Posted by: patenttranslator | June 8, 2011

Ten Reasons Why I Am a Freelance Translator

Reason No. 10: I can live wherever I want.

Since in spite of what my brother in Europe thinks about global warming and climate change, there might be something like that going on, if most of Eastern Virginia where I live now is under water a few years from now just as it was a million years ago, I’ll just move someplace else, like Idaho, France, or Australia. Freelance translators can live wherever they want. Sometime they can even move to a place where the taxes are lower, usually just before the taxes are raised again in such a place.

Reason No. 9: I spent a lot of time and money studying languages and now people pay me to study languages.

I majored in Japanese language more than 30 years ago. I never really gave much thought back then to what I would be doing with my education when I graduate. I remember when I was at  the “Arbeitsamt” (Unemployment Office) in Nürnberg 30 years ago that the ignorant German dude whose official title was “employment counselor” told me in no uncertain terms that I would not be able to use what I studied at all, at least not anywhere in Nürnberg.

Well, what else than idiotic advice can one expect from a government employee who is paid by taxpayers to give advice to people who can’t figure out on their own how to find work and think that somebody will figure it out for them. Now that I am a freelance patent translator, the rest of my life will be a continuous course in postgraduate studies financed by customers who order translations from me.

Reason No. 8: I don’t have to have a boss anymore.

I used to be an employee for something like 7 years, in something 4 countries on 3 continents (the last number is definitely accurate). No matter where I lived and what kind of work I was doing, I had to have a boss and I had to do what he or she told me to do. The last one, a dumb blonde by the name of Gwenn, actually fired me. Gwenn, wherever you are, I owe you big time! Work is much more fun when you don’t have to listen to a stupid boss.

Reason No. 7: I can write what I think about anything on my blog and say it’s about translation.

The blog is really about me, of course, but since all I do is translate anyway, I can pretend that it is about translating and not about me. I happen to think that translation is a much more interesting subject than most other things that people do for living. For instance, if I were a dentist, would I be writing about the thoughts that are running through my dentist’s head when I am sticking my hands into somebody’s mouth? Yuck!

Machine translation, low rates, long payment deadlines, the absence of singular and plural in Japanese or whether a word is a legitimate unit in the structure of the Japanese language, all of these subjects are much more interesting, at least to me, than what I come across on blogs dealing with other professions.

 Reason No. 6: Nobody can fire me when I get old.

This may not seem very important to people in countries where taxpayers still receive things like pension or healthcare in return for their taxes if there are such countries still left on this planet, but because the Wall Street stole most of the pensions that Americans used to have not so long ago, according to recent polls, most Americans will have to work well into their seventies or until they drop dead, whichever comes first. A freelance translator can work until he drops dead without any problems! Nobody cares that translators are still working even though they are 85! We freelance translators are so lucky!!!

Reason No. 5: Let’s face it, I don’t really know anything about anything except how to fake a few languages.

I don’t really know the languages that I am translating that well either, but I can fake them well enough to get paid for translating them to English.

The sad truth is that I don’t really know anything else, at least not well enough so that people would pay me money for it. I had quite a few different jobs: I sort of started as a journalist, then I worked in the tourist industry, but translation pays much better than working for a tour company or even for a news agency. At this point I am too old to learn something else anyway. Like they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Reason No. 4: I can take a long break whenever I want.

And I do take a lot of breaks, even when I am really busy, I take a break a few times a day to read a book or watch a movie for a couple hours. When I was an employee, I used to have to pretend that I was busy doing something even if there was nothing to do. Those days are over. Freelance translators don’t have to pretend anything to anybody except maybe that they really do know their languages and understand the subjects that they are translating.

Reason No. 3: I can keep buying cool hi-tech toys and pretend that I need them for my work.

If I want to buy a new computer, a huge computer monitor which has a built-in shower, a really cool cell phone with all the bells and whistles, I can just say that I really need it for my work and that’s that. If I need it for my work, of course I have to buy the stuff and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. Why should I? Even when I buy an iPod, for instance, I really do that only because I can check my work-related e-mail on my iPod, so the expense is clearly justified. I’m pretty sure it’s even tax deductible.

Reason No. 2: If I was not a freelance translator, I would have to have a real job.

 If I was an employee, I would have to wake up every morning to the obnoxious sound of my alarm clock, eat a breakfast of cold cereal, drive to work, listen to a stupid boss, in short do the things that most people have to do to pay bills. Freelance translators can just stagger a few steps barefoot and in their pajamas to their office and start checking out blogs to start their working day while drinking their first cup of coffee. Real jobs are for other people.

Reason No. 1: My wife thinks I’m a genius.

She really does. She says at least once a week: “You are really so dumb about most things, but when it comes to languages, you are a regular genius!” In fact she told me more than once that the real reason why she married me was that she does not like foreign languages and absolutely hates looking up words in dictionaries. My wife speaks an interesting version of English which includes Japanese particles “yoissho“, “yo” or “desho?” in most of her English sentences because the English language urgently needs at least a few expressive and melodic Japanese particles to make an otherwise bland and boring language a little bit more palatable (even when she speaks to people who don’t understand Japanese). She does not need any dictionaries any more, all she has to do is ask me what a certain word means and then shut me up if I get too excited about the possible etymology of that word and things like that.

Do you know anybody who has been married for 27 years and whose wife still thinks he is a genius about anything at all? I seriously doubt it. I am pretty sure there is only one such man on this planet … this freelance translator.


  1. Best piece you ever wrote, Steven! Each and every word is true!


  2. Glad you liked it.

    Long time no talk.

    This post was written for an upcoming book of Alejandro (, which will have a selection of his cartoons and contributions from fellow translator bloggers.




  3. Have you been reading my thoughts? I loved your location, location, location article, but I think this one is even more familiar.

    The only advantage I think you missed out is “I can choose what jobs I accept”. By which I of course mean “I can tell my clients that I am too busy to do their job when what I really mean is that it looks boring and that I’d rather go out for a run”. How many employees get to do that?!


  4. I can’t really refuse a job because most of my clients are patent law firms and I need them to come back.

    But sometime they have to wait. Since I charge more for rush then regular turnaround, this system usually works quite well.


  5. Hi Steve

    I don’t think typical employees working in a big office are the one doing a real job, I think we do because we can both organize our working hours the way we want to and still do a good job. That’s exactly the reason I’m so happy to be a freelance translator. Most people don’t enjoy their work partly because the corporate working schedule is stupid and unnatural and doesn’t suit our energy peaks. Do you take naps too? I do and that’s one of the things I enjoy the most!


  6. Yes, I take a nap most days but I thought it was a sign of aging. I did not use to do that even 5 years ago.

    Incidentally, remember how we talked about the company that changed their payment terms from 30 to 60 days?

    After I told them that I would have to raise my rates to make up for the long wait, they started paying in 30 days or less again. For the last three months I have been billing them several thousand dollars a month and the checks have been coming on time every month.


  7. Excellent, love this list! Haha, My favorites are reasons 3 and 2… For myself I would also include that I can buy any book and subscribe to any magazine–all in the name of translation of course. Long live geekdom! 🙂


    • You mean subscribe and deduct it from taxes, right?


      • Of course! But one might also need to justify one’s geekiness towards spouses, room-mates, etc 😉


  8. P.S. I wonder if your list might be suitable for… You should try–unless you don’t want to give away our secrets (which might be advisable)


    • I took a look at it and it looks like one of those sites where they make money from stuff that people write for them for free, like Huffington Post.

      Ariana Huffington was using free content from other people for years and then she sold the business for 3 million dollars I think. Goes to show what kind liberal she is.

      I am against that.

      In other news, more than 100 people read my new post already today (10:45 AM) and it has 21 tweets!


      • Writers get paid at as far as I know… And the HuffPost thing was blown out of proportion as far as I can tell. Oops, I think she made a lot more than 3 million though 😉

        Good for you! I’m one of the tweets 🙂


      • PS You made it to


  9. Of course I remember! That’s great to hear you’ve managed to stand your ground, congratulations! We all know how stressful this type of situations can be.


  10. I particularly like reason number 1. I just submitted my contribution as well and am debating whether or not to publish it to the blog now or after the book is released. I’m in a quandary…

    And a hearty “hear, hear” to Emma’s comment! 🙂


  11. “I particularly like reason number 1.”

    That’s why I saved it for No. 1. I thought it would be the most popular one.

    I asked Alex (I mean Alejandro) and he said that there is no reason why I should not publish my post now.

    So why don’t you publish it so I can comment on it.


  12. @Babelon

    Oh, yeah, it must have been 300 million for Huffington Post.

    What was I thinking!


  13. But MT gets better and better every year…


  14. My better half’s a translator and I think he’s a genius, too (admittedly, we haven’t quite reached 27 years yet: 14 and counting). But it’s not the language skills that amaze me, since I speak all of his languages and a couple more to boot. It’s the tech savvy. All he has to do is start blathering on about TMs and TagEditors and my eyes glaze over while the words “that’s it, he must be a genius” go through my head. It’s a very reliable reaction, happens every single time…


  15. Knowing TMs does not make one a genius, at least not in my book.

    I think that it’s more like being able to juggle two or three balls in the air at the same time. It can be helpful, or not, depending on what you translate.

    But it is reassuring to know that there is at least one more wife out there who considers her husband a genius about something.


  16. […] can read my post here, which I so selflessly contributed, (but without the cartoon, which is only in the book),  and Jill’s blog’s post here, but […]


  17. there’s a German website (zehn = ten) listing tens (or tons) of anything worth listing. Your ten reasons would be on my special top ten ten lists, if once listed there. Thanks for your posts, especially on MT and human translation.


  18. Now, that’s a cool list! In my case, I also have another one: I can travel as much as I want, and I can take my work with me (Internet rules!).

    And I simply love #3 – and in MY case, I DO deduce those from taxes! After all, I DO need those to do my work…. 😉


  19. Hello everybody, can you give me some advice? I want to be a scientific/medical translator. I got all excited when I read that the Japanese to English translation market was lucrative. Then I read that you translate into your mother tongue. Well, my mother tongue is Japanese. Then I read that the market for English to Japanese translation was much smaller. Now I am discouraged. Will I be able to make a living as a scientific/medical English to Japanese translator? I am a licensed pharmacist in Japan. I got my PhD in Nutrition from Columbia University, work as a pharmacist in New York and Massachusetts. I have some experience in translation but not a lot.


  20. Hi,
    Sorry for being anonymous…loved your article! I am 31 and stuck with a career of well 9 to 9 work schedule!! I have post grad in management…and I believe after 6 years of working in corporate arena I am nowhere and my downward career graph reflects that indeed! Am I too old to become a language translator?I used to enjoy writing essays while I was a kid and always felt I am a good communicator…all I can do now is opt for a diploma course and be sincere about only worry is my age and the time it might take to create a ground for myself…looking for some insights!!


  21. You are not too old (in my opinion) if you already know the language(s) that you want to translate. If you don’t know the the language(s) yet, keep in mind that it normally takes about 3 years to master a language like French or Spanish, and you pretty much have to move to the country where the language is spoken, I would say at least for 6 months. If you want to translate a language like Japanese or Chinese, you will probably need 3 times as much time.

    Good luck in any case!


    • Thank you so much for the reply!It means a lot at the moment,I wont drag this conversation into some kind of a counselling session because you summarized your view perfectly!however if I can bluntly put one question about earning prospect within the time frame you be specific if I am starting from scratch with a long would it take for me earn while I learn..earning is a relative aspect and depends on multiple variables but an earning that would ensure my basic need.
      Thanks in advance!


      • I really don’t know, it all depends on the specifics. I would say that most people start from about 30 thousand dollars once they have enough work, and the top earners make about 120 thousand or even more in some cases, but that is just my educated guess. If you then somehow become a part-time agency, you can make even more once you start using (exploiting) other people, but none of this is easy work and easy money, trust me. Considerable risks are involved which are difficult to avoid or minimize.


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