Translation Careers

Starting in the translation industry

The betterlanguages team working on a translation project

Discover more about Translation Careers

Translation careers need a high level of skill and training. Speaking two languages doesn’t make you a professional translator. Don’t think that an A level in Spanish qualifies you as a translator. You are likely to need a post graduate level qualification. You will also need great ability 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:

  1. attention to detail
  2. excellent ability in both your source and target languages
  3. a commitment to proper technical research
  4. continuous professional development
  5. use of translation technology

Translation careers require professional qualifications – read why

We are often asked whether you need a professional translation qualification to work as a translator. The simple answer is “yes”. Translation is a highly skilled profession, and a qualification is fundamental to this, as is professional practice.

Some universities offer first degrees in translation, which is a great place to start. There are two more common routes to qualification however:

  1. a language degree followed by a post graduate level qualification in translation
  2. a technical degree, followed by a translation masters allowing you to work with that translation specialism

No route is a panacea which guarantees success. We know a few excellent translators who don’t have a professional qualification (though this is rare). We also know great academic achievers, who lack the skills to be successful as a translator. Theory and practice is very powerful together, and to succeed, you really need both.

Some issues of a translation career

Do you like working alone? As a freelancer, in theory you can work anywhere, provided that you have an internet connection. In practice though, you are likely to spend many hours in front of a computer screen working alone. You may prefer to work in a more social environment. If so, 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. This needs to be in both your source and target languages. You need to develop vocabulary over time, including keeping up to date with current technical terminology.

Choosing a specialism

Should you 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 specialist vocabulary in both languages.

Different technical fields require different strategies for translation. For example a marketing text may read very differently to the original. It may justifiably vary in style and tone between source and target language. In contrast, a legal text has to be very literal to the original. The purpose of the translation is very different. The aim of a legal text is to draw out the meaning of the source text.

Some possible translation careers

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 their language needs, some 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. Therefore, 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. You will be 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.

Alternative translation careers 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. Just like translators, many interpreters work freelance. Interpreting can be for business, for government organisations, charities or NGOs. In fact any organisation may need an interpreter, if they need to facilitate communication between speakers of different languages.

Interpreters need to be highly qualified, much like translators. In the UK there is a crisis in public services interpreting. Many public bodies do not pay anywhere near professional rates for interpreting. This includes the Ministry of Justice, the NHS, as well as many local authorities. As a result of this, many interpreters are leaving the profession.

Public service interpreting is often very bitty, with short assignments. If you become a good interpreter, you will always have plenty of work. However, there is always the issue of being appropriately paid. Like freelance translators, 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 the complex subject of translation careers. 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 therefore unable to respond individually to every enquiry.