Translation Careers

If you are seeking to develop a career in the translation industry, here are some tips which may help:

Translation is a specialist field of work, requiring study, and a high level of skill. Speaking two languages doesn’t make you a professional translator, or a professional interpreter. Don’t think that an A level in Spanish qualifies you as a translator, you are likely to need a post graduate level qualification, and a very high level of competence in both source and target languages. The normal convention with written translation is that you translate into your native language.

Key skills for a translator are attention to detail, a high level of competence in both your source and target languages, a commitment to proper technical research, and continuous professional development.

We are often asked whether you need a professional translation qualification to translate. The simple answer is “yes”, a post graduate level qualification is really important to a career as a professional translator. It isn’t a panacea, we have experience of excellent translators who don’t have a professional qualification (though this is rare), and experience of people who have great academic performance on a translation course, but lack the ability to be successful as a translator.

Do you like working alone? As a freelancer, in theory you can work anywhere where you have an internet connection, in practice however, you are likely to spend many hours in front of a computer screen working alone. If you prefer working in a more social environment, translation project management, or working as a linguist in a corporate setting, may be the way to go.

Professional development: As a translator you will always be learning and developing. Language, especially technical language, is changing all the time. You need to be familiar with up to date technical vocabulary of your chosen specialisms in both your source and target languages, and this develops all the time.

Should I choose a specialist technical area to work in? I’m always suspicious of a translator who claims to translate anything. Although general language applies across specialisms, in reality, most translators specialise in a few technical areas. This is because you need to be familiar with the required vocabulary in both languages. Different technical fields require different strategies for translation too, for example a marketing text may read very differently to the original, and may justifiably vary in style and tone between source and target language, whilst a legal text has to be very literal to the original, and is all about drawing out the meaning of the source text.

So what are the possible careers for a translator?

As a translator there are basically two broad routes you could follow:

In-house translator for a company or organisation. Depending on the nature of language needs, companies may employ an in-house translation team. There are positives and negatives of working as an in house translator, freelancers can often earn a higher hourly rate, but you have greater job security working in house.

Freelance translator. The benefit of working freelance, is that you have more freedom to work when and where you like, so if you want to live in the Bahamas, and have a decent internet connection, you can! You are though also setting up a small business, so are responsible for marketing and sales, financial administration, and many other small tasks. Many freelancers take time to get established, and you don’t have the security of a regular salary.

Alternatives to working as a translator:

Translation Project Management requires a good understanding of the role of the translator, but is essentially a management role. As with many industries, good practitioners (i.e. translators) don’t always make good project managers, and vice versa. Project Management can be an interesting and rewarding job, but isn’t for everyone. Express interest via the following page in working for better languages as a translation project manager.

Interpreting is a very different discipline to written translation. Like translators, many interpreters work freelance. Interpreting can be for business, for government organisations, charities or NGOs, in fact any organisation that needs to facilitate communication between speakers of different languages. Interpreters need to be highly qualified, just like translators. In the UK there is a big issue with public services interpreting, with the Ministry of Justice, and many other government departments not paying anywhere near professional rates for interpreting. Public service interpreting is often very bitty, with short assignments, the best interpreters are in demand, but there is always the issue of being appropriately paid, and like translators working freelance, you don’t have the security of a contract of employment. A few translation companies employ interpreters full-time, but this is very much a rarity.

This is a brief introduction to a complex subject. If you wish to apply to better languages as a freelance translator, please read the information on our translators page, before sending us a CV. Please note that we receive a high level of applications, and are unable to respond individually to every enquiry.