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How to Become a Translator: 5 Steps to Start Your Career

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Advancements in technologies like natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have provided people around the world with new ways of translating other languages.

Translation tools like Google Translate have become more sophisticated in recent years, enabling free access to language translation solutions.

But even with the growth and sophistication of these technologies, there’s still a need for human translators who can seamlessly take in one language and speak out another.

There will always be — at least in the near future — a need for human translators who can interpret written and verbal languages.

In this article, we’ll talk about how to become a translator.

We’ll go over what the job entails and what steps you can take to start making money translating.

What Do Translators Do?

Professional translators take one language and convert it into another. This entails taking text from one language and translating it to another, or taking a verbal conversation and translating it for a client.

In many cases, translators are well educated with a college degree in a certain language. In other cases, translators simply need to know another language to find decent-paying work online.

Some of these jobs can be full-time gigs, while others are quick freelance opportunities that require a speedy turnaround. Translators may be required to translate in person if that’s what the job entails.

But if you seek out online work, you can perform your translation duties from nearly anywhere in the world. Your hours will also be dependent on the type of job you pick up and how much you’re interested in working.

So what type of skills are needed to make money as a translator?

Required Skills of a Translator

First and foremost, translators will need to be fluent in multiple languages. They’ll also need to be able to navigate the business world to effectively find and perform their job.

You must know at least a second language on top of your native language in order to land a translator job. This means that you have a firm grasp on vocabulary, reading, grammar, and writing skills.

You’ll also need to be entrepreneurial in the sense that you’ll need to promote yourself and find a job. If you run your own business, this also means managing your business’s finances, accounting, and more.

If you’re a freelancer, this will require you to track your expenses and earnings so you can properly fill out taxes at the end of the year.

Lastly, you’ll need to know your way around a computer, especially if you plan on translating remotely online. Your computer will assist you with web chats with clients as well as provide you with access to translation tools and training opportunities.

Let’s take a look at some different types of translation jobs you can look into.

Types of Translator Jobs

There are several different types of jobs you can explore to become a translator. Among them are translators for communities, medical interpreters, and legal and judicial translators.

The following opportunities are just a few areas where you can find translator jobs.

  • Community: Translation opportunities within the community, like at schools, meetings, events, and other situations in your local area
  • Conference: Large gatherings that draw international attendees like international business or diplomatic conferences
  • Health and medical: Helping patients translate important medical and health information, like patient records, brochures, and consent documents
  • Liaison or escort: Showing visitors around and providing translation needs during their visit
  • Legal or judicial: Work in court settings, like at hearings, depositions, and trials
  • Literary: Take written material and translate it into another language for journals, books, short stories, and articles
  • Localizer: Use knowledge of the local language and nuances of another country to create materials for areas like marketing, websites, and user documentation
  • Sign language: Interpret communication for the hearing impaired via sign language

The job you decide on will depend on what interests you and where you see the best fit. Once you have an area in mind, you can take the necessary steps to become a translator.

How to Become a Translator

Becoming a translator can be an easy feat or a skillfully planned goal.

Some people will dedicate a tremendous amount of time and energy to learning the ins and outs of languages through education and studying. Others could be bilingual and looking for some easy cash on the side by doing some basic translation work.

Whichever camp you fall into, here’s how to become a translator in five easy steps.

1. Learn a Language

The first step to becoming a translator is knowing multiple languages like the back of your hand.

You’ll obviously need to understand the nuances of your mother tongue — likely English if you’re from the United States. This will include an extensive vocabulary, and understanding of grammar, intonation, spelling, and punctuation.

On top of that, you’ll need to know one or more languages that you can translate for clients.

Some sought after languages clients are willing to pay you to translate include Chinese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Korean.

If language translation is your calling, then enrolling in a college where you can major in a language or multiple languages will put you on the right track. Many jobs will require that you have a Bachelor’s degree in the language you’re translating.

You should at least have a thorough understanding of writing, reading, and speaking comprehension in your selected language.

But college isn’t the only way to learn another language. You can also seek out training, study abroad, or even live abroad.

There are a few different types of training you can seek out. One of these is through the American Translators Association (ATA). Another great learning resource is through ALTA Language Services.

2. Get Certified

Becoming a certified translator will greatly increase your chances of landing an open position. It shows that you truly know your languages and can adequately perform the duties of the job.

While there isn’t one universal language certification program, there are many programs to help show how proficient you are at translating.

As previously mentioned, ATA has a certification that covers a wide range of language combinations. The Defense Language Proficiency Test is another fluency test you can take to pad your resume.

There are also certifications you can pursue through state and federal government institutions. There are even specific certifications that pertain to certain areas like legal and judiciary translation, medical translation, or business translation.

Once you’re certified, you’ll be able to flaunt your experience on your resume. You’ll also be on a special directory that could come in handy if a client comes looking for work.

3. Get Experience

Once you’re a confident translator and have the necessary certifications, you can start looking for available jobs.

The type of job you land will largely depend on what you’re looking for and what service you’d like to provide. If you translate between English and Spanish with a specialty in law, then look for a job within the legal system.

Translation jobs can be found on the typical job boards you usually come across, like Indeed or CareerBuilder. There are even professional translation services you can apply for who will funnel you a steady stream of work. You can also look into freelancing websites like UpWork and Fiverr.

Freelance bidding job boards like these will help you get your feet wet and gain experience when first starting off.

You can start by bidding on jobs that don’t pay as much but will give you great work experience to put on your resume. Once you knock out a few freelance translator jobs, you can look for more intensive jobs that pay a higher rate.

4. Specialize in an Area

One way to land a job is by specializing. This means you’ll focus on a specific subject matter, allowing you to expand your vocabulary in that area and set yourself apart from other job seekers.

In certain arenas like the legal, medical, and business industries, there are opportunities for you to specialize and focus on one area.

For example, if you focus on being a business translator who can translate between Chinese and English, you can seek out specific job openings that fit the bill.

Since you specialize in that area, you can set yourself apart from others and easily land the job.

5. Keep Learning and Find More Work

Good translators never quit learning and perfecting their craft. You’ll always be able to improve in one way or another. You can even try to pick up another language to learn and begin translating.

If you continue to sharpen your skills, you won’t have trouble finding work, especially if you’ve built up a nice resume.

And remember, many jobs will come through referrals and word of mouth, so always maintain great relationships with your clients and deliver a premium service.

Translate Your Work Into Cash

If you want to start making money on the side as a translator, dust up on your language skills, get certified, and start looking for work.

There are plenty of opportunities with your name on them. It’s up to you to take the first steps.

If you’re interested in translating but aren’t confident you’re multilingual, then there are other opportunities. One is teaching English as a second language. Another is finding an online teaching job or tutoring opportunity.

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