How to Become a Translator

Why Become a Translator?

Becoming a translator is a very rewarding career path. For those who speak (and write) more than one language, translation provides a great opportunity to work with languages and learn and develop in specific fields.

Most translators work from home as freelance translators, with all the benefits (and disadvantages) of working as a freelancers.

Some translators work in-house in a as a traditional employee. 

So, how does one become a translator and what's needed to get started?

How to Become a Translator

There are several steps to be taken, or requirements, on the way to becoming a professional translator. 

1. Language Skills

The first requirement on your path to becoming is having a very high level in both the language you are translating from (the source language) and the language you are translating to (the target language). This normally means being fluent in both languages, and a native speaker in your target language, although there are some exceptions.

If you don't currently have the required language skills, it would make sense to focus on improving them before considering a career as a translator.

2. Professional Qualifications

Freelance translators often have professional translation qualifications. However, there are many successful translators who do not hold any professional qualifications in the field of translation. Many translators have qualifications in other areas - they may have medical, engineering or legal qualifications, for example.

There are many professional translation qualifications and university courses open to those who wish to obtain a solid foundation in the field.

There are also many shorter courses, such as those offered by ProZ.com

3. Writing Ability

In order to become a translator, you will need to have good writing skills and enjoy writing. If you don't currently have the writing skills required, consider enrolling in a course to improve them before thinking about going ahead with a career as a translator.

As a translator, you need to be a great writer in your native (target) language. You should be able to write with very few grammatical or syntax errors, and to be able to manage the structure of your native language effectively, as you will often be required to re-order sentences when translating, for example.

4. Tech Skills

As we are now in a multimedia world, translation is no longer simply about translating text from one language to another. Documents often require formatting, and images, links and other media may also be included.

In addition, many translators use CAT tools in order to ensure consistency, translation memories and glossaries.

For a translator to operate efficiently in today's environment, she should therefore have a good understanding of the available tools and the right level of tech skills to be able to produce work efficiently.

5. Experience

Clients are usually looking for translators with experience. But if you are just starting out, how can you get that experience?

One way is to start by doing some voluntary translation work, perhaps for an NGO via organiztions such as TWB or Translation Commons. Another is to offer clients free work in return for being able to share the fact that you have produced work for them. Once you have built up some experience, you will be come more attractive and more marketable to other potential clients.

6. Marketing

Marketing is not directly related to becoming a translator, but it is important to mention. As most translators are freelance translators, they have to market their services in order to build up a portfolio of clients, and that applies to both translation agencies and direct clients.

A successful freelance translator should consider marketing as an important step in becoming a translator.

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