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Here’s How to Identify Amateur Translators In 5 Minutes

Here are the six most obvious ‘qualities’ of amateur translators which you can easily spot them in 5 minutes.

Good translators are passionate, highly-skilled, research savvy, self-motivated and obsessed with quality. And we know where and how to find them. But, hey, no story is complete without the other side of the coin. What about the amateur ones?

The pointers below will do good for people in digital media, advertising and marketing as well as translation agencies, who appreciate long-term relationship and collaboration with good translators. And these pointers will also benefit some good translators who are tired trying to do their best and would like to screw up!

“There’s a black sheep in every flock”

Here are the six most obvious ‘qualities’ of amateur translators which you can easily spot them in 5 minutes.

Lack of knowledge. During my early years, I paid an experienced translator to edit my work. I did not only get professional-level work but what I actually paid for was translation lessons. I learned from my mistakes. That’s how I turn my first, second, third, fourth and so on into regular clients. Does this appeal to amateur translators? Definitely not! They do not read any books, never spend time on learning, never attend any language courses or seminars, or else their knowledge will become too broad and too specialised and that alone will ruin their career!

Lack of dedication = No specialization. When I was starting out, I understood very well that specialization comes from experience and experience is technically critical in the freelance world. However, beggars can’t be choosers, hence I practically accepted all jobs that come my way. Most of the agencies who chosen me came from China and India, which pay peanuts and do not really care about quality. On top of that, I have also applied for a freelancer position via the translation agencies’ websites. There were tens of thousands of these and I have shortlisted those with high ratings in Blue Board. Hit rate was very low, I have received only 1 feedback out of 100 applications. I have consistently done this for three years, in order to gain sufficient experience and choose specializations. Now, can you actually do this consistently every day without a dedication? Hell no. Amateur translators might not be dedicated but they do have a special kind of attitude too. Can-do attitude. Amateur translators accept jobs from medical industry, through marketing, to game localization and law. In short – they translate everything from all industries on this planet. Err, specialization what?

Lack of client focus. Personally, I do not see myself as a freelancer, who is always ‘free’. I do consider myself as a language professional who offers translation service to agencies as their partner. I would like to be treated with respect hence I treat them with one. Therefore, I always learn the requirements of the client and try my level best to fulfil them. If I do deliver the work that is not aligned with the requirement, it could hamper the working relationship. On the other hand, amateur translators fail on establishing and maintaining good relations with their clients. They hardly meet deadlines, constantly deliver poor quality, reply emails twice a week, do not address clients by their names and full load of excuses. Unhappy clients result in bad comments or negative reviews that can be visible to other potential clients in the future. Having a bad reputation refers to blacklisting on platforms such a Proz and Linkedin and can be the topic of discussion on translator forums. That’s how amateur translators build their reputation.

Poor communication. I am replaceable. That thought alone is ample enough to ensure that I must maintain an open communication with clients at all time and keep them updated on my work progress. And we are all humans hence I do get sick, stressed, emergencies et cetera, and my clients have no issue in understanding all of these work hazards as long as I communicate to them about the work delay in advance. All the clients need is a sense of professionalism so that they know that their work is in my good hands. Amateur translators, however, do not communicate. Why communicate when all humans are capable to assume? They do not log into their job sites such as Proz or Linkedin regularly, their phone is technically being switched on only an hour a day and they prefer to reply to emails via desktop which means a week of processing time. With “I am irreplaceable” thought in mind, amateur translators do not let their clients pester and harass them when they actually work!

Limited resources. They say great things begin in college. True, indeed. I started my translation business during my sophomore year, around 2008. Two years later, I was pretty much known as an established academic translator and proofreader in Malaysia. Most of my clients were students who recommended other students and somehow or rather, their lecturers started to send me jobs. Being ambitious, I knew that I had to step up should I would like to make a living out of this, therefore, I took a leap of faith and stopped accepting jobs from individual clients and the academic world! I was determined to break it into the international market and work with corporate clients and I found myself at the bottom, once again. I signed up for classes, took exams and got myself certified. I paid for several memberships and stayed active in its forum, discussion and quizzes. I purchased few CAT tools and hard copy dictionaries. I have spent crazy hours Googling about 1001 kinds of stuff pertaining to freelance translation. I have come a long way and by now, 2018, I am still pretty much dependent on these resources. On the other hand, amateur translators do not invest in anything. Hardcopy dictionary is such a waste of money, there is one online, correct? Why bother to invest in Trados when you can use Google Translate, isn’t it? Why waste thousand dollars on the professional website when the free ones are available? Why should I pay hundreds of dollars to become members of Proz or ATA when there is no guarantee of jobs, anyway? No sweetheart, you can’t win with them.

Weak online presence. Marketing is made up of two separate entities that work in tandem. I needed a website that showcases and boasts my skills and strengths. I need to convince people to pick me. When prospects search for translators, they will get several so I must give them a reason for choosing me every time. I hired copywriters and marketing specialists to design my website, which cost a bomb and the process took up around 3 months. The second part is that I must shout it out and tell the world about it. This I did by becoming a paid member of several marketplaces so that I will appear at the top of search results, and I also paid for Google ads. I found Google ads to be so effective that I could not keep up with the number of queries to reply to and the requests for quotation (not all of which materialise into actual jobs). I finally had to take down the ad because I had enough regular clients. Yes, the marketplace undeniable help however the strongest online presence anyone can have is a website. Now, how do you describe amateur translators from this aspect? They DON’T have a website. Even if they do, you may see the URL ends with Blogspot, Wix or WordPress. That happens simply because they’re not willing to portray themselves as a professional despite the fact that to buy a personalized domain will probably cost them just USD 20 as a one-time fee and only take about 20 minutes to set up.

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Written By

Nor Afizah or Fiza is a Malay native speaker who is also a trained translator and proofreader, working in English-Malay language pair. She is a razor-sharp Bahasa Malaysia linguistic professional. You may follow her on her LinkedIn.



  1. Becky

    17th January 2018 at 8:05 pm

    The only thing I haven’t done is setting up a website. Any suggestions for finding specialists to make it look good?

    • Nor Afizah Thalhan

      30th June 2018 at 11:59 pm

      My advice is is to determine your business model. Who will be your target audience-end client or agency? If your target is agency, it is sufficient to have a landing page as a website.

  2. Suzanne Hiron

    18th January 2018 at 11:02 pm

    My standard was to be unable to distinguish which version of a text came first. If I can tell which was source, the translation was not well done.

  3. Uscis Birth Certificate Translation

    26th February 2018 at 7:55 pm

    Hello i liked your article it is very useful and everything is written clearly what makes it easily understandable. Thank you for sharing this blog with us.

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