Translators convert written material from one or more 'source languages' into the 'target language', ensuring that the translated version conveys the meaning of the original as clearly as possible. The target language is usually the translator’s mother tongue.
Translators usually need an excellent command of two or more languages. The languages most in demand are the official languages of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) .
Translators work on:
Most translators work freelance from home, either for translation agencies or directly for clients, although some organisations employ in-house translators.
The translation process usually involves a combination of the following:
Although this area of work is open to all graduates with fluency in two or more languages, a degree in the following subjects may increase your chances:
For staff translator posts in European Union (EU) institutions, a degree is essential, as is a thorough knowledge of at least two European languages in addition to your mother tongue. All three languages must be official languages of the EU.
The need for qualified and skilled translators has grown recently due to the increasingly important role scientific and technical communication plays in commerce and industry. As a result, a postgraduate degree, for example an MA or MSc in Translation or Translation Studies, can considerably increase your chances of employment, especially with international organisations. For details of courses, search courses and research and see the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) .
Although pre-entry experience is not essential, work experience in a technical, legal or administrative setting is helpful.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
The European Commission Traineeships Office (Bureau de Stages) advertises a range of in-service traineeships known as 'stages'. This is a popular entry point for graduates wanting to work for the EU. The trainees, recruited as ‘stagiaires’, are offered up to five months' training. Stages are usually only available through 'open competition' by sitting the EU recruitment exams and are not necessarily followed by an offer of immediate or permanent employment. The stagiaire scheme does, however, provide a valuable opportunity to learn something of the organisation and work of the EU institutions, as well as giving a first taste of translation in an international environment.
You will stand a good chance of gaining freelance work if you have specialist knowledge in the fields of finance, science, engineering, law or other sought-after areas. Try writing speculatively to translation companies, bureaux and agencies to find out about opportunities. When contacting an agency, tell them the languages you know, the subject/s in which you have expertise and how you gained that knowledge, the equipment and software available to you, plus your personal rates.
Be aware that much agency work involves translating quite uninspiring documents, such as bills of lading and product user instructions. Be prepared for the fact that, as a beginner, you are unlikely to secure enough work to support yourself by freelance translation alone. You will probably have to do other part-time work at the same time.
For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.
Translation agencies and companies can vary in terms of what support is available for staff. The opportunity to specialise in one area of translation and become legal, technical or literary translators may be offered. Occasionally, there are also opportunities to train in more foreign languages.
The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) offers short courses and workshops aimed at developing the business, linguistic and technological skills of translators. Many translators become members of the ITI. There are several levels of membership but becoming a qualified member is a mark of professional recognition. For this level of membership, you would typically need:
Membership of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) may also be helpful and can provide professional recognition as well as the opportunity to network at events, courses, seminars and conferences.
Experienced translators may choose to work towards the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans), which is equivalent to a postgraduate-level qualification and can be taken over five years. See the CIOL website for course and examination details.
Many translators start their career working as in-house translators for a translation agency or company and may then move to more managerial in-house roles or to freelance work. Translation agencies and companies offer varying prospects for promotion. Those with Association of Translation Companies (ATC) membership have a good reputation for support in career development.
Translators who are employed by international bodies, such as the institutions of the European Union (EU) , stand a good chance of being promoted. Government departments and EU institutions have a clear career grading system and the further you progress, the more managerial work you take on.
If you work freelance, career development often depends on how many commonly used modern languages you know, the number and type of clients you work for and the rates of pay you are able to command. If your expertise is in a less commonly used language, you will develop a specialist client base through networking and will be able to charge higher rates than translators working in the more common languages.
Some freelance translators set up their own translation agency after several years' experience and often include interpreting services as part of their business, drawing on the services of translators and interpreters to meet client needs.
A limited number of translators who complete a postgraduate degree in translation studies work in academia and teach translation skills and theory.
The number of translation agencies and companies is increasing, but the majority of translators are self-employed, securing work through agencies, by advertising their services directly to clients or by networking.
There are limited opportunities to work in international organisations as they are increasingly out-sourcing translation to agencies and freelancers. The United Nations (UN) and its specialised agencies employ British translators, based mostly in New York and Geneva. They translate into English from French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic (the six official languages) and, occasionally, from Italian, German and Scandinavian and Eastern European languages.
The institutions of the European Union (EU) , including the European Commission , recruit their translation staff through 'open competition' only. The need for translators is rapidly growing, especially as more countries join the EU. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of translators of less common languages employed by government departments and large commercial organisations.
There are occasional openings for translators in other international organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) .
The Civil Service also recruit translators. Success depends on the languages you can offer, your qualifications and experience, and time spent overseas. Civil Service departments such as Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Security Service (MI5) are now advertising more freely on their websites. In August 2011, the Ministry of Justice awarded the agency Applied Language Solutions a four-year deal to provide translators and interpreters, with services commencing October 2011. The new Ministry of Justice (Legal Interpreting & Translation) register is compiled by Applied Language Solutions via their site, Linguist Lounge .
Digital subtitling (for DVDs and computer games) and website translation and 'localisation' (i.e. adapting websites to local cultural contexts) are also growth areas. Audio-visual translation is expanding in response to disability legislation.
Freelance translators can advertise their services in Yellow Pages or on databases held by professional bodies and translator networks, such as:
General recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies but an internet search will reveal numerous translation agencies. Most, but not all, are registered with the ATC.
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