Is it essential to study translations?
Thread poster: Marylininm

English to German
Jun 2, 2003

I passed the IOL diploma in translation last year without special preparations. But I wonder whether there are skills that I should acquire before I start working as a freelance translator. Could I gain the necessary skills just by reading books or is it essential to take up some "real" studies. I am usually a very independent learner and find working on my own more efficient than taking classes. What kind of skills should I learn to be a successful translator? Is is useful to study a language related subject?


BelkisDV  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
DEFINITELY! Jun 2, 2003


In response to your question (and it's not my intention to sound rude or antagonistic), would you let a surgeon operate on you if he/she never studied medicine and didn't specialize in surgery?

The reason why so many unnecessary questions are asked in these forums is precisely because the askers are NOT professional translators and therefore did not receive the appropriate training and education.

You ask what subjects or topics should be studied...the very first thing I learned was what SHOULD and SHOULD NOT be translated (addresses, first names - except those of dignataries [Queens, Princes, Princesses and royalty in general, the Pope's name, foreign expressions in Latin])etc.

There are fields within the field of translation itself which require special techniques in order to translate those subjects appropriately. These are: Legal documents, which are plagued with foreign expressions that remain the same and should not be translated, legal translations (or legalese) require not only translating the text, but also describing the seals and stamps, specifying where they are located in the document, there are rubber stamp seals, embossed seals, revenue stamps, documentary stamps, etc., Technical (which includes numerous fields such as Electronics, Automotive, Product Sheets and such), Advertising, which most of the time, if not always requires creativity, and not necessarily sticking to the original text in order to produce the same effect in different markets, Journalese, Medicine, etc. etc. etc.

There are also translation techniques, which a translator should be familiar with in order to be able to explain to the client why something was translated the way it was. Some of these are: omissions, additions, retro-translations, changing the order of the syntax and more.

There are the steps one must follow when translating a text: preparing a first draft, proofreading it (which can be done in several ways: reading outloud, having someone else read the translation back to you, etc.), editing and preparing a second draft or camera-ready translation.

Translation History is part of the courses of study and it's necessary in order to complement the curriculum.

In addition to that it's always useful to take courses in Phonetics and Technical Writing. I took all of these plus Latin, French and Italian besides advanced Spanish and English courses.

I hope this will help you understand a little better what entails to be a professional translator. I do not know the criteria used in the test you took and I am not blind to the fact that there are very good innate translators; however it is not just a skill, it IS a course of study.



Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:02
German to English
Get stuck in! Jun 2, 2003

First of all, congratulations on having passed the Dip. Trans. It's not an easy exam and I hope you're feeling pretty pleased about having succeeded!

My own view is that you are now well qualified to start working as a translator, and you should take the plunge now and start doing it. Most of the things you need to know you'll find out by doing them and by reading what people have said about starting out in the forums here and elsewhere. If you are planning to work as a freelancer, the things you may still need to work on will be to do with presenting yourself, fixing prices & deadlines, dealing with clients etc. - I would think these things through, read the advice in the forums, and then take on one or two jobs that you feel are within your competence; there's nothing better than taking on some actual work for showing you what things you need to polish up on. You can't prepare in advance for every single thing that will crop up - so, while acting reasonably and with the awareness of your own capabilities and capacities, I would get out there and get started. And good luck!


English to German
Thank you. Jun 2, 2003

Thank you Armorel for your encouraging support. Presenting myself and learning how to start my own business is what I am focusing on right now. But I have to say I would like to gain more experience before I go freelance. It is just that I have my doubts whether I gain it at university. My thanks also goes to Belkis, who I must have annoyed without intention. Please, don't get me wrong. I am not completely ignorant of the fact that there are certain rules to translation, which I should apply. But I can read them up without taking courses. And I did read some of them or else I would not have passed the examination. May be I should have put my question different. It should have been more like that: Is a degree from a university or other institution necessary to gain the skills or can I learn them by reading the books on translations? I have only limited resources of time and money to pursue another study. But I wonder whether it makes sense to study translation at university since I already have an academic degree. If someone could convince me that I can gain knowledge at the university, that I can not gain anywhere else, especially not in practice, I would consider taking a course.


Valentina Pecchiar  Identity Verified
English to Italian
+ ...
Go and get goin' Jun 2, 2003

I second Armorel's approach, also given my personal experience.

It's true I've always been sort of language-aware, but I come from a total different accademic background. But that what got me started: a publishing house needed someone with a specific competence and I was recruited - Could you exploit your degree (and knowledge) to offer specialized linguistic services?

Another way to get some hands-on training is to become an inhouse translator at a translation company: they usually have very specific training programs for new employees and you could get a partial but very practical and supervised insight of what is involved in working as a professional translator - given your IoL qualification it shouldn't be hard. You can always become a freelancer later on, once you are confident about the tasks and techniques.

Best luck


United Kingdom
Local time: 19:02
French to English
+ ...
There's no need to do another course Jun 4, 2003

It is not necessary to take another course. Your IOL diploma already makes you a qualified translator. At university, you can study for a certificate, diploma or MA in translation, but you only need the diploma to work as a translator. There is therefore no point in wasting your time and money taking a very similar translation course at university as well.

The best thing you can do now is to concentrate on getting experience. There is only so much you can learn from theoretical studies, and there is no substitute for actually working in the industry. An employer or client would much prefer to use a translator with a qualification and some work experience than a translator with endless qualifications and no experience.

Incidentally, when I was studying for my translation MA at university, a friend of mine said he was going to take A-level Physics to try and help him get a job. He already had a degree and two MAs, and to do an A-level after that is regressive and pointless and won't help you get a job if you still have no work experience.

You might feel that you didn't learn much on your diploma course, but you must have done, or else you would not have passed!


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Is it essential to study translations?

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