What Does It Take to Become a Professional Translator?

Maybe you grew up in a multi-cultural household where more than one language was used. Maybe you spent several years abroad after college and became fluent in a foreign tongue. Or maybe you just love languages and are now in the process of adding yet one more to your roster. Whatever the case may be, you know without a doubt that speaking more than one language is hugely beneficial when it comes to finding a job. Being fluent in more than one tongue can put you ahead of the pack and is sure to impress your future boss, but what if you’re interested in working solely with the languages you know? In other words, you’re considering going into a field like translation. After all, what better way to put your language skills to use than by translating for a living, right? If you’re curious to know if you have what it takes to become a translator, read on for a basic rundown of what to expect and what you can do to achieve that goal.

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Two languages does not a pro translator make.

Just because you speak Spanish and English at home it doesn’t mean that you can just jump into any translating job and be good at it. Translation is a career which requires high-level language skills, and a fair amount of hard work and study must go into honing these – even for languages you’ve spoken your whole life. You may think you know everything about your native language, but this is not true. You will need to dedicate a fair amount of time studying the languages you know. Read, listen to the radio, watch TV, and practice your abilities on other people.

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Certification is the making of the translator.

One of the best ways to get people to take you seriously as a translator (and be able to find work more easily) is to get accredited or certified as a translator. Certification is proof that you have the skill set and capabilities to serve as a professional translator and makes it easier for you to get your foot in the door when looking for a job. Many universities offer translator certification so you won’t have to look very far to find the tools you need to get started on the road to becoming a pro!

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Experience makes a master.

Regardless of whatever field you go into, you are usually expected to work your way up. We’ve all been stuck in entry-level positions or working as unpaid interns just to gain experience in a certain field. If you expect the language industry to be any different, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Starting out you may be expected to work for less than what other more experienced translators do (or sometimes even for free), but don’t be discouraged, if you commit to it, over time you’ll garner enough experience and know-how to be able to charge the rates you want! Industry pros say one of the best ways to market yourself is to start your own website and get involved in online forums for translators. The job offers may not come pouring in right away, but give it some time, and keep polishing your language skills in the meantime!

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Picking and choosing is a translator’s friend.

Even if you get certified, create your own website, and perfect your language skills, it doesn’t mean that you can take any job that comes along. In the translating world you need to specialise in a certain area, or areas. If you have a science background, maybe translating medical papers is your area of expertise. If you’re an avid reader with a degree in Creative Writing, perhaps you’d like to give translating stories and novels a try. The point is, choose. And why? Because this is a whole new set of skills you’ll have to study and improve on throughout your entire career as a translator. If you spread yourself too thin trying to work in any and all fields, your work may come across as mediocre. If you narrow in on a specific type of translation that you’d be good at, you can focus and create better work!

What are some tips you have for practising and improving language skills (even native ones)? Share your thoughts below!


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