Would you work as a Russian translator?

with 4 Comments
My current work setup.

There are lots of things I do in pursuit of better Russian: manage a farm, read the dictionary, watch presidents on YouTube, and memorize the lyrics to famous songs. They’re all fun to do but lately I’ve been doing a lot more of a very rewarding thing: translating. Fun + money!

At first, it was intimidating. I thought that if the agency could hear how I spoke Russian, they’d surely recoil in horror and dismay and never email another task again. She has no regard for grammar! And pronouncing ы as и! Как тебе не стыдно?! I lived in fear of being outed as an impostor by a simple Skype call.

Then, things changed. I read an interesting idea on a translation blog: you don’t have to speak another language perfectly to translate it into your native tongue. This idea totally changed how I thought about translating. Now, a new task signifies a good challenge to take on. It’s a way to get paid for getting better and better in a language. It’s not the end of the world if I can’t speak and write Russian like a native speaker does; I just need to be able to read it, understand it, and present it well in English. In fact, native language skills are just as important as second language skills in this context.

This year I’ve started to take translating a lot more seriously. I even got a new computer and started using memoQ, which is special software that helps you translate and stay sane. Ready for a quick rundown of how it works? Imagine you’re working on a translation. Several thousand words later, you try to remember if you translated награда as prize… or was it reward? It’s a lot easier to look this up with software than with ctrl+F. Also, if there are 5 translators working on the project, you all need to share a terms database so that everyone translates награда in the exact same way. You can do tons more with this kind of software, but those are two examples of its usefulness.

It’s taken some time (coming up on 1.5 years) but I’m starting to transition from ‘making a little extra spending money’ to ‘hey, maybe this could actually be a real career’. Could it? The big downside, though, is the natural ebb and flow of this kind of work. Sometimes you’re really busy. (Speaking of which, I should actually be translating right now, not writing this post!) Sometimes there’s noooothing happening. Lately I’ve had a lot more busyness than idleness, hooray! Part of this is simply luck. The localization agency I work for seems to be pretty successful. The more successful they are, the more work they can offer. The other part is building relationships with the project managers and consistently doing great work. Still, my favorite project managers could suddenly quit. The company could lose business to competitors. What would I do then? The best thing is probably to diversify by finding new clients, but I’m not quite there yet.

In the meantime, here are some examples of what I’ve learned from translation:

Really mundane marketing terms!

условия соглашения = terms of agreement


целевая аудитория (ЦА) = target audience

Battle terms!

Открывай огонь! = Open fire!

More English loanwords! (You know I love these, haha.)

Oна анонсировала свой следующий ивент. = She announced her next event.

Sometimes I’ll get documents to proofread instead. This kind of task usually goes much quicker than a translation since most of the revisions are simple, but it doesn’t pay as well as translation.

Examples of edits:

  • original: electronic stores (correction: electronics stores)
  • original: the last but one position (correction: the second to last position)
  • original: puffy streaming (I still have no idea! what do you think?)

Getting an editing assignment also shows how tricky English grammar and vocab can be. For example, I was going over a document that had already been translated by one person and edited by another. The translated sentence mentioned “starting projects from the scratch“. The editor must have known that something was off in that sentence, since the next version of the sentence was “starting projects from a scratch“. 😉 Another time, years ago, I came across this gem: “The theme of the business breakfast aroused the ready response of the audience.” 


Now, it’s your turn! Are you interested in translation as a way to improve your Russian skills?

If so, what stage are you at: just curious, doing the research, or already translating?


Bonus round: how would you translate these? They’re all things that I found tricky.

  • и т.д и т.п.
  • в работе
  • ч/б скетч [Maybe you’ll guess ч/б much faster than I did…]
  • регион (област, краи, респ. и т.п.)
  • нас мало но мы в тельняшках
  • мы работали (работаем и будем работать) над проектом. [This is a Lenin joke, right? I’m not just reading too much into it? Would you try to capture the pun or let it go?]


Read part 2: How I earn a little money translating Russian

4 Responses

  1. J.T.
    | Reply

    I’m already translating – literary translation, which isn’t all that profitable. About to seek publishing rights for my latest project: a 101-part series of witty anecdotes (think Daniil Kharms’ work, but more sophisticated).

    I also have tentacles wrapped around other projects, ranging from nonfiction interviews to poetry/short stories to a novel.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      That’s so cool, J.T.! I’m excited to see where this kind of work will take you.

      The idea of translating poetry and jokes is one that I find terrifying. Once I got a request to translate limericks… almost passed out from fear before I could turn it down, haha. Do you have any advice for translating those kinds of things?

      Btw, have you ever heard of Babelcube? It’s a platform that matches up books with translators. Might be interesting to you for future work: http://www.babelcube.com/more/translators

      • J.T.

        Unfortunately, I have no tips for translating poetry. I’m terrified of it too!

        As part of my Theory and Practice class I had to translate several stanzas of Evgeny Onegin. I died halfway through and had to submit the assignment posthumously. 🙂

  2. […] Continuing our discussion on working as a Russian-to-English translator… […]

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