A few days ago, I read an article about the opportunities that volunteering translation can offer a translator. The most remarkable one (other than generally contributing to a good cause, of course) is growing your translation experience.

If you are a freelance translator, you’ll know how frustrating it can be to start this career when barely no one gives you work unless you have, at least, 3 years of experience. “If you don’t give me any work, how am I gonna get the experience?”, I kept muttering to myself when I started a few years back.

That’s where volunteering comes in; it can grow your experience – practically and on paper (i.e. you can add it to your CV, and even have references from the volunteering organisation).

However, there are also views against volunteering translation. Many think that, as it’s mainly translation graduates and people with little experience or qualifications offering themselves as volunteers, the quality of the translations tends to be poor. This, joined with the fact that many of these volunteers, at the same time, desperately offer low rates to other paying organisations, devalues the translation industry.

My view is the following: We are always going to have the situation above, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our bit to improve the quality and recognition of the translation industry. In terms of volunteering, my advise to you, experienced and qualified professional translators, is this:

  1. Get to know the organisations that have volunteering opportunities.
    Know their history, their people, their mission, what they are doing to achieve it, and the way they work. You’ll be surprised by how structured their translation team is and the measures they have in place to ensure the quality of every translation project.
  2. Volunteer. You may be super busy or unwilling to offer your translation skills for free; but if you really care about the translation profession and want to help others in general, just try it. Most organisations are flexible with deadlines and you can do proofreading instead of translation, or manage a translation project involving other translators; plus you don’t need to say yes all the time. People volunteer for all sorts of things, why would translating be different to, let’s say, cooking for the homeless? Everyone should help out from time to time with what they can do best.

Beyond ViolenceI currently enjoy being part of a team of volunteers at Beyond Violence, an online movement and global network pushing for non-violent conflict transformation (www.beyondviolence.org). Lately, I’ve been translating their blogs, which are truly inspiring. From the moment I got to know about Beyond Violence, I was amazed by the commitment, creativity and passion of this NGO, which is managed and survives thanks to the efforts of volunteers only.

So be the best you can be; for yourself, for others and for what you believe in; and don’t worry about those who offer very low translation rates and those who accept them, they may already be regretting it.