The Job and What's Involved

A translator's job is to transfer written text from one language into another. Usually, they translate from one or more languages - known as the source language - into their mother tongue, known as the target language.

Translators may be required in any sector that has an international element.

For example, they may translate:

- Books
- Business reports
- Advertisements
- Legal documents
- Educational materials
- Games software
- Website content
- Film and DVD subtitles
- Instruction manuals

The job may involve:

  • Reading the original text.
  • Rewriting it in the new language, ensuring a precise match to the original meaning.
  • Researching any unusual or technical words or phrases.
  • 'Localising' content, to make it relevant to specific audiences.
  • Liaising with the client about any queries.
  • Proofreading and editing the final translated text.

The work can be demanding, involving intense concentration.

To produce the best result, translators need to have an in-depth knowledge of the specialist subject and its terminology, as well as the language.

Translators may do a lot of internet research as well as using dictionaries and other reference books. Some use specialist translation software.

The most commonly used languages are the major European ones. There is also increasing demand for translators skilled in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Japanese and Eastern European languages. There is also work for translators in the UK using Welsh or languages from countries such as Pakistan and India.

In-house translators are office based, and generally work office hours, However, most translators are self-employed and work freelance. They usually work at home. Their workload is likely to be irregular. Longer hours may be required to meet project deadlines.

Salaries for in-house translators start from around £18,000 a year. With experience, earnings may rise to £30,000 for general translators, and more for those with a specialism. Senior translators for major organisations can earn up to £60,000.

Most translators are freelance, and negotiate their own rates. Fees may range from £60 to £130 per 1,000 words translated, depending on the language and the subject. Those with specialist subject knowledge can command higher rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most translators are freelancers, finding work through translation companies or direct from clients. While the opportunities for work are growing, especially in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, there is competition for salaried jobs and for freelance projects.

It can take some time to build up business. Some work may come from recommendations, so it is useful to make contacts in the field. Some translators combine the job with other work, such as teaching or proofreading.

A work placement scheme, to help graduates gain experience, is operated via the Routes into Languages service.

Employers of full-time translators include:

  • International organisations, including the European Union (EU) institutions, the United Nations (UN) and NATO.
  • Some government departments.
  • Large multinational companies, including industry, banks and press agencies.
  • Translation agencies.

Vacancies are advertised in the national press and in the specialist publications, The Linguist and ITI Bulletin, as well as the websites of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and Chartered Institute of Linguists (IoL). There are also specialist recruitment agencies on the web.

Education and Training

There are no set qualifications, but most translators hold a degree. This may be in:

  • Modern language subjects, or languages combined with another subject.
  • A separate topic which could become a translation specialism, such as law, finance or engineering, and which could be followed by postgraduate training in translation.

It may be possible to enter the field as a junior in-house translator or project manager at a translation company.

Positions are limited and competition can be fierce.
It can be an advantage to be able to show first-hand experience of another language through having lived and worked abroad. Carrying out voluntary translation - for an international charity, for example - can show commitment and experience.

For a degree, entry requirements are normally five GCSE's (A*-C) plus at least two A levels, including languages, or equivalent qualifications. Internationally recognised qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate are also accepted.

Some employers have specific requirements. Staff translators for the EU or UN must pass written and oral entrance exams.
Many translation agencies, businesses and government bodies look for membership of a professional association, such as the ITI or IoL. This offers the employer reassurance that the translator has reached a quality standard and is bound by professional ethics.

People with very strong language skills and specialist expertise, such as law, healthcare, finance or engineering, may be able to make a career in translation without formal qualifications.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Translators who join companies in a junior role learn on the job, with their work checked by supervisors.

Many universities offer Masters degrees in translation. There are full-time and part-time study options. A course that includes work placements may better equip students for working life.

The IoL offers a range of qualifications, including a Diploma in Translation. This is a postgraduate-level qualification recognised internationally.

Translators who can prove suitable work experience and pass an assessment or exam can join professional associations such as the IoL and ITI. These offer training, development and networking with colleagues.

The European Commission offers training schemes including a translation traineeship with the Directorate General for Translation (DGT), which last three to five months, to enable young graduates to gain experience of working in an EU institution (

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Translators must be:

  • Clear, fluent writers in their own language.
  • Highly skilled in at least one other language.
  • Well-versed in the culture of countries where their specialist languages are spoken.
  • Scrupulously accurate and thorough.
  • Adept at research.
  • Persistent, to find the precise term or phrase.
  • Able to supply finished work to deadlines.
  • Comfortable working with IT.
  • Equipped with marketing and business skills, if working freelance.

Your Long Term Prospects

For freelance translators, progression depends on building experience, reputation and contacts.
Experienced translators can apply for chartered linguist status.

Many translation companies are small. Advancement for in-house translators may require a change of job.

There may be opportunities to become a translation project manager. There are also opportunities to work overseas with international organisations and companies.

Get Further Information

Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI),
Fortuna House, South Fifth Street,
Milton Keynes MK9 2EU
Tel: 01908 325250

Routes into Languages,
University of Southampton,
Avenue Campus, Highfield,
Southampton SO17 1BJ
Tel: 023 8059 9413

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