In answer to this question, I have put together a hotch potch of ten translation tips, in no particular order of utility, which may help a budding linguist escape the TEFL control room before things start to malfunction and they get their eyebrows singed off in the ensuing catastrophic blast.
I am assuming, of course, that you have sufficient fluency in your foreign language of choice before you begin, that you love writing and that you have no problem in spending time exhausting every avenue towards finding the meaning of obscure terminology.
- Join proz.com. You can become a member of this site for free initially (as I did), but to access the really useful features it pays to take out an annual subscription. A kind of marketplace for freelance translators, you can check out the Blue Board for comments made by fellow translators on potential outsourcers (for example, if they are likely to pay you), as well as asking clients you've worked for to recommend your work. The profile you create also helps you to gain credibility as a professional translator, and I managed to get a 70% reduction in the price of my CAT software (see item 2 below) through participating in a group buy. There are a host of other features, more of which I shall be mentioning hereinafter.
- Get some CAT software. I shudder when I remember that, when I first started translating, I used to edit the Word files directly, translating a section then deleting the original text. This has obvious disadvantages, as, in addition to being painfully slow, in deleting the original (source) text, you cannot then easily go back and revise what you've done (something I consider essential, even if not explicitly demanded by the client). Computer-Assisted Translation software essentially divides the source text into segments (normally sentences) and saves each one in a database with the translation you enter. If another identical, or very similar, segment appears later, the program automatically enters your previous translation for you to confirm or edit, saving you precious time. I downloaded a free copy of Wordfast Classic first, but later took the plunge and bought SDL Trados, the most widely used software on the market. It is undoubtedly an expensive bit of kit, but it helps you gain credibility, and widens the range of potential clients, as many only work with files in the SDL Trados format. There are other tools out there, but I am unfamiliar with them.
- Learn to touch type. When I was younger, there were two skills I was desperate to master - juggling and touch typing. The first I got under my belt in my early twenties, when my sister kindly bought me some More Balls Than Most juggling balls and I spent that Christmas patiently lobbed them about until I was proficient enough to impress the ladies. The ladies at the Women's Institute, at least. Now I can proudly add touch typing to my list of capabilities, and what a godsend for a translator. It takes training, but the raging neckaches I suffered in the early days from looking screen-keyboard, keyboard-screen like a demented Tommy Cooper are a thing of the past now. This superb free typing site probably saved me from a lengthy course of acupuncture and/or physiotherapy.
- If you work in a European language, use and abuse the InterActive Terminology for Europe site, or IATE, always my first port of call for technical terms. This is by far the best resource on the Internet in terms of terminology in my humble opinion. Billed as "the EU inter-institutional terminology database", it contains millions of words you'd probably not find anywhere else with such ease. Quite simply essential.
- Start projects as soon as you can after receiving them. Develop your self-discipline. This is true of any freelance job, probably, but it has proved a challenge for me. The worst jobs are those with high wordcounts that come with distant deadlines, as the temptation is always to think, "I have n days to do this, so I'll piss about for a bit and start in a couple of days." Of course, you have been given n days because the client has calculated that you need them, and by starting later you are making accepting more work from other clients that may arrive in the meantime less feasible.
So that's the end of Part One. Part Two to appear shortly.