Have you ever thought about volunteering your translation or interpreting services? Is this one of your New Year’s resolutions? If you answered “yes,” these are some of the ways in which you can volunteer. First, you can volunteer to do what you do best: translate, edit, interpret. Second, you can donate your time and skills to advance the profession and help colleagues through a translators and interpreters association. Third, you can volunteer (doing something other than translating and interpreting) in the area you specialize or want to specialize in.
In this article, I will discuss opportunities to volunteer doing translation or interpreting work. I will discuss the other two opportunities to volunteer I mentioned in future articles. For shortness’ sake I will use the word translation as an all-encompassing term that includes editing and proofreading.
If you are just starting, volunteering can be a good opportunity to acquire knowledge, get your name out there, and sharpen your skills while helping others and doing good. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer and many of the organizations that recruit volunteer translators have experienced editors who will oversee your work. This can help you improve your translation skills while assuring a good quality product for the end user of your translations. Editors will often provide feedback (sometimes you have to ask for it!) to help you with your problem areas and help take your work to the next level. If you are a seasoned professional thinking about volunteering, you probably want to give back to the community or do work in a different field or in a more relaxed atmosphere. Rest assured that your skills are in high demand and any organization will be happy to count you in.
Here are some of the associations that may need your help:
- Amnesty International
- Babels (Babels covers the interpreting needs of Social Forums.)
- Defence for Children International
- Global Voices: http://globalvoicesonline.org/for-bloggers/#translation or http://globalvoicesonline.org/lingua/ (Global Voices is an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world.)
- Handicap International
- International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) http://www.icbl.org/campaign/opportunities/volunteer, or http://www.icbl.org/index.php/icbl/Job-Opportunities/Volunteer/TranslationApp
- International Children’s Digital Library Foundation (ICDL Foundation)
- Iwith.org (Internet for NGOs)
- Kiva (Microfinancing)
- TED Talks
- Translators Without Borders: http://translatorswithoutborders.org, or http://translatorswithoutborders.org/Volunteer-Opportunities
- United Nations
- Volunteer Health Interpreters Organization
- Countless small, local organizations
As you can see, and these are just a few organizations, there are plenty of opportunities to donate your time and expertise. If you are overwhelmed by all the different options, you may want to start by considering what you want.
Would you like to translate something that you are passionate about (science, pets, fashion, wildlife)? Something that will help those in need (vaccination, violence prevention campaigns, etc.)? Do something that would enable you to meet the “right people” in your field of expertise? (Think volunteering as a multilingual guide for international conferences on Education/Pharmaceutics/Software Engineering/Taxation/etc.) Are you interested in learning to use a particular software or format? Answering these basic questions will set you in the right direction.
Another important consideration is how much time you can devote to your volunteer activities. I would suggest just a few hours a week or a few days a month so that it doesn’t become a burden.
You also have to consider whether you want to work from home, which is usually the case for translators, and or if you would prefer to work for a local organization that allows you to use their facilities. The latter might not be an option but it is always worth a try. If interpreting is your calling, you are more likely to work outside the house. In this case, you should consider how much time and money you can allot to travelling.
Once you know what you want to do and how much time you can devote to it, you can start looking for an organization that is a good fit for you. At this stage it is very important to read their requirements carefully as some organizations only want volunteers who can commit a certain minimum amount of time, fulfill certain requirements or pass a test. The best policy is to be honest with yourself and with them. Do not promise more than you can deliver. Usually NGOs and non-profits that have been around for a long time know how to manage volunteers and establish requirements to meet their needs.
Once you choose the organization you would like to work with it’s time to apply. This usually takes time and it might be more cumbersome than you think. Take into account that those reviewing the applications are probably volunteers too. If your application is rejected, don’t take it personally. You can still apply later or choose another organization. Once you are accepted, you will probably be rewarded with a great opportunity to learn, help and become better at what you do. Many times you will be credited for your contributions.
A few points to keep in mind while volunteering:
Be honest about your abilities and your time commitment. If one particular day or week you cannot take any assignments, don’t. Do not accept deadlines that you cannot meet. (Although in my experience tight deadlines are not the norm in volunteer work.)
Be patient with other volunteers, not everyone works at the same pace.
Be willing to learn as you go. Some organizations don’t have the resources to offer volunteer orientation so you have to learn while your work. You will probably feel lost at first but you will get the hang of it eventually, and asking questions is always a good start.
Be creative and willing to make and accept suggestions.
About my experience:
I am glad to say I have chosen this kind of volunteering. I regularly translate articles for “Youth Leader” magazine. It publishes news articles about young people working for positive causes, such as peace, protecting the environment, creating better living conditions, and much more. In an effort to further promote the work of these young leaders and inspire others, the magazine relies on a group of volunteer translators and editors.