After learning a second language, how does one become a translator?
Thread poster: Joshua Carmody

Joshua Carmody  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:20
Japanese to English
Jan 6, 2006

Hello everyone,

I've been studying Japanese for 5 years and I'm interested in eventually becoming a Japanese->English translator. Although I believe I may still need another year or two before I'm proficient enough at Japanese to translate comfortably, it seems to me that I should probably start making preparations for the future now.

I was wondering: what does one need to become a translator? Any sort of qualifications? Are language skills all there is to translation, or does one need specific training in the field? Should I take a university course? How *good* does a translator need to be at their source language? How much can you rely on a dictionary, and how much do you need to be able to do from memory?

I've read a lot of posts regarding the importance of having experience working in the field of your specialization. I've been employed as a computer programmer for the past 6 years, and I figure I can probably specialize in technical translations. Is this field very crowded?

I realize I'm asking about a dozen questions at once, but any guidance anyone can provide would be very appreciated.

Thank you!


Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:20
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Specialize in IT Jan 6, 2006

Hi Joshua,

I just read your ProZ profile but didn't find any extra information. If you want to become a full-time freelance translator in the near future, start doubling your rates. You'll have to bill somewhere around 35 USD/hour to stay a full-time freelance translator for an extended period, IMHO. But I know very little about your language pair.

You tell us you've been studying Japanese for five years and have been working as a programmer for 6 years. You could therefore be a specialized Japanese to English translator of IT-related texts. If you have no problems reading Japanese IT-related texts and if your English is good enough to write English manuals, brochures and the like, you're halfway there. Later on you could expand to consumer electronics, SAP, automotive etc.

With your programming background, I would brush up on SEO, HTML and SCC etc., if necessary, and would create the sexiest Japanese to English translator site on the web. Publish it right away, it will climb in the SERPs while you are learning. Enrich your ProZ profile when you know which keywords you've earned and could use.

Specialize in IT as your translation subject and make it your forte as well. You'll be surprised how many colleagues are afraid of anything they can't open in Word. A programmer is less impressed by bizar file formats, Trados-tagged files, translating web sites, databases etc. Start using CAT tools right away. Dare I mention

Good luck,


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 00:20
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Writing skills Jan 6, 2006

A course in technical writing may be helpful, unless you already have those skills.


chica nueva
Local time: 19:20
Chinese to English
Translation Journal; Translators' associations;proficiency tests, Proz... Jan 6, 2006

Translation Journal; Translators' associations;proficiency tests, Proz...

some ideas:

The translation journal has interesting biographies...

also, how about checking out the accreditation requirements for your local translators' association (ATA?), and see if you want to take their tests

there is an official Japanese language proficiency exam I think. The descriptors of the levels might give an indication of whether your language skills are at the right level to be credible as a translator/interpreter (the Chinese proficiency HSK levels do)

you could look at the profiles of translators in your language pair, especially those who are active in the forums and Kudoz, moderators and Platinum members, test your language/research skills in Kudoz... is there a Japanese forum on that might be interesting...

what do others think?
many people translate without the journal, Proz, proficiency tests or accreditations...other people do all those things and don't have work...however, I think these things help 'professionalism' and give you the armour to charge professional rates?
getting into translation depends on the market, and circumstances (the right place, the right time)? Credentials are useful if you want to work for an agency, but that might not be where the best returns are?

IT - there seem to be some businesses which specialise in website design, localisation etc and which include a translation division (not translation agencies as such). That might be a good place to enquire...

IMO You need to be able to 'read well' and 'write well'.You need to be able to do research too - eg Google, dictionaries, glossaries etc. Kudoz is quite good practice for this. You will also see various sorts of styles and approaches to translation there. Regarding Kudoz, I started with Chinese->English. It took me some time to realise I could handle the English->Chinese pair also...

It is good to understand the professional side: ethics/standards of the profession,eg client confidentiality, not adding omitting or changing anything, no bias, etc. You can get this from translator associations' professional codes of ethics. it is also good to know about professional liability/insurance and whether the agency or you personally are liable for mistakes.

good luck!


Anders Olsson (X)
Local time: 08:20
English to Swedish
+ ...
Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Jan 6, 2006

If you have passed level 1 of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test it might be a good idea to mention it on your Proz Profile page and your CV.


Heike Behl, Ph.D.  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:20
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Live in Japan Jan 7, 2006

If you haven't done so already, spend an extended period living and working in Japan (at least half a year, longer if possible). If I had the choice between a translator who got their language skills mostly from a classroom environment and one who was/is basically "living the language", guess who I'd choose?icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2006-01-07 00:23]


Hipyan Nopri  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:20
Member (2005)
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Start Working for Local Clients Jan 7, 2006

Here I do not share various theoretical prerequisites that should be met to be a professional translator. All ideas that have been proposed by our fellow translators above certainly shed light on what you should do.
In addition, I suggest you start working for local clients. This will be a kind of training step for you. Day by day, your self-confidence will be stronger and stronger. Afterwards, you can start receiving national and international translation jobs.
This is my personal experience. Before registering with, I have spent more than fourteen years on translating various texts - agriculture, biology, chemistry, electronic & electrical engineering, medicine, human resources management, medicine, physics, and law - from local clients, most of them are post-graduate students.
Thus, even though I have educational and electrical backgrounds, it does not prevent me from translating other fields.
May this input be useful to you. Good luck, and start to become a professional translator.


Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 23:20
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Voluntary projects Jan 7, 2006

A good way to start learning the tricks of this profession is acquiring experience. You can have professional translators giving you a list of a 100 things you can do to improve your skills, but it's up to you to learn your strong and weak points and how you feel about translating.

In the beginning, you may find it hard to find freelance jobs, since your clients will demand someone with experience. The best option in this case is to work on voluntary projects. And, since you work with computers, I'd recommend you resort to the open source community in order to find free software and other computer-related material originally written in Japanese and start translating their codes, manuals, and websites in your free time.

Being open source, you'll probably have other people offering their comments, suggestions, and corrections after your work is done — and IMHO there's nothing better than this kind of altruistic collaboration to improve one's skills. You'll learn a lot from your mistakes without risking your career and harming a paying client.

Another good idea is checking out a community website were you could publish your translated articles from Japanese into English. Is there a Japanese Wikipedia? So check out some articles that were not published in the English Wikipedia, contact their authors and offer your collaboration to translate them and share the byline (him/her as the author and you as the translator). Again, Wikipedia is a huge collaboration net, so people may edit your work if you've made mistakes.

Keep a journal or a professional website with your portfolio. Every time you finish one of these projects, post some comments about them and start using this website as your "business card". Clients will be able to verify what kind of experiences you have and most of them will appreciate the idea that you do voluntary work.

Good luck!


Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:20
Japanese to English
+ ...
My humble opinion Jan 7, 2006

What others are suggesting about specializing in IT is very sound... as long as you are going Japanese to English, into your strength. Otherwise, you will miss things like "dn't translate flag into hata, it's furaggu". It would be good if you had a resource who knows Japanese IT usage very well.

Someone said you should go to Japan and live there for a while. If you want to translate in a wider field, even company newsletters for tech companies, you need to know culture. I'm very serious about this. In any case, if it's at all an option, think seriously about going there for a couple of years at least.

As to rates, if what you have on your profile is per character, you probably won't command any more than that as a beginner. At one year, I am now about up to that level. Understand that you won't be terribly fast at the beginning, so what that translates to hourly may not be enough to meet your expenses to begin.

A lot of colleagues swear by going full time at a company doing translations. If you can find something like that, you'll get a wage and benefits.

Please do not think about translating into Japanese until you get very solid with language AND culture. You are translating into your own language, which makes you better automatically than too large a number of colleagues whose work I have seen. Do brush up on your English, anyway. This is not a commentary on your skills, your English is clearly fine. But even native speakers can use language maintenance.

Good luck (sincerely).

[Edited at 2006-01-07 17:34]


Joshua Carmody  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:20
Japanese to English
Thanks everyone Jan 8, 2006

Thank you everyone for your advice! I really appreciate it.

A couple people mentioned my profile and rates. Honestly, I haven't really payed much attention to my profile, because I am not yet actively looking for work. I only entered rate data so that I would receive job postings in my e-mail for that rate range. I actually have no idea what I would charge, and I haven't really researched the subject. I figured filling out my profile and deciding my rates should be put off until I was more sure of my skills and more ready to start work. Do I have this backwards?

Actually, I did take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test 2-kyuu this past December. I don't yet have the results of the test, but assuming I passed it I plan to take 1-kyuu (the hardest level) next year. Unfortunately the test is only held once per year.

I believe that the spending a year in Japan would be really helpful. Unfortunately, due to family circumstances, that option isn't currently available to me. However, I can say that I regularly associate with many Japanese people, and have more than just classroom experience.

I intend to build a website for myself, but I'm not sure what is meant by the suggestion to create a "journal". What does this entail?

Thank you Rafa for the wikipedia suggestion. It hadn't occured to me that I could learn from other users editing articles I've posted.

Everyone's advice has been quite helpful. Of course, further suggestions are quite welcome. Thanks!


Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:20
French to English
+ ...
You can hide your rates information Jan 9, 2006

Joshua Carmody wrote:

I only entered rate data so that I would receive job postings in my e-mail for that rate range.

In your profile settings there is an option to hide your rates information - if you do this, you will receive relevant job postings but other users won't be able to see your rates, so they won't become a distraction.

Opinion is divided on whether hiding your rates is a good long-term idea (I hide mine; others don't hide theirs - search the forums for more discussion) but I thought I'd inform you of this option.

Good luck!


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