How do I Become a Translator?

Brendan McGuigan

A translator is a person who translates either text or voice from one language to another. There are many different ways one can serve as a translator, from those who translate speech as it is occurring, to those who translate pre-recorded speech for dubbing, to those who translate books and poetry. It can be quite lucrative to become a translator, especially if you are fluent in a language for which there is a high demand. It takes a fair amount of effort to become a translator, as well as a high level of fluency in at least two languages, and often a degree.

Translators must be fluent in several languages.
Translators must be fluent in several languages.

Most people choose to become a translator in their native tongue, as they are likely to have a high enough degree of fluency to write or speak in it flawlessly. Your next step is then to decide what language you want to translate from. If you are already fluent in another language, for example if you were raised in a bi-lingual household, then you can simply start there. If you’re starting from scratch, you have a longer road ahead of you, but you also have a bit more room to choose the language that will bring you the most lucrative work. Look around in the field you want to become a translator in, and find out where there are large gaps in the marketplace.

Popular books are often translated into different languages.
Popular books are often translated into different languages.

At the same time, for most people it makes sense to become a translator in a language where there is a high demand and a high demand growth, not just a lack of translators. For example, while there may be tens of thousands of Mandarin translators, and only a small handful of Cherokee translators, it is still likely that it would be much easier to find work translating from Mandarin than Cherokee. Of course, if there is a language that appeals to you for personal reasons, it may be worth becoming fluent in that, even if the job opportunities may not be as rich.

Once you have acquired your language, you’ll want to decide what sort of translation work you want to do. You likely have an innate skill set that predisposes you towards one field or another. For example, to translate written text, you do really need to be able to write well in your native tongue, otherwise the quality of your translations will be sub-par, no matter how fluent you might be. Similarly, many people simply cannot keep track of speech as it is coming at them in a steady stream and they are reciting words back, so working to become a translator for live speech would not be a good job for them.

Many translation jobs don’t require a degree, and you may simply be able to get work from the beginning by submitting samples to potential employers. A specialized degree can let potential employers know you have a base set of skills, however, and some organizations offer certification programs in specific fields of translation. If you are interested in doing technical translation, which is a lucrative field, it is a good idea to take classes or read extensively on specific areas you might want to work in, as a good working understanding of the technical language will be crucial to getting jobs and doing them well.

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Discussion Comments


I'm 14 and I think its time I decide what my career options should be. I am an introvert and I was suggested to become a translator. I am fluent in three languages and learning a fourth one. Will this job be beneficial for me? Also, what field or exams do I opt for after my boards? Please help.

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