What does a translator actually do?

Translators convert written material from one or more original ‘source’ language/s into a different ‘target’ language. The target language is usually the
translator’s native language. The translator must ensure that the original meaning is conveyed as accurately as possible. An excellent command of two or
more languages is generally required.

Translators are necessary to a variety of industries. Translation is required for an extensive range of documents and texts; from scientific to literary,
from legal to educational. The list is endless. Your current background could prove to be extremely useful. Most translators are freelancers, so networking
is essential. However, there are in-house opportunities at some organisations.

Typical activities

The translation process usually involves a combination of the following:

  • reading through material in the source language and rewriting it accurately into the target language
  • using appropriate reference materials to find correct terminology or the most accurate equivalent
  • researching sector specific vocabulary
  • proofreading and editing
  • liaising with clients to discuss queries
  • web research, where necessary
  • consulting with subject matter experts, as and when required
  • presentation and delivery
  • managing workload efficiently
  • quoting for services
  • providing subtitles for film and television
  • research and development of specialist knowledge in specialist areas
  • networking

Can anyone be a translator?

Ideally, interpreters should have qualifications in one of the following: Modern Languages, Translation Studies, Business with Languages, Science with
Languages, Law with Languages. You are required to be fluent in a least two or more languages. The need for translators in business has increased
significantly in recent years, therefore an MA or MSc in Translation Studies may increase your chances of employment.

Experience is preferred, however it is not essential. If you like to find work as a translator, you will need to provide evidence of:

  • fluency in two or more languages
  • localisation – an in-depth knowledge of the culture/s relating to the languages you will be translating
  • subject matter expertise
  • excellent grammar and writing skills
  • ability to work to deadlines, without a reduction in attention to detail
  • ability to work on own initiative
  • computer proficiency (proficiency with translations software would be useful)
  • willingness to conduct ongoing research

Your freelance employability will be greatly increased if you have specialist knowledge in the fields of finance, science, engineering, law etc. It’s good
to remember that it won’t all be exciting. Much agency work involves translating mundane documents. Also, you may have to supplement your income with other
forms of part-time work, as you establish yourself as a freelancer.

What about training & development?

Translation agencies and companies will sometimes offer training for staff, though this will differ organisation to organisation. There may be opportunity
to specialise in a particular area of translation or learn further languages.

Many professional bodies offer reputable training that will aid your professional development.

The following are highly reputable:

  • Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI)
  • Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL)
  • Association of Translation Companies (ATC)

Many translators start their career working as in-house translators, moving onto managerial roles and freelance work. Successful freelancers often have a
high command of several languages. If your language/s are rare or exotic you will need to build up a base of clients that require your specialist language.
It may be appropriate to charge a higher rate due to your specialism.

Some translators move into working in academia or set up their own translation companies. Once experienced and qualified, there are numerous possibilities
within the translation industry.