How to become a professional translator

How to Become a Professional Translator

Given the lack of talented linguists in the UK and the widening language skills gap that has been created by Brexit, now is a great time to become a translator. With a dearth of bilingual speakers to choose from, businesses, public sector organisations and not for profits will increasingly have to rely on translators to get their messages heard in different countries and cultures.

What that high level of demand brings is a great rate of pay and plenty of work, which, if you’re good at what you do, should translate into a secure, lucrative and fulfilling career. So, how do you become a professional translator? Here’s our five-part guide.

Five steps to becoming a professional translator

1. Choose your source language very carefully

To produce the highest quality translations, professional translators are usually native speakers of the target language (that’s the language they translate into). So, you’ll need to choose what your source language (the language you translate from) will be and study it to a very high level. This may be a decision that has already been made for you; for example, if you already speak or understand a second language. However, if you still have options, then you must give it some serious thought.

There’s an argument that you should choose a popular language pairing, such as English to French or English to German, as that should guarantee plenty of work. However, there’ll also be a lot of competition for that work. If you’re interested in international or diplomatic work, it’s also worth considering the languages of the United Nations, which are English, Chinese, French, Russian, Arabic and Spanish.

2. Get qualified

Once you know what source language you want to study, you then need to master it. You’ll usually need a degree or a postgraduate qualification in translation. Relevant qualifications include the folllowing:

  • Language degrees that specialise in linguistics or translation
  • Combined degrees that mix subjects like science or law with a language
  • A postgraduate qualification, such as a masters in translation studies

But that’s not the only route into translation. You can also take a diploma offered by the Chartered Institute of Linguists or consider some of the other training courses offered by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

3. Get accredited

There is absolutely no requirement to be accredited by a professional organisation to work as a translator. However, a professional accreditation will look good on your CV or website and give prospective clients the confidence that you’re good at what you do. In the UK, associations such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) are worth considering. But don’t hand over any money without doing your research first. Membership fees can be pricey, so find out what you get for your investment and read the experiences and opinions of other professional translators first.

4. Target a specific industry 

Merely being a qualified translator and fluent in the source language will not provide you with the level of linguistic knowledge that you need to work in many industries. With so much industry-specific terminology in sectors such as healthcare, legal, education and the public sector, it’s important to specialise.

You can do that by looking for courses or learning resources that will help you to familiarise yourself with the terms used in specific industries. There are also many books out there, such as Spanish for Healthcare Professionals, that will help to get your language skills up to speed.

5. Build your experience

Now you have the skills to operate as a professional translator, it’s time to start building your experience. Familiarising yourself with the common computer programmes used by translators is a good place to start. Memsource, memoQ, Wordfast and SDL Trados Studio are often used by professional translators, so it’s well worth checking them out.

You also need to start getting some paid work. Most translators tend to work on a contract or freelance basis, so getting a few projects under your belt to build your CV and work experience is a must. Your first few projects may not pay as well as you’d like, but better pay will come with more experience. Building a basic website, blog or portfolio of your work is an effective way to market yourself as a freelancer. You can also use platforms such as Freelancer and Upwork to find work. Just create a profile and start bidding on jobs.

Become a part of the Linguistica team

At Linguistica Translation and Recruitment, we’re always on the lookout for talented translators and particularly those who work in some of the less common language pairs. Email or call 02392 987 765 to discuss how you can become part of our team.