How to Become a Translator: 7 Steps to Your Dream Job
Regardless of what language you choose to study, with the right skills and qualifications, you may be able to find work translating between that language and your native language.
Maybe your dream is being able to land freelance translation gigs from your neighborhood coffee shop.
Or maybe you’d enjoy doing regular translation work for an employer or agency, or possibly even the government.
So if you’re dreaming of a career as a translator, follow the seven steps below to land that dream job.
- What Do Translators Do?
- 7 Steps to Become a Translator
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What Do Translators Do?
Technically speaking, interpreting and translating are two different professions. While both jobs require at least one additional language, interpreting is spoken, while translating is written, so a translator’s job focuses on translating written text between languages.
Usually, translators translate from a source language into their native language. While a translator may fully understand their source language and even be able to write quite well in it, writing in one’s native language is usually easier, and the text produced is usually smoother and more natural.
Translators work in a wide variety of industries, ranging from government to medicine to business to education and everything in between. Any industry that uses language could need a translator.
Translators often freelance or have their own businesses. However, others work for agencies or even directly for a single employer. This gives translators some flexibility with whether they want consistent work or would prefer to manage their own schedules.
7 Steps to Become a Translator
1. Study your source language extensively.
First, you must select a language and study it extensively.
There’s translation work available for nearly any living language, and there’s an argument to be made for learning virtually any language you can name. Naturally, there’s more translating work available for the most common languages.
However, since more people know these languages, there’s also more competition for work. While there may be fewer jobs for less common languages, knowing one could make you stand out from the crowd and give you access to jobs that fewer people can perform.
To choose a language, you might consider researching what jobs are out there.
To do this, you can peruse current translator listings on Indeed. If you’re interested in a specific field, you might also investigate languages that are most used in that field.
For instance, if you’re interested in diplomatic or international work, the official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) may be useful.
Once you’ve selected your language, you’ll need to study to a high degree of fluency. Majoring in the language in college is useful, as is studying abroad or living abroad.
Advanced degrees in your source translation language could set you apart further. The more language experience and education you have, the better.
Practicing with authentic content is crucial to perfecting your language skills. You can use FluentU to learn 10 different languages from their native speakers, using specialized tools.
FluentU teaches these languages by showing you videos with interactive subtitles that offer on-demand definitions. These meanings are contextual, so you’re not stuck trying to figure out which definition of a word is being used in each particular instance. There are also personalized quizzes, word lists, flashcard decks and interactive transcripts. Each flashcard shows you other videos where the word appears in the same context for maximum context.
FluentU’s contextual video dictionary will show you how to be very specific with your definitions (after all, many words can mean different things in different situations). You can practice with the program by turning off the English subtitles and either using no subtitles at all, or leaving the target language subtitles on. Listen and translate, then watch the video again with English captions enabled to see how well you did.
There are also a few translation exercises in the quizzes that follow each video, and speaking questions on the iOS and Android apps that let you speak your answers to certain questions out loud for speaking practice.
2. Get specialized training.
The fact is that even if you’re fluent in a language, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skills to translate.
Being able to provide clear, efficient translation often requires specialized training in addition to language study. Here are some options to consider:
- American Translators Association (ATA) offers a list of approved schools that can help prepare you to work as a translator.
- ALTA Language Services has a list of top translation schools in the United States.
- Looking for a brief course that will give you a taste of the translation industry? Future Learn offers a translation course taught by experts from Cardiff University and the University of Namibia. You can take this course for $69 if you’d like to earn a certificate. However, you can also access course materials for up to six weeks at no charge, which is a great opportunity to see if you have enough interest in the field to continue pursuing it.
3. Get certified.
A certification in translation is an easy way to show you have the skills necessary to do the work.
ATA offers a certification that gives you a special designation (“CT”) that you can use with your name on your resume, website, business cards and/or other promotional material.
Additionally, there are industry-specific certifications available, though these are often targeted at interpreters. For instance, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters offers a “CMI” (Certified Medical Interpreter) credential.
However, getting certified as an interpreter in a specific field can still show that you know a lot about the language used in this context, so it could also help you get translating work.
Another thing to consider is getting non-language-related certifications in a field in which you’re interested in translating. For instance, becoming a certified paralegal could help you get translating work in the legal field by showing that you understand the industry. Similarly, being a certified nurse might help you get medical translation work.
4. Target a specific industry and learn industry-specific terms.
Once you’re fluent in a language, you’ll also want to target industry-specific terms for whatever field you’re interested in working in.
Merely being fluent doesn’t always provide the relevant terminology you’ll need to translate, so you’ll need to put some additional focus into industry-specific terminology.
For instance, you might consider studying words that are particularly necessary in medicine, business, government or education. There are several ways to do this.
You may want to consider looking for a course or learning resource that focuses on a specific field. For instance, there are plenty of medical Spanish courses and resources available.
You might take a self-paced online course, or study a relevant book, like “Spanish for Health Care Professionals.”
If you’re already familiar with your specific field of interest, you might otherwise consider putting together a list of important terms in English. Then, you can look up and study the equivalent vocabulary words in the language you want to translate from.
If you want more one-on-one, customized study, you might want to look for a tutor who can help you. Some language training services, like Cactus Language Training and ALTA Language Services, offer customized training to help meet client needs, so they might be able to customize a course to teach you more specialized vocabulary.
5. Hone your computer skills.
A lot of translating requires using specific computer programs. This is meant to make the translation process quicker and more efficient. Common programs used by professional translators that you might want to familiarize yourself with include:
The linked websites can give you a brief introduction into the capabilities and interface of the programs. You might also consider subscribing to get more firsthand experience with the programs.
6. Get some experience.
One of the cruel ironies of translating and most other career fields is that to get most jobs, you already need work experience in the field, leaving you with a conundrum—how do you get that experience in the first place?
The answer is simpler than you might think. Contract or freelance work is an easy way to get some experience to add to your resume. Your first few gigs might not pay as well as you’d like, but once you get more experience under your belt, you can usually get more and more compensation for your services.
You might find your first gigs through acquaintances or business connections. Or perhaps, you’d like to use your passion for language and work for FluentU.
We hire paid freelancers to work on everything from creating and voicing YouTube content for language learners to language checking blogs that include a language other than English.
The FluentU community is made up of individuals from around the globe. Joining our team will give you the opportunity to maintain a completely flexible work schedule in a calm, supportive and collaborative environment.
Plus, FluentU is a great way to gain experience in the professional world of language services, which also includes translation services.
Check our “Jobs at FluentU” page to see what positions we’re currently hiring for.
You can also always check Upwork or fiverr, both of which help connect users with freelance opportunities.
7. To further grow your career, learn more languages.
If you want to make yourself even more marketable, you might want to acquire more languages that you can translate between to expand your range of offerings.
For instance, let’s say you’re fully fluent in Chinese and can translate between Chinese and English. However, what if you also managed to add Spanish to your range of offerings? Now, you could translate from Spanish to English or Chinese to English.
Eventually, it’s possible that you might even be able to translate into Chinese and/or Spanish, thereby multiplying your potential translation options and making yourself more employable. How’s that for career growth?
Go ahead and live your dream of becoming a translator.
Following these tips will help you translate that dream into success.