A lot of translators, like anyone else, want to give some of their time back to the community. Some freelance translators even have a rule that they spend 5% of their working hours on volunteer work, and some agencies actively support their translators in doing volunteer work. Finding volunteer opportunities may not always be easy though. In this article, we help you to make a translation portfolio and also help your local community.
As with most volunteers, translators may find volunteer work in their local community a good opportunity to start a translation portfolio. Especially if you live in a multilingual community, there may be opportunities near you. Think local community center or library that offers information in various languages to the community members. They are likely to need text translators, subtitles, or even interpreters. If you live in an area with a lot of immigrants, there may be charities supporting immigrants that could use your help. That could be a wide range of charities; varying from legal desks to a humanitarian organization to a petting zoo.
Find information on those local organizations online, or just visit them during their opening hours, and offer your services.
If there’s no local organization that could use your help, or if you would rather work outside of your own region, you can find volunteer work online. It can be a challenge to find the right match. Volunteer work for translators usually isn’t advertised much. There are several websites that list organizations that ask for volunteers, but those lists are usually outdated.
Below we offer you an up-to-date overview of volunteer opportunities, grouped by translation field.
There are various volunteer opportunities for text translators and reviewers. We list a few organizations that are currently looking for new volunteers to start your translation portfolio.
Kiva is a nonprofit organization that coordinates microloans, supporting communities that don’t have access to regular financial services. Kiva is always looking for translators (currently French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian to English) to translate or review loan profiles. They also seek writers that are native English speakers for finetuning loan profiles. You can find all of Kiva’s volunteer opportunities here.
Translators Without Borders is a nonprofit organization that offers language services to humanitarian organizations and charities all over the world. Their focus is on crisis regions (war, floods, earthquakes, etc). Although Translators Without Borders accepts volunteers for all languages, they are especially eager to recruit volunteers in under-represented languages and local dialects. You can apply as a volunteer with Translators Without Borders here.
Looking for a totally different field? Then Ubuntu may be interesting for you. Ubuntu is an operating system, for the most part open source and free. Currently, Ubuntu has close to 200 translation teams for as many languages and dialects. Teams range from 1 member for Limburgish, Ojibwa, and Middle French to well over 700 members for Turkish. If your language isn’t listed, no worries, you can easily start a new translation team for your language yourself. You can sign up as a volunteer with Ubuntu here.
If you’re a subtitler and you want to work as a volunteer, there are two main organizations that are always looking for volunteer subtitlers; Amara and TED.
The best known of the two is TED. Most likely you’ve come across TED Talks on YouTube or social media. Maybe you’ve even been to a TED event. You may have noticed that subtitles in many languages are available for TED Talks. All those subtitles have been created by volunteers. You can join the TED Translator community here.
Amara offers two kinds of volunteer opportunities. First, Amara offers a platform for various organizations, most of them nonprofit, to get their videos subtitled by volunteers. On this platform, you can create subtitles for Mozilla, GitHub, PLURAL+ (a United Nations initiative), and many others. Some teams you can join immediately, some you will need to apply for. Second, Amara has its own volunteer project; Amplifying Voices of Change. This project focuses on various social and educational topics, like climate change, mental health and fake news. More information on volunteer work on Amara you can find here.
Online or remote work as an interpreter is less common than other types of translation, as it’s mostly in person meetings that need to be interpreted. With remote and hybrid becoming more normal, we’re listing some possible opportunities here anyway. When applying at any of these organizations, be clear on whether you are available locally, or online only.
The International Institute of Minnesota offers support to immigrants to the US. They are looking for remote interpreters explicitly (video conference and phone conference). Currently the International Institute of Minnesota is looking for interpreters for Swahili, Karen, Amharic and various other languages to English. You can find more information here.
Kind offers pro bono legal support to displaced children. From a translator’s point of view, the name of this organization is well-chosen, as “kind” means “child” in Dutch. Kind is mostly active in the US, but works together with organizations all over the world. You can apply as an interpreter or a translator here.
Medical Justice is an organization in the UK that offers medical advice to detainees, oftentimes with the support of an interpreter, via phone or in person. Medical Justice is currently looking for Arabic, French, Hindu, Mandarin, Tamil and various other languages to English interpreters. You can apply here.
Next to contributing to your (local) community, doing volunteer work may also benefit yourself. Even if that’s not your primary goal, you’re building extra experience and a network that helps you grow in your professional career as a translator.
Working as a volunteer is a win for all.
Mirjam Van Dijk
May 5, 2022