The Translator Diaries: Sarah Pybus

The Translator Diaries is a series that looks at how current freelance translators made it into the career. In this set of interviews, we will learn what makes them so passionate about translation, how they established themselves, and what obstacles they have overcome to succeed as a translator.


Sarah Pybus (@PybusTrans) is a German to English translator with six years of experience, having worked in-house for five and a half years in Germany and the UK before going freelance in late 2012. She holds a BA (Hons) in English and German and an MA in Translation Studies.

Sarah Pybus

At what point did you know you wanted to become a translator, Sarah?

It wasn’t really until university that I discovered translation and how much I enjoyed it. Careers advice had always been a bit scarce, and pretty much the only thing suggested to me at school was to become a librarian (presumably because I was quiet and enjoyed reading and languages). Had the idea of translation been put to me sooner, I might have chosen a slightly different university course (two foreign languages perhaps, or German coupled with a subject more obviously vocational than English Literature that would have allowed me to specialise in my translation career).

What made you decide to pursue a postgraduate qualification in translation?

I decided to continue onto a Master’s course straight after graduating because I assumed it would be the best way of getting into the industry. Whilst my MA did prepare me somewhat, if I had my time at university again, I don’t whether I would have chosen the same course at the same university. A Master’s in Germanic Studies might have improved my language skills more, and a Master’s in Translation Studies at a different university might have served me better.

Would you say that having a Master’s is considerably beneficial?

As awareness of the translation industry grows, it does seem as though companies are more likely to consider candidates for both in-house and freelance work if they have a specific translation-related qualification (although this does not necessarily have to be an MA). However, I can only speak as someone whose entire career thus far has been related to translation, and I should also point out that some of the best translators I have worked with did not have any qualifications in translation, simply their language degrees.

How did you acquire experience translating?

When I finished my MA, I applied for freelance work, which didn’t succeed because I had no experience and couldn’t afford any CAT tools. I missed out on one in-house opportunity because I only offer one language pair. Eventually, I started working as a project administrator for a translation agency, which gave me first-hand experience of the pressures to which project managers are often subjected from all sides, and how freelancers can both alleviate and intensify the stress of their work.

I was fortunate enough to be offered a job as a junior translator at a company in Germany. It was a great experience – they gave me excellent training, my German improved immeasurably and I stayed for nearly three and a half years before returning to the UK. After a couple more years as an in-house translator at another company, I decided to relocate again and took the opportunity to go freelance. Unfortunately, it does seem as though the number of in-house positions available in the UK is dwindling somewhat. But if personal circumstances allow, working abroad is something I would definitely recommend to new translators.

Some agencies require their translators to have at least five years’ experience. Do you think this is about right?

Having worked for over five years before turning freelance, I now have the years of experience requested by many translation agencies. Although I can understand that they want to use people with experience, five years does sometimes seem a bit excessive – after all, years of experience do not necessarily indicate quality. I have met translators with two years’ experience who are far better than others with 10.

In my particular case, the main problems I have faced in getting freelance work are my language combination – there are already many people translating from German to English – and the fact that many companies want freelancers to submit three references (although two are sufficient for most). Having worked for just two companies, I will not be able to provide three references until I have more clients.

Has it all been worth it?

Although it took me a while to actually start translating, I am happy with the way things have worked out so far. My experiences in the year after finishing university prompted me to move to Germany, and working as an in-house translator for a while gave me the confidence and professional background to strike out on my own. Now, I’m enjoying the flexibility and freedom that freelancing offers.

Next week, Catharine Cellier Smart (@Smart_Translate) tells us about the frustrations of working from a remote tropical island.