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Do you have to have academic qualifications to succeed?
Thread poster: Francine Ryder (X)

Francine Ryder (X)
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:51
English to French
+ ...
Jan 25, 2006

Hi guys,
I'm a newbie here and basically wanted to say hello. But also, now that I finally have fellow translators to talk to (phew!), I can definitely get an answer to a very important question I have been asking myself ever since I decided to follow my vocation and become a translator. The question is: How important do you think having a translation/language degree (or similar qualification) is when becoming a translator?

Please if you could all take a few minutes to answer this question, I would really appreciate it. But please, can you give me your personal opinions (especially if you ARE a working translator with no formal qualifications) supported by personal experience, rather than the "industry standard" tagline on the subject.
I have already read hundreds of web pages on the subject from various sources (most of them being translation associations, translation recruitment consultants or agencies, "old-school" professional translators i.e. scholars and other official sources) but would like to know the thoughts of real-life translators (not that the people who write the various publications I mentioned earlier are not real-life translators, the point is I don't actually know.)

I must say I'm really chuffed to have found this website and especially these forums, as they looks extremely active and useful.

Thank you all.



Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:51
Dutch to English
+ ...
No need for formal education Jan 26, 2006

I have but my sister does not and we work together a lot. She has never found it a problem. You must however be interested in all sorts and avidly read up on stuff (we are technical translators).

Having a degree in something other than languages is an added bonus. I did maths as well as the languages and this has helped me a lot but, again, I do not think it is absolutely necessary.

The bottom line is that qualifications are helpful (in knowing your subject and convincing customers you are a good option) but not necessary. The university of life is what you need!


Kathryn Strachecky  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
French to English
I agree with Marijke Jan 26, 2006

Hi Fran

I agree with Marijke. I'm in my first year of translation, having left University with a Licence in languages and business studies. My course included translation, but I don't have a formal qualification.
I already have regular clients, and quality is definitely more important to them than qualifications.
However, Marijke is also right that you need to do a lot of reading. Simply having good language skills is not enough.

Good luck!icon_smile.gif


Rebecca Barath  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:51
English to Norwegian
+ ...
I agree...... Jan 26, 2006

'The bottom line is that qualifications are helpful (in knowing your subject and convincing customers you are a good option) but not necessary. The university of life is what you need!'

Absolutely! I do wish I had a formal education, but "the university of life" does count for something. Even in the 'civilian' world.
A friend of mine finished 4 years of college, she was convinced she would get a managers job straight out of college, a year later she is still unemployed.
Like Marijke said, read, study & read some more!!


Adam Podstawczynski  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
Polish to English
+ ...
paper useless, but skills handy Jan 26, 2006

Welcome to the site, Fran!

I have MA in English Language, and I specialized in translation. I've been a translator for 7 years now, but the MA diploma has been of no use during the time. I keep it in a drawer; nobody has asked for it yet, agencies and end customers are interested but in my previous experience or test piece results.

However, I do not regret the 5 years I spent on studying. Language studies do make you sensitive to linguistic nuances, and help you know both the foreign language and your mother tongue. Studying teaches patterns; later, you start recognizing those patterns in your everyday practice, which makes you a more conscious translator -- and that is A Good Thing(r).

Good luck!


Elisabetta M.  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
English to French
+ ...
Degree in a special field helps a lot Jan 26, 2006

Hello everybody,
I have no degree in translation but one in french law and have been a lawyer (in a former life) for some years. Clients are much more interested in the fact I understand what they are talking about because they assume that if I am a translator I know the languages from and to which I translate.
Have a nice day


Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
My experience Jan 26, 2006

Formal qualifications have an impact on some clients, who will automatically discard you because you don't have any. However, a good workaround could be something like the Diploma of Translation from the IoL or any other kind of respected "accreditation" instead of formal studies in translation.
Of course many customers don't care about your degrees, so once you manage to start working with them, and you prove to be a good translator, they tend to come back to you.
In my experience formal qualifications have an impact on the initial choice made by the client, but can be replaced by specific experience in the particular field the client is interested in.
The best combination, in my view, is knowledge + experience + some "piece of paper" like the IoL diploma. This is the optimal way to be able to SELECT clients.


[Edited at 2006-01-26 10:31]


Claire Titchmarsh (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
Italian to English
+ ...
No substitute for real life Jan 26, 2006

I left university halfway through my 4 year French course, and my only regret is not having left sooner. We had 1 hour (yes, 1) of spoken French per week, the rest of the time was spent running up our overdrafts in the student bar or pretending to read medieval French literature when we couldn't even read contemporary French properly. Then they wanted to pack us off to France for a year - well thanks very much I could have hopped on a ferry by myself armed with my French A-level and saved a lot of time!

Three years later I went to Italy and found that living in a foreign country is by far the best way to become a good translator (apart from reading anything you can get your hands on)

Having said that I do have an IoL qualification which I got because it's always helpful to have something to measure yourself against.

Best of luck



Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:51
French to English
With specific reference to French Jan 26, 2006

I agree with the general trend of this thread. Experience is vital, IMO - the better translators nearly have always spent some time gaining practical experience in their chosen field (read: "working"icon_smile.gif ), and preferably in a source-language country.

Study, if not actual qualifications, is useful, since it makes you think about notions such as equivalence (rather than simply translating the words), the idea that every word should (in theory) be "accounted for" if not actually translated, etc. I got this from my IoL course - you could get the same from reading something on translation theory - it's all useful background.

With respect to French specifically - as a nation/culture, France & the French are very keen on paper qualifications. If you plan to work with/for clients in France, I recommend you get oneicon_smile.gif It can only help.


Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:51
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
Mark Twain summed it up Jan 26, 2006

My favorite American author, Samuel Clemens, put it very well when he said: "I alway strived not to allow my schooling to interfere with my education." (or words to that effect)

The point, of course, is that education may be obtained in many ways, and formal schooling/training does not always necessarily provide it. The diploma or degree is a good thing to have, no doubt, but it does not in and of itself confer any ability. It simply attests that you satisfied a set of course requirements.

That being said, I agree with Charlie that the "paper" is very important in some situations.


olivier saint germes
Local time: 02:51
Spanish to French
+ ...
Better have a degree in another specility Jan 26, 2006

I agree with what is said.
And I think the better way of being a good translator is to have a diploma in another speciality.

I'm french, living in Spain since 1997, and had a juridic specialisation in France. I've been working in a city hall, tax department. I think i can translate tax related texts better than a diplomated translator!! We can't ask him to know the diferences between "TAXE, REDEVANCE ET IMPOT" for example. but I know it and that's very useful in my daily work (as a translator).
I'd like to add that I don't think the same about interpreting! I started translation studies here in Spain just to have the possibility to go to Mons' Ecole d'Interprètes Internationaux in an ERASMUS program. I couldn't have worked as an interpreter without this experience.
Hope I help


Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:51
French to English
+ ...
Need Something Jan 26, 2006

You need something to convince people to hire you as opposed to someone else, many of whom will have degrees. You need to answer the question of why someone should hire you if you don't have one. Once you answer that question, you can market yourself accordingly. You should recognize that this may be very difficult to do.

A degree may or may not make someone a better translator, but one thing it does show is an ability to commit oneself to a goal and to follow through on it, a desirable quality in any job.

Best of luck on your exciting new career!


SonjaR  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:51
Italian to German
+ ...
Depends on what you want to do Jan 26, 2006


I think that it depends on what you actually want to do - if you want to be a fee lance translator ( I am one, and I do have a University degree in Translation) you don't really need a degree (nobody ever asked me about mine), but it helps if you have it (one agency told me they were interested in collaborating with me because I graduated from exactly THAT university). If you want to translate for an institution (European Parliament/Commission etc.) you would definitly need a degree in translation!
So you just have to figure out what you want to do...


Noelia Ruiz Pérez  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
I agree. Jan 26, 2006

Hi! I am a newby too and so far I am finding it difficult to start. I haven´t got any dregrees either but I have done lots of translations and my clients have always been happy. This site is amazing and it seems that its going to be very helpful. I haven´t become a platinum member yet because I am waiting to see how it all works. But I agree it will be fair if some clients forget about degrees for a while. I am no lawyer but I did translate a legal contract from Spanish into English. A bilingual solicitor reviewed and was quite impressed. So it is possible to make a good translation without a degree.

One other thing I would like to ask while we are here is: Do you really need TRADOS to be able to work?

Thanks for reading and have a great day!



Benno Groeneveld  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:51
English to Dutch
+ ...
I have a university degree in English Jan 26, 2006

(just the language, not translation as such) from the University of Amsterdam and I have found that extremely useful. Spending time (lots of time, eight years actually, something you could do back then, late 60s early 70s) on the language, plus learning some Old and Middle English (King Alfred, Chaucer) helped me gain a deeper understanding of the language. Plus I can identify quotes and other references that might be obious to a native speaker but not to a "foreigner." (I can even make puns).

Helping raise a child in the US also helped, there are a lot of references to nursery rhymes and classic children's books in the language.

I would advocate a combination if you want to become a good translator: formal study of the language you want to work in plus living in the country where the language is spoken.

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