One of the best and easiest ways of building up experience is by volunteering. There are many ways you can volunteer as a translator; here are a few ideas to get you started:
Actively approach potential clients
As we all know, the internet is an amazing tool for translators, whether for using online dictionaries, researching parallel texts, or for networking and building up a profile as a professional translator. People and organisations across the world now choose to make themselves seen and heard online, as opposed to the more traditional medium of printed publications. This offers a brilliant platform for up-and-coming translators to begin building up experience: think of an area you would be interested in working in (source language, field of industry, text types, etc.), pop a few keywords into a search engine, scroll through the results and see if anything takes your fancy!
Most of the websites you find will have a contact address and a contact person that you can email directly, rather than an “info@...” email address. Explain that you are a translation student, show that you are interested in the company or organisation you are writing to, and offer your services as a translator (translating their website, publications, etc). This way, the client is able to open themselves up to a much wider audience without having to pay a penny, and you have the opportunity to gain experience and develop a specialism.
Offer your services to non-profit organisations
There are several organisations which actively look for volunteer translators. These are organisations which, due to their nature, simply do not have the funds to finance multilingual translations; however, they recognise the benefits of having either their websites or other publications translated. Some* of these include:
· International Children’s Library (http://en.childrenslibrary.org/contribute/translate.shtml)
· Translations for Progress (http://www.translationsforprogress.org/howtohelp.php)
· Café Babel (http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/inside-cafebabel/article/translators-we-want-you.html)
· Humanity & Inclusion (hi-canada.org/en/volunteer)
From personal experience, these types of organisations are extremely aware that you are giving up your free time to help them out as a volunteer translator, therefore you're usually able to say how much work you would like to take on. It may also be the case that your language combination isn’t needed straight away, however, if this is the case, your details are usually kept on file and it may be that you are then called on at a later stage.
*If you know of other non-profit groups who work with volunteer translators, feel free to send through a link using the contact form and I’ll update the list!
Another approach is to find work experience at a translation agency. Some of the larger agencies offer internships and traineeships to student translators for fixed periods of time. The best way of researching this is by searching online or, if you are a translation student, finding out whether your institution has any links already established with translation agencies which may take on interns. Otherwise, why not take the old-fashioned route: pick up the phone book and ring around some local translation agencies. You will make a much more lasting impression if you introduce yourself to someone over the phone, and then follow up this conversation by emailing your CV and relevant information.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to gather experience. If you are enrolled onto a one-year MA course, you’re still not going to accumulate 3 years’ worth of experience by doing any of the above! However, what you can show is that you’re an extremely motivated individual who is willing to put in the extra time and effort in order to find your feet in the industry. Not only will you have gained valuable experience by doing any of the above, but you will have also had the opportunity to discover the areas and text types you enjoy working with; you will have built up a portfolio of translation work for future employees; and you may have one or two good contacts up your sleeve to use as referees later down the line. At least then, when the dreaded “minimum 3 years’ experience” phrase comes up, you’ll be ready to respond with something more than the standard “I’m at the start of my career and therefore do not have any professional experience as of yet”.