Starting out translation: intensive language improvement, grad programs, and specializations
Thread poster: Ravery

United States
Local time: 07:52
Sep 22, 2014

Hello all,
Since graduating with a B.A. in biology and literature two years ago, I’ve gained some valuable life experiences working in wildlife biology before realizing that it is not a path of employment I’d like to pursue. Becoming a translator is another option that has been brewing in my mind for a while - I’ve always been fascinated with language and culture. Of course, I’m well aware that having a mere interest and a handful of translation experiences helping friends and family hardly qualify as formal experiences, and that there’s a great deal more to learn and master than simply knowing two languages. I’m ready to devote intensive time to improving my craft and understanding more about the industry. I’ve been prowling on the forums for a while and finally decided to post my own questions, because the answers I’ve been reading still raise more questions.

1. First, I’m concerned about my level of Mandarin fluency. I lived in Taiwan up until eighth grade, so I have no problems in conversation and reading comprehension, but when it comes to writing prose, I often have difficulty with phrasing, sentence structures, and expressing complex thoughts. My language skills are probably pretty elementary for translation at this point and require a lot of work. Should I simply focus on studying for the first year or so before practicing with translation samples, getting practical experience, and applying to a graduate program? One of the reasons I don’t think translation is completely out of the question for me is because I have some American classmates who started learning Chinese in college and they are pursuing jobs and graduate programs in Chinese to English translation. It makes me think that I may still have a chance if I put in a lot of work. Please let me know if I am in the wrong.

2. Would starting out with a formal education be a better choice than trying to get practical experiences with no qualifications? What kind of graduate programs should I look into? I’ve looked at a few Master’s that offer Chinese, and it looks like there are options between Translation Studies in the humanities departments and Translation Studies that are more technical (geared towards finance, legal, and medical translation & interpretation). While I’ve always been more of a humanities person, one thing I want to avoid is getting sucked into another liberal arts degree that’s fascinating and thought-provoking but doesn’t translate into any real world skills. Is it possible to turn a humanities/arts degree into something more practical through internships and a choice of thesis that is relevant in the working world? Are there programs one can recommend? (Monterey Institute may be too high of a reach for me.)

3. My choice of specialization is probably also important in determining what kind of program to pursue. I hear a lot of translators recommend specializing in fields that you’re already familiar with and are fascinated with, because it has to be able to sustain your interest if you’ll be doing it everyday for many years. The fields I have some knowledge in are wildlife biology (specifically ornithology) and literature. Fields that grab my attention are travel, culture, nature, outdoor & functional fitness, and movies. But I’m not sure there are a lot of jobs in these areas and if I would be limiting myself if I don’t try anything technical. It sounds like fields such as legal, medical, finance, automotive, and chemical translations pay more? Should I even try translating texts in those fields if my inclination is that I wouldn’t enjoy it? Legal and medical might be out of the questions for me since it requires years of working knowledge in that industry. I’m trying to get some idea of what I can specialize it so I can specifically study the conventions and jargon in that field.

These are my questions for now. I apologize if I sound like another clueless, bumbling newbie, but I figured this would get me more productive answers than Googling them for hours and hours. Please let me know if there are additional sources I should look at. I appreciate any advice you have.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:52
English to Spanish
+ ...
Start Sep 22, 2014

A good start would be to fill out your profile and provide your true name. We all like to know who we are communicating with, and anonymity does not create trust.


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Starting out translation: intensive language improvement, grad programs, and specializations

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