Translator career path

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Contents

Overview

There are several reasons why someone would decide to become a translator or an interpreter. The most common of these might be:

  1. the joy of speaking and learning languages and the skills to do it properly.
  2. the knowledge of more than one language that some people acquire by spending time in more than one country with different speaking languages - or in one with two or more speaking languages -, or else by having been raised by parents with different native languages; and
  3. the knowledge of more than one language combined with an economic need.
  4. researching and learning new things in a daily basis.

Sufficient competence can also be gained from studying and reading - translation is, after all, essentially concerned with the written word. Several universities offer appropriate translation courses and degrees on translation and related linguistic fields.

Many people also have studied a second (or third) language since childhood and might become almost bilingual.

In any case, deciding upon translation as a profession is not an easy step. It is of utmost importance to master the blend of skills and craft required to be a professional translator.

Deciding upon translation as a profession

Though having knowledge of two or more languages may be enough reason to decide upon translation as a profession, this decision must be made carefully. There is more to translation than just knowing more than one language and being able to communicate the meaning of a source-language text through an equivalent target-language text. In other words, there is more to translation than meets the eye.

Fidelity, transparency, faithfulness, equivalence, and accuracy are concepts that have been associated with the art of translation since long ago and a full understanding of translation will imply a knowledge of these concepts.

A good knowledge of one's own native language and its nuances (formal and informal speaking & writing, grammar, synonyms, etc.) is of utmost importance.

Read more about the step of deciding upon translation as a profession

Translation education

Most translators begin their journey by taking a translation course. There are numerous educational institutions that offer these courses and, though studying translation is not an exclusive requirement, acquiring translation knowledge may favor professional development in the long run.

Many professionals venture into translation after gaining post-secondary academic qualifications in the arts or sciences, including language studies.

Other translators, on the other hand, may take practice and voluntary translation work as their school. Translating specialized content found on the web or elsewhere, or offering translation services for free, may be other strategies for acquiring not only translation skills but also experience.

Read more about acquiring translation knowledge.

Specializing

While some translators acquire specialist knowledge after their linguistic training, others only move into translation after working in a specialist field.

In the translation market there are as many fields as translators would like to specialize in. Picking one or two fields of specialization should not be a difficult task then.

For translators looking for jobs online, it is particularly important to market themselves as specialists. Why? Because online competition can be steep. Becoming a specialist helps translators to stand out from the crowd, provided specialization is effectively and efficiently advertised.

Some of the larger specialties are legal, medical, technical, marketing, and business. Inside each of these specialties there are sub-specialties. A medical translator could specialize in veterinary or dental while a marketing translator could specialize in tourism. This is particularly true of technical translation where a translator who specializes in aeronautics may not be up to date on woodworking terminology. Nonetheless, even a highly specialized translator will need to have a broad base of knowledge. A legal document involving an agreement between IT companies can require understanding of terms involving the development and sale of software. A medical document could involve legal disclaimers.

Read more about specializing.

Acquiring translation-related tools knowledge

There are several tools a professional translator cannot do without. Making sure these tools are readily available to them and learning how to use them when the time comes are two things translators must do before offering their services.

Computer skills is a must. Mastering of word processors (doc, pdf, xls files) is really required nowadays.

For some translators, CAT tools and translation software are probably translators' best friends. They consider that these tools help professional translators save time and that most clients require the use of specific tools for their projects. This is not a requirement though. Many experienced and successful translators wouldn't use CAT tools. They consider CAT tools might be useful for mechanics/engineering manuals and related materials where repetition of whole sentences is very common. But these tools may not be useful in creative translation, where the same word or term may have a different meaning according to the context. Or when for the native ear a synonym might be required to give the proper nuance instead of the same word/term over and over again.

Read more about computer tools for translators.

Positioning

Before even trying to meet new clients, translators must define the services they will offer. These services may include translation, editing, proofreading, interpreting, website localization, software localization, voiceover or dubbing, subtitling or transcription, among others.

Together with services, translators must also choose the fields in which they will offer these services. It is important to be aware that translation is not the only service a language professional may offer and that it is possible for a professional translator to offer different services in different fields.

Once services and fields have been defined, translators must set rates, including surcharges, discounts and minimum charges. Rates will depend on the translator's desired income, productivity, the amount of vacation taken and other factors.

Finally, other terms and conditions such as the productivity level reached and tax practices that will be adopted must also be nailed out.

Read more about defining your translation or language services.

Networking

Networking should not be confused with only searching for and meeting clients. Networking can also imply meeting other fellow translators that may eventually be in need of colleagues to work on bigger projects.

Establishing relationships with potential clients and other translators will always prove to be mutually beneficial. Networking gives translators the chance to exchange experiences, ideas, and support, not to mention that it is also another source of jobs.

Read more about networking.

Promoting translation services

Professional marketing may take different shapes and use different resources. And, when done right, promotion can be a very effective strategy to attract potential clients.

Translators can --and should-- take advantage of the many online resources available nowadays to market themselves. Social networks, translators portals, website hosting services, e-mail, live chat, etc. are tools a translator must know and use on a daily basis if they want to reach a bigger market.

Meeting clients

Meeting and finding new clients is not as easy as it may sound. A translator must never wait for a potential client to knock on their door with an urgent project in one hand and a project order in the other. Professional translators will first make sure their services are known and give potential clients an easy way to find them.

Sometimes, building a strong resume or creating an account in a translators website is not enough and other strategies such as creating an attractive and easy-to-find website or becoming an active member of well-known translators organizations may also need to be implemented. Participating actively in online translators communities, blogs, forums can lead to working relationships as well.

Acquiring translation market knowledge

Even before doing business, translators must be aware of the different aspects of the translation industry. Here is where translators learn about professional guidelines and translation market terms and conditions.

Local and online markets can be very different and translators must be well aware of what is going on in each of them to be able to adjust their own terms and conditions. Rates, tax practices and even services may vary from country to country. Hence, translators should have a business plan that is easy to adjust and that works in a market that may take different forms.

Acquiring experience

Each and every project taken on should represent for the translator an opportunity to gain experience on a given field or service. When starting as a translator, saying "no" to a project means denying the possibility of learning more about something. This does not mean, of course, that translators must take on projects they know they cannot handle but that the fear of a field one is not very familiar with should have no room in translation.

Any project, no matter how short or tiny it is, represents an opportunity to acquire knowledge of a field and of other translation business practices. There is always a client behind a project and it is this client the one that gives translators the chance to gain experience.

Expanding list of clients

All professional translators wishing to keep regular clients while meeting new ones should expand in each and every field mentioned above. Training, being up-to-date with translation software, networking, promotion, re-adjusting to translation market changes and gaining more experience should not only help translators maintain a good position in the market but also give them the chance to keep moving forward.

There is no such thing as enough experience or enough knowledge in the translation business. Translators must try to keep on top of new developments in the translation industry and make sure they offer what today's clients need.

"Getting started in translation" video

Watch this short video describing the process of becoming a professional translator and the tools and opportunities available at ProZ.com to pursue translation as a career.

Discussion related to this article

Please note that ProZ.com forum rules apply to this area.


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User
Translator career path

Well Translated
United States
Local time: 08:56
English to Spanish
+ ...
Schooling vs. Entrepreneurial SpiritJan 20, 2011

In regards to education, I believe far more emphasis should be placed on two separate and distinct areas: linguistic competency and business savviness. Success will come to those that employ strategic thinking and unwavering focus...more so than any type of language degrees...and these two can be acquired outside of a classroom setting.

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Lucia Leszinsky
SITE STAFF
Thanks for your contribution, Well!Jan 20, 2011

Now, feel free to add your comments to the article by clicking on "[edit]" to the right of the "Translation education" section. I am sure colleagues will be more than interested in developing your idea further.

And, please, do not hesitate to let me know if you need any help.

Kind regards,

Lucía


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Elisabeth Moser Identity Verified
Local time: 10:56
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
too simplistic -- it requires a lot more substanceJan 26, 2011

I am missing the issue of responsibility and ethics. Have you ever thought of the consequences a wrong translation or using wrong terminology may have in a legal or medical setting - to name just a couple? Alone the knowledge of two or more languages is by far not enough. First of all, one should ask at what level do I understand and am I able to reproduce the "other" language. Is it the type of text that can be translated strictly by meaning or does it require me to adhere to some higher standards and requirements. Can I define the term in the source language and the target language? Do I understand the concept and text before me? Do I know for what audience I am writing, the language variant asked of me? And yes, a higher education becomes very relevant and important, if you wish to communicate on any level beyond a high school education.

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larserik Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 16:56
Member (2006)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Computer skills, tooJan 26, 2011

The translator will need quite a lot of computer skills, too. CAT tools can be tricky, both when installing and when working with them. And there's a bunch of other programs that the translator needs. If every little problem means a production stop, and waiting for an expert to arrive, the client won't have a translation before deadline.

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William Tierney Identity Verified
Local time: 10:56
Member (2002)
Arabic to English
Define ClientJan 26, 2011

This piece doesn't specify the nature of the client, but should if you want to talk of a career progression. I am at the point where it is time to leave (most) translation agencies behind and go to direct clients, especially given the recent trend in oppressive contract terms pushed down vendors' throats. I believe it would be very healthy for the translation industry if agencies realized that if they treat their freelancers like serfs, the freelancers will cut them out of the deal.

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Jared Tabor
Local time: 11:56
SITE STAFF
Thanks for the feedback, can you add to the article?Jan 26, 2011

Hello all,

Thanks for the posts on this article! Feel free to add any relevant information to the article itself, by clicking on the "Edit" link above the article or above the section to which you wish to add. Adding to the article will make this a stronger resource for everyone.

Best regards,

Jared


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Irene Schlotter, Dipl.-Übers.
Local time: 16:56
English to German
+ ...
Incomplete, generic information Jan 26, 2011

Hello all,
I do not feel that this article provides even a half-decent image of our profession. In 'Overview' and 'Deciding upon translation as a profession' there is no mention whatsoever of talent, of joy in playing with language, of good mastership of the mothertongue - all of which are fundamental requirements to becoming a translator. Furthermore there is no hint as to professional training. A good part of all translators and interpreters have a university degree in applied linguistics, translation studies, etc. - and have acquired additional qualifications that most self-taught translators and interpreters tend not to have. I do not feel that this article represents my profession adequately. Instead, it sounds as if someone with a moderate knowledge of another language (i. e. after a year abroad) could decide to become a translator tomorrow without problem - and maybe even be good at it. That, however, is a common misconception in the 'outside world' and this wiki article does absolutely nothing to correct it. I personally do not feel that the information on my profession are well elaborated. It is yet another example for how not to do things - even less if full membership is not free.


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Jared Tabor
Local time: 11:56
SITE STAFF
Thanks Irene, can you add to the article?Jan 26, 2011

Hello Irene,

Thanks for the post. Can you add some of the considerations you mention to the article? That's the way the wiki format works, and the ProZ.com Wiki is a collaborative effort, so it is up to everyone to help build a professional, helpful resource for translators.

Best regards,

Jared


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JOHN PENNEY Identity Verified
Local time: 11:56
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Know your own language first Jan 26, 2011

A thorough knowledge of one´s own language is a top priority for translators.Pick up any "in-flight" magazine which purports to "translate" articles from e.g Portuguese/Spanish to English, and you will see what I mean. The words are all there, the information is generally correct ....but most of these translations are artificial and contaminated by the original language, conveying none of the tone, subtlety or feeling of real English. The translators of these boring texts need to stand back and think "How would so and so be expressed in a similar English-only publication"? The same surely applies to other target languages, whatever the source material.

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Thomas Johansson Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 09:56
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
just a few commentsJan 27, 2011

"Most translators begin their journey by taking a translation course."
>> Sounds false to me. I think only a (possibly large) minority does this. I never did at least.

"CAT tools and translation software... It is a fact that... most clients require the use of specific tools for their projects."
>> Is this really a "fact"? I am not sure. Usually, I think clients are fine with getting the translation in a Word file, and usually they do not require any _specific_ CAT tools (and often, perhaps mostly, no CAT tools at all).

"Even before doing business, translators must be aware of the different aspects of the translation industry."
>> I don't agree. You can learn as you go along; you don't "have to" know "before" doing business (or, say, engaging in your first paid translation job).

Overall, I am confused by the article's purpose. It sounds like a (probably very useful) set of advice for persons considering taking up translation as a profession. Proz.com's newsletter, however, describes it thus: "outlines the different steps and stages in a professional translator's career, beginning from the decision to get involved in translation" - from which I got the impression it would be more _descriptive_ in nature and expected to see a list of different "stages".

[Edited at 2011-01-27 00:35 GMT]


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Ivan Kinsman Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 16:56
English to Polish
+ ...
CAT ToolsJan 27, 2011

Yes, I agree with Thomas Johansson on the use of CAT tools. I don't think it is necessary to use these to do a good translation. My wife normally translates and I type which makes our translation speed just as quick as using SDL Trados, for example. We are also able to use our intelligence to use standardarized phrases in a translation text if these are repreated throughout the text.
I was also wanting to see more from this article on the progressive states in a translator's career path e.g. what courses are available to translators, what professional qualifications are recognised/available etc.


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Patricia Lane Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:56
French to English
+ ...
Oh YAWN!Jan 27, 2011

Sorry folks, perhaps the flu is making me cranky, but this blurb is uniquely skilled at discouraging most from wishing to become a professional translator and at giving clients a rather soporific and un-strategic view of our role in their businesses' success.

After reading the Overview, my eyes glazed over (and not from fever) and just scanned the rest of the article (whose title seems inappropriate - this is not about a translator's career path, this barely makes it as Translation 101).

Gee, are these really the two main reasons one would decide to become a translator?

" 1. the knowledge of more than one language that some people acquire by spending time in more than one country with different speaking languages --or in one with two or more speaking languages--, or else by having been raised by parents with different native languages; and
2. the knowledge of more than one language combined with an economic need. "

Scary. Depressing. Off the mark. Insufficient. Passionless.

However, describing rather well the reasons why individuals become "wannabee translators" > hey, I speak more than one language and can make some pocket money, neat! And that sums up nicely the number One problem in the profession today.

To be fair, the section does conclude with "It is of utmost importance to master the blend of skills and craft required to be a professional translator", but about those, I see preciously little in the rest of the article.

And so on and so forth. This wiki page contributes nothing, and may even be damaging.

And, no, Jared, I do not wish to contribute my time and experience to write a thoughtful, compelling, and info-packed piece pro bono for what we should not forget is first and foremost a for-profit corporation.


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Herbert Eppel Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:56
Member (2006)
German to English
+ ...
Unconventional route into translation Jan 27, 2011

See http://hetranslations.blogspot.com/2007/10/unconventional-route-into-translation.html

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Inge Luus Identity Verified
South Africa
Local time: 16:56
Member (2008)
German to English
+ ...
Boring - but there is light at the end of the tunnelJan 27, 2011

I have to agree with Thomas and Patricia. I don't see where the article lives up to to its title at all. After reading it I felt quite depressed about the translation profession for the reasons Patricia mentions. I was therefore truly pleased to read Herbert's article, which has pulled me out of the momentary depression and is spurring me on to continue with my studies. Thank you Herbert for an article written to keep my interest for the entire length of the article and beyond!

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Roland Nienerza Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:56
English to German
+ ...
@ IreneJan 27, 2011


Irene Schlotter, Dipl.-Übers. wrote:
I do not feel that this article provides even a half-decent image of our profession. In 'Overview' and 'Deciding upon translation as a profession' there is no mention whatsoever of talent, of joy in playing with language, of good mastership of the mothertongue - all of which are fundamental requirements to becoming a translator.


I agree that the importance of native language competence - ultimately the crucial qualification for a translator - has not been stressed sufficiently. But "talent" and "joy in playing with words" do not have to be mentioned in an article like this. They will be present in most translators. But they are not a prerequisite. Yes, even talent is not a prerequisite. Because no one can detect an measure it. Competence is the word. And that can be measured.


Furthermore there is no hint as to professional training. A good part of all translators and interpreters have a university degree in applied linguistics, translation studies, etc. - and have acquired additional qualifications that most self-taught translators and interpreters tend not to have.


Of course there is a "hint to professional training". The Section 3 of the article is dedicated to it. And that Section says in two paragraphs almost everything that has to be said to this subject, i.e. that some translators have - now, for the last 60 years, after millenia of translation without - an academic translation training, while others - still - have not.

What Section 3 and even you, though possibly for different reasons, do not mention is that there are people nowadays with a Translation Diploma that fail - sometimes lamentably - in native language competence. Limited vocabulary, stiff and awkward wording, primitive syntactical structures, splitting up of sentence into tiny SPO [subject-predicate-object] mini-chips, at best construed as capsule relative clauses, etc. I have come across a colleague that had just got the German Translation Diploma and had either forgotten or never known, that the Genitive of an absolute core vocabulary word like Herz (heart) is Herzens, and not, as she believed, Herzes.

It is certainly a bit too satirical - or more - but one might also say that a person with a Translation Diploma is a person that had to take a university course in order to learn to translate. - While others had learned to translate with their first foreign language lessons in grade 5, or even before, and had been good in it from the first moment on, because of, wait for it, talent.

I do not feel that this article represents my profession adequately. Instead, it sounds as if someone with a moderate knowledge of another language (i. e. after a year abroad) could decide to become a translator tomorrow without problem - and maybe even be good at it.


It says that he or she could decide to become a translator. It does not say "without problem". On the contrary, Section 2 gives a nice description of what translation is, beyond "a moderate knowledge of another language".

Quote of this entire Section 2 of the article -
Though having knowledge of two or more languages may be enough reason to decide upon translation as a profession, this decision must be made carefully. There is more to translation than just knowing more than one language and being able to communicate the meaning of a source-language text through an equivalent target-language text. In other words, there is more to translation than meets the eye.

Fidelity, transparency, faithfulness, equivalence are concepts that have been associated with the art of translation since long ago and a full understanding of translation will imply a knowledge of these concepts.


I could not have said it better!icon_smile.gif

That, however, is a common misconception in the 'outside world' and this wiki article does absolutely nothing to correct it. I personally do not feel that the information on my profession are well elaborated. It is yet another example for how not to do things - even less if full membership is not free.

Tja!- As they say in German. [For those who do not know the lingo. - Tja is an ironic modulation of ja/yes, meaning occasionally "well said or done", but mostly "this is so weird that no comment can or need be given".

[Edited at 2011-01-29 22:48 GMT]


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