As a language enthusiast, I have explored countless translation platforms over 18 months.
Have you ever tried to generate some extra income online based on just a few hours of work per week? Found that most options will pay only cents or require a tremendous effort to get them up and running? You are not alone.
If you'd like to see three-digit figures in your PayPal account quickly, online translation platforms could be your solution. All you need is a good knowledge of two languages and excellent writing skills in your mother tongue.
Over the last 18 months, I have explored many of these platforms. In this article, I will reveal the top five opportunities you should start with. I'd recommend registering with several of them at the same time. This will increase the number of translation jobs you will get access to. I'm also going to mention a bunch of others that you'd want to avoid.
I should clarify that we are talking about a specific niche of the human translation market here. There's no need for formal qualifications in this niche, but payment is below the traditional industry standards. It is sometimes called "crowdsourced" or "amateur" translation. Still, you need to have a professional attitude, skill, and meticulous attention to detail. Otherwise, your days in the market will be numbered.
Everything I'm writing is based on my own experience and language pairs: English into German (EN>DE) and Spanish into German (ES>DE). Your experience may be different due to a variety of factors. For example, you will only be able to register when that particular platform needs more translators for your language pair(s), and that may occur only once every few months.
Five Best Translation Platforms
With its deliberately simple approach, Fairlingo lacks some of the features offered by its competitors. However, its way of setting deadlines and the kinds of texts found on the platform are unique advantages.
Fairlingo's Onboarding Process Is Straightforward
To set up an account on Fairlingo, all you have to do is fill in some profile information. This includes bilingual text answers about why you love languages, etc. You may also include links to your social media accounts. If Fairlingo likes your application, they will activate your account in a few days. There is no translation test upfront, although you may be kicked out later if your quality is insufficient.
Time to Snatch Your First Translation Assignment
You may need a little patience to actually start working because translation jobs are scarce. They are handed out on a first-come-first-served basis, so you need to be quick and check/refresh the website frequently. When a job hasn't been claimed after some time, the system will send notifications. On reacting to those messages, you will often find that the job is already gone. This happens on all platforms of this kind.
Why Are Fairlingo's Translation Mechanics Better for You?
Fairlingo will always let you translate the texts within their own online engine. That engine doesn't offer an automated spellchecker, making your work a little harder. However, this drawback is more than compensated by how the platform manages the timing of the jobs.
Once you have accepted an assignment, the platform will expect you to translate up to 1250 words within 24 hours. If the job is longer, you will get a second deadline for another 1250 words another 24 hours later, and so on. Compared to other translation sites, this generous timing allows for more flexibility in how you organize your work. If the job is not too difficult, you may complete your daily minimum in under 3 hours; it is up to you when exactly you do it.
At the same time, the 24h rhythm makes the site unattractive for clients with urgent and short jobs. Even if it's just three words, the deadline will be a full day later. Therefore, clients tend to order larger jobs on this platform, often longer pieces of coherent text.
This makes work much more time-efficient than with the short snippets so common on other platforms. You spend less time researching context and special terms and more on actual translation.
Fairlingo Never Sends Your Translations to the Client Without Proofreading
As soon as you have submitted the first block of translation, another translator will check and correct your work. Every change will deduct some money from your earnings. If the proofreader deems your quality too low, they may even reject your work entirely. You will also receive a rating on a 0–10 scale and be expected to score higher than 6 on average.
Interestingly, Fairlingo proofreaders have about the same status as you, the newbie. Next time around, it may be your turn to correct someone else's translation! Similar to other platforms, if you are in the translator role, you may or may not agree with the changes and the rating, but you will have to swallow your pride. The proofreader will have the last word, and let's face it: Often, you have to admit they are simply right, and their feedback offers opportunities to learn. Overall, the system works out surprisingly well.
Fairlingo's Rates Are Modest
Fairlingo's per-word rate for translation is €0.03, similar to other sites. What is special though is that they deduct €0.10 for each word changed in the second pass. The proofreader gets only €0.005 per word—which in my experience implies lower earnings per hour. There are higher rates for experienced translators with formal qualifications, but that's another topic.
Fairlingo vs. Other Platforms
- Pros: 24-hour deadlines, more long and coherent texts
- Cons: Reduced pay according to the number of revisions; no automated spellchecker
Founded back in 2008, Gengo is probably the most well-known and well-established platform of its kind.
Gengo Uses an Elaborate System of Translation Tests
After you pass an initial multiple-choice filter, Gengo will ask you to provide a test translation to admit you as a Standard translator. Another test translation will, if successful, unlock Pro jobs with a higher per-word payment. The Pro test will also give access to Edit jobs, where you revise other Standard or Pro translators' work.
The tests, especially the Pro one, are not easy at all and a source of frustration, but you have three tries for each. I definitely recommend you keep trying because of the benefits connected with the Pro status.
The Gengo Discussion Board Is Unique for These Kinds of Sites
Gengo offers an online forum where translators may complain about their problems with the platform in public. Kudos to the community managers who will hardly ever censor anything. They always strive to convert the criticism into something constructive.
Hunting Translation Assignments on Gengo
Once you're in, the situation you'll find is similar to other platforms. Since jobs (here called Gengo Collections) are scarce, you need to be quick. Even though the job volume is somewhat higher than on other platforms, it fluctuates a lot. You will find yourself camping on the empty job listing page, hoping for new worthwhile assignments to appear.
Gengo's translator interface is OK, although you will also find many jobs to be done offline in Excel.
How Gengo Manages Quality
Gengo's quality management is not limited to the initial testing. They also use a system of quality ratings based on what they call goCheck reviews. When you start on the platform, a "language expert" (i.e. not a regular Standard or Pro translator) will check almost all of your translations. Later this will happen every once in a while.
In an attempt to be more objective in the quality ratings, your 0-to-10 score will be determined by an algorithm based on the number and gravity of errors. A high average score is supposed to grant access to more jobs, while a low average will get your account closed.
On Gengo's public discussion board, you will find messages of people complaining about unfair reviews, but I must say that I haven't experienced anything like that so far.
Tight Deadlines & Short Texts
Gengo will always set a deadline depending on the word count, with a minimum of 1 hour. There is sufficient slack to be able to finish even more difficult jobs in time, BUT you need to start right away. You cannot just accept an assignment while you are busy with your regular job, hoping to do that Gengo Collection later at night.
Unfortunately, many Collections are either very short or listings of unconnected text chunks. Especially the latter are tremendously time-consuming. That's because you often need to research (or guess) the context of each chunk to find a meaningful translation. Despite the difficulty, they may well be classified as Standard and thus earn you very little money: a true waste of time. Moreover, they are risky because your quality checker may interpret the context differently and punish you with a low score.
Short or uncoherent source texts appear on the other platforms as well. But I found them to be especially abundant on Gengo.
How Much Does Gengo Pay?
Gengo’s per-word rates are $0.035 (Standard), $0.09 (Pro), and $0.018 (Edit). The Pro rate looks pretty attractive, but keep in mind that the higher multiplier will only have a significant effect with longer texts. E.g., if you translate a 4-word chunk, it hardly makes a difference whether it pays 14 or 36 cents.
Gengo vs. Other Platforms
- Pros: Slightly higher availability of work, possibility to get an almost professional "Pro" rate
- Cons: Tight deadlines, file jobs, short or incoherent texts
This was the only place where I could actually register for ES>DE and did a few translations for this pair. That said, the bulk of work on Textmaster consists of translations from or into English, as usual.
To be allowed to translate, you need to deliver a successful test translation that I found pretty easy. Translations are typically paid at a standard rate of $0.033 per word. Besides translation and proofreading, the site also offers copywriting tasks.
My Experience With Textmaster Has Been Similar to Fairlingo or Gengo, With Some Differences
- There is even less work available.
- Deadlines are less strict. There will sometimes be a countdown timer, but during normal office hours, you can ask for extra time if needed.
- There is a bit more interaction with clients (although a PM will check your messages before they are actually sent). Textmaster tells you not to submit your work until the client provides the clarifications you asked for. You should not just go ahead based on an assumption even if you explain what you did.
- Clients may choose you as a preferred translator, which gives you an effective advantage to be able to translate their orders.
Textmaster's QA Has Its Quirks
Similar to other platforms, your translations will (often but not always) pass a quality check/edit stage. Textmaster's system has a couple of hiccups here and there:
- Various times, I had a client asking me where his (short) translation was because it had been stuck in quality control for two days.
- Clients will sometimes ask to have several pieces of text translated by the same person. They do this to get more consistent translations. The problem is that sometimes only some of those pieces are sent to the editing stage and not others. The proofreader, unaware of the other pieces, may then create the very inconsistencies that the client wanted to avoid.
- You don't get to see a quality score or anything, so you don't know how good or bad they think you are. The individual who works as your quality checker will only contact you for negative feedback. On top of that, the one who wrote me, while she was factually right in most of her criticism, had an incredibly obnoxious tone.
Textmaster vs. Other Platforms
- Pros: More client interaction, flexible deadlines
- Cons: Opaque quality evaluation, experience with proofreaders
Opening a New Motaword Account
After registering, Motaword requires you to review some training material about how it works and the culture they try to promote. Then, you need to pass an easy test about the content you've just seen (weirdly, not a translation test). Then, they take some days to review your application before they activate your account.
And Now for Something Completely Different: "Collaborative Translation"
The key difference between Motaword and everything else in the world is that several translators will work on the same text at the same time. You never claim a full task but only translate sentence by sentence, while others do the same in other parts of the document. This leads to an incredible speed. When you receive a notification about a new project with fewer than 1000 words, you may find almost everything translated when you are only 10 minutes late.
The consequence is that, more often than not, you will only be able to fill in some of the last blanks or nothing at all. Sometimes, you can be lucky to find a fresh project at a time of day when few translators are online (e.g., evening in the US but late night at home in Europe). In those moments, Motaword will actually be more profitable than numbers 1, 2, 3 above. That's because it pays more per word ($0.05), and you can be very quick when you focus on the easy parts first.
Obviously, different translators will use different translations for the same terms. In other words, this technique leads to highly inconsistent output. Therefore, translations are always proofread and edited by an expert person. Supposedly, translators get an internal quality score based on the number of edits, but it's pretty unclear how it works.
Overall, it is a nice platform, but unfortunately, the earning potential has been a bit lower than on others for me.
Motaword vs. Other Platforms
- Pro: Better payment when you are lucky to find a fresh project
- Cons: You can't do full translations; competitive situation while translating
Most translation platforms insist that translators must not use any form of machine translation. The idea is that this would be cheating because machine translation is much cheaper than human translation. An exception would be the occasional MTPE (machine translation post-editing) job, where they create the MT and you edit it into an acceptable final version . . . or that is the idea.
You have guessed it:
Unbabel Focuses Entirely on MTPE
After an MTPE test, you are ready to go and will often (not always) find a solid amount of work that is paid at a rate between $8 and $18 per hour. Yes, Unbabel pays per hour, not per word. However, your rate will depend on your quality reviews and on how quick you are, so if you consistently deliver high quality at a high speed, you will get $18/h.
That doesn't sound too bad, but there is a hitch. No, two actually:
- Texts are typically chat or email interactions between user support and clients. It is quite monotonous, and it isn't easy to produce a correct output that doesn't sound weird, especially because of number 2.
- Since your hourly rate for the next day will depend on your speed, you are under constant time pressure.
Both factors make work at Unbabel a stressful experience. It's not the kind of work you look forward to. You need frequent breaks—which will have a direct or indirect impact on your pay. And even if your work received positive reviews, it still somehow doesn't feel like you're doing a good job.
Unbabel vs. Other Platforms
- Pro: More work
- Con: Work is not fun
Pros & Cons of the Top 5 Translation Platforms
Here's a summary of the good and the bad aspects I found:
24-hour deadlines, more long and coherent texts
Reduced pay according to the number of revisions, no automated spellchecker
Slightly higher availability of work, possibility to get a "Pro" rate
Tight deadlines, short or incoherent texts, file jobs
Flexible deadlines, more client interaction
Opaque quality evaluation, experience with proofreaders
Better payment when you find a fresh project
You can’t do full translations; competitive situation while translating
Work is not fun
Which Platforms Did Not Work for Me?
There are many apparently similar sites where I didn’t manage to earn anything. Here are some of them:
- Protranslate is one of the more annoying examples. They will ask you to do several tough, time-limited translation tests to qualify for different kinds of text. However, they may or may not actually correct those “exams.” In my case, I did only 3 or 4 tests to see if they would react. They kept sending reminders about the other pending exams. But for many months I didn’t get any feedback on the ones that I had submitted, nor any answer to my emails.
- Blend, formerly known as One Hour Translation, allowed me to open a profile. They were going to contact me for testing when they needed more translators for my language pairs. But a full year later, that still hadn’t happened—they just decided to deactivate my account.
- Yaqs approved my trial translation after several months. However, once I had an active account, there still weren’t any projects for more than a year.
- Lingosaur wanted a test translation and then kept asking me to rate other applicants’ submissions. Twelve months later, I still haven’t been accepted (or rejected), and my emails go unanswered.
- Tolq, after receiving my EN>DE and ES>DE test translations only accepted ES>DE without any explanation why—but then never had any actual ES>DE jobs.
- Flitto lets clients choose between different translations made by several translators. Only the chosen one will be compensated with $0.007 (that’s 0.7 cents!) per word. On top of that, you can only cash out once you have accumulated $35, which can require many months. Fellow translators will ignore client instructions about language variety (AE vs. BE, Latam vs. European Spanish) or level of formality (e.g., German du vs. Sie) and still be chosen—obviously because many clients don’t understand the target language. Bottom line, it is a lose-lose situation for clients and translators. The platform also offers “1:1 Pro” translation, but again, you have to offer extremely low rates to get one of those rare jobs.
How Much Can You Earn? Is It Really Worthwhile?
I knew you were going to ask that question: How much money can you actually make? And I left it for the end of this article because it is really hard to answer. It depends a lot on your language pair(s), your skills, and especially on the fluctuation of available jobs and how much time you spend on this activity.
Since I am a full-time employee in an unrelated sector with an OK salary, my time and need for extra jobs are limited. In my more active months, I spent about 8 hours per week on these translation sites and, as a very rough estimate, made about €270 per month. About €90 of that came from Fairlingo, €60 from Gengo (a bit more than that after I passed the Pro test), another €60 from Textmaster, €35 from Motaword, and €25 from Unbabel. If you do the maths, it's not a spectacular rate per hour, but hey, it depends on what you compare it to. E.g., it's several times more than what people get on beer money sites like Mturk or Swagbucks.
With more time and effort, it should be possible to multiply this monthly income by 3, 4, or more. That said, if you are taking it that far, in the long run, it might be a good idea to try and bring your translation activity to a more professional level, with formal training and certificates. That would bring you into the classic professional translation market, where rates are several times higher.
I personally have never considered taking that step because my professional profile is different, and I don't feel like making translation (or blogging, for that matter!) a formal part of it for now.
As a paid hobby, the platforms I described work just fine for me. What are your experiences? Do you know any similar sites that are missing in this article?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Johann Fischbauer