Gained In Translation

By Shehzaad Shams

How a love for languages became a profitable side hustle

10 years, more than 5000 files translated. Asylum application related letters, rulebooks, and legal documents, to posters, certificates, news articles and more went from Bangla to French and from French to Bangla and a few from Spanish to Bangla. This is what I see when I look back on my translation career and there is no throwing in the towel anytime soon. 

Translation is my passion and not a full-time profession. When I entered the field as a professional translator, I had very clear ideas about why I was choosing to do so. 

Quick money, but not big money

I wanted a side hustle to complement my regular day job, so I was happy to dedicate only a certain amount of time, mostly in the evenings or during weekends when I would devote myself to any translation assignments that came my way. As a result, the revenue generated was proportionate to the time dedicated, it was always averaging around £300 per month as it clearly reflected the amount of time I spent translating.

Keep the language alive

Unless you use it, you lose it. This applies for the languages I learnt, especially for French which I completed way back in 2004 with my Diploma. I was looking for a way to keep the language and its application alive. Translations require mastery over both the languages at play to make sure the text flows smoothly, so it compelled me to activate both my working knowledge of French and my proficiency in Bangla.

Make an impact

I loved the projects I worked on as they were mostly related with asylum applications, usually of Bangladeshis who claimed to have endured perilous journeys to come to France after fleeing the  persecutions and injustice they faced in their home country. As I translated the necessary regulations from French to Bangla for these people to comprehend, and in return translated their precious accounts and life stories from Bangla to French so that the authorities could understand the choices they had made – all made me feel as if I was making an impact, or was trying to. I could appreciate my privileged position from the comfort of my safe home in the UK, but however small, I felt if my work made any positive impact on the assessment of their applications and they were able to secure a life free of danger in France then my effort was a success. 

Photo: Jon Tyson

Convenience

A big plus for getting into freelance translations was that I am free to take on assignments when I have free time or need some extra cash. I can work around my professional day job and weekend plans and sometimes I am happy to decline any new work request. I also don’t have to rely on anybody else and I can do translations from anywhere in the world as long as I have a laptop and an internet connection.  I also don’t need to keep any inventory and all the expertise is simply in my head and the passion for languages in my heart.

Work to my advantage

There are far more translators available in Bangladesh and around the world who can translate between English and Bangla and far fewer who can do the same between French and Bangla. So it was a natural choice for me to carefully avoid the saturated domain of English to Bangla translations and stick to French to Bangla. It goes without saying that if your expertise lies in more difficult or uncommon language pairs, then you can certainly charge a premium rate per hour or per word for your services. 

No formal training or degrees

Not to advocate for the same, I never had any formal translator training or any degree on becoming a certified translator. I merely registered my details with a few freelance translator websites and agencies and waited for their calls when my profile matched their job request and there was no looking back when jobs started to come in. 

While technology aided translation is only getting better every day, the need for human translation isn’t going to go away anytime soon because it’s the context, content and subtle nuances of the language itself that are comprehensible only by humans and not by machines where algorithms are super-fast on surface level translation but never any deeper than that. 

In summary, I always believed that if you are good with languages, have a genuine passion and you think you have great command over at least two languages, if not more, then you should definitely try to becoming a translator. I would still be cautious in encouraging anyone to take on translations as a full-time job, but as a side hustle it’s a great business. 

In future, I’d continue with my French-Bangla translation pair and would love to be able to translate from Spanish, Italian or Chinese to Bangla as the target language as I really want to keep those language practices alive in my day to day life. 

Photo: Jacqueline Brandwayn

Shehzaad Shams is a UK based freelance translator and voice actor. He speaks Bangla, English, French, Spanish, Hindi and Chinese and he works as Operations Head in a private company. 

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