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getting started with no qualifications
Thread poster: aga_york
aga_york
United Kingdom
Sep 14, 2014

Hi

I was wondering if anyone here could give me some information on how to become a translator/interpreter. Im from Poland but have lived and worked in UK for 8 years now. Im interested in doing translating/interpreting for living. I have no degree or experience. I graduated high school in my country in 2006 and passed exit exams, which I believe is equivalent to enlish A-levels. So my question now is what do I do to get started, what degree exactly do I need to do this job. I would be grateful for any information. Thank you.


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:41
German to English
+ ...
You can start with research Sep 15, 2014

There's an enormous amount of information on this website and on the internet in general. Just reading some of it, starting with the forum here at Proz called "Getting established", would provide you with a lot of food for thought and probably answer pretty much any question you have and many you didn't even know to ask. Research is also a crucial part of our translation work, as you have yet to find out. This would be the perfect opportunity to start developing that skill. When you have read all the material and still have specific questions, feel free to come back and ask. Right now your query is just too general and too big a topic to answer in a short form in a forum. If someone has time, fine, a partial answer may be forthcoming, but generally these types of questions require long, thoughtful and detailed (meaning time-consuming) answers. Your own research would expose you to a larger volume of information in a shorter amount of time than any individual could provide in a response here.

You can also try using Google. A quick Google search using the key words "how to become a translator uk" resulted in over 6 million hits:

https://www.google.de/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=h4YWVNS1HqmF8Qfi4IHwDw&gws_rd=ssl#q=how%20to%20become%20a%20translator%20uk

Good luck.


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p1q01
Malaysia
Local time: 19:41
Member (2015)
English to Chinese
+ ...
personal experience Sep 15, 2014

Hi,

I am one of those who have started translation career without any qualifications (in translation), but I do have a degree in biochemistry.

When I read your post, it reminds me the time when I just started to work as a freelance translator. Following are few points that I have summarized from my experience in the past five years, hopefully it will be helpful for you to start your journey.

i) Define your position in translation field. You can do this by looking back at your past working experience, and answer questions like: For the past 8 years, which field does your job mainly involved in? Have you acquired the sufficient background knowledge (through your job) which allow you to provide translation service for your language pair?

ii) Understand the ethic and definition of "translation". Ask yourself this question: If you were a translator with no qualifications, how would you translate to meet the requirement of your client? Through this question, you can give yourself a picture on how to deal with "translation". For example, you might have to read abundance of articles or journals to have better understanding in the topic you are going to translate, and also how you will translate the content.

Now, you have your answer for (i) and (ii), you may start to send your resume to companies or agents, they will usually give you a short test before hire you. And, before you apply, make sure you have had your rate/price in mind.

iii) Whether one should have a degree in translation to start this job, I really don't have an answer of Yes or No, maybe someone else can give a little comment on this. As for degree in other field, from my perspective, it would be great if you have a degree. For example, if you decided to be a translator in legal field, a degree in law (correct me if I am wrong) would really help a lot.

iv) If possible, learn a CAT tool(s) once you start your translation career. This is quite a controversial topic. Some may disagree on this, and the other agree. My opinion is, it depends on what content you are working with. If you are in the field that contains lots of technical terms, CAT tool can be helpful.

Well..... that's all I can think of. Good luck!


[Edited at 2014-09-15 09:32 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:41
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Some starting points Sep 15, 2014

It may help to get some purely practical factors defined, so that you can direct your research in relevant directions.

What you can afford is a vital factor, i.e. can you take several years out to do full-time study? Probably not in the UK. That still leaves you plenty of options like distance teaching and earning a living from something else while you study, but you can eliminate things that are not realistic.

Do you have dependants - children - to support, and who take up a lot of your time? Or are you trying to take advantage of the years of freedom before you are tied down? Look at training that fits your situation.

Where are you located? You may be able to do a lot over the Internet, but live contacts and opportunities in your area will be more practical.

What other subject areas do you know about to specialise in? You say you have no experience, but you must have been doing something since you came to the UK. Although at first it may take longer to qualify as a translator, earning a living in almost any other way will give you valuable experience, because you can't be a translator in a vacuum. Even apparently humble jobs give you a knowledge of the language used if you are awake and think about it - in the tourist trade, catering and food, building or in shops, for instance.

At some point you need to decide whether you are best at interpreting or written translation, or whether you really can manage both. Many people have a strong preference for one or the other. Are you really better in a quiet corner with dictionaries and databases, or are you more a hands-on, face-to-face person? Focus on the right one and concentrate on being really good at whatever you choose.

My own experiences - in Denmark - will not be a lot of use to you directly, so I hope others can point you in the right direction.

Don't give up - the road may be long and winding, but you will get there in the end. Simply remember to make use of all the opportunities you find as you go - and enjoy them!

Best of luck!


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Information Sep 15, 2014

aga_york wrote:

I would be grateful for any information. Thank you.


1. Most skilled translators agree that you should only translate into your mother tongue (i.e. from other languages into Polish and not from Polish into any other language). In my own case, although I lived in Italy for more than 20 years and when I speak to Italians they often assume I am native Italian, I would never dream of translating from English into Italian because this long experience has taught me deeply that my apparently complete command of the Italian language is not fail-safe.

2. The time-consuming and costly process of studying for a degree in translation will get you a piece of paper, but not the practical experience you need. Although in some very specialised fields (e.g. court interpreting, working directly for the EU) a degree would be essential, more generally in the translation market-place, experience and proven ability are worth more than a degree.

3. I suggest you get a job with a company that operates between Poland and the UK, and that requires you to work in both English and Polish (e.g.transport, import/export etc). In this way you will be able to develop your translation skills. Spend a few years doing this.

4. SPECIALISE ! This is very important. No translator can translate every kind of document in every field. You should identify one or two areas that personally interest you, and develop your knowledge of these areas. A specialist translator will get more work, of a more interesting kind, than a "generic" translator who claims to be able to translate anything.

The economic activity between the UK and Poland is very lively and I imagine there would be plenty of opportunities for you. Good luck!

[Edited at 2014-09-15 10:05 GMT]


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:41
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Qualifications Sep 15, 2014

The first thing you need to do is get a Degree in a Foreign Language.

One of the contributors stated that this is not necessary, but I really do disagree.

Every single client I have worked with/registered with has asked me for a copy of my Degree/Diploma in a Foreign Language. This is the standard reference point for potential clients.

Sure experience is worth a great deal, but most people should have a degree before they start out translating or interpreting.

My 2 pence worth.

Good luck!


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Well.... Sep 15, 2014

liz askew wrote:

.....
Every single client I have worked with/registered with has asked me for a copy of my Degree/Diploma in a Foreign Language.


I'm a busy translator with more than 20 years' experience, but I haven't got a degree/diploma in a foreign language. It has not had any adverse effect on my ability to get work, nor on my command of the language I translate.

My qualifications are that I lived, worked, attended university, and everything else in Italy for more than 20 years, where I also practised as a professional architect. In that capacity I worked between Italian and English for a very long time on all sorts of projects. This is what qualifies me, and it brings me lots and lots of work in my field.

My point: there is more than one route by which you can become a translator, and it doesn't necessarily begin with studying for a degree in languages.

[Edited at 2014-09-15 15:07 GMT]


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:41
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Well Tom Sep 16, 2014

You may be the exception to the rule.

Potential clients ALWAYS ask for a copy of my qualifications, i.e. Degree

Liz


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:41
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Training in translation as opposed to a degree in a language Sep 16, 2014

In principle anyone in the UK can set up in business as a translator.

In practice it is necessary to have some kind of qualification, and Tom's advice about looking into commercial activity between the UK and Poland is obviously sensible.

I have a diploma in translation from a Danish university, which is very different from a degree in Danish or English. But for my purposes as a translator far more useful.

I did begin many years ago on a degree course in French and German, which might have qualified me for a diploma to teach, had I completed it. In itself it was a purely academic study of the literature, a little history and the culture of the two countries. It was never intended as a practical training in translation.

Later I took a course in commercial correspondence in French and German, designed for Danes, but that was where I learned to translate. It was assumed that students could read the languages, and because Danish is (comparatively) rarely spoken outside Denmark, all foreign trade has to go on in other languages, so it has to be translated. Denmark trades around the world, so that means everything - negotiations, contracts, marketing, user manuals, you name it. The situation with English and Polish is probably roughly comparable at an overall level.

I continued with my postgraduate diploma, (distance teaching with optional monthly seminar days BTW) where the focus was on translation from Danish to English and English to Danish.

This is the sort of qualification I would recommend. There was a certain amount of linguistics and text analysis, but the modules were on economics, technology and law, and the special language used in different professions. There were also modules on terminology and resources, and I chose medical translation as a special option based on my school Latin and earlier background experience.

These courses are introductions. After that it is necessary to gather further qualifications and/or experience, but having learnt the principles, you can go on studying alone - and you will need to. You will not need to take exams all the time, however.

Membership of a professional association such as the ITI in the UK is definitely a good idea. You have to pass exams, so it is a longer term goal, but one you should aim at.

Not all translation is rocket science, so you can start in a small way as long as you know your limitations. You can work at extending them as you go.


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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:41
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Degree necessary? Sep 16, 2014

liz askew wrote:

You may be the exception to the rule.

Potential clients ALWAYS ask for a copy of my qualifications, i.e. Degree

Liz


You sent them your translation/foreign languages degree because you have one.
In insisting that said degree is therefore necessary, you're trying to prove a negative, which can't be done. How do you know they would have rejected you had you said that you don't have a translation degree, or just sent them a diploma in maths or engineering or English or whatever else one's degree is actually in?

I've never been rejected for not having a translation degree. Sure, clients have asked, but it doesn't appear that they are ever put off by a negative response.



[Edited at 2014-09-16 17:58 GMT]


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Hannah D  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:41
French to English
+ ...
Start with volunteering Sep 17, 2014

aga_york wrote:

Hi

I was wondering if anyone here could give me some information on how to become a translator/interpreter. Im from Poland but have lived and worked in UK for 8 years now. Im interested in doing translating/interpreting for living. I have no degree or experience. I graduated high school in my country in 2006 and passed exit exams, which I believe is equivalent to enlish A-levels. So my question now is what do I do to get started, what degree exactly do I need to do this job. I would be grateful for any information. Thank you.


Nobody has ever asked to see proof of my qualifications. So although it may be a confidence booster, for both you and your future clients, I don't think a degree is necessary.

Experience, however, is. I suggest you start by volunteering. There are plenty of NGOs who could do with the help. It benefits them, and it helps you build up a portfolio.

You probably don't need telling that there is a huge Polish community in the UK. You're going to have quite a juicy market. Start by trying to think creatively/laterally: what groups, associations, support services exist out there for new Polish migrants to the UK with no English skills? Do they need help translating government resources for new residents? Can they pay you? If so, congratulations, you have your first client. If they are a not-for-profit organisation, do you have the time and/or inclination to help out?

It's about getting two or three projects under your belt so you can apply to ''proper'' clients with something to show your abilities. Remember: you can't ''volunteer'' for a company. That's called working for free.


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:41
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Yes, from my own personal experience, a Degree is necessary Sep 17, 2014

Hi
I don't wish to get into an argument over this one or for this debate to become personal and self-centred.
I merely stated my own experience.

All I can say is that any language agency/client has always asked me for proof of my language qualification in order to translate their documents, and this has been phrased as "Degree/Higher Education Qualification".

I could list the agencies involved, but are we allowed to on this forum?

Liz

p..s
just to be clear I did not say "Translation Degree"!!

I said:

........... Degree in a Foreign Language...........

Cheers!

As I said my answer was based on my own personal experience, just because this is different to others' experience, doesn't mean to say you need to become defensive or defend your own translation experiences.

My contribution is one of many for the asker to ponder on.

[Edited at 2014-09-17 15:13 GMT]


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Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:41
Member (2012)
French to English
Interesting... Sep 17, 2014

It's interesting for me to read the differing points of view here.

I have an honours degree in French and an MA in translation, and am finding it quite difficult to make money out of translation as a career.

It seems to me that whatever your route into translation, it is quite likely to take a long time to make much money from it, so be prepared.

And good luck!


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p1q01
Malaysia
Local time: 19:41
Member (2015)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Agree with Christine Sep 18, 2014

When I was a newbie, I always doubted that, whether should I take a language course (which usually takes few years to complete in university) to improve myself in translation career, but at the same time, I also realized that, a language course would only teach you the language (itself), literature, culture etc. It doesn't mean it is not good/necessary, it just not the course I expected for. However, I still don't know where to find those courses that suits my need until I read Christine post.

And, I can see there is also another discussion going on here.
It is not a simple question that can be answered which is the best, and I believe that, the best answer is always the one suits your personal need and current situation.

Maybe we can put it into different scenarios.
i) if you are a fresh graduate, no (working) experience, you are a bilingual, you want to be a translator.
Obviously, the diploma/degree would be the best option to help you to start, and Christine's suggestions will be helpful for you.

ii) You have worked in a (particular) field for more than 5 years, you have no translation qualification, you are a bilingual (with or without qualifications).
You might have greater advantage to compete with other translators, and you may want to consider Christine's suggestions.

iii) You have worked in a field for 20 years, you have no translation qualification, you are a bilingual (with or without qualifications).
Yes, I mean Tom. In this case, you yourself is already the "proof/qualification", the impact of qualifications is really lesser than other.

For a beginner, I think it is quite important to understand your own ability and current situation.

At last, I also agree with Rudolf, there are actually not much negative responses, especially when you are trying to work with a company, because they will usually give you a test. Just do your best on the test.


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DS Trans  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:41
French to English
+ ...
Similar Experience Sep 18, 2014

Elizabeth Tamblin wrote:

It's interesting for me to read the differing points of view here.

I have an honours degree in French and an MA in translation, and am finding it quite difficult to make money out of translation as a career.

It seems to me that whatever your route into translation, it is quite likely to take a long time to make much money from it, so be prepared.

And good luck!


I also found it difficult to make a living freelance translating. I had plenty of offers, but with ridiculous rates. From my experience, the degree is important for translating though. I never received an offer to work in French--I assume because I have no credential for it. In any event, I'd suggest thoroughly investigating all options before investing the time and money in a degree.

I ended up finding a regular interpreting job, although still working as a contract employee. It's is more stress than I'd like, but it pays the piper. (I had really liked the idea of working in my jammies, oh well.) The ironic thing is I mostly interpret French. The lack of degree didn't matter in my case, but keep in mind that I'm in the US and only work for one particular company at this time.



[Edited at 2014-09-18 16:25 GMT]


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