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Translation as a career
Translation as a career

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1.1 What is translating?

Have a look at this brief introduction to translation provided by the UK’s National Network for Translation.

What is translating?

The process of transferring written text from one language into another. Anything that is written can be translated: advertisements, books, games software, legal documents, websites, film subtitles etc. Translators work either in-house (as employee of an organisation) or freelance. Usually, translators work from one or more languages into their mother tongue.

What skills do I need?

Excellent skills in your own languages and at least one other language as well as knowledge of and interest in other cultures and interpersonal and problem solving skills. For translators, the ability to write well in your own language, thoroughness and research skills are essential.

What languages should I learn?

You can become a translator with any language combination but some combinations may be more sought-after than others. At the moment, German to English is a highly sought-after combination, so if you are an English native speaker, German is a good language to have in your portfolio. If you are just beginning your language studies, you should aim to learn two languages, one of which might be a non-Western-European language. In order to work for the European Union institutions you need either French or German and one other EU language. In order to work for the UN as a translator into English you need two of the other official languages of the UN – Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and/or Spanish.

How much can I earn?

Salaries vary greatly. Typical starting salaries for in-house translators or interpreters are between £18,000 and £26,000. These can go up to £50,000 and £60,000 with experience. The European Union institutions and United Nations are the best paying employers of senior translators and both institutions have a severe shortage of native English language speaking language translators and interpreters.

Translation specialisation and careers

There are numerous careers offered in the translation field. As mentioned above, you can be a freelance translator or you can work in-house, for instance at the United Nations or the European Commission. You can also become a Project Manager whose task is to coordinate multilingual translation projects (this is a common pathway into the profession). You would also probably specialise in one or more specific types of translation. Some of the more lucrative areas include legal, medical, technical or financial translation but there are many, many possible areas of specialisation. Translation for the legal and health services and by local authorities is known as ‘public service’ translation. Other prominent forms of translation include localisation, videogame translation, subtitling, dubbing and audio description. Many aspiring translators are attracted by the idea of literary translation of fiction, theatre or poetry. This is an area in which it is difficult to make a living full-time, but many translators combine it with the translation of other published material such as academic books, non-fiction or trade publications and with copywriting.

Now that you have an overview of what translating is, let’s consider what the skills and attributes to be a good translator are.