What is a Translator?

Translators convert the written word from one language to another. They should not be confused with interpreters, who translate orally or through sign language interpretation.

Translating services are needed in many different subject areas, and translators often focus on one specific area of expertise.

What does a Translator do?

A translator working on his computer, converting the written word from one language to another.

Translators aid communication by converting written information from one language into another. The goal of a translator is to enable the public to read the translation as if it were the original.

To do that, the translator must be able to write sentences that flow as well as the original, while keeping ideas and facts from the original source accurate. They need to consider any cultural references, including slang, and other expressions that do not translate literally.

Translators must read the original language fluently but may not need to speak it fluently. They usually translate only into their native language.

Nearly all translation work is done on a computer, and translators receive and submit most assignments electronically. Translations often go through several revisions before becoming final.

Translators typically do the following:

  • Convert concepts in the source language to equivalent concepts in the target language
  • Speak, read, and write fluently in at least two languages, including English and one or more others
  • Relay style and tone
  • Manage work schedules to meet deadlines
  • Render spoken ideas accurately, quickly, and clearly

Are you suited to be a translator?

Translators have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also artistic, meaning they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if translator is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Translator like?

Translators typically work from home. They receive and submit their work electronically, and sometimes deal with the pressure of deadlines and tight schedules.

Because many translators are self-employed, their schedules often vary, with alternating periods of limited work, and periods of long, irregular hours. Still, most work full time during regular business hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Translator?

The answer to this question resides in the answers to several other questions:

Am I proficient or can I become proficient in at least two languages?
If you struggle to learn a foreign language, translation is probably not the right career for you.

Am I familiar with or willing to become familiar with a particular subject area or subject areas in which I would like to work as a translator?
Translators should never translate material they do not comprehend. In addition to your linguistic abilities, you should learn the vocabulary and basic principles of a niche business sector or sectors and focus your work there. Keep in mind that it is impossible to master every subject area.

Do I possess or am I able to develop high-level writing skills?
If you have a hard time understanding grammar rules or struggle to write a comprehensible sentence, becoming a translator is not the career path for you.

Am I comfortable working with computers and learning new software?
Translators are keyboard warriors and may use CAT or computer-assisted translation software.

Am I capable of establishing and operating my own freelance translation business?
Freelancing is not uncommon in the translation industry. The ability to set up and run your own business can open doors to additional opportunities.

While replying ‘yes’ to the above questions is a solid indicator that translation may be a career fit for you, it is wise to investigate further and ask yourself if you possess some of the character traits typical of translators.

Because there are so many cracks through which meaning can slip, a translator must be absolutely meticulous. Every word needs to be translated in the most accurate and meaningful way that the target language allows.

The translator needs to constantly process information to select the best option. In translation, obsessive-compulsive does not have to describe your personality, but it should describe your attitude. Translating requires intense concentration for long periods of time and attention the tiniest of details.

If you are a ‘don’t sweat the details’ person about your work; if you skimp on research; if close is good enough for you, this is not the career choice for you.

To translate means to deal in the borrowed, never the owned. Everything that you are handling belongs to someone else; it is someone else’s work. This truth carries multiple ethical implications.

The act of translation necessitates an extreme degree of respect. It demands that you surrender any impulses of ‘he/she should have.’ You must fight off any thoughts of ‘making it better’ than the original. The greatest artists are visible in their work. The greatest translators are invisible in theirs.

You must not insert your own ego. You must not change what is in front of you, even lightly. You do not have the right to do so. If you are not prepared to live with the moral responsibility that translating entails, you should not be a translator.

What are Translators like?

Based on our pool of users, translators tend to be predominately artistic people. At first glance, the characterization of translators as ‘artistic’ may appear peculiar. In fact, it is unequivocally precise.

In the words of Edward Sapir (1884 – 1939), a Prussian-American anthropologist and linguist, ‘No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality.’ By its nature, therefore, translation is an art that demands a delicate balance of social realties and the best translators are artists with the talent to achieve this balance.

Are Translators happy?

Translators rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 43rd percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

While we have no scientific evidence to explain this below-average happiness quotient among translators, it may be connected to the career’s extremely detail oriented nature and to the substantial ethical responsibilities it places on its practitioners.

How long does it take to become a Translator?

Taking the appropriate steps to become a translator can actually begin very early in life. Most translators have either grown up speaking their second language or lived in an area where it is spoken.

This is not a formal requirement, but it certainly helps in achieving the proficiency level needed for the job. The career calls for a love of different cultures and a keen interest in the dynamics of bridging the linguistic gaps between them.

The time required to become a translator is dependent on the educational track selected. Most aspiring translators choose to earn a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Translation.

The length of study for those who opt to learn translation through non-university training programs or coursework can vary widely, likely from as little as six months to as much as two years. These timeframes presume that students already have a level of proficiency in both the source and target languages in which they aspire to work.

Translators are also known as:
Professional Translator Language Translator Certified Translator