Getting into translation as a career
Thread poster: Laura McCarthy

Laura McCarthy
United Kingdom
Feb 20

Hello to everyone,

This is my first post as I'm new to the site but very pleased to be here. I apologize if this question has been asked before.

I am a young linguist with significant experience but without a degree in a related subject and I was wondering if anyone would be able to advise me on the chances I have of becoming a professional translator?

My native language is English and my target language is French. I was quite gifted in French in high school and sixth form after my A-levels, I went to au-pair in France for a year. I then worked in the UK (my native country) as a customer service representative using French daily for 3 years.

I have also spent a year working as a website content manager for a start-up company, actually translating into French for their website.

This is all quite practical and linguistic based, but I am well aware that translation is more about writing than it is about language. I have always considered myself a writer and it was only due to personal and family circumstances that I did not pursue a degree at 18 as my grades in English, especially, were consistently high and I have always considered myself an excellent and passionate writer.

I am well aware of the many different mediums that one must be versed writing in, in order to make a living in translation so I have built up a substantial practice portfolio and have done some translation voluntary work for a local agency.

I'm debating whether to do a French degree as a mature student, especially considering I could not only verify my language knowledge but also alongside a specialist subject (e.g. economics or law).

Is this necessary or are there other ways to demonstrate your knowledge to companies, both with regards to a specialism and linguistically? Would it be very difficult for me to find work consistently without the degree?

Any advice is much appreciated,
Laura



[Edited at 2018-02-20 14:45 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-02-20 14:46 GMT]


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:00
German to English
English should be your target language Feb 20

Unless you're one of those rare genuine bilinguals, you'll have a difficult time competing with native speakers of French.

 

Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:00
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Getting into translation as a career -- First steps Feb 20

Laura McCarthy wrote:

My native language is English and my target language is French. I was quite gifted in French in high school and sixth form after my A-levels, I went to au-pair in France for a year. I then worked in the UK (my native country) as a customer service representative using French daily for 3 years.


For your language combination, you should translate from French into English, as professional translators generally work into their native language.

I have also spent a year working as a website content manager for a start-up company, actually translating into French for their website ... and I have always considered myself an excellent and passionate writer.


It seems you are a bilingual person, therefore you can translate both ways.

I have built up a substantial practice portfolio and have done some translation voluntary work for a local agency.


Good job.

I'm debating whether to do a French degree as a mature student, especially considering I could not only verify my language knowledge but also alongside a specialist subject (e.g. economics or law).

Is this necessary or are there other ways to demonstrate your knowledge to companies, both with regards to a specialism and linguistically? Would it be very difficult for me to find work consistently without the degree?


You will be able to find work without the degree. However, obtaining a specialist (non-linguistic) degree would be a good option. Alternatively, you may consider focusing on a couple of domains, e.g. legal and financial translations. Reading on the relevant topics in both languages, creating your own glossaries and termbases, learning tricks of the trade (CAT, OCR) should be top priorities for you.

Hope it helps.


 

Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:00
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Getting into translation as a career -- Finding work without a degree Feb 20

Back in 2005, I decided to try and tap the oil & gas market as a translator. Yet, I had no experience in this area. I spent about 6-8 months reading literature on various related subjects (both in English and Russian). At one point I applied to several specialist translation agencies in the USA. One of them came back with a test. They liked my translation, which proved to become a starting point for our long-term cooperation, catering to the needs of such end clients as Exxon, Shell, BP, Schlumberger, Rosneft.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:00
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
get a master Feb 20

Laura McCarthy wrote:

...
My native language is English and my target language is French. I was quite gifted in French in high school and sixth form after my A-levels, I went to au-pair in France for a year. I then worked in the UK (my native country) as a customer service representative using French daily for 3 years.

...

I'm debating whether to do a French degree as a mature student, especially considering I could not only verify my language knowledge but also alongside a specialist subject (e.g. economics or law).

Is this necessary or are there other ways to demonstrate your knowledge to companies, both with regards to a specialism and linguistically? Would it be very difficult for me to find work consistently without the degree?



If your native language is English, so is your target language. Translating into another language is not professional.
I've lived in France for over 30 years and I make fewer mistakes writing in French than most French people, but I wouldn't dream of translating into French. A French translator could do it much better than me.

Au pairing for a year and using French at work for a while doesn't make you bilingual! Perhaps people who can't even order a cup of coffee in French will call you bilingual, but higher standards are needed in translation.

A mixed language/law degree would be an excellent way to become a legal translator, and that's where the well-paid work is.

There are quite a few oldies round here who never did a degree of any sort and who managed to wing it as a translator. I was hired without a diploma at an agency about 20 years ago.
However, after a few years, the workload had more than doubled (due at least in part to the quality of my work) and so the boss told me to hire an assistant. Looking at the candidates' tests, only those with a Master in translation had a good enough command of the language.

Then when the agency I was working at was about to go bankrupt, I realised I was too old for anyone to want to hire me. The only prospect was to freelance. I was rather daunted and decided that a diploma would boost my confidence.

Since I had about 15 years' experience, I was able to go through a scheme whereby I submitted a file showcasing my work and a panel of professors assessed my work and dispensed me from most of the course work. I didn't have to do any courses involving translation into English, only into French (everyone had to do a couple of courses translating into their B language) and a translation theory course too. I even managed to get it done in just one year, so I got my Master in record time.

I talk about it in more detail here https://www.proz.com/forum/french/179126-diplôme_de_traducteur_marché_de_la_traduction_et_vae.html

(I'd forgotten all the stress involved in getting my master- it was obviously still painfully fresh in my memory when answering that thread!)


 

Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:00
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Target language Feb 20

Laura McCarthy wrote:

My native language is English and my target language is French.


In language learning and teaching, the "target language" is the language the language learner is learning. In translation, the "source language" is the language the translator is translating from, and the "target language" is the language the translator is translating into, normally the native language.


 

Patrice  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:00
Member
French to English
+ ...
Dip your foot in Feb 21

French-English is considered high-competition and high-demand. So you're up against people like me who have graduate degrees in translation as well as people who have entirely different doors that they've come in, since there is no regulating translation body with standardized requirements.

I do a lot of quality assurance of translations that appear to me to be the work of native French speakers who are obviously very proficient in English, yet it is clear to me from their translation that their first language is not English.

Some, but not many, do a passable job. Maybe you'd be one of them in your English-French combination.

You could test the waters for both FR-EN and EN-FR in a few ways:
-look for opportunities to translate more general texts (as opposed to specialized legal work, etc.)
-sit a test for translator certification and see how you do
-do some volunteer work for an organization that screens translators (e.g. Translators Without Borders)
-take one or two translation courses and thereby get feedback from a professor

I also hope you like yoga. The sitting and hunching over a computer can be killers, IMO.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
Home turf Feb 21

My advice is to stick to what you know best and translate into your own native language, English. I’ve been living in Spain for almost 3 decades and my level is almost bilingual, but I still wouldn’t dream of translating anything into Spanish without having a qualified and competent native speaker check my efforts.
It can be quite infuriating seeing incompetent non-native speakers intruding in the market. For example, today I really had to bite my tongue and refrain from posting the following response to a non-native speaker asking for help with an English translation:
” Not wishing to offend, but isn't it possible that someone not fully conversant with the conventions of article use in English shouldn't really be undertaking a translation project like this in the first place?”


[Edited at 2018-02-21 10:46 GMT]

PS: I just had to get that last part off my chest. In the end I didn't post it, to avoid upsetting the person, but I really do believe that nine times out of ten people should stick to their L1.

[Edited at 2018-02-21 10:47 GMT]


 

Laura McCarthy
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
Likelihood of specialist work without a specialist degree Feb 21

Vladimir Pochinov wrote:

Laura McCarthy wrote:

My native language is English and my target language is French. I was quite gifted in French in high school and sixth form after my A-levels, I went to au-pair in France for a year. I then worked in the UK (my native country) as a customer service representative using French daily for 3 years.


For your language combination, you should translate from French into English, as professional translators generally work into their native language.

I have also spent a year working as a website content manager for a start-up company, actually translating into French for their website ... and I have always considered myself an excellent and passionate writer.


It seems you are a bilingual person, therefore you can translate both ways.

I have built up a substantial practice portfolio and have done some translation voluntary work for a local agency.


Good job.

I'm debating whether to do a French degree as a mature student, especially considering I could not only verify my language knowledge but also alongside a specialist subject (e.g. economics or law).

Is this necessary or are there other ways to demonstrate your knowledge to companies, both with regards to a specialism and linguistically? Would it be very difficult for me to find work consistently without the degree?


You will be able to find work without the degree. However, obtaining a specialist (non-linguistic) degree would be a good option. Alternatively, you may consider focusing on a couple of domains, e.g. legal and financial translations. Reading on the relevant topics in both languages, creating your own glossaries and termbases, learning tricks of the trade (CAT, OCR) should be top priorities for you.

Hope it helps.



Many thanks for your helpful reply Vladimir, and thank you for the example.

However, just a further question, without the specialist (i.e. non-linguistic) degree nor work experience in a particular field - how would one demonstrate the sufficient knowledge level to companies?

Is the example you gave a fairly common occurrence? Or would it be highly recommended to gain a fully-fledged specialism (either through a degree or substantial work experience in the related field) before embarking upon a career in translation, in order to guarantee being able to make a living from it?

Many thanks.


 

Laura McCarthy
United Kingdom
TOPIC STARTER
Yoga is a good idea! Feb 21

Patrice wrote:

French-English is considered high-competition and high-demand. So you're up against people like me who have graduate degrees in translation as well as people who have entirely different doors that they've come in, since there is no regulating translation body with standardized requirements.

I do a lot of quality assurance of translations that appear to me to be the work of native French speakers who are obviously very proficient in English, yet it is clear to me from their translation that their first language is not English.

Some, but not many, do a passable job. Maybe you'd be one of them in your English-French combination.

You could test the waters for both FR-EN and EN-FR in a few ways:
-look for opportunities to translate more general texts (as opposed to specialized legal work, etc.)
-sit a test for translator certification and see how you do
-do some volunteer work for an organization that screens translators (e.g. Translators Without Borders)
-take one or two translation courses and thereby get feedback from a professor

I also hope you like yoga. The sitting and hunching over a computer can be killers, IMO.



Thanks for the helpful reply Patrice.

I also agree that I'm much better off translating from French into English (at least to begin with).

Are you able to take translator certification without pursuing an undergraduate degree? Would you have the name of such a certification so that I could look it up, if so?

Fortunately I do like yoga and being a millennial I am used to spending lots of time hunched over a computer. In fact, this will probably give me an incentive to work out more as I can no longer fool myself that I am living an active lifestyle merely by having a job that isn't sedentary!


 

Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:00
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Getting into translation as a career - Translator certification Feb 22

Laura McCarthy wrote:

Are you able to take translator certification without pursuing an undergraduate degree? Would you have the name of such a certification so that I could look it up, if so?



Have a look at the membership categories offered by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, UK. They don't require an undergraduate degree, but there are certain criteria to be met.

https://www.iti.org.uk/membership/categories


 

Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:00
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Getting into translation as a career - Finding work without a specialist (non-linguistic) degree Feb 22

Laura McCarthy wrote:

However, just a further question, without the specialist (i.e. non-linguistic) degree nor work experience in a particular field - how would one demonstrate the sufficient knowledge level to companies?

... would it be highly recommended to gain a fully-fledged specialism (either through a degree or substantial work experience in the related field) before embarking upon a career in translation, in order to guarantee being able to make a living from it?



Start from the subject matters you are most familiar with, such as your hobbies, perhaps. Start learning a new subject matter of your choice (by taking a self-study route, or by attending relevant courses/workshops, etc.)


 

Patrice  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:00
Member
French to English
+ ...
Requirements vary Feb 23

Laura McCarthy wrote:

Are you able to take translator certification without pursuing an undergraduate degree? Would you have the name of such a certification so that I could look it up, if so?



Because translation is not a 'profession' in the sense of having a regulating professional body, certifying organizations decide on their own standards for entry. So you'd have to check with translator associations that certify translators (e.g. ATA, if you're in the U.S.) to find out about their requirements. I don't know of any organizations that exist solely to certify translators.


 


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