CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a translator.
Is becoming a translator right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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There are several ways to prepare early for a career in translation:
Read extensively in your second language(s)
Pay attention to the news in your second language(s)
Develop your writing, research, analysis, and public speaking skills
Try translating short texts from one language to another
Enroll in advanced foreign language classes
Pay attention in all of your classes; this will help you develop a large vocabulary in a wide variety of topics
Become computer savvy
If possible, spend time in the country or countries of your second language(s); there is no better way to gain an appreciation for the nuances, idiosyncrasies, and regional terms of a language
Job seekers with an undergraduate degree typically have the upper hand when competing for positions in translation. Many universities offer Bachelor’s programs in both general translation and in specialized translation from one specific language to another.
Bachelor's students in these programs are expected to gain mastery of both the written and oral components of a foreign language, and to apply that knowledge to translation. Typically, students may also choose a second foreign language to learn during the course of their Bachelor's degree education. Courses in translation degree programs commonly include:
Translation and media
Depending on their particular interests and career aspirations, students may choose to earn a translation degree or a Bachelor’s in a second language or in the discipline in which they wish to provide translation services (for example: IT, economics, engineering). At educational institutions which allow it, students may complete a double or dual major and thereby further increase their marketability.
There are no licensing requirements for translators. Voluntary certification, however, serves to verify skills and provide employers with proof of competency.
The American Translators’ Association (www.atanet.org) administers certification for many common languages. Translators can earn the Association’s Certified Translator (CT) designation by meeting specific education and work experience requirements, becoming a member of the ATA, and passing its certification examination.
The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and the International Medical Interpreters Association offer certifications as well. Some states have their own accreditation programs for translators and interpreters.
Taking language proficiency tests is another way that translators build their resumes and demonstrate to potential employers and clients that they are indeed fluent in their specific language. Among the most recognized tests is the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) administered by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (www.dliflc.edu).
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (www.actfl.org) also offers many proficiency tests. Several tests offered by other countries can be found online, as well.
Marketing & Experience
Most translators are contractors; not employees. Market yourself, gain experience, and build a portfolio by:
-volunteering services to community and non-profit organizations; campus events; sporting events that have international participants, such as marathons
-networking with fellow translators; seasoned professionals may need to outsource some of their work
-entering into an internship or apprenticeship with a translation services firm
-considering direct mail marketing to translation agencies, asking to perform a test translation
-starting a website or blog
-having a niche; concentrating on a specific industry or subject matter (for example: mechanical engineering)
-translating ‘to’ your native language; this is much easier than translating to a second language, especially in the early stages of your career
-developing fluency in more than two languages
As you gain experience and seniority, consider expanding your field of expertise; but be careful not to expand too far. For instance, if you specialize in translating medical reports on pregnancy, labor, and delivery, start learning the terminology of pediatric care. Slowly widen your expanse of knowledge and the scope of your work to related areas.
How to become a Translator
Being fluent in a second language is far from the only qualification required to become a translator. The art of translation calls for more than fluency. It demands extrinsic knowledge of both the source language (the language in which the original document is written) and the target language (the language to which the original document is being translated). Most people have only an intrinsic understanding of their mother tongue. They cannot explain how it is structured and how it works. While native familiarity with any language is without question invaluable, the best translators also have extrinsic, structural knowledge of both the source and target languages in which they work. In other words, they know those languages inside and out, from grammar to syntax; from formal dialogue to casual conversation; and from common to esoteric terms about a variety of topics.
For this very reason, most aspiring translators earn a Bachelor’s degree. While many choose a Bachelor’s of Translation, others may elect to complete a degree in a discipline related to the subject area in which they will be translating. A translation student wishing to work in the banking industry, for instance, may pursue a finance degree; someone interested in providing translation services in the healthcare sector may obtain a biology degree. Following this educational track provides students with a knowledge base in their specific field of translation. A double major or major/minor in translation and a second language or the intended field of translation expertise is another option for prospective translators.
Alternatively, students in this field who do not complete a university undergraduate degree may learn the profession of translation through non-university training programs, conferences, and/or miscellaneous courses. Some employers, however, may seek candidates with university-level credentials.
Regardless of the education path they choose, it is important to note that aspiring translators need abilities in four areas. They must possess:
expert knowledge of their source and target languages understanding of the mechanics and processes of translation familiarity with the subject matter to be translated sophisticated writing skills
Employment opportunities in this field range from full-time and part-time jobs with translation services firms to contract and freelance options. With experience, translators may procure prestigious assignments, earn editorial responsibilities, and seek industry certification.
Almost invariably, those who hire translators look for individuals who are completely comfortable in at least two different word-worlds and who understand the norms of the cultures of those worlds.