Harsh Realities for Beginning Translators

I have on numerous occasions had that warm feeling of being thanked by new translators for advice I purported to give. But it is always accompanied by the stark reality, mostly unspoken by me, that the person who is thanking me is very unlikely to be able take away anything from my advice beyond the extreme difficulty of succeeding in a translation market in which there is nowhere to go but down for most translators.

Today, however, I will speak of that reality.

Unless you:

  • are highly skilled in a number of areas (including, but certainly not limited to, source-language comprehension, target-language writing, and subject-specific expertise) and
  • are willing to abandon the idea that everything is free in the age of connectivity,

your chances of breaking out from the low-paid bulk translation market and into the high-paid premium translation market are extremely small.

For NES (native English-speaking) Japanese-to-English translators, one of the ways to do that is to live in Japan and acquire Japanese direct clients, but that is a feat which is nearly impossible for almost all such translators. The spoken language barrier alone rules out the vast majority of translators, but the persistent belief that there is a free lunch to be had also holds many back. There are other ways of making it; you will need to discover them yourself.

The very few translators who can break out of the bulk market can do that without any advice from me. Those who think it useful to listen to anything I could tell them, except perhaps the particular story of how I happened to do it (and that is a writing project on my list, by the way) are simply delusional. They need to do it for themselves. But very few are willing to try, even fewer are capable, and almost all will need to resign themselves to that harsh reality that almost all translators will continue to serve the relatively low-paid bulk translation market.

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