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If you’re multilingual and can easily converse in one or several different languages, you might be wondering how those skills will help you in the real world outside of travel or chatting with friends and family. But have you ever considered turning your gift for languages into a career? 

As the global economy continues to expand and multinational corporations do business with people all over the world, the need for individuals who can help bridge language gaps has continued to grow. And that’s where translators come in.

In this post, we’ll walk you through what exactly translators do in their day-to-day jobs, the types of positions that you could work in as a translator, and how you can start working toward your dream career today.

What Is a Translator?

A translator typically works with written materials to copy them from one language to another. Even though this type of work is often one-way (e.g., the translator is moving from one language to another, but not back again), it’s more involved than simply rewriting each word directly as it is. 

Translators also need to convey the tone, style, and intent of the writing when converting it from one language to another, taking into account different cultures or customs, along with local dialects.

Before you start thinking about how to be a translator, it’s important to understand the differences between this type of work and that of an interpreter. While both roles involve interpreting and translating between different languages, an interpreter is often used for audible work or sign language

They’ll convert speech from one language to the next, and often back again, which can make this an incredibly fast-paced job! Interpreters need to be experts in “simultaneous interpreting,” where they can listen and understand one language while also providing a spoken or signed translation in another language at the same time.

What Does a Translator Do?

Ever wondered what do translators do each day? Since translators are dealing with written material like books, documents, or even websites, they’ll spend a good amount of their time reading through the original source in order to understand what it’s about before they begin their translation. 

The goal is for the audience to be able to read the translated work as if it were the original, but in a language that they understand. That’s why it’s crucial for translators to be able to understand culture and tone in both languages, because phrases that might be in slang or are very technical can be difficult to translate literally with accuracy.

Most translator job descriptions will feature requirements like:

  • Reading materials and researching industry-specific terminology
  • Converting text from one language to another
  • Maintaining original tone and meaning from the original in the translated copy
  • Creating subtitles for video presentations or features

If you’re thinking about how to be a translator, it can be helpful to decide if there’s a particular industry that you already have knowledge in, like law, healthcare, or science. Having those additional skills can make you a more attractive hire, as you’ll be able to expertly understand complex or specific terms and know how to best translate these for the intended audience. Not all translators specialize, but it can help you to stand out in the job market.

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How to Become a Translator

So you want to be a translator, but where do you start? There are a few different options depending on the career path you’re looking to go down and where you currently are with your own language skills. Let’s take a look!

Degree and Education Requirements

For many entry-level translator positions, a bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement. Most people who are interested in this career often obtain a language degree in a second language (i.e., not their native language) in order to improve their fluency and gain a formal qualification in this language. 

Although there aren’t any specific translation degrees at the undergraduate level, those who have a language degree can choose to pursue a master’s degree in translation once they graduate. This can be especially helpful if you’re looking for higher-level translation positions in government or a large corporation.

Outside of a degree, there are also courses that specialize in translation that can look great on your resume. The American Translators Association and ALTA Language Services are good places to find accredited and unaccredited classes to help you gain a qualification in translation.

Gaining Experience Instead of Education

If you don’t have a language or translation degree, that doesn’t have to stop you from building a career as a translator. Depending on the type of work you’d like to do, being fluent in two languages may be enough to get you started. 

To start gaining some professional experience, try to find local individuals who may need your help with translation services. People who are looking to buy property in another country often need support when it comes to understanding legal or real estate documents, and your second language skills could really come in handy. Once you’ve worked with a few people, you’ll have some references and examples that you can showcase to prospective employers.

Studying abroad or living in a country that speaks a different language can also be a great way to build your language skills. This is one of the best ways to learn regional cultures or dialects that could be helpful later on, since you’ll be fully immersed among local speakers.

Remember, it’s not just about knowing a second or third language that can get you work. Unique language combinations can instantly make you stand out and put you ahead of people with degrees, even if you don’t. For example, many people speak both English and French or Spanish, but it’s highly unusual to find someone who is fluent in English, Mandarin, German, and Arabic. The more unique your combination, the less job competition you’ll face.

Average Translator Salary

You’re probably wondering, “how much does a translator make?” As with most jobs, rates can vary depending on the industry that you work in and how much experience you have. Some people choose to work hourly rather than on a specific salary, and translator rates can be anywhere from $35 per hour all the way up to $100+ per hour for specialist translations. 

When you’re working at an in-house position with an annual salary, you’re likely looking at pay around $44,000 to $56,000 per year, depending on your level of experience and the industry.

Translator Jobs

Translation can be a surprisingly flexible career path. Here are a few of the many industries in which you could work: 

Corporate

Corporate translators typically work in highly specialized industries, like government or diplomatic agencies, healthcare, law firms, or science and technology companies. Most of these positions are in-house as there’s always work to be done, but freelance translators can be hired for one-off projects or additional support for the internal team.

Translators in these businesses usually work on accounting documents, business agreements and legal contracts, financial and insurance documents, marketing materials, or even everyday correspondence between office locations in different countries or with customers and clients.

Media

Another aspect of corporate translation that you could specialize in is media. In this role, you may be working closely with journalists, communications professionals, or even TV and film crews to ensure that important documents and articles are translated accurately. The content that you will be working on can vary hugely, from press releases to video files.

Media translation can be based internally within a company’s marketing department, or it can be a standalone role that’s used as needed. It’s really important in this type of work that you have an understanding of cultural norms and slang, as pieces like marketing and promotional materials often use more casual language than legal or financial documents.

Publishing

Working in literary publishing is an exciting field if you love books and can’t wait to help bring them to wider audiences. You could be working with authors whose books are fairly recent to publication in their native language, or you could be helping to translate a classic work that’s been published for decades to a new audience in a language that it previously hadn’t been translated into.

You’ll likely be working closely with the author and original editing team to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation, especially specific cultural references. Many publishing translators work independently as freelancers, as even the biggest publishing companies can’t usually afford to have translators skilled in hundreds of languages on their permanent staff.

Freelance Translation

Working as a freelance translator is a great way to start building your portfolio if you’re new to this career path, or simply an excellent way to work on your own schedule. As with most freelance roles, earnings can vary drastically. 

There’s potential with freelance work to earn significantly more than a corporate role, with much more flexibility, but you’ll be fully responsible for bringing in all of your clients and marketing your translation services.

Brush Up on Your Language Skills Today

If you think that a career as a translator is for you, keep practicing speaking and writing in your chosen language. Listen to podcasts in that language or read articles and books so that you can understand all the casual words and phrases that a native speaker uses. 

You’ll be well on your way to becoming fluent and building your dream career!

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