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Career profile: Translator

Find the right career finding the right words as a translator. Read on to find out more.

A what?

Translators change written material in one language so it makes sense in another.

On the job

Lots of materials need translating, such as novels and textbooks, technical manuals, and legal and political documents. Translators could also work transcribing recordings of speeches, or providing subtitles for foreign language films.

As well as an excellent understanding of languages, translating requires strong concentration and accuracy to make sure the right meaning is conveyed in the new translation. This means they’ll often need specialist knowledge of other areas like law or film, so they understand what they’re writing about. Translators will spend lots of time reading and writing on their own, but their spoken communication skills need to be as good as their written ones, since they’ll be working closely with clients to understand what they want and deliver things to tight deadlines.

Some big institutions like the United Nations, European Union and the Foreign Office have their own in-house translation departments. Other people who need documents translating might go to a translation agency; who will normally specialise in a certain area like business or education. These agencies might employ some translators full-time; but many will use freelancers for specific jobs. In-house translators will normally begin on around £20,000, but this can rise to £50,000 or more if they have a senior role in a large organisation. Freelance earnings will vary according to the amount of work coming in and the rates they set; which might be payment for numbers of hours worked, or for number of words translated.

What does the training involve?

Most translators will have a degree in at least one modern language, and many will have studied a postgraduate course in translation studies. People who want to go into translating in a specific industry could also consider doing a joint honours degree combining a modern language with a relevant subject – such as French and law or German and psychology for example – which will also help them get a job with some relevant experience before they move into translation. Translators can also join the Institute of Translating and Interpreting and the Chartered Institute of Linguists after a few years working professionally.

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