What is a Translation Degree?

Degree programs in translation prepare students for careers as translators. The work of a translator is to convert written documents and spoken text from the ‘source’ language to the ‘target’ language. If you are fascinated by languages, how they have evolved, and how they are connected, this may be the field of study for you.

The curriculum covers translation of various kinds of content, from technical, scientific, and educational to legal, commercial, and literary. Students learn about the history of translation, the sociology of translation, media and translation, and how to use translation memory software and specialized dictionaries.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Translation – Four Year Duration
The foreign languages translation/interpretation program prepares students to work as English/foreign languages and foreign languages/English translators and interpreters.

Translators must be able to write well in the target language. Interpreters must be able to translate in both directions without using dictionaries or other reference material. Consecutive interpreters wait for the speaker to pause and translate what has been said. Simultaneous interpreters translate in real-time. They hear the message in the source language, process it, and simultaneously (in about five to 10 seconds) output in the target language the translation of the speaker’s words.

Graduates of these programs often work for professional translation/interpretation services or as freelancers. Their services are needed at intercultural/international conferences and meetings. Working as an interpreter for the United Nations (UN) is particularly highly-regarded.

In addition to providing basic training, foreign languages translation and interpretation programs often offer specializations:

  • Specialization in Technical Translation
  • Specialization in Editorial Translation
  • Specialization in Social and Institutional Translation
  • Specialization in Interpreting

Courses include:

  • Modern Languages for Translators and Interpreters
  • Technologies of Translating and Interpreting
  • Language and Translation
  • History of Translating and Interpreting
  • Information Science Applied to Translation and Interpretation
  • Cultural Mediation in Translating and Interpreting
  • Theory of Translating and Interpreting
  • Inverse Translation
  • Initiation to Interpreting
  • Initiation to Specialized Translation
  • Terminology Applied to Translating and Interpreting
  • Consecutive Interpreting Techniques

Master’s Degree in Translation – Four Year Duration
Holders of this degree often translate / interpret within specific fields such as science, medical, legal, business, or literary. Some schools offer a Master’s Degree in Specialized Translation. The program is aimed at training translators and interpreters in the fields that most often need translation services.

Translation and interpretation master’s students continue with the concentration they chose at the bachelor’s level:

  • Specialization in Technical Translation
  • Specialization in Editorial Translation
  • Specialization in Social and Institutional Translation
  • Specialization in Interpreting

Here are some sample classes offered in these master’s programs:

  • Translation, Interpreting, and Intercultural Studies
  • Public Service Interpreting
  • Legal, Technical, and Audiovisual Translation
  • Consecutive Interpreting
  • Simultaneous Interpreting
  • Areas of Research in Translation and Interpreting

Doctoral Degree in Translation – Three to Five Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Translation is a research degree. Students in these programs:

  • study language and translation theory
  • examine the histories and cultures associated with the languages they are studying
  • assess language translations from both linguistic and literary points of view
  • translate numerous writings in preparation for their thesis
  • perform consecutive and simultaneous interpreting

Degrees Similar to Translation

Foreign Languages and Literatures
Foreign languages and literatures degree programs teach students how to speak, read, and write foreign languages. Some programs focus on the linguistic structure of the studied language and others on its major written literary works. Many programs cover both of these components.

Linguistics explores the nature of language variations and dialects, how language evolves over time, how it is processed and stored in the human brain, and how it is acquired. It is the scientific study of language and communication, both within a single language and across language groups.

The primary sub-areas of linguistics are phonetics – the study of the production, acoustics, and hearing of speech sounds; phonology – the patterning of sounds; morphology – the structure of words; syntax – the structure of sentences; semantics – meaning; and pragmatics – language in context. These sub-areas are the foundations of foreign language learning and translation.

American Sign Language
This degree field prepares students to work as interpreters of American Sign Language (ASL).

Anthropology is the study of the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, and how they communicate and socialize with one another. The link to language and to linguistics – the nature and structure of language – is evident. In fact, many anthropologists are trained in linguistics.

Comparative Literature
This field studies the literature and literary traditions of two or more different countries, cultures, or languages. Examples of courses in comparative literature are literature of the Americas, literature of China and Japan, romanticism, and tragedy.

Individuals who consider earning a translation degree often think about teaching languages. The processes of language learning, teaching, and translation are naturally linked.

European Studies
This is a broad based field of study. It includes European languages, history, art, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, politics, economics, and geography.

International Business
Students of international business study business from a global perspective. They learn how to work cross-culturally, how to manage multinational businesses, and how to turn local and national companies into international corporations. Coursework often includes some foreign language studies, as well.

Latin American Studies
Degree programs in Latin American Studies focus on the study of the language, culture, society, political systems, geography, and history of Latin America.

Mass Communication and Media Studies
Degree programs in mass communication and media studies are concerned with the critical study of communication and media. The typical curriculum explores topics like communication infrastructure, as well as issues in communication from all of these perspectives: social, cultural, historical, political, economic, technological, and legal.

Skills You’ll Learn

The process of learning a foreign language and studying the science and art of translation is a workout for the brain. Because language learning is complex, it improves cognitive skills and overall brain function. Quite simply, it makes the brain stronger. This means that graduates of a translation degree program bring more than their language competency to their work. Studies have shown that adult speakers of more than one language typically:

  • have higher general intelligence
  • are more creative
  • are more patient
  • are better listeners
  • have better concentration abilities
  • have greater mental flexibility
  • are better at planning and making decisions
  • score higher on reading, vocabulary, and math tests
  • are more aware of their surroundings
  • are more likely to understand different points of view
  • are less likely to fall for marketing ploys
  • are better at multi-tasking
  • have better memory and memorization skills

What Can You Do with a Translation Degree?

Translation and Interpretation
Holders of a degree in translation and interpretation may find opportunities to translate and/or interpret for various sectors, including government departments and agencies, law and courts, healthcare, publishing, and conferences.

This sector is far-reaching and many businesses seek bilingual or multilingual employees who are adept at translating various business documents. Some examples are sales, customer service, banking/finance/foreign exchange, manufacturing, engineering, import/export, international relations, and administration.

Communications / Media / Entertainment
Knowledge of foreign languages and the ability to translate between languages are valued in several roles in this sector: foreign correspondent, journalist, video crew, broadcaster, publisher, proofreader, film producer.

Culture / Travel & Tourism
Businesses in these sectors consistently need foreign language speakers and translators. They include airlines, airports, tour companies, travel reservations services and websites, hotels, event planning companies, and museums.

Possible positions are high school language teacher and university language professor.

Governments are one of the largest employers of people with foreign language and translation skills. In the United States, knowledge of foreign languages is particularly valued in positions in the armed forces, the Foreign Service, immigration and customs, law enforcement, security, and intelligence.

These are just some of the volunteer programs, non-profits, and non-governmental organizations that often seek multilingual speakers and translators: the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps VISTA, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children, Care International, Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, UNESCO, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Red Cross.


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