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Thinking of Becoming a Professional Translator? Here's Everything You Should Know!

Thinking of becoming a profesional translator

Would you consider yourself a bit of a bookworm?

Do you love multicultural environments?

Are you passionate about languages?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, a degree in translation might just be the path for you! Here are 8 things you should know if you are thinking of becoming a professional translator:

1. You need to know your languages – and you need to know them well

It is a common misconception that holding a language diploma or certificate means you are automatically capable of translating a text.

This can only get you so far.

Translation requires studying – both in your source language and your target language. You need to be an expert in grammar and punctuation rules, as well as cultural differences and contextual nuances. With this knowledge, you will be able to relay the meaning of one text into the other without making the translation sound awkward to a native speaker.

2. Translators usually work with two languages

Of course, it is wonderful if you speak Portuguese, French, Polish, and German. However, if you really want to be good at what you do, you should focus on translating between two languages (ideally those you know best – especially in terms of culture).

It could be most beneficial to master two languages, and learn others for fun. The more languages you know, the better you will be able to understand the origins and patterns of certain terms and expressions– and the more confidently you will be able to convey them in your translation.

3. There is a lot of competition

This is especially the case in common language pairs, such as English and Spanish. It is not unusual to have to compete against other translators.

Some people (because not all of them will be professional translators) will be willing to do the same job for less money, either due to personal circumstances, or because they are based in a country with a lower cost of living.

You will need to find your USP (unique selling point) and learn how to market yourself as a reliable and capable translator.

Which leads us on to the next point...

4. Finding a specialisation helps

There is some controversy surrounding this topic, but allow us to explain.

It is simply not possible to be an expert in all subject-matters. You cannot translate texts on astrophysics, family law, the culinary arts, oil refineries, and apiculture all with the same level of quality and expertise.

This is why it’s recommended to pick a niche or two. You don’t have to do it right away, and you probably won’t find it as soon as you start your degree.

That being said, try to think where your interests lie. Maybe your hobby is adventure sports, maybe you are into photography, or perhaps you love binge watching TV shows...

Every subject that you can think of is likely to need a translator.

Choose what you love, because you will be doing a lot of research on that area.

On the subject of research...

5. Be ready to read and learn about new topics

Translating a text requires a solid understanding of the subject. If you do not understand the original text, how can you expect to be able to convey the same meaning in another language?

You will spend countless hours researching terminology and subject areas.

Sometimes it will take you longer to translate a single word than ten paragraphs.

You may well be wondering, is it really worth the effort?

Well, keep in mind that scientia potentia est (and if you don’t know what that expression means, start using those research skills!)

6. You can go freelance or in-house... or both!

Once you are ready to jump into the world of translation, you should consider whether you would like to work for a translation agency or company in-house, or go your own way and become a freelance translator.

It is advisable to think very carefully about your personality, and the pros and cons of each option paired with what you yourself would enjoy.

Of course, you can always try both environments and see what works for you through experience.

If you really want to understand how the translation business works and what agencies expect from freelancers, it’s a good idea to work in-house at some point during your career.

If time and your contract allows, you can even work for an agency in-house, whilst carrying out small freelancing projects on the side.

Regardless of the path you choose...

7. Be prepared to sit in front of a computer all day

If you are a restless person or an extrovert, it may be better to consider becoming an interpreter instead of a translator.

As a translator, your computer becomes your best friend.

You will work long hours, typing away at your keyboard and looking at a screen.

If you work in an office, you will have co-workers with which to interact, but as a freelancer, it is mostly just you.

So, if you are someone who needs to constantly be moving or going places, you might want to take this into account before deciding to pursue a career in this kind of translation.

And lastly...

8. Don’t forget there is more to life than translation

We translators tend to become a little obsessed with our jobs, making it hard to switch off.

Sometimes we see translation errors in restaurant menus when we go out to eat.

Sometimes we notice that the subtitles for our favourite show are wrong.

Sometimes we cannot sleep as we lie there trying to get our heads around that word we need to translate.

But remember, life is more than translating!

It’s encouraged to find times of the day to switch off and focus on other activities. Go to the gym, join a dance academy, walk your dog, bake...

Finally, don’t forget to have fun – it will boost your creativity and improve your work.

Happy translating!

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