Sunday, 30 September 2012

Newbie Translators and Voluntary Work

Thanks to the virtual world of the Internet, more and more people are becoming aware of the freelance translating business. This statement may sound strange to the readers from the USA, Europe, and Australia, where it is commonplace to be familiar with translation (especially technical, or non-literary, translation) as a business. But, believe me, this is not the case with some other parts of the world. Take the example of Pakistan, my homeland. You would hardly find more than 200 translators (this rough estimate is the result of my observation, not the finding of a formal study), and, most of the people who you would talk to about freelance translating, translation agencies, translation tools, etc. would have absolutely no idea what you were referring to. However, through word of mouth, public knowledge of freelance industry is increasing in Pakistani, though quite slowly. But, it is also true that, in other parts of the region, such as India and China, people are fast becoming aware of translation industry and freelance translating, the result of which is the rapid emergence of translation agencies as well as in-house and freelance translators in these countries.

What is easily inferable from this situation is that competition among translators is also growing high. There are many LSPs which clearly mention certain years of experience in the criteria they set for the selection of translators and interpreters. Although, this is not the case with all LSPs, but it also goes without saying that most of them would prefer translators who hold some experience in the field to those who have no such experience. This makes it hard for a newbie translator to grab a job. What to do? My simple suggestion is that, instead of only looking for paid translation work, novice translators should also be ready to work as a voluntary translator. There are a number of non-profit organisations which constantly need help from voluntary translators. Working for them, you would not only gain experience in the field, but also work for the betterment of humanity.

Although, a simple search on a search engine would come up with many such opportunities (you may search through some organizations whose website links and pages appears on the search engine to see which one suits you the best to render your voluntary translation services to), but I would advise you to check each with caution, and sign up only for reliable organisations. The one that I would recommend you with confidence is Translators without Borders. The following is their mission statement:

Access to information is critical.
Language barriers cost lives.
Aid groups working in crisis-situations face a mission-critical challenge in
disseminating knowledge in the language of those that who need it.
Translators without Borders facilitates the transfer of knowledge from one
language to another by creating and managing a community of NGOs who need
translations and professional, vetted translators who volunteer their time to help.
Through the sophisticated Translators without Borders platform, important aid
groups easily connect directly with professional translators, breaking down the
barriers of language and building up the transfer of information
to those who need it, one brick at a time.

Their application form for registering as a voluntary translator can be accessed here

A great feature of TWB is that they provide FREE training to potential translators as well. This training is provided in languages for which availability of translators is a rarity.  So far, they provide training in the languages spoken in Kenya. Here is what they say about it:

Trainees must have a very good command of English and excellent command of Kiswahili and/or the native language (any of the 42 languages spoken in Kenya). Good candidates would be Kiswahili graduates, health librarians, community health workers, peer educators, hospital interpreters, and so forth. Trainees must be available to attend the initial training in our center for around 1 week and must be able to spend at least 4 hours per week to do their homework after the initial training.

If anyone of you falls under the criteria set by them, you can access the application form here

In the following, I am sharing another link to an informative discussion on ProZ on the subject under consideration.

Working as a translator volunteer would give a novice translator good hands-on experience, and would also increase their ‘visibility’ in translation community.

Do you have any other voluntary work suggestion for a newbie? Please share it with others in the comments box below.

Good luck!

P.S. I have come across a good online source of information for newbie translators, which I would like to share with you.


  1. AoA,

    Wow! MASHA ALLAH! nice job....
    You are putting great effort in helping us and the newbies also...
    In this selfish world no one does anything for others...
    once again JAZAK ALLAH!
    May ALLAH always bless u AMEEN!

  2. JAZAK ALLAH for the nice comments.

    There are countless people in the world who are doing better than me:) I just wanted to contribute my share, so I started the blog:)

    1. May be they are doing better but to me u r doing BEST! :-)

  3. Hello Salman,

    I´m a newbie freelance translator in Argentina and even though I agree with the fact of us providing volunteer translation, we should always verify who the alleged ONG is and what they do. If they can afford to pay translators, say Coke, we should NOT provide our services for free. (I know it's not the correct example, but what I'm trying to say is that, if we can see they can afford to pay for our services, then let's not work for free.

    And we can always start looking for our clients from day one. We just need to know how to sell ourselves and to act accordingly and professionally.

    Now, regarding what you say about Translator without Borders, I have to disagree, and here's why. If you look at the members of the board you could see some familiar faces such as Roberto Beninatto, who basically worships crowdsourcing and Google Translate. That means only one thing: exploitation for us, translators and an unthinkable way of working professionaly.

    They have also supported ALS (Applied Language Solutions) and we all know what a detriment to the interpreting profession they have made Not only to UK colleagues but for everyone who has accepted those conditions.

    Another thing is ProZ hasn't been doing things correctly lately, either. How can a forum meant to be for translators is accepting the posting of LOUSY translation offers?

    Food for thought.

    1. Hello Flor,

      Thank you very much for your detailed comment.

      I cannot agree more on the point that we should know who we are offering our volunteer services to. We, the freelance translators, put in a lot of hard work to live with the high expectations ascribed to us as specialists, and it would not be wise to invest our energy, work, and ability in rendering volunteer services when the organisation we are doing the work for is not honest.

      But, the point on which I differ is related to the credibility of TWB. As far as I know, there is a sort of consensus in the translation world that TWB is using the services of translator volunteers for a noble cause -- i.e. translating health-related literature from English to the languages of those deprived communities which are facing critical health hazards -- and that they are reliable. I am, thus, unable to understand what you mean when you say "exploitation for us". Please share your thoughts as to why you deem it exploitation if they ask volunteers for translation. Do you mean to say that they use the translations in a commercial way? To put it straightforwardly, do you think they somehow get some monetary benefit out of the voluntary work of translators? As I do not visit ProZ forums, I am not sure about their practices over there, and I am, thus, not in a position to comment about them. I look forward to receiving your thoughts on this.

      Thanks again for your comments!

  4. Hello everyone.

    Thank you for the interesting post, Salman.
    I've given the same suggestion in another Linkedin discussion but agree that you have to carefully check the organisations you get involved with. TWB may not have work for a certain language pair - being a big organisation with great visibility it may have to many applications. So, also consider other organisations or even local ones. Maybe with greater needs and easier to really get to know?