Translators are experts in communication and language who read, comprehend and convert written and spoken messages from one language to another. They provide translation services to tourists, businesses and expats. Learning more about what translators do and how to become one can help you determine if this is the right career path for you. In this article, we explain the primary responsibilities of translators and outline the steps to become a professional translator.
What does a translator do?
A translator is someone who assists with communication by converting written word from one language to another. They typically specialize in two languages—their native language and another chosen language—but may also specialize in a third or fourth language. A successful translator makes sure the message, ideas and facts remain accurate and the same throughout the process. Translators work in a variety of industries, including education, medicine, business and government. Common responsibilities of a translator include:
- Speaking, reading and writing fluently in two or more languages
- Translating written communications and content, such as books, articles and journals, from one language to another
- Doing research to understand context, cultural references and to use accurate jargon, slang or expressions that do not translate
- Maintaining the style and tone of the original language
- Building glossaries or terminology banks that they can use in future projects
- Managing time efficiently in order to meet project deadlines
The words translator and interpreter are often used interchangeably, but they perform different functions. A translator works only in written text, while an interpreter converts verbal messages. Many translators and interpreters offer the same services, however.
Average salary for a translator
Translators earn $20.06 per hour on average, though wages could range from $7.25 to $51 per hour. These averages are based on Indeed Salaries submitted anonymously from users, employees and job postings from the past 36 months. 446 salaries were submitted, and translators typically work with one employer for less than a year.
Most translators are self-employed and typically work from home, while others may work for agencies dedicated to providing translation services. Translators who are self-employed often have variable schedules, which may include periods of limited work and sometimes long, irregular hours. However, most translators tend to work full-time, regular hours. A translator's pay depends on a variety of factors, including language, specialty, skill level, experience and education.
How to become a translator
Typically, a bachelor's degree and at least three years of experience is required to become a translator. However, the most important requirement is to become fluent in at least two languages. Here are several steps you should take to become a professional translator:
- Become fluent in another language
- Get specialized training
- Become certified
- Target a specific industry and learn the terminology
- Gain work experience
1. Become fluent in another language
To become a translator, you must master a second language. You may have an advantage if you grew up in a bilingual household, though you can choose to study a language extensively through schooling. Starting in high school, choose a language to study and continue coursework throughout college. Earning a bachelor's degree in your chosen language is ideal to become a translator.
You should have a strong understanding of the languages you work with, including grammar structure, specialized terminology and cultural awareness. It can also help to study your own language to explain how it works and understand how non-native speakers may approach it.
2. Get specialized training
Even if you are fluent in a language, you'll still need to develop some translation skills. In addition to language study, being able to produce clear and accurate translations often requires specialized training. Many colleges and universities offer specialized programs that can help prepare you for a career in translation. The American Translators Association offers a list of these schools, programs and other helpful resources for pursuing this career path on their website.
3. Become certified
Translators are not required to obtain a certification to offer translation services, but obtaining a certification in translation demonstrates that you have the skills necessary to do the job and may help get you noticed by employers. The American Translators Association offers certification in 29 different language combinations that give you a special designation of Certified Translator, which you can use on your resume. It may also help to obtain certifications in a field you are interested in translating. For example, becoming a certified paralegal may help you get a job in the legal field as a translator.
4. Target a specific industry and learn the terminology
Once you become fluent in a language and have decided on a field you want to work in, you will need to familiarize yourself with industry-specific terminology. Having an understanding of the relevant terminology will be helpful when translating for the area you want to work in. For example, if you are interested in the medical field, you may want to study medical terminology in order to become a better translator.
5. Gain work experience
Like many other jobs, getting a job as a translator requires having related working experience. Offering contract or freelance translation services is one way to gain relevant experience for you to include in your resume. Another way to gain experience is by doing volunteer work. Many community organizations and hospitals offer volunteer opportunities for translators. Paid or unpaid internships are another option for gaining relevant work experience.
Related: Writing a Resume With No Experience
Frequently asked questions about being a translator
Here are some common questions related to becoming a translator:
1. What's the difference between a translator and an interpreter?
It is a common misconception that translators and interpreters are the same. While translation and interpreting are closely related, they are performed by different language experts. The main difference between translators and interpreters is what they translate. Interpreters usually work in real-time situations, translating verbal conversations, while translators interpret written communication.
2. What are some important skills for translators to have?
Successful translators must have strong reading and writing skills to be able to read, comprehend and write effectively in all of the languages they work with. Translating is more than just knowing words—it's having an understanding of the culture as well, so they must possess high levels of cultural awareness and sensitivity. They should also have general business and interpersonal skills to communicate and work with clients.
3. What languages are in high demand for translators?
The need for translation services continues to grow worldwide. Spanish is in high demand, especially in the United States, which borders one of the largest Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Mandarin is another language in demand, especially in international business. In addition to Spanish and Chinese, German is also in high demand due to the complexity of the language and the growing economy in Germany.