Gert Van Assche extends his top-shared 10 pieces of advice I give to young translators & students with three exclusive pieces for readers of the Smartcat blog.


1 — Don’t be afraid to spend time on testing new tools

Learn to trust yourself on testing new tools on (small) projects. Share your feedback with your peers: maybe they have other or similar experience.

2 — Don’t become “a” translator

Try to become “the” translator specialized in a narrow domain. Stick to one or two domains and be an expert in those. Choose your domain(s) carefully: it is very hard to focus on stuff that you’re not interested in. Understand some niche domains pay better than others. Take this into consideration as well.

3 — Understand how the business works

Translating literature is not the same as translating medical instructions; working as a freelancer is not the same as working as an employee for a translation company. Understand how much risk appetite you have and adjust your professional setup to this.

4 — Update the hardware and the software you’re using frequently

Slow machines slow you down. Old software makes you less competitive.

5 — Network wisely

Everybody likes to give work to people they know and people they trust, whom they met in person. Sometimes it is better to attend a new year’s drink than to spend your breath on Facebook. A handshake and a smile are worth thousand tweets and likes.

6 — The time you spend on a job is the only thing you need to measure.

You can quote per character, per word, per line, per page or whatever, but make sure you know at the end of the job how much time you spent on it. Calculate back to the unit price and see if it was worth it.

7 — Quality is a rainbow

Make sure you understand what your customer expects and deliver just that. Too high and too low quality are both bad for business. If you get feedback from your customer, don’t start a fight. Learn from it.

8 — Don’t work for customers who don’t pay you on time

Full stop. If you deliver on time, you should be paid on time as well.

9 — Don’t believe machine translation is bad or good

It can be both. Just figure out if it is helping you on the job you need to do. Every job is different, so try to become an expert in judging on how helpful MT is on every job. If you don’t like to post-edit, be happy and stick to translation from scratch. However, know others may work faster when they use it, so don’t reject it too quickly. Give yourself a couple of months to get used to the work.

10 — Nobody’s brain is made for working 10 hours a day

Don’t accept too many jobs where you need to do this often. If you have too much work, outsource to someone you trust. And check his/her work before you deliver to your customer. Never deliver anything without having checked it. Oh… and always use a spell checker 😉

11 — Translation is not a solitary job

Maybe it has been one, long time ago, but I’m pretty sure it is no longer the case. Always try to work together, with your customer, with your colleagues. Be clear about what you can and cannot do, when you’ll be ready, what has been revised, what you had/have doubts about… Communication is key. All my customers appreciate clear and short communication. Also, if you get nervous your mail has not yet been answered, grab the phone. It is not aggressive or pushy: you’re just showing you care.

12 — Never lose the gift of wonder

Seize the moments when you’re curious, collect what you probably will need one day, and keep all that stuff well organized. We do not know how translations will happen within 20 years. So just keep everything: translations that you have created yourself, terminology which was useful in a job, contact information of colleague who helped you… If you happen to work on an online platform, download your stuff, once in a while. Also check that you can use what you have downloaded in another environment. Most tools these days are quite open, but not all; check it, just to be sure.

13 — If you ever have a day, a week or more without a job, use it wisely

Decide to work in the garden, get in touch with people you haven’t spoken in a long time, move — it does not have to be half a marathon! — or learn some new stuff, get out of your chair or your comfort zone. I always create lists of things to do when I have no work: a book I should read, software I heard about and that I should test, things I should fix… Try to turn your downtime in quality time, for yourself and for those you love. Life is what’s happening when you don’t have a job!

About the author

Gert_noshadow.pngGert Van Assche is the owner of Datamundi, a translation technology company, and a founder of Fair Trade Translation. You can follow Gert on LinkedIn and TheOpenMic.