Volunteering as a Translator –Why, Where and How | Stillman Translations
Volunteering as a Translator –Why, Where and How

How would you like to work for the UN? What about a non-profit organization transforming the lives of millions of underprivileged people around the world? If you’re a translator and these ideas sound appealing, volunteering may be just the thing for you. Because there are many options out there, we have done a little reconnaissance of the terrain for you. Have a look at our findings! 

What are the benefits of Volunteering as a Translator? 

You may be wondering about the benefits of volunteering as a translator. If you are a recent translation graduate with little professional experience, volunteering may be a chance to earn recommendations and some experience for your CV, while contributing to a good cause. But even if you are an expert in your field and your day-to-day job has lost its spark, volunteering could make translation great again for you. 

While each platform is different, the three main benefits of volunteering as a translator are: you get professional recognition, you are a part of an international community and you help make the world a better place. These perks vary in importance from platform to platform, but the comments and review sections in each platform can tell you a lot about them before you join. 

volunteering as a translator

Putting skills into action  

The UN online volunteering (or UNV) platform’s enticing tagline “putting skills into action” sums up the spirit of this type of work. You have the skills, and organizations need the hands.If the two can connect, great things can happen. So the UNV’s site helps connect the dots. This platform gives you the chance to collaborate with UN entities, as well as some of the world’s most recognized Civil Society Organizations and Government institutions. The main goal: “addressing sustainable development challenges.”  

The process is very simple: 1) First, volunteers need to register by filling out a form. As soon as the sign-up process is completed, you can 2) start searching for opportunities, for which you can set up filters and receive email notifications. 3) The third step is applying for the jobs matching your criteria and skillset. After the organization has selected you as their volunteer, you are ready to start translating! For each translation you “donate”, you will receive a certificate of appreciation.  

 Another top volunteering platform for translators is Translators Without Borders (TWB), a US non-profit whose vision is to “close the language gaps that hinder humanitarian work worldwide.” Their efforts started in 2010, after the Haiti earthquake, and their count now marks 83 million words translated since (5 million of which are related to COVID-19). Their work is fully oriented to aiding humanitarian and non-profit organizations worldwide. 

If you have recently started working as a translator and are trying to build a name for yourself, TWB can be a good step in that direction. Their Translator Recognition Program has some interesting perks, notably ProZ reviews (commonly known as “willingness to work again” or WWA), recommendation letters from TWB and skill endorsements of LinkedIn. To start translating, there is a registering process you need to follow, that is carefully explained through video tutorials on their welcome pack page.  

Education relies on words 

And since we are talking about the importance of words, of course education relies heavily on them. This is why you may want to consider volunteering as a translator for education platforms such as TED Talks or the Khan Academy. They publish educational content in multiple languages and about countless topics.The amount of content available is immense. This creates good opportunities for translators to choose their preferred fields of expertise.  

With Khan Academy, the donated translations will contribute to a non-profit, free-for-all learning platform whose mission is to provide good quality education around the world. So, on top of gaining translation experience, you will also contribute to a noble cause. As requirements, they ask that you have knowledge of the content, English fluency and have taken one of their courses. The registration process is fully explained here

Oddly, the now world-famous TED Talks platform was launched by their creators with no intention of translating their talks, but popular demand soon changed their mind. And what a good decision it was! They have created a sleek volunteer translation platform, with a clear starter’s workflow that also includes tutorials and training. They even have a mentoring system that connects new translators with more experienced linguists, for mentoring and assistance. 

Both TED Talks and Khan Academy feature their translators on their websites, which is a great way to receive credit for your work and build your professional name. In addition, TED credits the translator in each of their videos and includes a link to the translator’s profile in their website. So even if you are volunteering, your career can benefit enormously from this prestigious recognition.  

Open-Source Software: a world of possibilities for translation volunteers 

If you like IT or have experience in this field, Open-Source Software is a good field of opportunities for volunteer translators. Since their products are free and their philosophy is to make them accessible to all, developers are always in search of volunteers who can translate content for them. 

Some famous Open-Source Software organizations are: UbuntuWordPressAudacity, and Apache Open Office. They all offer fairly simple instructions on how to start translating immediately, without a need to apply for specific jobs. To translate on Ubuntu, you will need to create a Launchpad account, which is the system required to translate online and collaborate with other colleagues.  

Both WordPress and Apache require translators to subscribe to a mailing list, where you will receive guidelines and translatable content. One more benefit of working with Open-Source translation software is that they intend to support minority languages that are not commonly supported elsewhere, so there are opportunities for a larger number of languages. Again, these are specifically recommended if you have experience translating IT-related topics, as they are bound to be quite technical and require specific software to be installed to your computer.  

But there’s more! 

Aside from the humanitarian, educational and free software fields, there are plenty of opportunities for those translators who know where to look. The following platforms are some of them: 

  • Babelcube is a platform where freelance translators can contact self-published authors and publishers –and vice versa- in order to translate books. The fantastic side to this platform is that you can get paid for your work, as you will be sharing the book’s royalties with the author. As Babelcube states it: a true partnership.   
  • Translation for Progress is a forum where “organizations” and linguists can connect. Their website is very simple, as are their guidelines. They welcome any level of experience and language level (within translation skills reason) as they focus on providing opportunities for students and industry novices to gain experience and be involved in social issues.  
  • PerMondo, a non-profit translation project that was born from the Mondo Agit commercial translation agency and supports partners on a volunteer basis. Some translation projects at PerMondo may be paid.