Translator Careers

How to become Translator

What does a Translator do?

Translators convert the written word from one language (known as the source language) into another language (known as the target language).

Translators may work on:

  • scientific, technical or commercial material such as reports, manuals and brochures
  • legal documents, such as contracts
  • literary work - translating novels, plays and poetry
  • media translation, such as web sites, film scripts and subtitles for films
  • educational work, including textbooks and travel guides.
Translators may specialise in one type of work or work on a number of subjects and projects. They may need specialist knowledge of the subject, such as technical terminology, and must be able to reproduce the text clearly, accurately and in the style intended by the author. They may need to research legal, technical or scientific terms and consult with experts to ensure a correct translation.

The most common languages used include European languages, Arabic, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Russian

Translators use computers extensively in their work, typing translations into a word processor and using the Internet and email for research. Some large companies use computer programmes to create a rough 'machine' translation, which is then revised and edited by a translator.

What's the working environment like working as a Translator?

Staff translators work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Freelance translators work hours to suit their workload and may have to work evenings and weekends to meet deadlines.

The work is normally desk-based, using a word processor, with reference books and specialist dictionaries to hand. This means that translating can be a very solitary occupation. It may be necessary to visit clients, experts or specialist organisations, but most contact is by email, phone or mail.

What does it take to become a Translator?

To be a translator you should:

  • be fluent in one or more foreign languages
  • be able to write in the target language accurately and in a style appropriate for the subject
  • have thorough knowledge of the institutions, culture and practices in countries where the target language is spoken
  • be self-motivated and able to work at speed
  • have a flair for research
  • have specialised knowledge of a business, technical or scientific field
  • have a keen interest in developments in your specialist field/s
  • be discreet and trustworthy as you may have to translate confidential documents
  • remain neutral and free of bias
  • have good IT skills, particularly word processing.

Translator Career Opportunities

There is strong competition for full-time posts. There are employment opportunities with international organisations such as the United Nations; government departments; multinational companies; some large translation agencies; and some industrial and commercial companies with regular overseas trade.

Recruitment to the United Nations, EU institutions and government departments is by competitive examination and interview. Some vacancies are for trainee positions, but others require two years‘ experience. UN and EU jobs are based overseas.

Promotion is to senior translator and to head of department for those employed in large translation departments or agencies. This may occasionally offer a route into management.

Translators may decide to work on a freelance basis. Those who are successful in this way sometimes start their own translation agency. It is possible to make a full-time living from freelance translating, but it may be necessary to do teaching or interpreting work as well.

Literary translation is a largely freelance activity and few people rely on it solely for a living.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Translator that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL)
Saxon House
48 Southwark Street
Tel: 020 7940 3100

Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI)
Fortuna House
South Fifth Street
Milton Keynes
Tel: 01908 325250

CILT, the National Centre for Languages
20 Bedfordbury
Tel: 020 7379 5101

European Commission Traineeship Office