How to become a professional translator

Working within a team in a company, or independently? Choosing salaried employment or freelancing? It can be a dilemma for a professional translator. One must be aware of their own expectations and career prospects offered by the translation sector in order to establish a foothold in the profession.

First step: Translation school

Translation and Interpretation educational establishments offer a diversity of curricula covering various languages and specialities of which literary, technical and medical translation. These studies encompass both theoretical and practical teachings of the art of translation, with the emphasis on the use of modern technologies such as computer assisted translation tools. They offer valuable academic knowledge to anyone wishing to become a professional translator.

Freelance professional translator or employee?

The career paths and duties between freelance and employed translators vary greatly. The choice of employment status should be based on an analysis of the two profiles and the person’s character, desires, and ambitions.

The employed professional translator security

When employed in a translation department, in a company or in an international organization, the translator integrates a structured working environment: hierarchy, specific tools, business areas…

When working with an agency, they translate a large volume of documents quite simultaneously and cover several fields. Committed to making the most out of their employee, the agency will fill their working hours by assigning them tasks in fields they don’t master. However, their workplace flexibility is generally better than with advertisers. Working as a professional translator employed in an agency is generally attractive for young translators who love challenges, diversity, and fast-paced work.

Being employed by an advertiser means a slower work pace, recurring topics and the opportunity for translators to improve their knowledge and become experts in a specific field. With softer deadlines, it is generally more comfortable than working in an agency.

In either case, the employed professional translator enjoys work security, fixed salary and agreed upon rates for their tasks.

Professional translator employed in an international organization

UN translator positions are highly competitive and sought-after careers. UN translators are required to translate a variety of official documents, speeches, resolutions, reports and texts in the UN’s official languages. These language are as follows : Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian.

In order to become a UN translator, applicants must present proof of in-depth translation studies, display excellent command of two official UN languages and possess knowledge in specialized fields such as international law, economy, social affairs, politics, etc. They work in a multicultural and multilingual environment where clarity, precision and cultural awareness, are key. They also must be able to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines.

The recruitment process to become an UN translator is very strict, and includes written tests and interviews. Once recruited, the translator works in New York, Geneva, Vienna or in other UN regional office around the world.

Freelance translator: Independence and multi-tasking

Freelancers must simultaneously manage their translation tasks and company affairs and constantly find new prospects and potential clients. Typically working from home, they can manage their work hours freely. The spectrum of subjects they translate is wider than in an employee status.

They create their profile on online freelance translation platforms such as Proz, allowing them to advertise their services to the international clientele. These platforms offer a range of services and features designed to help the translators and interpreters to find work opportunities, develop their skills, establish a professional network and access useful resources.

Becoming a sworn translator somewhat guarantees a working capital. After that, the translator will be able to carry out certified translations by following a legal process and being registered in the regional high court and approved by the ministry of foreign affairs.

The income varies with the orders volume and the nature of every project. After several years, professional translators with a strong customer base, will surely see their notoriety and income grow.

Costs, such as health and retirement insurances that should be deducted from the turnover must not be overlooked. As every independent entrepreneur, translators and interpreters do not benefit from maternity or sick leaves, unless they subscribe to supplemental insurance, as for the retirement, the translator must invest in a private fund or savings account.

Photo credit : by Martine from Pixabay