Language students: is translation the career for you?

There's more to translation than just being fluent in another language. Read our quick guide before deciding to take the plunge.

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Final year languages students - especially those keen to utilise hard-won language skills in their future place of work - often face a limited number of career options. Some may be fortunate enough to find posts in the international division or export department of a large organisation; others may continue using their languages daily, simply because they're working abroad, though in an entirely unrelated field.

A talented few may well join the elite band of conference interpreters where high levels of stress in the booth are often compensated by commensurately high salaries. However, the above exceptions notwithstanding, most language graduates will generally find themselves with two main choices: teaching or translation.

"Translation is not simply "glorified typing in a foreign language"; nor can it be carried out successfully by a friend or colleague who happens to have a German grandmother."

Contrary to common misconceptions, translation is not simply "glorified typing in a foreign language"; nor can it be carried out successfully by a friend who happens to have a German grandmother or a Brazilian husband. The truth is that even if you have a first class degree in Russian or ten years' experience working for an engineering company in Moscow, neither of these in itself is enough to guarantee that you'll make even a good translator.

If you happen to possess both the aforementioned attributes, you might (only might) be getting nearer the mark - but only on condition that you can also bring to the table outstanding writing abilities in your native tongue.

Professional translation requires a unique combination of skills: skills which have to be acquired over a long period of time, through in-depth study and/or experience. As we've already mentioned, foreign language fluency is just one of the skills required to pursue a career as a professional translator. Others include:

  • knowledge of the culture and institutions of the country where your target language is spoken;
  • first-rate writing skills in your own native language;
  • understanding of the linguistic structures and devices used in both source and target languages;
  • in-depth knowledge of one or more specialist subjects e.g. law, engineering, medicine, finance or copywriting.

 

We recommend finding out more from your country's official institute for the profession. In the UK this is the ITI.

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