Although translators typically need a bachelor’s degree, the most important requirement is that they be fluent in English and at least one other language. Many complete job-specific training programs. It is not necessary for translators to have been raised in two languages to succeed in these jobs, but many grew up communicating in both languages in which they work.
High school students interested in becoming a translator should take a broad range of courses that includes English writing and comprehension, foreign languages, and computer proficiency. Other helpful pursuits for prospective foreign-language translators include spending time abroad, engaging in direct contact with foreign cultures, and reading extensively on a variety of subjects in English and at least one other language.
Beyond high school, people interested in becoming a translator have many educational options. Although a bachelor's degree is often required for jobs, majoring in a language is not always necessary. An educational background in a particular field of study can provide a natural area of subject-matter expertise.
However, translators generally need specialized training on how to do the work. Formal programs in translating are available at colleges and universities nationwide and through non-university training programs, conferences, and courses.
After translators have enough experience, they may move up to more difficult or prestigious assignments, seek certification, get editorial responsibility, or manage or start their own business. Many self-employed translators start a business by establishing themselves in their field. They may submit resumes and samples to many different translation and interpreting agencies and work for agencies that match their skills with a job. Many then get work based on their reputation or through referrals from existing clients. Work experience is essential. In fact, some agencies hire only translators who have related work experience. A good way for translators to learn firsthand about the occupation is to start working in-house for a translation company. Doing informal or volunteer work is an excellent way for people seeking to get interpreter or translator jobs to get experience.
Paid or unpaid internships are other ways that translators can get experience. Whatever path of entry they pursue, new translators should develop relationships with mentors to build their skills, confidence, and professional network. Mentoring may be formal, such as that through a professional association, or informal, such as with a coworker or an acquaintance who has experience as a translator.