A guide on how to become a translator

Are you curious about what it takes to be a translator? This article will go over the basic requirements, the daily work of a translator, and how you can take advantage of previous experience as well as sharpen your skills to become a professional translator in this fast-paced business.


      What does a translator do?

      Translators translate information from one language into another. They distinguish themselves from interpreters by working with the written word, not the spoken. They take time to choose and research the correct terminology, what information to keep, adjust or omit, and make sure that the text sounds just as natural in their target language as the original text did to its audience.

      Which areas can you work in?

      There are many different areas you can choose to specialise in as a translator. Perhaps you have previously worked in a different field, or have interests in fields where you already have a good grasp of the terminology? Many translators have previously been active in areas such as medicine, engineering, transportation or marketing. Previous work experience or education in other fields can give you an advantageous edge. The topic of the material for translation can span from informative pamphlets on current social political issues to advertisements with the newest TikTok trends. If the information is supposed to reach more than one target audience, translation is most often needed.

      What do you need to become a translator?

      There are three requirements to become a translator according to ISO17100.

      1. You can study translation at a local university (BA, MA). When you graduate, you will be qualified and can work for agencies. Most translation courses also include traineeships at translation agencies, which is a great way to make connections early on.
      2. If you already have a higher education in a different area (for example linguistics), you will need two years’ worth of translation experience in order to reach the requirements. Many agencies are not ISO-certified and are able to take on people who are interested in becoming a translator. Some even have onboarding programmes.
      3. If you do not have a higher education, you will need five years of translation experience in order to reach the ISO-requirements. This is not an uncommon approach, as many individuals looking to freelance can start off by working for agencies without those qualification requirements, and by the time they have the relevant experience, they also have a range of subjects they have become comfortable translating.

      Most translators translate into their mother tongue. The language they translate into is called the target language; the language they translate from is called the source language. Here, it is best to concentrate on quality over quantity. It is not recommended to have too many source languages; it is better to have a few languages that you are really comfortable working with, and instead focus on deepening your knowledge of the subject areas to produce high quality translations, rather than handling many languages with only superficial knowledge.

      You do not need any certifications to become a translator, but it can be beneficial to take a course in the CAT tool you are interested in using. Upon completion, you should receive a certificate that can prove to any employer that you are comfortable working with the tool. The four most common CAT tools are:

      • Memsource
      • MemoQ SDL
      • Trados Studio
      • Wordfast

      As the industry is becoming more technologically advanced, you could also learn to provide additional services to translation such as Machine Translation Post-Editing (MTPE), review or revision.

      You can also apply to join a translators’ association (e.g. ATA, SFÖ, ITI). This will both increase your visibility, as some of them have searchable databases, and can also help you keep up with any news in the translation industry via newsletters.

      Would you like to contact Semantix for a possible collaboration?

      Brush up those translation skills

      What type of skills does a translator need? Before you dive into this occupation, ask yourself if you have the following:

      • A love of languages and an interest in continuously improving your knowledge of your source and target language.
      • A thirst for knowledge, as research is an integral part of every translator’s working process, and technology is becoming increasingly important to keep up with the changes in the industry.
      • A genuine interest in communication, not only because you will be transferring information from one language into another, but also because as a freelancer, you will be the face of your own company. This will mean keeping in contact with customers regarding projects and deadlines, and for those tasks, communication is key.

      Practising these skills can take some time. You can take courses to learn and practise your technological skills (CAT tools and working with Machine Translation), to create and manage your own business, and deepen your knowledge of your subject areas. Some CAT tools even have free licences that you can use to get a feel of the tool before you choose to buy it.

      Some agencies also hire student workers and aspiring translators to help them practise their trade and gain experience.

      Tips for getting yourself hired

      Make sure that your CV is up to date and mentions any previous relevant experience before you start contacting prospective employers.

      Previous recommended work experience is work done as linguists or interpreters. If you have been active in one of your areas of expertise (for example as an engineer, a doctor, a mechanic) that can really boost your translation career and smooth the transition into the industry.

      At Semantix, there is often a need for more linguists in the Nordic combinations within fields such as IT, medicine and marketing. If your mother tongue is a language with very few native speakers, chances are you will be able to find translation work within the public sector.

      Semantix is the largest language solutions provider in the Nordics.