Translators are greatly in demand in the modern world. In the past, people tended to come into contact only with those who spoke the same language as them. Today, we are confronted by other languages all the time. All of us unknowingly ‘use’ the services of translators in our daily lives, when we read translated websites, for example. Translators work in all kinds of locations, from the glamorous (such as major sports events), to the not so (such as drug addiction treatment centers). It’s varied and interesting work, and often gives people the chance to learn about subjects and meet people they would never have done otherwise. To become a translator, you need to be fluent in more than one language: that much is obvious. However, not everyone who can speak a language will be able to make a good translator. What else do you need?
To be a translator, you’ll need to have a good general understanding of language and linguistics. As well as knowing that x word in English translates to y word in French, you’ll need to have a flair for being able to pick up of subtlety and nuance in language. How far you need to be able to do that does depend a little on what you’re translating. Translating fiction, for example, will need you to have a really good in-depth knowledge of idiomatic language.
You may well also need to have a good knowledge of a particular subject area, or at least be willing to acquire it. Many translators specialise in a particular area, and it might help your career to do so. In some areas, there is much technical specialist language that you’ll need to know. Translating scientific articles, for example, will need you to have a good knowledge of specialist terms in both languages.
You should also be able to write well, in any language. If you’re good at learning languages, then learning how to apply proper style and grammar conventions should come easily to you. Remember that style can differ quite markedly within a language, especially those spoken by large numbers of people. Style conventions for Brazilian Portuguese are likely to differ from standard Portuguese, for example. Ask the company you’re translating for if they want you to use a particular style guide. The Oxford and Associated Press style guides are among the standards in English. Find out their equivalents for your translation language.
As well has having a good knowledge and understanding of language, translators need certain personal qualities and strengths to do well. An ability to work alone for long periods of time without getting de-motivated is important. Many translators work freelance, and for them, self-motivation is especially important. Some people really need to work collaboratively most of the time, but much of translation work is solitary, so make sure you’ll be able to handle that.
Good concentration skills are also essential to the translator. When you’re working closely with documents for many hours a day, you need to be able to keep focussed and not get distracted. Depending on the material you’re translating, you may also need good research skills, as you might need to find out background about a particular subject before translating it.
Translation can be a fantastic, family-friendly, flexible career. Many translators are able to work from home, and many are freelancers. It can sometimes be a good second career for those who have good knowledge of languages but want to leave the corporate world. There are some practical things to think about before setting yourself up as a translator. You’ll need to have a quiet place to work with enough space to set out your books,