How to become a translator

How to become a translator

There are several routes leading to the translator profession – winding alleys walked by enthusiasts or experts in specific fields, as well as steep mountain trails climbed by philology students during their long education. Is one path better than the other? What awaits us at the end of the journey? Can the destination be reached by taking shortcuts? You will find answers to all those questions in our article.

Types of translation

Prior to discussing what it means to work as a translator and what steps should be taken to get a first paid assignment, let us take a closer look at different types of translation:

  • Literary translation – presumably the one that is the most entrenched in popular consciousness. It is related to all types of texts classified as literature, such as novels, stories and poems.  
  • Interpretation (oral / sign language translation) – it can be divided into simultaneous and consecutive. The first type involves translating content practically at the same time it is spoken, whereas the second type requires translating its fragments after they were said. Such services are most commonly performed during various conferences, business meetings or international events with an audience.
  • Specialised translation – it covers a whole spectrum of texts connected strictly to a specific field; they may include economic, technical, legal, scientific, medical or commercial translation.
  • Certified translation – combination of specialized translation and interpretation, where the translator “certifies” that the translation is correct. It consists of translating documentation, as well as interpretation performed as part of activities conducted by public authorities.
  • Audiovisual translation – translation of the linguistic layer of film productions, TV series or programmes. In this category, we can list activities such as creating subtitles, dubbing and voiceover (to find out more about this topic, read our article on audiovisual translation)
  • Linguistic localisation – one of the fastest growing fields, closely linked to the IT industry and e-commerce. This group contains software localisation and linguistic activities connected to online trade and optimisation of websites in terms of standards imposed by search engines. Pivot translation and master files are frequently used in localisation. To learn about the main objectives of this process, click here and read our article.

Pros and cons of being a translator

Translation industry – like every other – has its good and bad sides. Much depends on whether we decide to work full-time or as freelancers. There are localisation agencies and translation companies in the market that are willing to offer employment contracts, thus guaranteeing their linguists the comfort of fixed working hours and a steady income. The same profession looks somewhat different for freelancers – in this case, it is not enough to possess necessary skills – you also need a bit of luck.

Oftentimes, getting assignments is dictated by the “first come, first served” rule or by competitiveness of rates. Schedule flexibility, which is so frequently listed as one of the advantages, in reality often becomes the opposite – it is not unusual that freelancers are given very short deadlines; in such cases the “schedule flexibility” means that they have to work relentlessly for even several hours a day.

Naturally, it does not mean that being a freelancer has no good aspects and no proponents whatsoever. After every exhausting marathon, a translator can take a few days off to rest and gain strength for the next project. Moreover, the translation market is constantly growing, and along with it grows the need for different types of translation – it gives all freelancers a huge field of activity and increases their chances of finding a good agency with which they will establish a fruitful, regular cooperation on favourable terms. In such cases, they might earn more than in-house translators.

When it comes to remuneration, there is no one universal rule, as it mostly depends on the entity that is commissioning a project. Very broadly speaking, the ones that earn the most are interpreters and those who work with less popular languages – for example with a different writing system than the Latin or Cyrillic alphabets; whereas sworn translators are remunerated based on official state rates.

Characteristics and skills that a translator should possess

There are many stereotypes regarding the translator profession, many of which do not faithfully reflect the reality – the set of features and abilities that every representative of this occupation should have could surprise a lot of people outside the industry. Let us take a look at some of the most popular opinions and explain what they are actually like in reality.

  • Opinion: it is enough to have a decent knowledge of a foreign language to work in translation.

Myth! A good translator should first and foremost possess an excellent knowledge of their mother tongue, and their focus should be on providing the target audience with a text that is fully understandable and sounds as natural as possible (except for, of course, artistic texts where foreign language forms are used on purpose). If it is full of not very readable calques – in terms of collocations, style or punctuation – it does not fulfil its main function and needs to be thoroughly edited or translated all over again.  

  • Opinion: translating is an individual job during which there is no need to contact other people.

Myth! This stereotype is proven false by, for example, interpreters, who play the role of intermediaries between certain groups and oftentimes must perform in front of hundreds – if not millions – of recipients. But not only interpreters maintain contact with people. Every single person translating a text has to work with many specialists – from project coordinators who assign tasks and handle various formal issues, through experts who provide substantive consultations, to editors and proofreaders who are supervising their work and providing support while searching for required information.

  • Opinion: translation is a purely linguistic task and does not require other skills.

Myth! To become a good translator, one must possess very specific characteristics – inquisitiveness, thoroughness, creativity and the ability to take constructive criticism and ask for help are only the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, in case of interpretation, other than congenital predispositions, one must have impeccable diction, proper voice emission and distributed attention as well as be immune to stress.

  • Opinion: a translator can work with any kind of content.

Myth! We can use specialised translation as an example. It requires in-depth expertise in a given field and flawless knowledge of industry-specific terminology. Since it is impossible to become an expert in every domain, translators usually select a couple of areas and avoid projects that exceed their competences. Of course, in a “razor edge” situation, a translator – equipped with suitable tools and their own experience – may be able to translate texts from a field they are not familiar with; however, it often leads to investing a certain amount of time and work that is not entirely compensated by remuneration.

  • Opinion: you do not need professional education to become a translator.

Half-truth! Although a person of letters or a language enthusiast can also produce an excellent target version of a text, there are certain types of translation that require solid substantive preparation and countless hours of practice with a suitable equipment (such are, for example, interpretation or audiovisual translation, conducted with the use of special software).

Route no. 1 to become a translator – formal education

One of the simplest (not to be confused with the easiest) way to become a professional translator is by completing philological studies. Many fields offer translation courses, thanks to which students can acquire useful skills from the very beginning. In classes, students use specialist tools and software, whereas their progress is constantly monitored by the best experts in the market.

I wasn’t instantly interested in translation. After high school (I should mention that I was in a maths and physics class), I was wondering what my major should be and I opted for English philology, since I always liked this language, and I got a good grade on the final school exam. During the recruitment process, I had to choose between teaching and translating – I went for the second option. After that, everything happened organically.

Translator working for locatheart

It is worth mentioning how one can become a sworn translator, since this topic is closely related to education. In Poland, in theory, every person who has completed undergraduate studies can take the exam.

In practice, graduates of linguistic studies have a higher chance of receiving the certificate, as in the course of their education they get familiarised with the required terminology, get to know the nature of the required types of texts and learn about cultural differences that can impact decisions made while translating.

If during studies you were not exposed to materials related to legal and certified translations, it is definitely worth getting acquainted with them prior to the exam – there are many positions on the market that can be easily bought or borrowed. However, the oral part of the exam can turn out to be quite problematic – without adequate preparation, it is more likely to make a mistake or become overwhelmed by stress.

Interestingly, in the United Kingdom there is no official system for certified translation. Any agency can undertake such a task. The only requirement is that they must prepare a document that will vouch for source and target text consistency, containing contact details of the translator.

Route no. 2 to become a translator – self-taught skills and knowledge

Many language enthusiasts or experts in certain fields are probably wondering how to become a translator without proper education. First of all, it would be helpful to obtain a certificate confirming knowledge of a given language. What is also important is to get acquainted with everyday speech – it is especially advised to read books and press articles, listen to the news or try to translate something independently.

My journey with translation began in middle school – for my own satisfaction, I tried to create subtitles for films or translate lyrics to my favourite songs. In retrospect, I can see how each of these tasks has improved my currently used skills.

Translator working for locatheart

If such an option is possible, it is worth the time to travel to regions in which the language chosen by us is used on a regular basis – that way, we will be able to explore the culture of a given country and broaden our knowledge regarding the current social or political situation. The appropriate selection of fields in which we want to specialise is also significant. When such a decision is made, we have to patiently enrich our field-specific vocabulary and try to stay on top of any changes that may occur.

How to start your translation journey

Although the need for translation is definitely large and constantly growing, it is relatively hard to distinguish yourself from the competition and ensure a constant flow of assignments. Since employers primarily take into account experience, it is worth the time to do apprenticeships and internships organised on good, transparent terms, or voluntary work – such effort, although it will not generate an immediate financial profit, will definitely pay off with many benefits in the future. You may contact an organisation called Translators without Borders, where translators and linguistic specialists provide their services for free, performing tasks that help entities working as charities, and for the sake of personal development. After translating a certain number of texts, volunteers receive a special certificate that will definitely be an extremely valuable addition to their resume and will open doors to further assignments.

To sum up: how much we achieve is up to us and our determination. And even though there is no one clear path leading to becoming a translator, there are certain already walked on trails, thanks to which we are able to see a better view at the end of the road.

Are you curious about the translators working at locatheart? Read our article and find out who they are and what their job is!

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