Translation is not simply just a case of being able to speak a foreign language fluently, you will also need the ability to write well and in a natural style in your mother tongue. You will also need a thorough knowledge of the culture, institutions and idiosyncrasies of the country for the language of the country you are translating into. In addition, you will need to have a specialist field so that you can translate with the appropriate terminology and structures associated with this field.
Staff or freelance?
Being a translator can be a rewarding and interesting job; the two main careers in translation are as a staff translator or as a freelance translator. Many large corporations in any industry sector may have their own internal translation department, and staff translators are employed to translate documents on a permanent basis. These jobs are not great in number as most businesses tend to outsource translations to reduce costs.
So, who do they outsource translations to? Either to freelance translators directly, or via a translation company. It is more likely they will work with a reputable translation agency that has a reputable track record. Most translation companies work with freelance translators rather than employ people in-house. They will contact the translators they have on their books matching the translation assignment with the languages and expertise of the translator.
Is it right for me?
Although it may sound glamorous working for multinational corporations, law firms or the media, in reality a career as a freelance translator can be very difficult, particularly when starting out. It will require a lot of patience, perseverance and hard work to eventually have enough steady work to pay the bills.
How do I start?
The best way to try and break into the translation market is to have a degree or qualification in translation. There are several universities in the UK and abroad that offer translation studies. The Chartered Institute of Linguists (www.iol.org.uk) also offer Diplomas in translation.
If you don’t have a qualification you will need to prove that you have the relevant experience as well as the necessary language skills. It is also helpful to be part of a recognised organisation such as the Institute of Translators and Interpreters (www.iti.org.uk) the IOL etc.
Often you may find that agencies will not work with translators who do not have 3-5 years’ experience. In order to gain experience you can try offering your translation services on a pro-bono basis for charities and suchlike. Websites like www.proz.com and www.translatorscafe.com can be good platforms to find work and to promote your skills.
Having two or more languages from which you can translate (particularly ‘rarer’ language combinations such as Chinese or Japanese to English) will set you apart from the crowd. One of the biggest challenges newcomers to the industry face is not having a specialisation, so if you are able to find your niche in the market and can demonstrate you are competent in this area you will be able to get your foot in the door.