Getting a postgraduate qualification in translation will help to give you an edge in a competitive industry

As a translator, you'll use your language skills to convert one written language into another. Typically you'll translate material from a foreign language (source language) into your mother tongue (target language). You will need to make sure that your translated version retains the meaning of the original text as closely as possible.

Transcreation may also be part of the job, which is a mix of translation, localisation (taking into account cultural nuances) and copywriting, where the text is culturally and linguistically adapted to suit the audience.

Types of translation

You can translate a variety of content, including:

  • commercial
  • educational
  • financial
  • legal
  • marketing and advertising
  • medical
  • political
  • scientific
  • technical.

You may specialise in one of these areas or work across several of them. You could also work as a literary translator, translating works of fiction, or as a subtitler, translating dialogue on films, TV programmes and video games.


As a translator, you'll need to:

  • read through original material and rewrite it in the target language, ensuring that the meaning of the source text is retained
  • use translation memory software, such as Wordfast, memoQ, Across, Trados Studio and Transit NXT, to ensure consistency of translation within documents and help efficiency
  • use specialist dictionaries, thesauruses and reference books to find the closest equivalents for terminology and words used
  • use appropriate software for presentation and delivery
  • research legal, technical and scientific phraseology to find the correct translation
  • make cultural or linguistic changes to the text as necessary
  • liaise with clients to discuss any unclear points
  • proofread and edit final translated versions
  • provide quotations for translation services offered
  • consult with experts in specialist areas
  • retain and develop knowledge on specialist areas of translation
  • follow various translation-quality standards to ensure legal and ethical obligations to the customer.


  • The majority of translators work freelance and hourly rates can vary depending on your experience, qualifications, nature of work you're translating (general or specialist) and demand for the languages you're offering.
  • In-house jobs are available that offer salaries but these also vary depending on the employer and the workload.
  • Translation of highly specialised texts, from or into unusual languages, demands higher rates than general translation.
  • As a freelancer, you may need to supplement your income to begin with by taking on additional employment, perhaps in interpreting, teaching or training, until you're fully established.

Working hours

Working hours for in-house translators are usually 9am to 5pm. If you work as a freelance translator, your hours can be flexible but you'll need to organise them to make sure you can meet fixed deadlines.

Part-time work is possible and short-term temporary contracts are available. You may need to juggle several freelance projects at one time.

What to expect

  • As a freelance translator you'll work from home and enjoy flexible hours, although work flow may be unpredictable. You'll typically have quite regular interaction with clients both for seeking commissions for work and for completing the assignments.
  • In-house roles are usually office-based where you'll work independently. Working as part of a small team is possible in translation agencies or companies in large cities. Contact with clients is limited and mostly by email or phone.
  • There will be some periods of intense concentration and pressure as you near deadlines.
  • You will usually spend time visiting, living or working in relevant countries to keep up your command of the language and to develop your understanding of the culture.


There are no formal required qualifications for a career in translating but having some related training will help you when securing work. The main requirement will be to have two or more languages that you're fluent in but in addition to this there are degree subjects that will be useful. These include:

  • translation studies with languages
  • modern European and/or non-European languages
  • business, law or science with languages.

There is also a professional degree-level qualification that is offered by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL). This is the Certificate in Translation (CertTrans), which is aimed at new entrants to the profession or those who would like to advance their translation career.

Postgraduate qualifications are also available and these can help when you enter the competitive market of translation services. These include an MA in Translation, or Translation and Interpreting, some of which are offered by Corporate Education Members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). You can see a full list of them at ITI Universities and Courses.

There is also the CIOL Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) which is offered at Masters level. This consists of three units and allows you choose semi-specialised areas in which to focus your translation skills. In the second unit you can choose from technology, business or literature and in unit three you can pick from science, social science, law or arts and culture. This can help to focus your translation career in a certain direction.

Search postgraduate courses in translation.

If you have no relevant qualifications but a proven record of excellent language skills, you may still be able to gain translation work. Whether you have official qualifications or not, it's useful to have knowledge of the area in which you may wish to translate, e.g. medical or business.


You need to have:

  • fluency in two or more languages (source and target)
  • a good understanding and in-depth knowledge of language/country-specific cultures (localisation)
  • excellent writing skills and command of grammar
  • subject matter knowledge specific to the content you'll be translating
  • attention to detail and accuracy
  • time management skills as you may be working with different clients at one time
  • the ability to work quickly to meet deadlines
  • the ability to use initiative in a commercial context
  • proficiency in the use of a range of computer packages - knowledge of translation-oriented applications and software is helpful, though not essential
  • self-motivation, particularly if working as a freelancer
  • enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge.

Work experience

It is possible to get an internship with a translation agency, which is a good way of gaining experience and finding out whether you would enjoy the career.

Some Corporate members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) offer internships to students and graduates. These are with language service providers (LSPs) and may be remote or office-based opportunities that can last from one to six months. They are available throughout the year but are most common in the summer. See ITI Internships for a list of organisations that offer internships. You will need to contact the company directly to apply.

Other useful experience includes language and translating projects from your undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications, examples of how you've used your other language(s) in practice, or any other work you've carried out in a foreign language.

It may be possible to undertake voluntary translation work for organisations such as Translators without Borders and UN Volunteers (through their online volunteering service).

If you have a particular sector in which you'd like to translate, such as healthcare, community work, technical or law, it's useful to have some work experience that demonstrates your skills and knowledge of the area. Copywriting experience can also be also helpful.

Living or working in your source language country is very beneficial as it will improve your knowledge of the country’s culture.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


The majority of translators are self-employed. You may work as a freelancer or for translation companies and agencies.

Various government departments recruit translators and linguists. These include:

There are also some opportunities to work for international governments, institutions and organisations such as the United Nations.

You may also find work within the public sector, for example with the police.

Other opportunities arise with commercial and industrial companies that need business documents translating. These can include contracts, business proposals and marketing and advertising campaigns

Success depends on the languages you can offer, your qualifications and experience, and time spent overseas.

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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist translation and interpreting companies also have opportunities for translators. These include:

As a freelance translator, you can advertise your services on databases held by professional bodies and translator networks, such as:

Professional development

The type and amount of support offered to staff at translation agencies varies. You may get the opportunity to specialise and become a legal, technical or literary translator. Occasionally, there are opportunities to train in more foreign languages. Training and development opportunities with large institutions and government bodies may be more structured.

Becoming a member of a professional body is extremely helpful as they can provide access to training and networking opportunities. You will also need to carry out continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career and they can also support with this. Relevant bodies include:

  • Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL): offers training opportunities including webinars, online workshops and events, as well as networking opportunities and CPD support for members.
  • ITI Learn and Develop: as well as running events and short courses and giving CPD support, the ITI offers training based on setting up as a freelancer and advancing your freelance translation career.

You may decide to do further study at postgraduate level, such as The CIOL Level 7 Diploma in Translation (DipTrans). Although you don't need a degree to sit the exam, you must have a high level of competence in both the source and target languages, the ability to translate at professional level and good writing skills. Preparatory courses are offered by a number of providers.

You can also take units from the DipTrans as standalone qualifications to prove specialisation in certain key areas of translation such as technology, science or law. Find out more, including a list of course providers, at CIOL Qualifications.

You should also keep your written skills up to date by reading newspapers, journals and subject specific publications in both your source and target languages. You could also take courses in copywriting, grammar or technical writing, for example, to hone your skills.

Career prospects

Career development can be quite varied, depending on the sort of work/life balance you would like.

Developing a successful career as a freelance translator requires a proactive approach to networking. This means keeping in touch with key professional bodies, translator groups and potential employers, both nationally and internationally. You should also try to attend workshops and seminars to find out more about sources of work and work providers.

There are various factors that can affect your career prospects, such as how many commonly used modern languages you know, the number and type of clients you work for, the specialist area you work in, and the rates of pay you are able to command.

Developing AI technology and improving machine translation software means that there are some different opportunities available to translators who now edit and refine work that has been translated initially by a machine.

Increasing globalisation has meant there is more demand for transcreation and opportunities to combine your translation and copywriting skills to provide material appropriate for audiences in particular countries.

With several years' experience, it may be possible to set up your own translation agency. Some translators who do this also include interpreting services as part of their business, drawing on the services of translators and interpreters to meet client needs.

Some limited opportunities exist in academia for teaching translation skills and theory if you have completed a postgraduate degree.

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