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Why Being A Freelance Translator When You’re Still A Student Is A Damn Good Idea!

According to Nor Afizah Thalhan, There are new things I could learn, from knowledge, perspective, words to terms being used in certain industry.

In my case, it all began when I got kicked out from the hostel by end of the first year in university! According to the ‘system’, students are awarded scores based on extracurricular involvement. In short, it takes you to get involved and popular to continue staying in the hostel for three to four years of your degree.  I mean, you can’t blame me for not being involved in those boring college-related activities. I seriously think that students within my age at that time were too dope for those activities. I mean, I was rebelliously too smart for those.

That attitude somehow got me kicked out of the senior college where my neighbours were all international students doing PhD. One day, I agreed to help my Iranian neighbour to proofread her ‘horribly written’ thesis and eventually made her passed for the first time after a million round of rejections. She later recommended me to a number of her friends who needed help with proofreading. She also encouraged me to turn my skill into a part-time business. Then, the rest is history.

Now, before you got yourself excited, let’s have a quick reality check. Freelance translation will NOT be enough to finance your studies. However, if you are a passionate, hardworking, good quality of work, you can at least pay your college expenses comfortably while you are gaining experience.

Now that you are sober, here are several points on why being a freelance translator when you are studying in the university could be the best idea ever;

Extra pocket money.

In this imperfect world, the only thing that comes in abundance in a regular student’s life is time. You have all the time in a world but you are unable to do much with it due to fact that the most scarce resource called money is needed no matter what you do. In exchange for my free time, my language skills, flair and passion for writing with a little bit of luck, my part-time business was established within the convenience of a campus.

If I am studying now, I could be earning RM15,000-RM20,000 per month during my best days at this era. However back during my good old university days in 2008, I started with only RM2.50 per page for the English to Malay translation work and RM3.00 from Malay to English. The requests were not regular though but that’s not a problem. I could receive 3 journals to be translated in one week and I could get none for months to come. Hence, I kept my door open. My scope of services expanded to proofreading and editing services. Majority of my clients were Masters and PhD students. Since I was good, fast, accurate and offer an affordable price, my orders doubled within a year due to the word of mouth. In the following year, I became a writer and wrote Malay articles for an online publication called usahawan.com and English articles for Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia with a price of RM60 for 1,500 words. I also did proofread emails and circulars from a Malaysian client turned friend, a Head of Department in Sime Darby Motor, New Zealand with a fixed monthly payment of RM100. Regardless of how small the job is, I make sure to deliver each work with a top-notch quality in order to make the customers hire me again.

Due to this part-time income, I managed to subscribe to a Maxis modem with a monthly bill of RM70. That made me less dependent on the wi-fi provided by the college which sucks. With it, my work turnaround time became faster and that privilege also helped in my studies when I could Google about everything I need to find on planet Earth! By end of the second year, my monthly income reached RM500 per month, and as high as RM2,000 per semester. Education wise, while I was busy making money,  I made Deans List twice too. Not bad right?

That’s what happened when you kick a rebelliously smart girl out of a hostel!

Flexible life.

Prior to becoming a translator, I have attended quite a number of interview sessions for a part-time position at the PetroSains and Kinokuniya Book Store. Hourly wage offered ranges between RM3 to RM5. That excludes transportation, food, uniform fees. I was rejected for both. Seriously, I really thank God for it as it would’ve been an insult to my time, energy and intelligence.

If you can actually sit in a café, power up your computer, and do something that you love such as translation work for example, while drinking a nice warm cup of coffee to make some good money instead of working for someone else where you will probably get peanuts as a salary and learn nothing along the way, I would prefer the former. What about you, which one will you choose?

I was attracted to that free and easy lifestyle more than anything. The fact that I could set my own price and schedule, as well being able to take my work anywhere I wanted, it’s just priceless. I have the ultimate autonomy to set the rule as I am the manager of my own business. I am responsible to ensure that the quality of my work and my success depends on the time I invested in my work.

Not just that. As a freelance translator, I’m not limited to having local clients only. That’s the best part of it. By taking advantage of the internet, I realised that translation jobs don’t restrict myself to receive jobs from within the campus, but also from overseas. There were few international students who’ve graduated from the university who came back to me for some editing work when they are pursuing doctorate somewhere.

It helps my academic life too.

Depending on what kind of translations niche you specialise in, did you know that you can turn your work into your studies and your studies into your work? Well as a translator, you can be translating an employment contract one day and medical records the next. A marketing brochure on Monday and psychometric questionnaires on Friday. Every time when I work on a new translation gig, I learn something new from the reading and researching work that I normally do prior to starting working on the document.  There are new things I could learn, from knowledge, perspective, words to terms being used in certain industry.

You see, translators are good writers. They are good writers because they’re a great reader. When you translate something, you are forced to read it few times. When that happens, I can promise you that you won’t forget that article. Not even a single sentence!

At that time, I was a second-year Psychology degree student helping the Masters and PhD students with their thesis papers. Psychology is basically a highly specialised field. From those assignments, I managed to fast-track years ahead of other second-year students. With those also, I grew my character and talent that enabled me to write about anything and everything under the sun with an excellent quality as long as those arguments are practical and make sense psychologically. And this is the only reason I can adapt to any kind of assignments given to me.

Else how do you think I got the Dean awards? Dang!

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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. Teddyb

    25th August 2018 at 7:18 pm

    Keep it up! <3

  2. Teddyb

    25th August 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Thanks for the inspiring story, keep it up! <3

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