There are many reasons to be a translator: global accessibility, linguistics, exposure to other cultures, opportunities to connect with the world.
Maybe the flexibility that comes with being a freelance translator is the largest draw for you, like it is for many digital nomads in the translation industry. Setting your own hours, choosing up only the contracts that you really want sounds great if you want to be your own boss. No matter the reason, as a translator, you have a unique view of the knowledge and information from other cultures and you seize the opportunity to share that knowledge with your own language community.
But how do you dig deeper into the opportunities that professional translation can provide? There are a lot of important skills in the translation industry that seem invisible to people on the outside but are essential to our global media ecosystem. In this article, we’ll share ideas on how you can strengthen some of those skills to build a more robust translation career through expanding into video translation.
The Responsibility of a Translator
The subtle art of translation is more than just the “word for word” that you get from directly translating speech or text. Translators like you have to juggle a lot of responsibilities: technical specifications, tricky translations, and client expectations. But at the root of translation, there is a higher responsibility. And that is a responsibility of connecting the audience with the content that they are viewing through an intimate knowledge of both the source language and the target language. It all starts with knowing your audience.
For example, while romantic love may feel universal, cultures around the world approach the declaration of love in vastly different ways. In Hollywood films, we see outright declarations of “I love you” in couples ranging from high school sweethearts to strangers. But in Japanese culture, audiences might balk at bold and direct expressions of love because it is not always socially appropriate. And so translators have to find a way to soften that sentiment so that people can enjoy their cinema experience. The phrase “I love you” has been translated into Japanese in different ways to achieve this goal: from “the moonlight is beautiful tonight” to “I could die for you.”
Strengthen Your Vocabulary with Video Variety
Great translators are not just fluent in their working languages: they are also fluent in the cultures of their working languages. Knowledge of the jokes, references, idioms, and metaphors of a language can help translations be successful. Without that knowledge, translations can fall flat, failing to reach people through the tropes and trends of the language that shapes the lives of local audiences. Translation that is informed by local cultures is more valuable to content creators because it is more valuable to their final audience.
During translation, you might come across a word that you have never seen before. Maybe it is from a technical area, an academic subject, or a regional dialect that you haven’t been exposed to yet. And this new word brings your work to a full stop while you search for its meaning and make a decision about how to translate it.
Exposing yourself to new content can be difficult as a translator. Expanding your translation work beyond traditional text translation or audio interpretation can make you a more robust translator overall by building up your vocabulary. Video content tends to be more varied than text. Through video translation, you can gain experience with more local speakers, everyday situations, and regional dialects that you wouldn’t experience elsewhere. That kind of exposure can widen your vocabulary, inform your future translations, and make you a more adaptable linguist overall.
And that kind of exposure can give you the opportunity to find what you like. Maybe you enjoy volunteering to translate shorter videos for your favorite YouTubers. Or maybe you prefer working directly with filmmakers on long-term projects. How will you know until you try?
Make New Connections in Your Career
There are many ways to help audiences connect with content across linguistic lines, from volunteer to professional. And during a time when many are working remotely, translation still stands out as a great choice in remote careers. In 2020, online translation was listed in the top 40 best jobs on Matthew Karsten’s popular adventure travel blog, Expert Vagabond.
Subtitle translation for video content is a huge growth industry for translators. The amount of online video content is expanding at an amazing rate (and is expected to increase as much as 15x by 2022). And where there is content, there is usually an audience: 72% of consumers prefer video content instead of text for receiving branded marketing information, according to a HubSpot Research study.
With more businesses creating video content and reaching out to global audiences, translating video content is a valuable skill to invest your time in. While text translation is a valuable service, there is a great opportunity to expand your skill set and find more work if you branch out to video translation. In general, video translation work has more content, a larger audience, and a higher overall payment rate.
Translating subtitles takes you beyond the traditional reach of the translation industry, which used to be limited to text translation or interpretation. Taking on a few freelance jobs in video translation can open up doors to new clients by broadening your experience and connecting you with people outside your traditional translation network. Video content is incredibly diverse and can range from everyday language to scientific or academic subjects. Learning medical codes can help you break into the field of medical translation. And legal translation also needs translators that have a good grasp on basic legal terminology, which you can turn around and use in other translation projects.
When building up your client base, you should get involved in translation communities, talk to other people who translate in your languages, and find partners to review your work and help you improve your skills. Set up your LinkedIn and Facebook accounts and get ready to reach out to more experienced subtitlers. As you build relationships online, you are also setting up potential references, job leads, and project partners.
Learn From Other Translators
Some video translation jobs will be open to teams where team members work together to complete subtitles for a group of videos. For example, one person might create subtitles in the video’s original language. Then those subtitles are used as a reference for translators to create subtitles in their own languages. Within this team, there is a need for cooperation during the translation and additional review processes so that the final product is high quality.
To make your transition into working with other translators easier, start becoming fluent in the words and phrases that translators use on the job. As you build your freelance translation career, you will If you are working with other translators on a project and come across the abbreviation “DNT,” that means “Do Not Translate.” That abbreviation is often used for trademarked words or brand names that should not be altered during translation. As a translator, you should also know the language and country codes for your working languages so that you can easily filter for translation jobs in your working languages.
If you don’t put in the work to learn common terms, you might get confused when someone starts talking about something like “cat tools,” for example. If you are a fan of the newly relaunched Farside comics, you might mistakenly think that the cartoonist Gary Larson updated the infamous “Cow Tools” comic strip for a different animal. But experienced translators know that the phrase has nothing to do with cats at all and that CAT actually stands for Computer Assisted Translation. Bookmark this list of most popular CAT tools so that you can check out which tools are recommended by career translators and why.
Not only do other translators share a lot of common terms, they also share common struggles. Translators sometimes falter when they come across “false friends,” or words that sound similar but do not share a similar meaning in the source and target language of their translation. English speakers should be careful ordering fish in a country where Spanish is the primary language, for example: you might order what you think is tuna, but end up getting a serving of prickly pear instead!
Don’t be afraid to seek out and use translation resources. There are a lot of tools available online for translators. You can use the sites MagicSearch and Linguee to search for specific phrases and find related web content so that you can see the words that you need to translate in multiple contexts.
As a translator, you don’t have to reinvent the art of translation every time you take a job. Studying other people’s translations in order to improve your own skills is a modern version of apprenticeship in the remote and often isolated work of a translator. By digging further into the potential of translating video content, you can join the celebration of language that is currently flourishing online.
How To Get Started
If you are a beginner or would like a quick review of standard subtitling practices, check out this quick blog post about creating quality subtitles. Invest a small amount of time to understand the basics of subtitle specifications now so that you have an easier time getting started in this expanding field.
If you choose to take on subtitling projects as a freelance translator, you will quickly start to notice differences between text translation and video translation. Timing is important, for example. For audiences to easily understand the subtitles, the subtitles need to be accurately synchronized to the speech in the video so that the audience can follow along.
Subtitles need to be a helpful addition to the video, not a distraction. Learning a few tips now can help you quickly see if your subtitle has too many characters or is too short for someone to read while watching the video.
Translating video is more challenging compared to traditional text translation. You are not just dealing with text anymore: you have background noises, speakers interrupting each other, music, and more. There is a lot of information to sort through, so it takes a focused freelancer to provide the essential information and pass that along through their translation.
You could start building your skills in subtitle translation by volunteering for a couple of well-established teams. This will help you develop concrete skills before moving on to more difficult tasks. Pick short videos without a lot of technical information or find videos that match your interests to keep your practice fun and informational.
After you gain some confidence in your video translation skills, take things a step further! Freelancers often work with content creators directly to gain targeted experience. If you find a documentary, written work, or online series that has not been translated into your language yet, reach out! Contact the content creator and see if they are interested in your services. Whether you volunteer for a content creator with a shared mission or you begin a professional relationship, at least you will broaden your translation portfolio.
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