How happy are translators with their studies?

Greater than 4 minutes, my friend!


The translation industry is one of the few that were not heavily affected by recessions in the last 7 years. According to the Common Sense Advisory, the translation industry had an estimated worth of $33.5 billion in 2012. A report by IbisWorld  states that translation services are expected to keep growing and reach $37 billion in 2018. Another report by the U.S. Bureau of Statistics even estimates that the industry is going to grow by 42% between 2010 and 2020. Although the United States represent the largest market for translation services, Europe is a close second. Both INC and Entrepreneur mention the translation industry in their lists of the most (economically) interesting industries in which to start a business. In addition, The Language Guide for European Business reveals that more than 2 out of 5 small- and medium-sized companies in Europe are involved in some kind of international activity, and one quarter of those businesses export goods to other countries. The ELAN study shows that many of them are losing money because they are still lacking linguistic strategies for their communication with foreign markets, and that—apart from acquiring language skills inside the company—includes the help of professional translators. So how is it that young translators often struggle to find work as in-house linguists or get positioned as freelancers, although the demand for linguistic services is quite high in comparison with other industries? Why do so many complain that they don’t have enough clients or that they can’t make a living off the few jobs they get? The Google search “how to find clients as a freelance translator” has nearly 2 million results. Online courses for Translators have are in high demand. ProZ, a platform for freelance linguists, lists 499 courses in the category “Business of Translation and Interpreting” and 209 in “Software, tools & computing”. Obviously, there seems to be a gap between the industry requirements and the skills of recently graduated translators.


Our idea was to simply ask translators how happy they are with their studies, what they like and what they do not, and how far their studies have helped them to do their current job. To do this, we created a survey that we then sent to different translator’s associations, friends and colleagues, which we also published and promoted on social media. We wanted the survey to take no more than three or four minutes to complete in order to not steal our colleagues’ valuable time. For this reason, we only focused on the main subjects we were interested in:
  • Demographic Data:

We asked for the participant’s country of birth, country of residence (as we expected that due to our profession many may live abroad), gender, year of birth, native language and education.

  • Work Related Questions:

We wanted to know their working languages, specializations and if they were actually currently working as language professionals or not. We were also interested in what they earned, and if they considered that amount to be enough compared to other wages in the country they live in.

  • Education Satisfaction


In the third part of the survey, we wanted to know how happy the participants actually were with their studies. Here, the linguists only had to mark if they agreed/didn’t agree/were indifferent, and then in a last section had space for comments about what they personally liked/ disliked about their studies.

In the course of three months, we were able to collect 155 answers to our survey. The results were presented at the Translating Europe Forum in Brussels on 30/10/2015. The presentation was actually recorded, if you want to have a look at the video you can do that here.


And now let’s have a look at the data!

Demographic Data:

Most of our participants were from either Spain or the UK. Although 69% said they still live in their country of birth, Spain and the UK are inverse in the two tables (48 persons were born in Spain and 39 in the UK but 49 people currently live in the UK while 40 said they lived in Spain), while the number of participants being born and living in the same country stay nearly the same for all other countries. Maybe this hints at a trend of Spanish linguists working abroad. 70% of the participants were female, and the average age was 36 years. 57% said they did not hold a Master’s or other postgraduate degree. For 26%, English was their native language, while 20% were native Spanish speakers and 9% natively spoke German.

The most popular working languages were English (29%), French (18%), Spanish (17%) and German (11%). Most said they specialized in three different fields (40%). However, 7% (or 18 people) also said they didn’t specialize in anything specific, and 13 people stated they specialized in five or more areas. The most common specializations were:

  • Technical/Engineering 14%
  • Medical/ Pharma 13%
  • Literature/ Art 13%
  • Marketing 13%
  • Legal/ Patents 11%
  • Business/ Finance 10%
  • Science 8%

48% said they worked as freelance translators/proofreaders and 13% said they worked as freelance translators and interpreters. 11% said they worked as employed translators and 9% said they worked as freelance translators and teachers. Only a few worked in a job that wasn’t related to their studies at all, e.g. as a dancer or bank clerk, and some combined their work as freelancers with other jobs like library assistant, auxiliary nurse, etc.

27% said they earned less than 1000 EUR a month and 36% said they earned between 1000 and 2000 EUR. In most European countries this is below the average monthly income, and in many it would actually be below the poverty threshold. This is a combined 63% of all participants. Only 8% said they earned 2000-3000 EUR gross, which corresponds to an average income in many European countries. Only 16% earned more than that. 46% said that what they earned was not enough to live in their respective country.

Education Satisfaction:

50% of participants would say that their studies have prepared them for their current job, but only 37% said that the subjects taught were related to real-life market needs and only 46% were able to choose some kind of specialization during their studies. However, 70% agreed that their teachers were well prepared. Only 14% said they had acquired skills to run a business/work as a freelancer. 39% learned how to use CAT tools during their studies. 54% said that, all in all, they were happy with their university education; 31% said they would change most of the subjects they had; and 61% said they would choose the same studies again.

Infographic Study Satisfaction

10 thoughts on “How happy are translators with their studies?

  1. Great work, Sarah. I agree that formal education for translator usually lacks the business aspects of it. This is something I had to pursue by myself (and keep pursuing it).

    Report comment
  2. Thank you for sharing it here as well! And congrats on publishing your first story! I really love numbers and different stats, so it’s awesome to see when someone is trying to bring more factual data into our industry.
    I can definitely relate to the part about education. When I was getting my master’s degree in linguistics and translation at a university in Russia they never taught us about the market, it’s segmentation, there was no strong emphasis on specializing and that it’s crucial for your development as professional.

    That’s why I hope that translator schools and universities will improve their curriculums to include more business/marketing/web design/personal branding materials and this will help us create not only good young translators but also good young entrepreneurs and business owners.

    Report comment
    1. Thanks for reading my article 🙂 It depends very much on what students want to do after their studies. As far as I understand from my study, many universities here in Europe want to prepare their students so they can get a job at an official institution, like the European Commission etc., where they don’t need super specialized translators but rather all-rounders. The thing is that a huge percentage of students go freelance and those really should specialize in something and get some business skills. I’m not sure how much of this education can come from universities, but I do think that they should at least be told that they’ll need this kind of knowledge and maybe where they can get it.

      Report comment
  3. Thanks Sarah for sharing. Since I started teaching financial translation a couple of years ago – after more than 20 years as a financial translator, many of my attendees said to me universities and translation schools lack hands-on, real-life experience, especially business and project management tips, but also training on practical translation material in specific specialisations. Thanks for confirming this with your study. Experienced translation professionals – and stages at companies – may be of help in sharing practical tips to the young generations, if “formal” education is still not enough (and it wasn’t 25 years ago when I studied at the university).

    Report comment
    1. Francesca, thanks for sharing your opinion. I do absolutely agree with you: More internships, mentoring programs, industry placements etc. would really help and the students who are already doing them at their schools very much appreciate them and tend to say that these are where they learn the most.
      And my compliments on being a teacher 🙂 Having the opportunity to teach future professionals is awesome.

      Report comment
  4. Great article, Sarah! Université de Montréal offers a professional realities course that tries to prep students for the job market. Full disclosure: I teach the course. In my experience, the students who risk having the toughest time are the “accidental” freelancers, i.e., those who never imagined they would have to launch their own business. As Francesca points out, a university degree is never enough, but we are always trying to adapt content. Also, more internships would be a plus!

    Report comment
    1. Thanks for your comment, Nancy. It’s very interesting to have the opinion of university teachers and I think it’s great that you are already offering these courses! I totally agree with you on internships too.

      Report comment

Leave a Reply

The Open Mic

Where translators share their stories and where clients find professional translators.

Find Translators OR Register as a translator