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How to become a translator
Thread poster: luigigasparr (X)

luigigasparr (X)
Dec 28, 2009

as I'm interested in translating but I've already got a work (I'm hi-tech consultant), I need your help. According to you would it be wrong if I worked as translator even if I don't have a diploma in languages or something like that? I love reading in Spanish and English and I've been doing that for many years. To you could I do the translator? I mean, usually do all of you do the translators as your first and unique jobs or not?



Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:53
Member (2007)
+ ...
Hello Luigi Dec 28, 2009

Perhaps you could let us know a little more about what you plan to do e.g. what your language pairs would be (exactly), what types of document you are thinking of translating, what background you have (how and where you learned your languages, where you have lived, etc)

[Edited at 2009-12-28 17:19 GMT]


Dhiraj Khati  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:38
Member (2009)
English to Nepali
+ ...
hi Luigi, Dec 28, 2009

In my opinion every highly qualified and educated man could become a translator if he/she has good hold on more than 1 language even if they don't have any diploma in language. If you are good in your field and language pair that will do for you. Language diploma also doesn't guarantee of capable of translation in every field but needed for better qualification. You can go on translation if somebody trust you, capability and if you can satisfy them with your translation.

[Edited at 2009-12-28 18:46 GMT]


Linda Lemieux
Local time: 17:53
English to French
+ ...
Luigi, Dec 28, 2009

I agree with Dhiraj. You need to master you target language and absolutely know what you are writing about. Use your contacts at work, talk to everyone you know about your project of becoming a translator. Someone is going to give you your first chance. I translate from english to french and the first job I got was given to me by a friend who trusted me, even if I had no diploma. Good luck. Be patient.


Ute Nossmann  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:53
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Skills Dec 29, 2009

If you want to work as a translator, the language diploma is not really important, there are many people who have a degree and who still are poor translators while others do a great job without the piece of paper.

But you definitely need a very good knowledge of your source language(s) and good writing skills in your target (normally native) language. And if you want to deal in translations in the Hi-Tech field, some knowledge about specific software (Trados, Catalyst or others) and about the use of translation memory is necessary, since you will not find customers willing to work with you if you can't deal with these.

Good luck!



Susana Valdez  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:53
Member (2006)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Different opinion Dec 29, 2009

I don't agree with Linda and Dhiraj. In my personal opinion, to be a professional translator one needs to have a degree in translation. I would recommend in your case a Post-graduation in Translation. I would never go to a lawyer that does not have a degree in Law and I believe the same applies to all professions including translators.

But, I highlight, this is my personal opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own.

Good Luck!


Krzysztof Kajetanowicz (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:53
English to Polish
+ ...
two ways Dec 29, 2009

I guess most people are:

- either linguists who have gained some knowledge of a given field, or
- specialists in a certain field who have gained exceptionally good command of a foreign language. ('Exceptionally' good meaning 'compared to most other non-linguists'.)

In my country there is even an agency that specifically targets specialists (former law firm employees, for instance) who have become bored working in their field. And ss far as I know, many medical translators are doctors.

@Susana: there is a world of difference between choosing a lawyer and a translator. To start with, being a good lawyer is much more difficult than being a good translator. That is of course just my opinion, for which, by the way, I am just about to get torn apart (aren't I?). Second of all, I've met people with law degrees who are incapable of performing simple analyses and of logical thinking. I'd be surprised if studies in translation guaranteed anything to anyone. Third of all, if you were to commission a medical translation from English, would you rather give it to a translation graduate or a doctor who has spent the last 10 years working in a UK hospital?

[Edited at 2009-12-29 13:24 GMT]


luigigasparr (X)
I don't agree with Susana Dec 29, 2009

When you say that you would never go to a lawyer that does not have a degree in Law, I sort of think that's a little different, because a person has to study for learning to deal with Law, whereas the knowledge of languages can also be obtained by learning and using a language on your own for example working abroad, or by passion.
In addition I can say I would work only on Hi-Tech translations because I usually read English tutorials and manuals for my job (I'm an Hi-Tech consultant).

With reference to what Ute said, I'm trying to use Omega-T as CAT tool.


Barbara Baldi  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:53
English to Italian
+ ...
Nope Dec 29, 2009

These days even the guy who prepares the shops windows (vetrinista) has followed a course to do that. Even models attend classes to learn how to wear the best /proper make up (sic!) and on top of this, generally speaking people with a technical preparation don't necessarily have a flair for language registers, nuances connotations, false friends and so on. Also, being a fully qualified interpreter and translator since 1988, I can tell on the basis on my modest experience, that being able to speak (even properly and fluently) a foreing language doesn't necessarily imply the skills to be a good translator. Having said that every case is different so... you might be the best dragoman ever who knows, but to be on the safe side, I'd follow at least a master in translation if you already have another degree. I might add that it depends as well on the kind of documentation you intend to translate, it also happens that when translating technical jargon, a qualified translator might sound pretentious. You need to be able (if you don't have a technical background) to adapt to the technical terminology which can be very down-to-earth and in certain cases also wrong (it did occour to me, so I had to force myself to use the wrong vocab for the customer to understand me, yak felt like throwing up).
Good luck and all the best for the new year!

[Edited at 2009-12-29 15:24 GMT]


luigigasparr (X)
perquisite in Italy Dec 30, 2009

I don't want to steal the job to anyone doing traslations as his own main work. I just want to satisfy my passion of translating technical materials like Hi-Teck manuals and things like that during my spare time and to get money, but not too much (I remind you that in Italy where I live, if you want to get perquisite beyond your first job, you can do it but you have to gain not more than 5.000,00 €/year, so I don't believe to be in concurrency with anyone)

happy new year!


Susana Valdez  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:53
Member (2006)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Healthy to have different opinions Dec 30, 2009

Krzysztof (answering directly to your comment): I'm glad this discussion did not turn into a battle of egos. I must confess that when speaking about theses issues, there is also a bad reaction when I share my opinion. I'm surprised no one battered my comment.

"To start with, being a good lawyer is much more difficult than being a good translator. That is of course just my opinion, for which, by the way, I am just about to get torn apart (aren't I?)."

But I'm also always surprise when translators worldwide keep *diminishing* their importance and knowledge. (I've just finished a MA thesis about the translator's invisibility and perhaps that is why I also was able to think about this issue in another way)

Being a professional translator/interpreter is as difficult and important as any other profession. I'll give some examples (in no particular order):
1. Take into consideration a translation of a medical manual or even a factory plant - an error can take lives - a translation error. You might think that your actions do not affect others, but I know at least one case of an action against a translator and translation agency due to *bad* translation that cause an accident.
2. A friend of mine is dating an engineer. He had to translate several papers. He isn't a translator. He only knows the source and target language. The translation was so bad that when read out loud in his company everyone laughed.
3. Think you your national culture. What is the best-seller in your country now? Is it a foreign novel? Is it translated? Now, do your kinsman read more translated books or non-translated books? (Give me a second while I check where you come from... Poland) I bet it is translated books. Now, think of the influence other cultures have on your kinsman through translation.
4. Are you aware of the man and women (interpreters) killed in war zones while and because of their work, because of the importance of their work, because the information they know and can share to the world?
5. (This is my last argument for today) As Theo Hermans (1996) so well puts it and I quote:

"We tend to say that we are reading a Dostoyevsky, for example, even when we are reading not Russian but English or French or Spanish words." (1996:26)

Thank you for reading.


biankonera  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:53
Italian to Latvian
+ ...
Degree or no degree Dec 30, 2009

I think there are people who can be translators without having a degree in translation. Yes, it definitely helps to have an academic background, but I wouldn’t say it’s a must for the simple reason that there are people talented enough, with an excellent command of respective languages, are experts in their field and have great writing skills who can do the job that matches that of academically trained colleagues. Besides, having a degree in translation does not necessarily make you a good translator, just as lack of such a degree does not mean you can’t be excellent at that.


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:53
Flemish to English
+ ...
Job specs to become a translator. Dec 30, 2009

To become a translator:

-Very good active knowledge of the target-language/native language (interpunction included).
-Translate only into that native language.
-Passive knowledge of 1 source-language suffices.

-No need to be aware semantics (meaning-spelling), syntax (structure), register, sociolinguistic or cultural background or style (interpunction).
-Knowledge of a specific linguistic register ( IT, legalese)
-Ability to handle a CAT-tool, Trados preferred.
-Translator education detrimental to being a translator.
-Ask no more than 0.05 eurocent per word.
-Give reductions for the use of that CAT-tool.

Send applications to "The Dreamfactory"-agency.
With regard to "Acquiring a language by living abroad or by passion".

I had a Ukranian girl-friend and I've lived in Ukraine for a while. She spoke only Russian and Ukrainian. I picked up a lot of words, but no structure (syntax).
Hence, I am able to understand more or less the content of a basic conversation. Without grammar and structure, I can forget ever understanding or speaking Russian. That is where "passion" and "living abroad" will get you.

The same goes for your native language: When at a (superfluous) translation education, I helped one of my female companions make her assignments in Italian, although I never studied it.
The end-result is that I can read "Il Corriere della Sera" and translate it into Dutch or English (according to the high-priests of "passive knowledge of a language suffices").
But I have to fall back on Spanish grammar to understand Italian.
To acquire grammar, you just have to be passionate or live in a country.

At some translator schools where you can obtain a master, they start with a source-language from 0.
The programme is so intense that some are able to interpret from that language after 3-5 years.

. However, it's a skill that does not necessarily have to be acquired in a university

No, you acquire it with "passion" and "love" and "practise".

I learned Spanish mainly through "A comparitive morfo-syntactical study of essays of Francisco de Ayala". De Ayala is a writer, who writes sentences with a length of 20 lines without a .

You had to analyse the semantics (meaning) and the syntax (function of parts of sentences) and explain interpunction. This was compared with the morfosyntax of the target-language.
The same would apply for say, Polish.
Learn the meaning, learn how to analyse (imprint of a language in your head) and read as much as you can.
Your comparison is like saying, you learn the language of mathematics by doing it. True to a certain extend, if you know the syntax of math. Where can you learn that: at school and at university.
Why don't you stay in IT as a freelancer? A friend of mine earns more by being a freelance IT-consultant (custom-made programming at 500 euros per day) than you will ever earn with translation. These are fixed projects at the premises of a company or at his own office.
How much is 500 x say 20 working days x 3 months to finish the project?

[Edited at 2009-12-30 10:53 GMT]


Krzysztof Kajetanowicz (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:53
English to Polish
+ ...
@Susana Dec 30, 2009

I don't deny that translating is a skill beyond just knowing two languages. As to your points #3-#5, haven't you ventured into a digression? Is this discussion really about literary translations or interpreting? Besides, I don't know how having a diploma issued by anything other than a military school could help you in a warzoneicon_smile.gif

As to point 1, the potential liability for mistakes, especially in medical and technical translations, only goes to show how important specialized knowledge of the subject matter is. When it comes to lives and lawsuits, I wouldn't imagine that it's the syntax or proper style that is at fault.

As to point 2, I couldn't agree more. You're right. It's a skill. You can't just translate word by word. You must know how syntax works in both languages, what vocabulary is appropriate, how to match wording to the recipient, etc. However, it's a skill that does not necessarily have to be acquired in a university. In a lot of professions people really learn their craft on the job, not at the university (even though they've graduated and it's supposed to be the other way round).

[Edited at 2009-12-30 10:31 GMT]


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:53
Member (2007)
+ ...
We do a valuable, skilled job Dec 30, 2009

Susana Valdez wrote:
Being a professional translator/interpreter is as difficult and important as any other profession.

I would like to second Susana's comment - we shouldn't put ourselves down when we give a valuable service that requires skills that not everyone has.

I can't agree that translators have to have a degree, can't because I don't myself have a degree, though I do have a basic qualification in translating. What frustrates me immensely is that there are so many MA "add-ons" for those with degrees in other areas, yet very little available for us oldies who didn't go to university back in the '70s. But that's getting off-topic.

I do think that someone who has worked in languages (eg a teacher), has experience in their specialism (eg an engineer) or who has experience in writing (eg a journalist) MAY be able to become a self-taught translator (as long as they have at least two languages). On the other hand, a young person without experience would find it much more difficult, at least without a mentor, even if they are bilingual - as Susana say, bilingualism is not a guarantee of translation ability.

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