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Hi again, ii community!
Earlier this year I posted a question concerning school-choosing and was then persuaded to do my MA in an English-Speaking country(MIIS being on the top of the list) despite of the fact that it may force me to take student loan. But ever since then I've been, to dramatize, haunted by the fear of not being able to survive under the pressure of debts.
I had doing a little bit of research on the possibility of being an interpreter/translator since I was going to demonstrate it to my parents for their support. And I came across a few posts focusing on the start-up phase of freelancing. The articles being 100% objective, I was still panicked by the some of the testimonials.
So here I am again, 2 am in the morning,sleepless, worried (unnecessarily and prematurely) about my future.
I guess ultimately my question is a same old how-much-will-I-make question:
What is the common workload for a beginner? How long does it usually take for a freelancer to actually maintain their life solely on freelancing?

edit:My language combination: Chinese A, English B

asked 23 Jul '15, 14:32

EliChang's gravatar image


edited 24 Jul '15, 03:40

Nacho's gravatar image

Nacho ♦

Hi. I think you should first mention your language combo if you want an accurate answer.

(23 Jul '15, 16:27) Sophie
(24 Jul '15, 03:39) Nacho ♦

Thank you Nacho! Awesome links!

(24 Jul '15, 04:03) EliChang

There is also a thread by a former teacher at UIBE where he suggests:

"If you're 23 or 24 years old, why not work for a while and save up, so that your financial situation is better and you have more life / work experience when you train as an interpreter? That significantly increases your chances of succeeding - but it's not a guarantee."

I could imagine for ZHO/EN that taking more time to learn the vocabulary and culture would make a difference, given the substantial difference between the two languages.

(28 Jul '15, 09:09) Adrian Lee D...

It's almost impossible to give you an answer. I know two recent graduates, from the same year, from the same school, with the same language combination. One of them gets work on a regular basis, the other one didn't get a single contract in a year.

While without a good language combination and the right home base you're unlikely to be ever hired, there are a few more elements that will make you sink, swim or be anywhere in between these two. The list is long, but the main one's would be:

  • quality of the service you provide: does your client get enough for his money?
  • collegiality: will you senior colleague want to hire you again?
  • marketing: do your prospective clients and colleagues know that you exist and are available?
  • negotiation: are you so desperate and grateful to get work that you'll do it for peanuts, or are you a professional who knows his worth and profitability threshold?
  • professionalism: will you respect professional secrecy, will you be punctual and reliable at all times?
  • presentation: do you look like the expert/consultant I need for my bilingual meeting?
  • networking: do your senior colleagues know that you exist and that you're committed to your job, eager to start out and prove what you're worth?

Unfortunately, many of these elements aren't taught in interpreting schools, which would focus on the conference interpreting techniques, but not much on the business aspects of what being a freelancer entails and how to get started.

If you don't rely only on your school, if you do your homework and read a thing or two on the subject of marketing / freelancing, your chances of making it into the market will be increased. You should make sure that you will become the professional any client (or colleague) would like to hire, because the package you offer looks appealing, not only your sim or consecutive technique.

And despite all you efforts, it will take some time, maybe a year or two, or even more, before you'll get hired on a regular basis. It takes some time to get you name out there, to get to know people and get known.

Being a freelancer is scary. Being a newcomer is scary. Meeting people who have been in your shoes only a few years ago is difficult. There isn't much you can change about it. You'll never have certainty, the only thing you can do is to give it the best shot you can. And remember: Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

permanent link

answered 24 Jul '15, 03:27

G%C3%A1sp%C3%A1r's gravatar image

Gáspár ♦

edited 24 Jul '15, 03:29

Thank you Gaspar. Ahh... the reality is still scary in this answer. Those are very good pieces of advice. I had them written down in my notebook already. But I still wonder how do novice freelancers with urgent financial needs (eg. students like me who cover their tuitions with student loans) cope with the starting phase where pay checks aren't coming in regularly? Internship? Full-time job and part-time interpreting?

(24 Jul '15, 04:01) EliChang

how do novice freelancers with urgent financial needs cope with the starting phase where pay checks aren't coming in regularly? Internship? Full-time job and part-time interpreting?

You could plan accordingly, taking into account that you're unlikely to be able to repay much during the first year, so maybe postpone the starting date of the repayments (or, if they agree, have your parents pay for the first year, with you reimbursing them later).

Internships and full-time jobs don't offer the flexibility you will need if you get called Tuesday noon to interpret Wednesday morning. To get your name out, you will need to be available to accept any decent interpreting assignment. Try to find something flexible, leaving you as much free time as possible (to practice and hone your skills). Written translations might be a good thing, as the only constraint would be deadlines but you'd still be free to have set your own schedule. Some other people also would just do the typical student jobs during their first year(s): working in bars, baby sitting, doing anything language related without being translation nor interpreting, etc.

(25 Jul '15, 02:54) Gáspár ♦

Useful advice(Pretty much how I had imagined)! I'd go request for the detailed information with local banks as soon as it's Monday. Thank you for being helpful as always.

(25 Jul '15, 05:33) EliChang

I usually don't post answers since I'm not a qualified CI, but in this case I am an American with some finance/law background and can speak to the student loan issue.

Eli, if you are taking out US student loans, you could also take a look at the student loan repayment regime, which you can see here:

The system is unreasonably complicated and there are many hidden rules and regulations, but to make a long story short, there are unemployment deferments and other types of deferments available. Additionally, the federal loan repayments are pegged to your discretionary income. The capped amount is I recall 10% of discretionary income, which is less than total income, and the entire amount discharges after 25 years. There is an AIIC study online which I recall says AIIC interpreters in America in 2012 made 78,000 EUR per year (and less in Asia). There is a loan repayment calculator here you can look at: - my guess is that if you were to borrow $100,000 to go to school, the worst case scenario is you would simply be paying 10% of your discretionary income for loans for 20-25 years before the loan is forgiven. You also get a tax break on the student interest paid, which can bring the whole total down to something like 5-6% of your income per year if you don't have a high income ($80,000+). The whole system is byzantine and extremely complicated, and deserving of research. It's also political since most of the middle class has loans. In theory, once it discharges, you own tax on the discharged amount, but in 20 years from now that might be waived by Congress. Even if you were to come out making just $40,000 a year every year for the rest of your career, your payments would be capped and would also be tax-deductible.

permanent link

answered 24 Jul '15, 09:35

Adrian%20Lee%20Dunbar's gravatar image

Adrian Lee D...

Thank you Adrian!!! AWESOME information/tools. But I'm afraid I'm not eligible for US federal loan because I'm not an US citizen. Or does these also apply to US private loan as well? My only chance to get a student loan from US creditors is Global Student Loan Corporation. But the payment terms aren't published on its website.

(24 Jul '15, 10:52) EliChang

That's much more complicated in this case. You may or may not be able to obtain private loans; you'll have to check with the lenders in this case. You do not necessarily have to be a citizen of the USA to get a federal student loan, if you can obtain a green card. One concern with private lenders is that there aren't the typical built-in protections of student loans available and they may not be willing to lend if it's apparent your income won't be high enough to pay the balance.

(24 Jul '15, 17:34) Adrian Lee D...
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question asked: 23 Jul '15, 14:32

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