in the 9 things you need to build a freelance translation career.

Breaking into the Translation Industry

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree
This guy wants to know!

My freelance translation journey

The year was 2014, you know, the year the Apple watch was released, and everyone freaked out for about 30 seconds until they remembered they’d have to wait 2 more years for Version 3 and a decent Apple product. I was in my 3rd year of living in Madrid, Spain and working as an English teacher.

If you want to know how much fun that was, let me go off on a tangent for a second. In our first meeting, the first thing that my coordinator said to me when I arrived in Spain, was, “If you can teach in Spain, you can teach anywhere.” Not ominous at all right?

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

Anywho, besides that fact that he was spot on and teaching in Spain is a bit of a nightmare, that’s what was happening, and I was tired of it all and looking to actually create a life for myself.

Cue step #1 on how to become a translator without a degree.

Get Experience as a Freelance Translator without a degree

At that time, my girlfriend’s brother was an up-and-coming videographer in Barcelona, and he’d just finished a video of a month trip filming the 7 islands in the Canary Islands (check out the map below if you don’t know where they are). They’re part of Spain and are incredibly beautiful!

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

He was looking for someone to translate the transcription he’d done of his video and had a little to nonexistent budget to do it. So, he asked me, and I said, sure, why not, I could definitely do that (not really knowing if I could or not).

I think there was a little over 2,000 words in that video and it took me about a week to complete (which is around4 days longer than it should have). I didn’t have any CAT tool and I didn’t know online/offline dictionaries. What I had was Microsoft Word and an old laptop that needed a fan to cool it down.

So I sat down and translated this video word by word. Needless to say, it was not real fun.

I didn’t have any tools, and I really had no idea what I was doing. However, after it was done, I realized that people would pay me to do this thing. I couldn’t get any worse at it than I already was and it was definitely much better than going to school and telling little Spaniards to be quiet 300 times a day.

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree
This was my job

So, I decided to dig into this translation thing to see what I could find.

Proz.com was the light at the end of the tunnel

Through my Google searches, I stumbled upon Proz.com and was immediately blown away by the amount of information, translators and organization of their webpage.

I saw there was a free trial where you could create a profile and play around so that’s exactly what I did. I quickly saw their not-so-secret-trick of if you’re not a paying member than you have to wait 12 hours before bidding on a job. Well played ProZ, well played.

So, with my free ProZ profile in hand, I went hunting elsewhere.

Filling up my resume

Like most jobs, there a bit of a Catch-22 (great book if you’ve never read it).

It looks a little like this:

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

So, what does one do if they have no experience to get a job and no job to get that experience? They find a work around. That’s where volunteer opportunities come into play.

Disclaimer: I’m not sure I would recommend these exact websites now, but it’s how I did it and how you can too.

Remember to get your Translator Cheatsheet freebie at:

Breaking into the Translation Industry

Babelcube Sounded Great in Theory…

In my naivety, I thought that literary translation sounded great and I found Babelcube. Now, Babelcube is a place for people to get their ebooks translated for free for a share of the royalties as they are sold. I got way to excited about it!

Hey, I could be the person to translate the next Harry Potter! I’d make royalties from all the books sold and wouldn’t have to work anymore. BOOM! That easy.

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree money lies

Well, not so much.

I decided to start small, so I translated one 50 page ebook and waited for the cash to start rolling in…

And waited some more.

And nothing.

FYI, to date, 5 years later, I have made $0.47 in
royalties. Not quite as breaking the bank as I’d hoped.

I wasn’t expecting much from the first book but I did have hopes to be able to at least buy a coffee with the money. That was a bust and I still didn’t have much experience. So, I kept at it.

Volunteer TEDTalk subtitle writer

If you’re not a fan of TEDTalks, you should be. They’re 15-minute lectures and you can learn about anything. Their goal is to spread knowledge throughout the world.

I came upon them and saw they were looking for volunteers to subtitle different lectures into different languages.

Hey! I’d already done that with the video!

Let’s do it!

So I signed up (click here to see how you can sign up), did an interview and got on board. I did a few videos but realised it wasn’t really for me. But that’s ok!

I now had 3 things to put in the “Experience” section of my resume

  • Ebook translation
  • TEDTalk translation/subtitle
  • Short film translation/subtitle

It doesn’t matter I didn’t get paid for them. That’s not really the point and nor do people actually care as long as you have demonstratable proof of your experience..

It took me about 3 months to get those three things and now it was time to start looking for jobs that actually paid me real money!

Translator’s Cafe to the rescue

ProZ still felt too official for me and I wasn’t ready to spend the money at that time so I went looking elsewhere and found Translator’s Cafe.

It’s a very similar membership site to ProZ, but with more one-off jobs from people instead of agencies. It just seemed “less polished” at that time, and so I thought it would be a great a start for me!

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

So, I got my profile set up (very similar to ProZ) and starting checking job listings. I checked at least twice a day for a few weeks before I saw something that fit my knowledge base.

It was a one-off job from another translator who just needed some help finishing it. I sent him an email and within a few hours I had my first paying job!

I worked my tail off on that job as I’d hoped it would become a reference in the future. Somehow I pulled it off and he was very happy with my work!

(The reference on ProZ is still up there to this day).

…And Repeat

1 job down and 1 happy customer. Now on to the next one.

I repeated this process on Translator’s Cafe for 4 or 5 jobs. I always just looked for 1-off jobs that were from translators who had taken on too much and needed some extra help to make the deadline.

Once I saw that people were happy with my work and I’d made a few hundred dollars, it was time to jump into the deep end. With my earnings, I bought the year subscription to ProZ, and my translation job was born.

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

Simple but Time-Consuming

As you can see this was a simple but time-consuming process. All-in-all from having my girlfriend’s brother ask me to help him to signing up on ProZ took about 4-5 months.

Now from there, it took another 5-6 months for me to earn enough money to quit my job and go freelance full-time.

The general consensus, if this is a side gig or something you do in the afternoons and weekends, then you should expect it to take about 1 year for to start making a livable wage where you can focus on translation full-time (depending on the time you spend and your abilities, of course).

How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

Many translators will tell you that you need a translation degree to become a translator. I wholeheartedly, 100% disagree with them.

The skills you need to become a translator can be learned, plain and simple.

If you put in time every single day, It should take you about 1 year to go from no experience to a full-time translator. Obviously, that number is different depending on your specialization and skills, but you should plan on at least that amount of time if this is a side gig.

No one said that becoming a translator without a degree was easy. However, it is possible, and I’m proof of that.

If you’d like to learn more about become a freelance translator you can sign up for my course

Breaking into the Translation Industry

I break down exactly what you need to know to become a freelance translator and how you can follow in my footsteps. I know many people are interested in creating a translation portfolio as well. Head over to my article, Translation Portfolio to read about the pros and cons.

Are you looking for how to become a translator without a degree? What are you stuck on and how can I help? Leave me a commen below.

44 Replies to “How to Become a Translator Without a Degree”

  1. This article is very educative and informative on how to become a translator without a degree. All the platform that is in this articles this is the first time am hearing it and I feel it so great to be professional translator online. Because personally I like working from home because I discover most degree work are stressful one way or the other 

  2. Hi, I think that’s very sensible advice – that it can take up to a year to start making a livable wage. I think the same can be said for many ventures that may start out as things to do on the side, including online ventures. They all take time and practice to build the skills and experience, and to get a proven track record. I think knowing that up front is very valuable, because sometimes the expectation is that things will happen instantaneously, and more often than not they don’t – they take significant time and effort to build. People often give up before that because they don’t see an immediate return. 

    Thanks for sharing your story, it’s inspiring! 

    1. Hey! and you’re exactly right! People want everything right away nowadays, but most things still take time. Creating a life for yourself doesn’t happen overnight, so you need patience and persistence. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Hi, I can say your article is a rib cracker. I got really cracked up, when I came across the experience photo. It was so funny!

    On a more serious note, I’m happy you ended up getting your dreams to fly. But I don’t think it’d work for me, since I know just one language, English. And the other language I know, I can’t boast of translating it accurately. 

    So, apart from not having experience, I don’t know enough languages to be a translator. 

    So, I would like to know if there’s a provision for people like me? 

  4. This is a great informative and educative article. This is one of the legitimate means of making money online. It requires no start-up capital (in most cases anyway). I love your story humble beginning! I have heard so much about this about translation job online but I have always been apathy towards it thinking it’s all about scam! Now you have changed my perception about it with your story. I will surely look into making money with it too.
    Thank you for this wonderful post. I look forward to seeing more!

    1. I’m glad I’ve helped changed your perspective a bit. Translating has changed my life, and I hope it can do the same for others as well! If you ever have questions on how to become a translator without a degree, please, let me know!

  5. I found the post very detailed and Informative. So so many useful tips and tricks all on one page! I bookmarked to look further. I have always wanted to be a freelance translator but I don’t know the way to go about it. This is an eye opener for me because I am just getting to know about proz site. I will surely implement all that you have written in this article. Thanks for sharing

    1. Hey!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post and got some useful information. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have about how to become a translator without a degree. I do have a course as well if that’s something you’d be interested in. Let me know and take care!

  6. It sounds like you worked very hard to get to where you are now. That is another way to make money that a lot of people do not think about. Volunteering is a good way to get experience for those jobs that require it, I never thought to go about it that way.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! Let me know if there are any questions I can answer on how to become a translator without a degree. Take care!

  7. Wow !. Can one get a step by step book on the various procedures and expected time to complete this amazing method ?. I once considered  putting in for a degree online . The billing  was too much for me to even start with. This article has shown me a way around that. Though the duration expected to graduate fully is discouraging , not starting at all is not getting it done.

  8. I absolutely love this insightful article because it is full of great information. This is fascinating and interesting to me.I found interest in translation and making money online. Your proof has giving me confidence in translating without a degree ,I want to be translating e-book and short films. I will stay around your blog to learn more about translating. What are the challenges in translation? Thanks for the insight. Best regards 

    1. Translating can be a tough business, however, with the right experience, contacts and persistence, it can be done! Challenges definitely include the competition and standing out from the crowd. Let me know if you ever have any more questions!

  9. Informative post indeed,
    thank you for your post. Starting your freelance translation business from scratch with a degree can be a daunting task. But in the post are a few of the most fundamental tips as one begin to think about building your business. I’d love to get a chance to be an apprentice to another translator. It’d be a great learning opportunity from this post and your amazing story. Many translators had tell me that I need a translation degree to become a translator. But I can now wholeheartedly, 100% disagree with them, with my knowledge with this article. The skills you need to become a translator can be learned, plain and simple.

    1. Hey! A translation degree is definitely not a necessity these days, although they would help. I did it without a degree, and so that means you can too! Let me know if you ever have any questions on how to become a translator without a degree! Take care!

  10. Reading your story of how you went from being a no translator to an expert translator without a translation degree is encouraging. I’m a freelance IT Professional with a passion for freelance writing. I would not mind if I can add this skill to what I have presently. Do you use any software for this? Do Proz and Babelcue provide you with any software that can help in translating? Hearing of Tedtalk for the first time, I would check Tedtalk to see what they offer.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, and yes there are translation tools out there. They don’t translate for you, but they help you to translate. My favorite free CAT (computed assisted tool) option is OmegaT. It’s free to download and use. Let me know if you have any more questions on how to become a translator without a degree!

  11. I’ve been using this site for 5 years and is amazing. It’s interesting to see that I came to know clients mainly through the default job posts during my first years as a Proz member. Now that I’m five years on, the directory service is finding me more and more potential customers: far more companies with translation jobs approach me directly than before. On the other hand, there are many of them who don’t invest in personally approaching each individual translator, but just send out a mass email to see what fish they can catch, which doesn’t contribute to the profession’s sense of honor.

  12. Wow… 

    Such a great journey into the world of translation. I never had any interest in translation, most times I overlook the offer of being a translator because I thought it is an unprofitable business and besides, I do not have any certificate in that area to back up my claims of being a translator. With ProZ, I think I’ll have to reconsider it

  13. Becoming a freelance translator without duely passing through an institution of 4 or 5years is really interesting. I used to think that it can take me up to some number of years to become a translator. However, I will love to enroll for this in no distant time but I will also love to know how much it can cost me to become a freelance translator.

    1. Hey! You can sign up right in the article for the course I’m teaching on how to become a translator without a degree. Let me know if you have any questions!

  14. Smiles….the experience photo got me. So funny. Well what is worth doing is worth doing well, I am into translation/transcription, believe me I enjoy working at home though it’s not a job you can do and catch a big fish, it can be slow but it pays, it’s all about patience. This may not actually work for most persons but I bet, it’s an alternative to degree jobs. One can actually become a translator without a degree, it all  depends on what you can offer with the skills you’ve got. I like this article 

    1. You’re exactly right that it’s all about patience! You definitely need to be a certain kind of person if you want to become a translator. Thank you for stopping by!

  15. Thanks for this interesting and informative article,  this process does looks like its going to take more than enough time to earn passive income from becoming a translator but it’s worth the try for those who wants to go into freelancing full time. you’ve done great letting us know more about been a translator without a degree. 

  16. I find this blog article about quite interesting. The only problem I have is the time to put into learning a new language I can translate. I think it could be harder for someone like me. I will share your post with my friends anyway perhaps there could be someone who wants to learn a new language. All the same, than you admin.

  17. Wow, this was a great article about your personal experience breaking into the translation business.

    I have, honestly, thought of it myself to do so but, here it comes, I am too have no degree of any sort to translate professionally. Your article, however, and fun to read, did help me to think about it, once again.

    I have saved your site also for further reference.

    Thanks for sharing all the information and for the encouragement, it certainly helps to try it out.

    Sylvia

  18. Its very possible to be a Freelance translator without a Four-wall classroom Degree. It only takes been skillful at translation.
    People are always ready to pay for skill and not the degree.

    I’m a graduate of History and International studies from one of one of the best University around the world.I found interest in working from the comfort of my room and to fully effect my passion,I had to had to drop my Certificate. I got some courses on Translation program,having studied thoroughly looking myself up for hours in my room. I ventured into Translation freelance services on Fiverr and up work.
    My lowest charge is $50 per job and in a day,I handle nothing less than 5 Jobs.
    I will encourage everyone who wants to look into translating service that it has nothing to do with your Degree certificate.This is important as it places you on an edge over your competitor but,its isn’t a necessity to starting your translation carrier

    1. You’re absolutely right on everything you said! Being a translator can be learned and that’s exactly how I did it. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  19. I really commend you for taking out time to write this article. It’s really interesting to know that you had no degree in translation and yet you translate even as a freelancer, that is really inspiring. I always believe that there is nothing one cannot do if and only if you put your mind to it, and it is all about taking the pain to learn and to really work, and also patience will be needed seen that it takes time 

    1. You’re absolutely right! If you want something badly enough, it’s all about consistency and patience. Thank you for stopping by!

  20. Do you not have to know several languages, to become a translator ?

    I can speak 2 languages fluently,and have a smattering of 2 others,but to take on a job as a translator, sounds like a large undertaking,unless it is in the language you are familiar with.

    Even with a dictionary, you don,t get the grammar, so how are you to a good job?I suppose you could use google for a word search?

    Tutoring from people such as Translators Cafe,and TedTalk,sound like a good way to gain knowledge, for translating.

    1. Hey! You absolutely need two languages to be a translator as that’s the essence of the work. You also have to have an in-depth understanding of the cultures you’re translating from and to. I’m an American living in Spain so I translate from Spanish to English. Thanks for stopping by!

  21. Hello, this article is so useful and informative! Your freelance translator journey is really interesting, one of my friends is looking for some information to being a freelance translator, I will share this with her, I believe your story will encourage her. Will you post more relevant articles about this topic? Looking forward to your reply. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Brian,

      I will definitely post more about how to become a translator without a degree and a bunch of other topics I think are relevant. Please, have your friend get in touch with me as I have a course available as well. Thank you for stopping by!

  22. Great post and it has to inspire other people because this is true. 

    Why do I say that? Because I’m the same as you. I started to translate on Fiverr and soon more and more people came, and I’m doing this now after my hours as a kind of second job, and because I like it. But I don’t have any degree at all so yes, it is perfectly possible! 

    1. You bet it is! Unfortunately, most people just don’t stick with it long enough. Thanks for your input and happy translating!

  23. This is a concise and informative blog post. You have thoroughly explained in details from different perspective for everyone digesting this post to understand the major points and tips shared in this article.I  am just getting to know about freelance translator which is an eye opener for me. The fact that you shared your personal experience here is motivating. I think this is what i would love to try out

    1. I’m glad you found it interesting and helpful! If you have any questions about how to become a translator without a degree please, don’t hesitate to ask!

  24. Thanks for writing this article on how to become a translator without a degree. Before now I always have it in mind that you can only do much as a translator if you have a degree but reading this article changed that in my mind.i really like the fact that you share your experience on how you become a professional translator without a degree.i will really like to learn how to do that by follow all the link you provide in this article.

  25. I have been wondering about how to do this from some time now. I learned French at high school and enjoyed everything French but I have not used it much and The last time I was in a conversation I realised my skills had diminished. I thought about translating as a freelancer, but thought that it could only happen with a degree in French, not my Biochemistry. I am grateful for this information and I have signed up as a subscriber to some healthy freelancing. Thank you.

  26. Hi, Andrew, I enjoyed reading your story on how to become a translator without a degree. I like that it can take the right-minded person a little over a year to get established in the translation industry. But I understand it can take longer to really build your name in the industry.
    I was thinking of translating material from Spanish to English, vise versa, but I thought you needed a degree. So I’m glad I ran across your post.
    I like the fact you didn’t wait around to find a translation job, you went and created and even took on volunteered to build your portfolio.
    I would have never thought of seeking TED for opportunities, and come to think of it, I now see possibilities around me for translating and you have given me a great starting point; Your course.
    Thank you, I look forward to learning from you.

    1. Hey Lenard,

      My pleasure is mine and I’m glad you found my story helpful! If there’s anything I can do for you please, let me know!

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