The Dark Side Of Working As A Translator

5 things I wish someone told me before I started working as a translator…

When I was just starting my career as a professional translator 5 or 6 years ago, I was filled with hope, enthusiasm and optimism. I thought to myself – here I am, about to do what I love and get paid for it, and on top of everything – I am going to be my own boss.

Things just couldn’t get any better.

Fast-forward to 2022, and I see things differently now, and that’s not only from all the time I spend in front of my monitor. Working as a professional translator for the last 6 or so years has really taught me a great deal about the industry, clients, but also about myself. And I am not talking about the good things, either. Being a translator isn’t as glamorous as I thought it’d be. Often, it’s blood, sweat and tears.

So, I decided to write this article to perhaps shed some light on some of the things I’ve learnt from my very own experience, but wish I knew before I became a professional linguist. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the 5 not-so-fun aspects of working as a translator!


1. Being ‘your own boss’ means you’re the CEO

Being your own boss, deciding how and when to work sounds absolutely idyllic, until you realise everything else that comes with it. From finding your own clients, marketing yourself, creating professional profiles to gain exposure, managing time, invoices, deliveries etc. – being a freelance translator is almost like running a start-up business and covering a range of departments such as marketing, PR, finance…and your actual work (translating) will only be one of the aspects you’ll have to do, at least at the beginning of your career.

2. Not everyone wants to pay…

One of the most irritating things about working as a freelance translator is the fact that from time to time, you’ll come across clients who try their absolute hardest in order to avoid paying or paying in full, ‘mental gymnastics’ as I like to call it. This was especially true in the very early stages of my career, when I didn’t yet have the privilege of being flexible with the type of clients I choose to work with. And so in order to build up my portfolio I took projects from, well, let’s call them sub-reliable agencies.

3. The stress levels like I’ve never experienced

One of the things that being a freelance translator has thought me about myself is that (fortunately) I am able to handle stressful situations quite well, although the levels of stress and anxiety that come with being a linguist weren’t something that I was prepared for. From tight deadlines to dealing with clients and extremely difficult projects – you must be ready for it all.

4. You’ll see things you didn’t want to see

When deciding to translate content professionally, it’s essential to understand that different types of materials might come your way, especially before you establish yourself within a particular sector, and you must be able to mentally deal with them. Being a translator isn’t just converting pleasant marketing campaigns or funny videos, but sometimes also complex and horrifying legal cases with details that can truly be disturbing.

5. Standing your ground is a skill

Being able to handle difficult situations and clients is definitely a skill that comes in handy when you’re working as a translator. The ability to calmly explain your point of view without being ‘bullied’ by clients into giving discounts or rushing your deadlines is something that comes with time, but it’s definitely something that I wish I had practiced before starting my professional career.

So, here are the 5 rather difficult aspects of being a translator. The good news is, however, that with time and as you build your portfolio, you’ll be able to be somewhat fussier as to who you choose to work with and you will find clients who are professional in what they do. Currently, I am in the fortunate position to be able choose the translation agencies I decide to work with, however, it took a lot of time, sweat and tears to be in this position, and I wish someone had prepared me for the ‘dark side’ of being a translator.