Translating and interpreting are the art and science of converting one language to another, usually into the native language
Translators work with written materials and interpreters deal with the spoken word. These roles require a high level of fluency and varied vocabulary to convey meaning precisely and capture the original intention for any kind of topic, whether technical, commercial or literary.
The majority of translators and interpreters now work on a freelance basis, since contracting work out is common in commercial enterprises and even public service.
Getting started will take persistence and you’ll need to network and market yourself, perhaps gaining experience as a volunteer.
Learning additional languages can boost your chances significantly, so research which are in demand for your chosen area of specialisation and ensure you’re up to speed on current issues.
Using professional bodies and becoming registered helps raise your profile and may offer further training and qualifications. Relevant professional bodies include:
Interpreters also have opportunities in public service settings, such as health, law and local government, with appropriately qualified staff represented by the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) whose 2,350 interpreters cover 101 languages between them (NRPSI, January 2012). Linguist Lounge also hosts a register for freelance Ministry of Justice opportunities.
Advantages of freelancing include the freedom to choose when and how much to work. You’d effectively be running your own business so must take responsibility for managing your accounts and professional development, finding work and negotiating pay. You may frequently work alone or with unfamiliar colleagues, which requires motivation, discipline and confidence.
You may wish to consider translating and interpreting as a combined career, and many freelancers do both. Bear in mind that they need different skill sets, and while translation can be done from anywhere with internet connection, interpreters need to be on site so travel is often required.
Translation skills are also required to create bilingual dictionaries, though there are few permanent opportunities for lexicographers. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) also draws upon a pool of specially trained freelance interpreters. Languages spoken by minority and immigrant communities in the UK are more in demand especially African and Asian languages and, more recently, Romanian and Bulgarian.
Although knowledge and ability are the essential prerequisites, further study is often a real asset for interpreting and translating. Some employers may also prefer candidates with professionally accredited postgraduate qualifications.
To gain entry to one of the many available postgraduate courses, you will need a sound knowledge of at least one other language. This does not necessarily mean you must have an undergraduate degree in languages, and indeed a background in an area such as law, engineering, medicine or science can improve your career prospects. Choose a course carefully, taking into account the content of the course and employer requirements.
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