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A translator is someone who converts the written word from one language to another. An interpreter on the other hand, is someone who translates orally or through sign language interpretation. 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.
Translators typically do the following:
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, while keeping ideas and facts from the original source 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. Translating 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.
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.
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 bilingually to succeed in these jobs, though many grow 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 include 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 employment, 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.
A good way for translators to learn first-hand 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 co-worker or an acquaintance who has experience as a translator.
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.
For translators to best achieve their task, they ought to have some particular qualities.
Sarah Lindholm talks a little bit about the skills needed and how to go about getting them.
A Q&A with translator Mark Heaney.
A detailed account of a day's work for a translator and interpreter.