There’s a dilemma new starters always face early in their careers, known by some as the experience paradox.
Everyone has been there at some point. You need to get work experience, so you apply for a job (or, if you are a freelancer, contact some potential clients directly.)
But then the paradox kicks in. Employers want experienced professionals. Too often, they are not willing to be ones who give the first chance.
Eventually you go elsewhere, but the story repeats itself. They want people with experience, and you’ve got none. But nobody has hired you or assigned work to you yet due to your lack of experience. Because they want people with experience. And you have none.
So how do you break this cycle?
I’ve already dedicated 2 posts to the topic of how to become a translator (which you can access below.) One of my key suggestions for new translators is that they focus on building a translation portfolio.
Volunteering early in your career may become a powerful tool for gaining translation experience and start building a professional portfolio.
This will allow you claim ‘I’ve been working as a translator for this amount of time and I’ve translated a total that many thousand words’.
In other words, now you’ve got experience. Most importantly, you’ve got evidence of that.
To make things easier, I’ve put together a list of online platforms where you can get started. This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you know more ways to gain translation experience through volunteering please let me know in the comment section. 🙂
Coursera is an international learning platform that offers courses (free and paid) to its members. By joining Coursera‘s Global Translator Community you’ll gain immediate access to a massive amount of content to translate.
It’s mostly indicated for those who translate from English into another language. Sadly, there appears to little to no content for English native translators.
You can translate courses on a large spectrum of fields, which once again allows you to pick your favourite subject matters.
A platform that needs no introduction, Wikipedia is always in need of volunteers to translate their content.
Make sure to read their translation guidelines to ensure you follow their requirements.
Once again, you can choose any subject areas you like.
A global, free education platform, Khan Academy is another place where you can volunteer your translation skills.
There’s plenty of content on many subject areas. There’s also a considerably long list of languages into which they want to translate their content.
While there are several opportunities for those translating from English, unfortunately there isn’t that much for English native linguists.
Another ‘knowledge for all’ powerhouse, TED Talks has a community of volunteers to transcribe and translate their talks.
Their instructions are quite thorough and there are plenty of interactive materials for you to learn how the programme works.
Needless to day, there are talks about virtually everything, so once again it’s a great platform for you to develop and deepen your knowledge on the topics of your choice.
A phenomenal platform where authors and translators meet to translate e-books. As a translator, you can register for free, search for e-books to translate and contact the author to offer your services.
Unlike the other platforms mentioned in this post, with Babelcube you may get paid for your translations.
That’s because you are entitled to a small percentage of the book sales (i.e., your translated version) from then onward.
This makes Babelcube particularly enticing, as it allows you to benefit on two fronts: not only you gain the experience, you may also get some money.
Despite having a broader scope than the platforms covered so far, the UN’s volunteering program has a section dedicated to translation.
Keep an eye on their page, you never know when a new opportunity is made available in your language combination(s):
There are also opportunities for interpreters in case that’s something you’re also interested in.
WordPress is the largest platform for website creation in the world. Thanks to this phenomenal open source tool, millions of people have been able to make their own website in an affordable and intuitive manner.
If you’re thinking about creating a professional website for your freelance services, WordPress is likely to be one of the best solutions. I’ve also written a post teaching you how to create a website.
Note: Make sure to read their guidelines before you start.
Translations For Progress
This platform allows to register as a volunteer and translate for several organisation, mostly charities.
Before starting, make sure to read their translator’s guide too.
Translators Without Borders
Another well-known platform with plenty of opportunities to gain experience as a translator.
New translation requests are posted on a regular basis. These always state the language combination and the word count, so you always know in advance how much volume you are committing to.
A small branch of a commercial translation agency named Mondo Agit, PerMondo focuses on content for non-profit organisations.
PerMondo’s website also states that you may also end up getting paid jobs from their parent company (although I strongly recommend you to get in touch with them in order to know more about the terms.)
Children for Health
Update: Children For Health don’t always have open positions for volunteer translators, so you probably to check the page periodically.
A charity dedicated to the promotion of children in developing countries which is also looking for volunteer translators.
There’s a limited number of languages they translate their content into, although they have plans to keep adding new ones. Feel free to suggest your target language when get in touch with them.
Global Voices is large ‘multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists‘.
You can volunteer to translate their content into your target language.
Kiva is a nonprofit lending platform dedicated to helping people across the world with no access to financial services.
According to their website, they are currently looking for volunteers to translate into French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. English native linguists may contribute with editing and proofreading.
Charity Translators is a grassroots network of language volunteers dedicated to helping charities.
All opportunities are shared with their network of volunteers who then opt-in to join remote-working teams for translation projects
Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux-based operating systems in the world. You can volunteer as a translator to help making the software become accessible to more people.
They’re an open source software developer, so their operating system can be used by anyone for free. They rely on a community of volunteer linguists to translate Ubuntu for that reason.
Audiopedia is a free audio library that distributes content to help women and girls who have no access to education.
You can volunteer as a translator and/or as a proofreader.
An association dedicated to promote a fair and equitable production and trade of bananas (and also pineapples!)
You can apply to become a volunteer translation, with the requested languages at the moment being English, French and Spanish. Please note you may be asked to carry out a test before being accepted.
European Southern Observatory
By joining ESO‘s network of volunteers you will be able to contribute by translating content about astronomy.
The ESO’s source content is written in English, so there are opportunities only for those who translate into other languages.
Peace Brigades International
Human Rights organisation providing support across the globe.
Linguists who translate between English and Spanish can apply as volunteer translators.
Developers who specialise in free, open source products are always in need of volunteers to translate their software, website, terms and conditions, and so forth. It’s an endless source of material for your portfolio, especially if you like IT.
Here are some of the places where you can register as a volunteer:
Here are a couple more platforms where you can volunteer as a translator (or as an interpreter, in some cases):
- Translation Commons: A non-profit volunteer community with thousands of members.
- International Alliance of Inhabitants: A global network of housing rights activists.
1. YouTube discontinued the community contributions feature in September 2020, so no longer features the above list.
2. International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) closed down on April 2021 and has been removed from this list accordingly.
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