Studying interpreting or translating - feedback needed
Thread poster: mariquita13
Apr 20, 2013

Hi everyone!

My name is Beatrice, I’m an 18 year-old Italian student and in a few months I’ll finally graduate. I am very fond of traveling, cultures, languages and I would like to turn this great passion into my future job. My high school is focused on modern languages and bedsides Italian (my native language), I study English and French (level B2) . I also spent one year in Central America (Costa Rica) recently thanks to an exchange program so I have an excellent knowledge of Spanish.

I decided to study interpreting and translation in University and I really think this is up my alley. Yet, I have some questions and doubts about this course of studies, and since I don’t know anyone who took up this carreer, I thought you could give me some useful advice.

I’m aware that this forum is mainly used by professionals for their jobs and I’m sorry if what I am going to ask has nothing to do with it. I hope this is not a problem and that I’m posting in the right section (I couldn’t find a completely suitable one)!

First of all, I don’t know whether I should start my studies here in Italy (Università di Trieste) or abroad (Université de Mons, Belgium). This indecision comes from the fact that studying French as a main language would allow me to do a master degree in some excellent universities in France, Switzerland, Belgium or even Canada, not to mention that it’s highly demanded. I feel that having Italian as my A language would narrow my career opportunities, even if it’s my native language.

-So my first question is, would it be possible for a translator\interpreter to study and work with a main language that is not his native one?

-Then, can a translator work with a language he hasn’t studied in university? For example, if I studied abroad, could I translate from or into Italian just because I’m a native speaker and even if it was not object of my university studies? What if I learnt a language independently?

-Do you think that it is essential to study German to have a chance to collaborate with the European Union?

I’m sorry if maybe I wrote too much and some of my questions might seem naïve.
I just would like to have a complete overview in order to take these choices consciously.

Thank you very very much! Every little suggestion will be very appreciated!icon_smile.gif


564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:39
Danish to English
+ ...
Do what you can to perfect all your working languages Apr 22, 2013

Hi Beatrice

It's great to hear that you love languages and international culture so much that you want to make this your career. Good for you, and good luck with your future studies. icon_smile.gif

In the translation industry, there is a lot of talk about 'mother-tongue translation'. You will come across many professionals who will tell you that a professional translator should only translate into his/her native tongue, however many other languages he/she feels that they master to near-perfection. Personally, I don't agree with this idea, but I would be leading you down the wrong path if I did not mention this to you.

My advice to a budding translator would be to perfect their mother tongue and to study translation into their mother tongue in a country where this IS the mother tongue, in your case Italy. That will give the best foundation for a professional career as a translator/interpreter.

Having said that, my personal experience and belief is that you ALSO need to gain a lot of insight into the 'natural' use of your chosen foreign language(s), and you might get this by studying or 'just' working in one or more countries where this/these languages is/are spoken.

Professional translators fall into two groups (very roughly put):
1. Those who have studied translation as their career choice.
2. Those who have a professional background in a different field and have chosen to move on to translation within this field, i.e. translation is their second career choice. They may or may not have studied languages at all but have professional insight into specialist fields that give them competence to work as translators.

In other words, yes you can work as a translator without having studied a particular language at university level, but you would need to have something to 'compensate' for your lack of linguistic studies. It is not enough, in my opinion, to have spent a year as an exchange student in Costa Rica, for instance, you still need to know how to work with the differences between two languages.

In your case, as you are just starting out and choosing your career, I would say this: 1. Get either a Bachelor's degree or a Master's degree in translation/interpretation from an Italian university, so that you become an expert at working INTO Italian.
2. If you have the option, study languages in another country, but ideally somewhere where you could work with Italian, too.
3. Get some work/cultural experience from countries where they speak the foreign languages you want to work in.

And no, I don't see any reason why you would need to study German in particular to work in relation to the European Union. You choose your language combination based on your affinity with particular languages and cultures, and then you specialise in those languages. Don't spread yourself too thinly in terms of the number of languages you work with, it is better to focus on just a few languages and then become a specialist in those.

And by the way, you chose the right forum to ask your question, and is not only for professionals, students are very welcome here, and so are you.

All the best



Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:39
Spanish to English
+ ...
My opinion Apr 22, 2013

Hi Beatrice,

First of all I wish you lots of luck and success with your endeavours. I think you write very well in English for a native Italian speaker and I admire anyone who has such a clear idea of what they like/what they want to do at the age of 18.

Usually in the translation world, as Gitte has already said, people would translate into their native language. You would be surprised at how important a 'feel' for a language and a culture is important in translation and this is something which is hard to acquire (although not impossible of course).

I would also advise you to do as Gitte has said and become an expert in translating into Italian from your various other languages and would also suggest perhaps concentrating on two or three languages as a maximum to work from.

The fact that you are still very young though means that you could reasonably expect to become proficient in another language by immersing yourself in that language and culture, so by all means, if you love German, go and live in Germany for a few years, work there, study there, and you'll pick it up. However, if you don't love German enough to do that, you probably won't learn enough about the way the German language is used to be able to add it to your working languages.

Another thing I would recommend is to start off working in multilingual environments that aren't necessarily translation-related. This could be anything from working in Italian departments in banks, customer service centres, or tourist offices abroad to working in international companies in Italy.

I think that it is essential for a good translator to have experience of how language works inside the business of your choosing. I think that the work experience that most helps me when I'm translating is the experience I obtained before I became a translator.

I would definitely recommend studying translation at degree level though as you seem to find it interesting and it's vital to study a subject you're interested in.

Good luck!


traductorchile  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
Translation or interpreting Apr 25, 2013

The following article may be useful for you to get an idea of the differences between translating and interpreting, specially of the skills required.

In a linkedin group there was an interesting debate about this also, but I don't have the link at hand right now.


thanks May 26, 2013

Thank you all so much! Your replies were very usefulicon_smile.gif


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