If you're lucky enough to be born into a bilingual family and speak both languages fluently, or you lived in another country and have an aptitude for languages, you could consider a career in translation.
Through their agility with words, translators play a crucial role in bringing two worlds closer together; whether in law, medicine, science or literature.
Not sure what a career in translation involves? Here's a bit of background about the work of translators.
What Do Translators Do?
Simply put, translators generally translate documents from one language into another. A career in translation usually involves working from a foreign language they speak fluently and translating back in to their mother tongue.
Translators are different from interpreters, as the latter translates verbally in real time from one language to another. A career in translation involves writing rather than speaking, although many translators nowadays use technology, such as voice recognition.
A career in translation is varied and interesting. Translators work with many kinds of documents, such as scientific and technical material and legal, financial and commercial documents.
Some specialize in literary translations. You will have to decide what area suits you best. This will depend on your interests and your desire or ability to study or travel and work in another country, among other things.
Following a Career in Translation
To follow a career in translation, you must be fluent in at least two languages. Depending on who you work for, you may or may not need a qualification, but it is advisable to get one.
Most reputable translators have a degree and belong to translating associations, such as the American Translators Association.
Having credentials means that you have the documentation that proves you have the skills required to translate or interpret professionally, and will greatly help your career in translation.
Universities the world over offer degrees to help you follow your career in translation. Some of the Top 10 US Translations schools include:
- The American University in Washington D.C. - which offers Graduate Certificates in Translation from either Spanish, French or Russian to English
- Boston University - which specializes in medical, community and legal translations in Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese
- Florida International - which offers a Certificate in Translation Studies (English / Spanish) and a certificate in Legal Translation and Court Interpreting (English / Spanish)
- Georgia State University’s Translation Certificate Program - which offers specializations in French, German, and Spanish translation
- NYU - which offers professional certificates in general translation, medical interpreting, court interpreting (English and Spanish), simultaneous interpreting, and general language studies certificates in Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Greek and language groups like Middle Eastern, classical, Scandinavian, East Asian and Slavic
Having established a baseline for what you would need to starts your career in translation, here's five compelling reasons why you should consider pursuing a career in translation:
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1. You Love Literature
Would J.K. Rowling be the richest woman in England today if it were not for translations of her series of Harry Potter books? The answer is definitely no!
The Harry Potter books are distributed in over 200 countries, and have been translated into at least 67 languages. Of the 400 million copies sold worldwide, at least 200 million are in a language other than English. That’s a lot of work for literary translators! A a huge incentive to follow a career in translation.
While the books have been translated into widely spoken international languages, such as French and Spanish, incredibly there is also a version in ancient Greek!
Translating these books requires not only excellent linguistic skills, but also an ability to deal with difficult cultural issues, and in many cases, a fertile enough imagination to deal with words that do not exist in the translated language.
A career in translation allowed the translators of the Harry Potter fantasy books to reach the world – young and old alike – by storm. They had to recreate the tone, inject the right kind of humor and suspense and pace, and portray the characters accurately.
How important is the work of a translator to an author? Here’s one example.
Edward Seidensticker was one of the most highly regarded translators of Japanese, bringing work by Japanese authors Yukio Mishuma, Jun’ichirōTanizakiand Yasunari Kawabata, to English readers.
Indeed, the New York Times has stated that Seidensticker’s translations of Kawabata’s works are generally credited with helping the author win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, the first Japanese writer to receive the award.
2. It Allows You to be Creative in Your Own Right
Many literary translators are famous in their own right and that can be satisfying for your career in translation. You will often see in the blurb of a book that has been translated the name of the translator listed on the same page as the author.
Many authors return again and again to the same translator, because the latter understands the author’s voice and vision, but is also able to bring their own creativity to the work.
Many world-famous writers have also tried their hand at translation, showing that they consider it a form of literary art is its own right. The brilliant Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, for example, was a consummate translator.
His career in translation took him far. At the age of 11, he translated Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince into Spanish for a newspaper in Buenos Aires. He went on to translate from other languages besides English, including French and German.
Among his feats are books by Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, André Gide, Edgar Allan Poe, Hermann Hesse, and Franz Kafka.
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3. You Love All Aspects of the Law
If you want to make a contribution to the development of law and peacekeeping around the world, then a career in translation at an international body may suit you.
The interpretation and application of the law can turn on the translation of a legal document. Think about all the international documents, including treaties and conventions, that need to be disseminated into the world, reflecting the exact meaning and intention of the drafters. A career in translation can certainly be exciting!
Did you know that translators at the United Nations spend up to two years getting trained; that is, after they have taken a specialization at university level?
Their command of at least one of the official languages of the United Nations must be perfect to be considered their main language and they need excellent knowledge of at least two others. Their proficiency is tested by the United Nations and their career in translation held in high esteem.
There are numerous organizations offering work for translators and advancement for your career in translation. These include the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); the International Court of Justice (ICJ), World Health Organization (WHO); United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); International Organization for Migration (IOM); International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
If high pressure international legal work is not for you, you can assist people by translating important legal documents, such as passports, birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage and divorce certificates, death certificates, academic transcripts and diplomas, driver’s licenses and medical records.
4. You Love Learning and Are Prepared to Keep Doing it
Translators tend to work in specific fields, such as law, medicine, technology or science. A career in translation can be very varied. To stay abreast of developments in these sectors, you need to keep learning and improving your own knowledge.
Being able to translate into the target language is not enough; you must also understand what is happening in these fields. You also need to keep up with the changes that invention or innovation brings in your field of specialty as this can mean a whole new set of words you might need to translate. This is very important for a career in translation.
This means reading widely across your industry and possibly even taking courses in the subject of your choice to advance your career in translation. In other words, you have to see your job as a continuous process of learning, and enjoy doing it.
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5: You Have the Opportunity to Work in Different Styles
Good translators write well, in addition to speaking their target language perfectly. Depending on your area of expertise, you might be called upon to write in a range of different genres. One day, you might have to show your skills at brevity and being succinct, with a power point presentation.
Another assignment might require you to show your logic either by translating or writing a process analysis essay. It’s a great opportunity to be versatile and adept at changing your style.
If you relish the idea of starting something new constantly, moving from project to project, immersing yourself in different genres, then a career in translation may well suit you as a career.
Where Do Translators Work?
A few have already been mentioned, but if you choose translation as a career, here are some of the places you might work:
- Government agencies
- Government departments
- International organizations such as United Nations, The Red Cross, NATO,
- European Union organizations
- Global sporting organizations such as FIFA, International Olympics Committee, WADA
- Publishing houses
- Universities and colleges
- Global charities
- Think tanks
- Global forums and symposiums
- International trade organizations
You might also choose to work as a freelance translator. For this career in translation, you find your own work and are able to choose which jobs you want to work on. Freelance translating is an extremely varied job. As a freelancer, you are your own boss and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working for yourself.
A career in translation has a bright future. Unlike many jobs disappearing due to technological advances, translation is a job that still requires a human. If you train and qualify as a translator, it is a career that you should be able to follow for many years.
Those are five top reasons why you might consider a career in translation, although there are many more. Hopefully, this will spur you on to doing some research on what is potentially a very rewarding path.