Before you learn how to become a translator, first you should know that there’s much more to it than just speaking another language well. You need to understand the culture and be able to convey the meaning of the language in your translation.
So, if you’re thinking about putting your language skills to the test and becoming a translator, or if you’re teaching English abroad and looking for another way to earn an extra income, read on to see if a career as a translator is for you.
In this article we cover the skills you need to become a translator, the different types of translation work available and the steps you can take in order to get translating jobs. Let’s start with the basics!
What Do Translators Do?
Translators are responsible for conveying the meaning of a text from one language (the source language) to another (the target language). This is usually done in the form of translating a foreign language into their own native language.
This can be a daunting task, as the concepts and words in one language often don’t have an equivalent in another. Therefore, translators must have a strong grasp of both languages they are working with, as well as an understanding of the cultures associated with them.
Accuracy is crucial for translators, as even a small mistake can change the meaning of a text and lead to confusion or misunderstanding. In some cases, such as when translating important documents like contracts or birth certificates, a literal translation may not be possible or desirable. In these cases, translators must be able to use their judgment to produce a translation that conveys the original meaning as closely as possible.
As a translator, you could find yourself doing translation work on a variety of different documents and materials. These could range from financial, technical, legal and academic documents, to marketing and advertising materials. You may even find yourself translating works of fiction such as books or poems. Or you could end up providing translations for the next blockbuster or big Netflix series!
You may find that you need to have specialized knowledge in certain subject areas, such as legal or medical terminology. However, what you specialize in is down to you.
The Skills Required to Become a Translator
To become a translator you will need:
- To be highly proficient in at least two languages. The target language should ideally be your native language. Native speakers will still require a high level of fluency in the source language.
- A good understanding of the culture of the country you are translating the language from (the source language).
- Have excellent writing skills in your native language in order to convey the meaning of the original text.
- An eye for detail and accuracy, and a willingness to learn about new things.
- To preferably have a degree in translation or interpretation from an accredited institution. This isn’t always needed, so just keep an eye on the requirements of the given translation job.
Think you’ve got what it takes? If you want to become a translator, there are a variety of jobs you could find yourself doing.
Types of Translating Jobs
If you’re bilingual or multilingual, you might be thinking about becoming a translator. In an interconnected world where remote work is integrated into business, there’s an ever growing demand for people who can communicate cross-culturally.
It’s therefore a great time to be a professional translator. Skilled employees and consultants are being hired from across the globe, and there are plenty of opportunities available. Here are some of the different types of translation jobs you could do.
Translators convert written documents from one language to another. This may include translating books, manuals, websites, or other types of texts.
These experts adapt materials, like software, websites, or marketing campaigns, for a specific region or culture. This often involves translating text, adjusting images or videos, and ensuring that the overall tone and message of the materials are appropriate for the target audience.
Customer service staff
Bilingual representatives provide customer support in multiple languages. They may work for companies that need to assist their client base via email or live chat. They can also man the phone (although this is drifting more into the realms of being an interpreter).
Interpreters provide oral or sign-language translations of conversations, speeches, and other forms of communication. They may work in settings such as business meetings, courtrooms, or medical appointments on a contractual basis.
Although a professional translator could perform this role, the skills required to be an interpreter are quite different. We’ve included it here under translation jobs, as it is something that a translator with the right skills could do. However, it is important to understand that there is a clear distinction when it comes to being a translator vs interpreter.
Bonus: Language tutors
Language trainers help individuals or groups learn a new language. They may teach classes, lead conversation groups, or provide one-on-one coaching, and can often facilitate their services both in-person or virtually. While this isn’t technically translation work, it is something translators could comfortably adapt to with the right training.
If you’re interested in teaching English, the first step would be to take a TEFL course.
Translator Vs Interpreter
Before we continue we should clear up one very important question. What is the difference between translator and interpreter?
Essentially, a translator is someone who translates written text from one language to another, while an interpreter is someone who orally translates spoken language from one person to another. There are many similarities between the two professions, but there are also some key differences.
Both translators and interpreters need to have a deep understanding of both the source and target languages. They need to be able to accurately convey the meaning of the text or conversation, while also taking into account cultural nuances and differences. In addition, both professionals need to be able to think on their feet and adapt quickly to changes in the conversation or text.
However, there is one key difference between translation and interpreting. Interpreters work in real-time, while translators can take their time in translating the text. This means that interpreters are under a bit more pressure. Not only do they need to be able to understand what the speaker is saying and instantly translate that into another language, they also need to have excellent listening skills and be able to process information quickly.
Having experience working in different cultures is therefore very helpful if you want to become an interpreter. But this is also useful if you want to be a successful translator.
How to Become a Translator
In order to become a professional translator and offer your language services with confidence there are a few steps you should take.
Become highly proficient in your source language
Whilst it’ s all well and good being able to write in the target language, if you don’t know the source language well enough what you translate can lose all meaning.
You should therefore make the effort to learn the language you wish to translate from to the best of your ability. This can happen naturally if you are already living abroad, but to offer the best possible translation services it’s worth studying up. This can help significantly in the translation process and set you apart from other translators. In turn, this will allow you to offer your language services at a higher rate!
It’s also worth bearing in mind that some of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers will also be some of the most competitive when it comes to finding translation work. So you’ll need to have something extra to help you stand out. One way to do this is to get certified.
Before you apply to work as a translator, consider formalizing your translation qualifications through a professional organization, such as the American Translators Association or the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. This will help you stand out from the competition and show that you’re capable.
Target a specific industry/niche
By targeting a niche or something industry specific, you can create a demand for your services in that field. You might decide that you want to focus on one of business, education, government or medicine for example. Each of these fields can be lucrative in their own right and you can even take customized training to help meet client needs. Once you’ve done this it’s a case of being able to market your skills successfully.
Don’t be an island. In order to get clients and be visible in the sea of of other translators you need to market yourself well. After all, if you’ve developed all of these great translation services but nobody knows how to reach you, your skills are going to gather dust. To avoid this, you should aim to do the following:
Create a portfolio: Showcase your previous work to demonstrate your capabilities to potential clients. Be sure to include both written and audio/visual samples where possible.
Create a website: Having an online presence is essential for any business nowadays. Make sure your website is professional and includes pertinent information about your services, rates, and contact information.
Develop a Social Media Presence: Use social media to connect with potential clients and promote your business. Create a profile on LinkedIn, post updates on Twitter, and share articles and blog posts on Facebook.
Create a business plan: Offering translation services under a business could help you be taken more seriously by potential clients. If you’re ready to start a new company, create a business plan to define your goals, target market, and pricing structure. This will ultimately help you run your endeavors more smoothly and efficiently.
Network: Get connected with other professionals in the translation industry by attending industry events or joining online forums or professional organizations.
Stay up to date
Keep your language skills current by reading, watching news programs, and practicing regularly. You may also want to consider taking education courses or attending workshops to stay up-to-date on industry trends.
Get organized (Hint: Use technology)
Stay on top of deadlines and manage your workload effectively by staying organized. You can use software or apps to help you keep track of projects, deadlines, and invoices.
Use professional invoices: Offering consistent invoices with attractive branding will take your services to the next level, and using a template through an online invoice maker will help you achieve this. It will also ensure that you are paid on time and back you up by setting clear terms of payment.
If you want a solid stream of translation work you’re going to need to gain experience. You may wonder how this is possible if you’re just starting out, but there a variety of ways to get your foot on the ladder. Even if you can’t secure a translation job right away, there is plenty of contract or freelance work out there for translators. So, you can start with this and work your way up. If you can show that you successfully completed a translation project, you’ll be much more likely to get hired for your next role. Over time you’ll also be able to charge more and it should be a lot easier to get work. This a route many translators take when they are just starting out, don’t be afraid to give it a go.
Translation tools and software
Although AI and machine learning technology have made significant advancements in recent years, professional translators are still essential for ensuring the quality of translations. However, there are now an array of translation tools and software that can help make a translators job much easier.
Some of the best translation tools are as follows:
- Google Translate
- Bing Microsoft Translator
- Systran Translate
If you’re not familiar with these tools, some translation agencies provide translators with training on translation tools and software. It can therefore be worth joining them to get work and gain experience. An example of a translation agency that offers training to new translators is Tomedes. They provide translators with in-depth manuals and guides on the translation tools and translation management systems they use, such as memoQ, SDL Trados, MadCap, Poedit, Smartling, and Crowdin.
Many translation agencies only hire translators who are skilled in using translation tools and software, as it can increase productivity and output speed. So, it’s definitely worth learning how to use them if you want to open more doors in your translation career.
Conclusion: How does that all translate?
A career as a translator can be both rewarding and challenging. Be sure to research the opportunities available both in-person and online, and create an attractive portfolio to show professionalism to potential employers. With the right skills and marketing strategy, success is only a matter of time.