Top 5 mistakes to avoid as a new translator

The Localization industry is a tough nut to crack, especially for newcomers – there are so many unspoken rules that getting a foot in this business can seem like a daunting task. In this article, I’ll recap some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen (or made myself) when starting out in this field.

1 – Underselling yourself

This is by far the most common mistakes I see, especially in the games/entertainment industry. There’s obviously a lot more supply than demand, and people are ready to offer their services for peanuts or even for free to “develop their portfolio” or “gain some experience”.


While I can’t blame people for doing that, in my experience, you will not be gaining much from this deal since:

  • You will not be properly compensated for your time and hard work
  • You will be devaluing the market for your language pair
  • Whatever credits or references you get out of it will not guarantee you a foot into the door

So what’s the alternative, you ask? Of course, everyone needs to start somewhere, and very few agencies will be looking your way if you have no relevant education or experience. Thankfully, there are also some ways you can develop your portfolio. For example, some non-profits are always looking for extra hands on deck: Translators without Borders, Wikipedia or TED Talk.

For game localization, in particular, feel free to look into the archives of LocJam (which was sadly discontinued, but still worth checking). As for how much you should be charging, here’s my take on the matter.

2 – Offering too many language pairs

This is by far the most common mistake I see not just in games localization, but overall. If you’re a native speaker of French and also speak English fluently, you can probably translate in either direction, right? Wrong.

Well, unless you’re Joey.

As a rule of thumb, you should only translate into your native language (as in, the one you grew up speaking). You might be perfectly fluent in another language, but chances are you won’t quite grasp the cultural intricacies of a language you didn’t grow up with, despite having many years of studies/practice under your belt. Of course, every rule comes with its fair share of exceptions, such as:

  • If you grew up in a bi/trilingual household
  • If you spent a significant amount of time living in a foreign country
  • If your native language doesn’t have a lot of native English speakers who can translate from it.

Especially as a beginner, you want to translate exclusively into a language you’re 100% comfortable with. Of course, your mileage may vary based on your client’s expectations and your knowledge of the field.

3 – Not keeping proper track of your projects/clients/invoices

When starting out, you likely won’t be too overwhelmed by the number of things you have to keep track of, but as your business grows, so will the number of projects, invoices, and specific client requests. You better make use of all the tools at your disposal to not waste too much time on non-translating activities.

Me during tax season

Thankfully, there are many great (and free!) options that can help you smoothen the process. Here are some of my favorites:

Google Calendar: This one likely needs no introduction, but I found it very useful to create a separate calendar for my workload, specifically for tasks that I’ve accepted ahead of time. If I have 10.000 words coming up in a week, I can simply add it there and it will show up at all times (including in your Windows 10 calendar if you configure it properly).

Zoho: There are a million accounting solutions out there, but I found Zoho to be an excellent provider. I’ve been using the free plan for over five years, which includes their powerful invoicing online software for up to 5 clients and email hosting. If you work with agencies, you will most likely have to deal with their many internal invoicing systems, but keeping separate copies on your system allows you to keep a better track of your income and expenses. Assuming you are juggling with more than a dozen tasks per week, this tool allows you to keep a better track of your business as a whole (that includes extra tasks like checking the client’s query lists, doing QA checks, preparing a quarterly recap for your accountant, etc.). I use it as a collaborative platform with my colleagues when working on bigger scale projects, and while the free version has some limitations, it’s good enough for smaller teams.

4 – Accepting too much work

Since you’re responsible for managing your own time, it can seem tempting to accept any and all projects that come your way. However, especially as a freelancer, quality should always come before quantity, and regardless of how talented you are as a translator, your brain needs time to relax before proofreading.

I believe that’s a mistake most freelancers made at some point: saying yes to everything in fear of losing out on an important client/project. But in general, once you’ve gained the trust of a client, they will have no reason to ditch you as long as you keep delivering quality work within the deadline.

A common practice in the games loc industry is to recommend colleagues when your workload becomes unmanageable: that way, the client won’t have to scramble through their database to find a suitable candidate, your colleague will thank you for it, and you’ll have the weight taken off your shoulders: everyone wins!

5 – Not taking time for personal growth

This point ties to the previous one, and this is something I’ve been very guilty of doing during the first few years of my career.

Of course, everyone has bills to pay, and reading a book, developing your marketing skills, or attending a seminar isn’t what put food on the table, at least not directly. But as translators, we are also localizing the cultures beyond the words, and I believe it is crucial to learn something new, something foreign every day, even if that is completely unrelated to our field.

Letting your brain absorb new ideas allows you to see your work under a new light, and you can sometimes get inspired when you least expect it. For example, one of the main reasons I started this blog was to get better at writing and expressing my ideas in a structured way, and I believe it has helped me produce better work.

Footnote: This article was originally inspired by the book “How to succeed as a freelance translator”, by Corrine McKay. I highly recommend it!

4 thoughts on “Top 5 mistakes to avoid as a new translator”

    1. Thanks for your kind reply, Corinne! Your book was indeed very helpful , I wish I had read it when I just started out 🙂

  1. Thank you so much for this blog, Lucile! I’ll soon begin my career as a freelance translator as well (EN>FR & DE>FR), preferably in game localisation, after I finish my internship in this field, and you’re answering soooo many questions and concerns I have!

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