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Careers in Translation

Being a translator or interpreter has been rated one of the 50 Best Careers of 2011, and reports suggest that careers in the Translation Industry will continue to grow over the next decade.

Knowledge of a foreign language continues to be a huge selling point when it comes to finding a job in an increasingly global market. After finishing an undergraduate degree in languages many people choose to study for a Masters qualification in translation and/or interpreting.

A postgraduate qualification is considered a key step in the right direction towards becoming a translator or interpreter. Due to the international nature of many businesses, demand is high for candidates with a desire to work using their hard earned language skills. Recent language graduates, however, are often unsure which career path to take.

Starting out as a Translator

To become established in the industry it is necessary to have a suitable qualification and, perhaps more importantly, useful experience. All agencies/clients will choose a translator with years of experience over a newly qualified graduate. However, this is not to say that getting work as a graduate is impossible.

Many start off with voluntary work, translating for charities or institutions. This can be a great way to build up your CV and gain experience in different subject areas which will be beneficial in future. Some graduates find internships working in-house under supervision of an experienced translator.

Other Options

Working as a translator is not the only career option available to graduates – interpreting can be a lucrative and interesting job too. Interpreters are used in many areas of business and society, from foreign business meetings and court interpreting to speaking for a newly signed sports star from abroad.

Another option is project management. This role involves working with the translators to satisfy the clients’ requests and requires good organisation, negotiation skills and, at times, a lot of patience. Although project managers don’t do much actual translating the job does involve proofreading and knowledge of CAT tools is a huge advantage.

Professional Reality

As with many professions, bridging the gap between studying and working is not always easy. During a Master’s degree in translation the lecturer will correct mistakes and teach techniques which can be very useful when it comes to translating in the real world.

However, when you are paid to translate a text there is less room for error and the deadline must be met, not only to keep the client happy but to keep the demand for your service high. A poor translation could mean the end of a working relationship with a client or agency.

Therefore, knowledge of two languages is not necessarily enough to carry out a quality translation. Subject knowledge is essential as a translation does not simply replicate the text; it has to convey the subtle connotations of one language and its culture into another.

Translation agencies

Most freelance translators and interpreters are registered with one or more agencies. This provides a platform for employment and over time can develop into a solid and recurrent business relationship. There are a huge number of agencies – just typing “translation agency” into Google returns almost 90 million results.

Many agencies have their own translation technology systems that allow them to work efficiently. Translation and technology go together well, and many of the larger agencies end up with a technology division working on relevant softwares. It is therefore useful to keep up a good knowledge of technology and softwares.

Translations By Language 2010

Practical Tips for Newcomers to the Translation Industry

  • Keep your CV up to date & specific
    Translations agencies are busy places so if you want to be noticed amongst the list of other potential translators you should make it clear what your skills are. When a project manager is searching for a translator for a specific project your CV can make the difference between getting the job and being overlooked.
  • Learn to use CAT tools
    CAT tools such as Trados and Memoq not only save time but can keep projects consistent, and help you save your clients time and money.
  • Be prepared to be flexible
    Translation requests can often be urgent so flexibility will be greatly appreciated by project managers and clients.
  • Choose your rate carefully
    As a freelance translator you are able to choose your rates. It’s important to research the industry standard for your language combination and speciality, as this will directly affect the amount of work you are offered. But you don’t want to be too cheap either…
  • Gain experience
    Experience counts for a lot. Whether gained through an internship as a project manager, voluntary translation for a charity, or interpreting for a friend, it will be put to use in future jobs. Experience and knowledge in a specialist field is valuable and should not be underestimated.

Further advice for new translators can be found in this video.

Case Study

Stewart Lang is a Project Manager at TOPPAN Digital Language, a Professional Translation Agency in London.

Stewart Lang, Project ManagerAfter completing a BA in Spanish and European Studies, Stewart worked as an English teacher in Japan. This was partly due to his interest in traveling, but also because he wasn’t aware of the opportunities available to language students following graduation.

When Stewart felt it was time to return to the UK he decided to build on what he had learnt previously and enrolled on a Masters course in Translation and Linguistics.

For the first few months Stewart intended to start up as a freelance translator once the course was over.

“However, I began to weigh up the pros and cons of working freelance. Unless I could find a position as an in-house translator I would be working in isolation; I would have to be my own accountant; work might not be regular, especially during the early stages. On the other hand the flexibility appealed to me. I could take holidays when it suited me, earn as much money as was feasible within the hours of the day, live wherever I had an internet connection and a lap top and possibly even see my work published.”

Then a vacancy for a project manager internship came up and Stewart jumped at the chance. “The position meant that I would be using my language skills, interacting with other people and working in a growing global industry. An internship is a great way in as it gives hands on experience and direct contact with well-established translators. These people know the industry, the norms, the tricks and many of them have strong IT knowledge, which is increasingly necessary to carry out even simple, short translations.”

Technology vs Humans

Despite technological advances in automated translation, the outlook remains very positive for those wishing to pursue a career as a translator or interpreter. According to, this profession is one of the 50 best careers of 2011 and by 2018 employment in this field is expected to increase by 22%.

For many people looking to translate a text, the first port of call is Google Translate. While this does serve a purpose if you want to understand the gist, the reality is that Google’s translations are not very accurate when it comes to court documents, detailed medical reports and advertising copy, to list a few examples.

Despite the advances in technology, language remains very subjective and although Google and other tools may improve, they can never be completely trusted. This is where the human touch is an absolute necessity. Machine translations require checking, editing and in some cases re-translating.

However, Geoffrey Bowden, general secretary of the Association of Translation Companies (ATC), is not worried that machine translation will put jobs at risk. “It may be the translator becomes more of an editor. I think we’ve got a long, long way to go.” Source: BBC News

Right now machines do not have the capacity to accurately replicate all texts in another language so translators and interpreters who specialise in particular fields become experts on terminology and style. An experienced medical or legal translator can be highly sought after, especially in the less common language combinations.

Translation Memory

One area where technology is frequently used is translation memory. This is effectively a glossary of terms compiled over time which, when imported into a CAT tool along with a source text, will identify words and phrases which have already been translated and apply the correct target language equivalent. Although the TM does some of the work in future translations the real work is done by the translator who translates terminology for the first time.

The Internet and Localization

Top Ten Languages on the Internet in 2010

In fact, technology currently represents one of the largest opportunities to the Translator. Companies trying to get top spot on Google are creating lots of content and attempting to do multilingual SEO effectively means that online content is proliferating rapidly. In the internet is creating huge requirements for translation on a larger scale, and needed faster than ever before.

Add to this that the introduction of the iPhone has led to an explosion in the number of mobile devices used, and the production of associated apps.

Languages that iPhone and Android apps are translated into

Above: Languages that iPhone and Android apps are most commonly translated into

Much of the online content available is currently centred around the English language, but the global market is huge, and geographic barriers are bypassed because of the nature of the internet. This means that there are real opportunities for translation and localisation in this area.

Knowledge of how websites work, of digital text formats like HTML/XML/Java, and CAT tools is invaluable for working on this kind of translation. With a world population increasingly living part of their lives online, it could be suggested that the most important global language to speak for the next ten years won’t be Chinese, Spanish or even English….but HTML.

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