What is a Translator?

Translators convert information from one language to another. They translate the written word. (Those who translate the spoken word are known as interpreters.) Translators who are self-employed frequently have variable schedules.

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.

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What does a Translator do?

Translators typically do the following:

  • Convert concepts in the source language to equivalent concepts in the target language
  • Speak, read, and write fluently in at least two languages, including English and one or more others
  • Relay style and tone
  • Manage work schedules to meet deadlines
  • Render spoken ideas accurately, quickly, and clearly.

Translators aid communication by converting information from one language into another. The goal of a translator is to have people read the translation as if it were the original. To do that, the translator must be able to write sentences that flow as well as the original did while keeping the ideas and facts of the original accurate. They must consider any cultural references, including slang, and other expressions that do not translate literally.

Translators must read the original language fluently but may not need to speak it fluently. They usually translate only into their native language. Nearly all translation work is done on a computer, and translators receive and submit most assignments electronically. Translations often go through several revisions before becoming final. Translators services are needed in many different subject areas. Although these workers often do not specialize in any particular field or industry, many focus on one area of expertise.

What does it take to be a Translator?

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.

What is the workplace of a Translator like?

Translators typically work from home. They receive and submit their work electronically. They must sometimes deal with the pressure of deadlines and tight schedules. Because many translators are self-employed, their schedules often vary, with alternating periods of limited work and periods of long, irregular hours. Still, most work full time during regular business hours.

How much does a Translator earn?

The median annual wage of a translator was $43,300 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than the amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $22,950, and the top 10% earned more than $86,410.

Learn more about being a Translator