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ChristopherB

I've been reading through a couple of threads on translation and one major question that I still have is whether you need formal qualifications such as an Advanced HSK certificate showing that you can actually translate. Is it possible, having taught yourself the language to actually get work translating? Who judges whether your translations C->E are actually good enough and not complete, perhaps even convincing-sounding gibberish?

One more question I have is, do you guys tend to work at home, or at another location?

I'd appreciate any clarifications on this topic; it's a career I'm considering, it sounds interesting and very useful, but as I'm teaching myself the language I wonder what possibilities there are for someone with no actual formal proof of language ability, which might otherwise be expected when applying for a job in China or Taiwan that requires language ability.

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Kenny同志

Christopher, well, we are very much in the same situation. I’ve taught myself translation for more than two years and I plan to be a translator after graduation. I don’t think a certificate is essential for a translator, but admittedly it helps a lot to win job offers. Of course, it is another story if you have developed a network of clients large enough to keep you busy. Anyway, I will take the exam and get myself the stuff.

If you do not have a certificate, you can impress your potential customers by presenting your sample translations. Also, there are many professional websites where you can join as a member and market yourself through member activities, such as helping your fellows with a word or a sentence, contributing to the glossaries or participating in discussions you like. Things maybe hard at the beginning, but because positive feedback will enlarge your client circle, they will be easier over time .

As for you second question, well, I certainly prefer working at home. Don’t you think it is more fantastic?

Check this site:www. proz. com

You will get more information there.

Good luck! :wink:

Edited by kenny2006woo
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Formal qualifications aren't necessary, although they may well open some doors - a client who isn't personally able to read Chinese and thus judge the quality of your translation may feel more comfortable if you have some kind of certificate you can point to, and some agencies may use it as a way of filtering CVs. I guess some types of work - governments; court - are likely to require certification of one sort or another.

I'd say if you happen to notice an exam you think you can pass happening at a venue near you on a day you happen to be free at a price you think reasonable, go for it - it certainly won't do any harm. But I wouldn't fret too much about it. I guess you could argue it's the kind of thing that looks good on a CV - you can talk it up into setting yourself goals or something.

As far as the HSK goes, if you're going for a balanced set of Chinese skills, taking the actual exam isn't really much extra work. I'd be looking at actual translation exams rather than just Chinese exams though. Have a look for Heifeng's Chinese Exams topic, and see what certification there is wherever you are from.

I've got no certification beyond an HSK 9, which (for anyone doing translation work, at least) isn't really anything to boast about, my Chinese is self-taught, and I do ok. I'm not very proactive about going out and finding new clients, but have some long-term regular ones, and a few long-term now-and-then clients.

As I think I've said elsewhere, knowing what the Chinese means is only half the battle, and one you can usually win with enough time and the Internet. Putting that meaning into decent English without being influenced by the Chinese vocabulary and structures, and avoiding your own linguistic failings is the other, more time-consuming, 50%. The guy with upper-intermediate Chinese who has a lot of experience writing in English may well produce better work than the gal with advanced Chinese and none.

That said, you do of course need to know your Chinese. And remember, it's not the stuff you don't understand that gets you. It's the stuff you think you understand.

If it's something you think you might like to do, keep plugging away at your Chinese - particularly in any professional areas you have knowledge of; and look for opportunities to upgrade your English - anyone you can do some writing for?

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animal world

In addition to Roddy's comments, two desirable qualifications to have for translation work are imho:

- having lived in the countries in whose languages you are translating to and from. I've read home pages in English of Chinese businesses and readily spotted a number of mistakes that a native speaker or someone who had lived overseas, never would have made.

- develop knowledge, including the terminology and the jargon, for specific subject areas, such as finance, legal, technical, etc, etc. For example, if you translate a financial document that includes in English the term "earnings per share" you ought to know exactly what this means (and pending on the detail within the document you may need to know how these are determined in order to ensure a smooth and accurate translation). Technical translation can be extremely challenging for someone who has no technical background, etc.

I'm not very proactive about going out and finding new clients, but have some long-term regular ones, and a few long-term now-and-then clients.

Roddy, if this is the only type of work you do over there and if you're not continually on someone's payroll, do you have difficulty in renewing your permits to stay in the country? Just curious.

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do you have difficulty in renewing your permits to stay in the country?

It's not currently difficult so much as expensive and annoying. See here for general discussion / background, plus the rest of the visa forum.

Specialization is definitely worthwhile, and if you already happen to be knowledgeable in any particular field (and aren't sick to the back teeth of it) that's worth building on.

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animal world

Thanks, Roddy, for the link. I read a few of the pages in that thread but it was too depressing to continue. The reason for my question was that apparently China doesn't want anyone to "retire" in China even if the foreigner has sufficient funds (unless it's billions) and won't be a burden on the system in any way. I wondered how people who freelance go about this and also the people who go there to self-study with a private tutor (who may come and go or who you can dismiss as soon as you have obtained your visa).

Anyway, enough of this as i didn't mean to derail this thread.

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As others already said, certification can come in handy, but it's by no means necessary. I was full-time translator for a while, without any qualification, they just tested my translating skills before offering me the job. Sometimes my translation is checked by other, more experienced translators. And sometimes I came recommended and the person who wanted the translation had no other way of knowing I was any good at all.

I usually work at home, but really any place that works for you is fine. I've translated at my day job after hours, or at the university when my computer at home wasn't cooperating.

To get started in translating, I suggest you just get started. Translate articles or short stories to see if it's something you like to do. Do some volunteer translating if you can't get any paid jobs. All that helps in getting some experience.

Good luck!

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The company I used to work for hires a number of freelance translators and formal qualifications didn't really play any part in the hiring process. Mostly it was either recommendations from other translators or because we'd noticed work they'd published on the Internet, usually on their own sites out of interest in some topic. The most important factor for us was what Roddy mentioned earlier - putting the meaning into decent English without being influenced by the Chinese vocabulary and structures, and avoiding one's own linguistic failings.

Our clients needed content in readable English. Not having amazing Chinese was acceptable (although decent Chinese was still required :mrgreen:), not being able to put that into good English was unforgiveable. If you like translation and it's what you want to do, then my advice would be to get started translating things that interest you (it only takes a few minutes these days to set up your own blog/website). If you're publishing quality work, people will notice.

Be sure to pay real attention to make sure that the English you write reads well to someone who doesn't speak Chinese, and remember that spelling, grammar and punctuation are all important - even if it's just a blog post. Attention to detail is king, and shows you take pride in your work - and that's something your clients will appreciate.

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ChristopherB

Thank you very much everyone for the answers; in addition to the other threads on this topic, they're a real help. If you don't mind, I have a few more questions to clarify some things that occurred to me after I posted the thread last night and so forgot to ask.

1. Is translating the kind of job you can make a full-time career out of, or does it tend to be part-time work that would need to be supplemented by other kinds of jobs? I've found some sites suggesting the latter, while others say they work full-time translating.

2. How often is a career in translating stable, and regular? While researching, I've found people saying they tend to get work in bursts: periods with a lot of requests, and then sometimes days with nothing.

3. Do you need to be living in China or Taiwan to get a job translating, or could I just as easily get regular, stable work from these countries while living here in New Zealand?

4. What is the market in China and Taiwan for Chinese->English translators compared with English->Chinese? I would have assumed the latter would be more greatly sought after, but I'm not entirely sure.

Sorry about the number of questions, but if anyone could answer even just one or several of them, it would be a huge help. Additionally, if you know of any websites that I might have missed that cover any of the above questions, please let me know! Thanks again!

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I'd guess that most people who have a long-term career in translating do indeed have some sort of certification. At least, it would be a wise thing to do if you're planning to seriously go for that.

First step, of course, is to get to a good level in Chinese. HSK Advanced is probably the minimum that you should aim for. And getting experience translating stuff for fun, like suggested, is also a good idea.

Once you can actually translate, and do it well, you can think about a career and the needed certification.

If I remember correctly, HSK 11 serves as an entry-level translation certification. But HSK 11 is HARD.

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1. You can certainly do it full-time. Whether I'd describe it as a career - depends. If you spend twenty years translating the same kind of thing, at the same inflation-adjusted rate, is that a career, or just a job you've had for a long time? Either way, you can do it full-time and support yourself. It's 'just' at matter of finding the work.

2. Freelance translation is unlikely to be very stable. Since quitting my last office job I've been lucky enough to have a few very regular clients, but even so my income might go from X one month when say, one regular client is on holiday, the other just has a quiet month, and I don't get any random one-off jobs; to 5X the next when both regular clients are busy and I get a unexpected and lucrative job from some bloke I'd forgotten existed. Over time you can probably mitigate that by having more regular clients and using long-term jobs to even things out. For example a book translation might be done over a stretch of months, so you do that in your quiet periods and average the income out a bit. But I wouldn't want to freelance without a few months salary in the bank to cover any work-droughts, and if you have commitments of any form, think about how you're going to meet them if you have a run of bad luck.

3. I think for getting work, being here is useful, as it's where you make contacts and people may want to meet you at first. After that, I find people don't care where you are. Some of the people I do work for probably couldn't tell you what continent I'm on. You can do a lot online though, via business networking sites, translation sites, etc.

4. I don't know how the actual size of the market stacks up, but for E>C work your advantage as a native speaker is greatly reduced, and Chinese translators (who are, as a rule of thumb, much cheaper) become a more plausible option. I don't do any E>C work, and don't anticipate doing any - I could earn more, in less time, and produce better work, doing C>E. I'd done some proofreading of E>C work though, and that can be quite interesting - has the translator misunderstood the English, or have I misunderstood the Chinese? Am I willing to stick my neck out here and say the native speaker could have expressed this better? Etc.

Check out the Proz.com forums, as I think Kenny suggested. They are to translation as we are to Chinese (ie, brilliant).

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tooironic

Some great advice has been posted here already, so bravo to everyone for their input.

I was in a similar situation as you, Christopher, a few years ago. I came out of an Arts degree (English/Chinese major) with no idea what to do with it. Out of passion for my second language, I applied for a Masters degree in Translating and Interpreting Studies at RMIT, Melbourne. Long story short, I'm now a semester from graduating, and I've loved every minute of the course. It has really opened my eyes to the complexity of not only translation as an activity, but as a profession. This professional side of things really goes beyond what this forum has to offer (I've tried to engage in Translation Studies discussion here and have mostly come up against the usual language learner perspectives). This is not to bag out the forum - it's still a fantastic resource for Chinese in general and I enjoy coming here. But if you are after more information about translation as a profession, then other sites - e.g. proz.com - are more what you would be after.

You really begin to notice the complexity of the profession that I mentioned earlier when you start doing some research about what professional translating actually involves. It is a quite complex and multidisciplinary profession. Allow me to demonstrate the kind of skills you need to have and/or develop during your career:

  • minimum bilingual proficiency in two or more languages
  • translational competence (as distinct from language skills)
  • networking and communication skills to gain a client base
  • business skills such as marketing, accounting and project management skills
  • research skills for certain terminology, concepts, etc
  • IT-related skills, such as being able to use CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) software
  • an understanding of professional ethics
  • theoretical foundations that are useful to you
  • a specialised field (e.g. medicine, law, science, etc)
  • and so on and so forth...

Looking back, I'm happy to say my program has really helped me acquire some of these skills. I look forward to starting full-time translating next year after I finish my minor thesis. Have you looked into possible translation degrees/certification in N.Z.? In many countries, such formal qualifications are not compulsory (HSK is not - and I repeat NOT - recognised anywhere in the world as any kind of translation qualification), but a high quality education in the profession certainly does help your chances of success I think.

EDIT: Also, to answer your question about "do I need to live in X country to do translation?" the answer is no. The internet has made translation markets extremely mobile. The vast majority of translation work is sent via fax or email, and it is quite rare nowadays for translators to be expected to be in a certain country to do translation. (Interpreting, naturally, is a different story.)

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In many countries, such formal qualifications are not compulsory (HSK is not - and I repeat NOT - recognised anywhere in the world as any kind of translation qualification),

Now, now. Don't belittle the value of a good HSK score. Hanban and hsk.org.cn know who you are. :mrgreen:

Seriously, it's not the score that matters but the underlying skill that helped you get that score. A good HSK score shows your proficiency in Chinese, which is a necessary but not sufficient qualification for a Chinese-to-English translator.

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anonymoose
The internet has made translation markets extremely mobile. The vast majority of translation work is sent via fax or email, and it is quite rare nowadays for translators to be expected to be in a certain country to do translation.

So if you are in a different country (or even if not), how do you receive payment for services rendered? (And how do you know you will even be paid after all that work?)

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Anyone with a credit card can pay me via Paypal (feel free to test this theory if you don't trust me). A lot of my work is for UK clients, so they pay me direct to my bank account there. RMB-paid work, which I actually haven't done any of for some time, is either cash-in-hand or to a Chinese bank account. US clients have so far always used Paypal, although for anything long term I'd see if there was a cheaper option.

As for knowing you're going to get paid - personally I'm generally working on referral, so if I don't get paid I can at least make sure they get moaned about. Incompetence ("sorry we didn't pay you, our accountant left", as if that makes it alright) and general sloth are more of an issue than deliberate non-payment. Sites like Proz operate ratings systems for agencies and freelancers, so you can make it known if someone doesn't pay up.

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HSK is not - and I repeat NOT - recognised anywhere in the world as any kind of translation qualification

Don't know about that, the HSK grade scale says

http://www.confucius.phuket.psu.ac.th/HSK/hsk_results.php

Level 11: Has advanced (high) competence in Chinese. This is also the requirement (high) for a candidate to use Chinese as a communicative tool in ordinary work. This can be counted as intermediate level of translation abilities as well. This standard is the standard for obtaining the Chinese Proficiency Certificate of HSK Advanced Grade A.

Perhaps, this is not an official, government-approved translation certificate, but it's certainly better than nothing.

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tooironic

On the contrary, a government-approved translation qualification is the last thing the international profession needs. The NAATI beaucracy in Australia claims to uphold "excellence in translation" or some such, but you speak to any professional and they'll say the same thing - it's a load of bullocks, and that a 2 hour, handwritten language exam is about as far-removed from real-life professional work as one can imagine, and does not a translation qualification make. Though I've never taken it myself, I suspect it's the same for the HSK - regardless of the claims the organisation makes. And, at any rate, it's not as if there is a registration system for translators to back it up - nor, indeed, any kind of professionalisation of T/I in China from what I've seen. But if you enjoy doing the HSK and you think it is of some benefit for you, by all means do it, but it can only be used as a starting point. Lastly, I think that, if asked, senior translators and interpreters would probably prefer a qualification/accreditation system that came out of the profession itself, and not as a government intervention - like law, medicine or any other major profession, maintaining autonomy is extremely important if standards in the profession are going to be met.

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The way I got to be a full time translator makes me very skeptic regarding degrees and formal translation qualifications. When I decided to try the profession, I held one B.A. in general linguistics and one M.A. in chemical engineering. This was sufficient to get me a couple of test translations, and the rest is a success story.

I’m not rich by any standards, but I’m better off than I ever dreamed of before.

You really begin to notice the complexity of the profession that I mentioned earlier when you start doing some research about what professional translating actually involves. It is a quite complex and multidisciplinary profession. Allow me to demonstrate the kind of skills you need to have and/or develop during your career:

* minimum bilingual proficiency in two or more languages

* translational competence (as distinct from language skills)

* networking and communication skills to gain a client base

* business skills such as marketing' date=' accounting and project management skills

* research skills for certain terminology, concepts, etc

* IT-related skills, such as being able to use CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) software

* an understanding of professional ethics

* theoretical foundations that are useful to you

* a specialised field (e.g. medicine, law, science, etc)

* and so on and so forth...

[/quote']

Excellent list. For example, on #2, my ex is a superb language teacher, but lacks the “instincts” (or intuition or whatever) of a translator.

On the last point, I’m sometimes approached by people holding a very recent degree in “translation studies” or the like, offering their services. My first question to them is, “What do you know?” Sounds slightly too harsh in English, but my point is that I ask if they have any area of expertise. IMNSHO, that is more important than perfect target language skills and often even more important than source language skills. I have done for example a text on manufacturing explosives into English, a direction that I almost always refuse. Sticking to foreign languages into Swedish, I know that my output is perfect in all imaginable ways. That customer was very clear in pointing out that sure, there will be people who write better English, but we want to be absolutely sure that the translator knows his chemistry, and we will get a native speaker to check your language.

Lazy that I am, I almost exclusively work via translation agencies. One reason is that they carry the risk of any poor payers; I’m always paid. The stellar exception as to working for agencies is a company that more or less fired me when I was in marketing. This year, and mind you, I’m retired, I have invoiced them the equivalent of just above a million RMB including VAT. They know that I know their very specialized area and the languages in question. And there are more customers…

CAT software can be terrifyingly expensive, but if ‘n when you find the appropriate customers, it’s not only necessary but highly profitable in the long run.

I’m not too active on proz.com, but sometimes, it can make all the difference. I once spent a whole day trying to find the Swedish for an English tech word, including interviewing THE area expert at our local tech U. I wouldn’t be surprised if proz wouldn’t have solved it in a few hours today, but in those days, the Internet wasn’t invented. Well, some ten years later, I came across what we arrived at, like “if this isn’t the correct translation, at least it should be”, and I’m still don’t know if I created a precedence, or if it was just the obvious solution…

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a government-approved translation qualification is the last thing the international profession needs.

Applies to Sweden, too. The sworn translators pass a three part exam: law, finance and general. Worlds apart from tech/chem/med.

On the few occasions that I solicit, I make a point out of NOT being certified.

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