How to Become a Professional Translator | Essential Skills

Are you bilingual and wondering how to become a professional translator? If you’re bilingual, artistic, and precise, and would like to make money from your language skills, check out this list of essential skills!

A table holds a globe, dictionaries in different languages, and a laptop; all essential tools of a professional translator.

Job opportunities for translators and interpreters will increase by 24% between now and 2030. That’s more than double the national average for other industries! Translators and interpreters play a key role in effective communication and coordination across cultures. And although many people confuse the terms, translation and interpretation each require different skills, aptitude, and training. So, how can you become a professional translator?

What does a professional translator do?

A group of  happy translation students in a classroom study hold a sign that reads "ENGLISH Translations."

Translators transform written materials into clear texts in the target language. They must clearly understand the meaning and nuance of the source language in order to transmit it accurately and elegantly in the target language.

Essential skills: Reading, Research, Writing

A professional translator researches terminology with a reference book and a notepad.

Reading – Understand the source language and culture

When you see the phrase “hit the dance floor,” do you imagine a group of people slapping their palms against the floor in a nightclub, or do you understand the cultural context? How would you translate it? Professional translators convey the intended meaning of the source text, instead of translating it word-for-word.

Research – Know industry vocabulary and terminology

Beyond Google, there are many specialized dictionaries, reference materials, and terminology databases that translators draw on to find just the right word. Some of my most useful print dictionaries contain terms, definitions, and regional variations that I can’t find online. As your business grows, so will your bookshelf!

Writing – Transmit the meaning of the source text with style and precision

The mark of a professional translator is the ability to write well in the target language. In most cases, the end-users of the translation should not even notice that the source text had been written in a foreign language. Professional translators also ensure that their work is free of common spelling and grammatical errors, which distract readers and undermine the credibility of the text. But it’s not all about producing a smooth and readable translation. If, as acclaimed translator Andrew Hurley argues, the author of the source text was a great writer, you must also be a bit of an artist, willing to hunt down the perfect turn of phrase that captures the original meaning as accurately and elegantly as possible.

Who hires professional translators?

Professional translators are hired by people and organizations who need to have their written material converted accurately into another language. Professional translators can work for the government, NGOs, businesses, publishing houses, and law firms, among others. A growing specialty involves translating subtitles for content creators. There is a lot of work available if you take the right steps to find it.

How much do professional translators earn?

The median annual wage for U.S.-based translators was $49,110 in May 2021. Earnings vary depending on a translator’s language combination, specialization, experience, and certification. If you work with a language that is in high demand, you can charge more. Most freelance translators are women, and many are self-employed. If you have an Internet connection and a computer, you can get started.

Can you work as a professional translator and interpreter?

Yes, I personally do, although most linguists don’t, or strongly prefer one over the other. I love translation because I get paid to read and write about all kinds of topics. I also get a special thrill out of hunting down just the right word or phrase to express the original meaning. And I love interpretation because I really enjoy helping form connections in the business community, and I get to help refugees and new immigrants communicate and receive essential information.

How can I start making money as a professional translator?

A laptop with dollar bills coming out of it shows how being a professional translator can help you make money.

Whether you decide to focus first on translation or interpretation, the first step is to establish a professional profile so that clients can start finding you. Once they do, you’ll need a system to process project requests, manage your clients and assignments, and handle payments. Ready to get started?

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