Is Being a Translator a Good Career?

Is Being a Translator a Good Career?


Languages are your hobby; you love the challenge of switching from one to another and want to make a career out of it, but you wonder: "is being a translator a good career?" This article will prove to you that being a professional translator certainly is a good career path to follow, and will even inform you of the job requirements to work in translation, the opportunities for growth, and the possibility to work as a freelance languages translator. 


What Does a Career as a Translator Entail?

Requirements for Being a Translator

Why Being a Translator is a Good Career

Reasons Not to Pursue a Career in Translation

Machines vs. Your Career in Translation 


What Does a Career as a Translator Entail?

In other words, what does a professional translator do? Translators are individuals who speak at least two languages to a very high level and transport messages from one language into another.

Despite having a near-native command of a foreign language, it is most likely that they will never translate into their learned language, but always out of it, into their native tongue. This supposedly gives the best results as the translator fully understands the message and is able to rewrite it in a natural, culturally-meaningful form in their mother language practically automatically. 

As you will understand well from faux pas made in your French homework when copy and pasting from Google Translate, translations can rarely be done word by word. Although it might just seem like a peaceful process of sitting down and converting one discourse into another, a professional translator's job actually has quite high stakes.

It is vital to respect the words of the original author and convey the same meaning that he/she intended. This is a difficult task when you take into consideration:

  • Cultural differences, national psychologies 
  • Specific traditions or customs with which the foreign reader might not be familiar
  • Jokes or puns that do not work in another tongue
  • Colloquial phrases that are irreverent when translated
  • Registers or respectful forms of parlance....
  • ...  or old fashioned manners of speaking that the target language does not possess

Simply put, there is a lot to take into consideration.

With every sentence, a translator finds him/herself tightrope-walking between what and how the author intended to say something and what and how the audience will respond to (let alone comprehend) it. The objective is to establish a respectful and fruitful balance.  

It is therefore fortunate that translators have some time to let the message really sink in and mull over the options of how to communicate this and their connotations in the new language. Imagine that you are a best-selling Spanish novelist, for example; would you want the whole of the English-speaking world to get the wrong end of the stick just because your translator chose to employ one certain phrase over another? We think not! Read more about the art of literary translation here.


Translation vs Interpretation 

This is the main difference between translators and interpreters. Translation is the written act of conveying one text in another language, which allows some time for reflection. Interpretation, on the other hand, is an on-the-spot verbal exercise where foreign listeners require an immediate understanding of the speech being given. 

That is why there exists a kind of dichotomy between translation and interpretation material. Of course, both can relate to any topic, but interpreters tend to translate more factual, practical information whilst translators have to deal with more abstract, subjective or poetic literature. Interpreters must aim to get the point being relayed across fast and sensibly synthesised; translators can be more creative and accurate as there is a 100% chance that they have a dictionary and reference material sat next to them. Interpreters can only research the area beforehand and rely on their quick thinking in the heat of the moment. 

Translators can also stray from the written word and specialise in audiovisual translation where they may have to produce works such as subtitles for films or transcripts for podcasts.

Let us know which role you would prefer in the comments section!

Of course, this dichotomy is not rigidly enforced; there is certainly overlap between the two disciplines and the materials they deal with, so rest assured that after pursuing a career in translation services you will never see a dull day!




Requirements for Being a Translator

There is a combination of skills and qualifications required for a career in translation, but there is no set career path. That said, some positions have stricter requirements than others so you may need an official course recommended by the company. 


General Requirements:

  • Degree in Modern Foreign Languages  
  • (Or) Degree in Translation 
  • Good time management skills 
  • Strong writing and speaking skills
  • Familiarity with the 8 types of translation
  • Creative mind
  • Meticulousness
  • Adaptability to different writing styles 
  • Consistency
  • Cultural awareness
  • Capacity to think laterally 
  • Awareness of responsibility 
  • Computer skills, comfortable with translation software 


Nice to Have:

  • Master's in Translation
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Interest/ appreciation for literature 
  • Intuition for inherent meanings and phrases that just sound right 
  • Well-traveled 
  • Patience



Why Being a Translator is a Good Career  

There are a multitude of reasons why being a translator is a good career path, so keep reading if you want to become convinced about pursuing a job in translation...


Good Salary 

Unlike most jobs, translators are typically not paid a regular wage by the hours they work per day, but rather, per project. Projects are often long and time-consuming, requiring the translator to first research the topic and familiarise themselves with the register, the vocabulary, and perhaps the style of the author in question, meaning that the prices can be set pretty high! You will probably set the price for projects requested by calculating the price per word or hours necessary to complete them.

Of course, the salary depends on your level of superiority, but translators outsourced for the communications materials of international brands can earn a very comfortable amount indeed. 

Remember, the more in-demand the languages you offer are, the higher you can charge for your services. German and Spanish are currently the highest paid languages to translate and French and Spanish translators are most common and therefore have most competition.

Do you speak any of these languages? Why not search for Spanish, German, or French-speaking jobs here. 

Switzerland is a particulary good place to set up your career as a translator as this line of work earns a disproportionately high salary compared with the rest of Europe.

Asian languages are also a solid bet as the demand for them will only increase along with the growing strength of their respective countries' economies. 


More Relevant Than Ever

Each year, the world becomes evermore globalised and interconnected. Businesses from the four corners of the world are doing deals with each other and need to communicate. So your native language that you might have written of as 'hardly useful' will undoubtedly be needed somewhere! 

You do not have to worry about careers in translation becoming redundnant: translation is a relevant, reliable, and rewarding sector to enter into and remain within throughout your professional journey.


Diverse Specialisations 

Don't like literature? That's okay - a career as a translator could still be for you! It is important not to write off translation as a tedious career where you slog away over uninteresting texts. On the contrary, pick your specialisation and you can pursue your passions, whether they be within the medical, legal, literary, scientific or any other sector! Read the top 5 specialisations for translators here. 


Different Environments 

Translators are needed by companies everywhere these days. You can choose to work in an agency, receiving tasks from a variety of sources, or you could be an in-house translator where you get to know the inner workings of one specific brand and become a master of communicating its messages and personality.

Maybe you prefer to work in public institutions such as:

  • International organisations like NATO, the UN, or the Red Cross
  • Sporting organisations like FIFA or WADA
  • Publishing houses like Penguin or Hachette Livre
  • Universities or colleges
  • NGOs

Or another option would be establishing yourself as a freelance translator. You can get some tips on how to get your solo translation career off the ground here.


You Never Stop Learning 

Every translation task is a research project in itself. The author of the original text most likely has a different background, specialisation, and general interests to you. So, in order to communicate this information in your native language so that other can understand it, you must first get your head around it.

Words often have more than one meaning, so it is vital to research the context to understand if a common word is to be understood in an usual sense. Little by little, you will become an expert in hundreds of areas, making you a more interesting person and raising that IQ!


You Get to Change it Up

Life as a translator is never boring. You will constantly be receiving different types of texts which will require you to adapt your tone and writing style. You will have the opportunity to play around with your language and find the most suitable method of communicating the original style. 



Improve Your Languages

This subtitle might sound a bit worrying, as you are probably thinking "but a translator should be at a level where he/she doesn't need to improve his/her level..." That is where you would be wrong! Even in your own native language, you will never reach a point where you know every word, every saying, etc. Languages are fluid, and undergo regular mutations, meaning that translators will constantly be exposed to new methods of expressing things, enriching their vocabulary each day and expanding the way they think. 


No Set Schedule 

Translators will be set a project (which they can accept or decline) and given a due date. As long as the work is ready before it is needed, translators are relatively free to work how and when they want. If the 9-5 routine isn't for you, choose your own hours that suit your lifestyle or productive hours better. 


Work Abroad 

This reason why being a translator is a good career is fairly self-explanatory; you have the opportunity to move abroad to your dream country where your native language is highly valued in the business world. You can find out where your specific languages are most needed here.  


Great Contacts

As a translator, you will meet wonderful people who will bring you diverse experiences or perspectives that you must translate! You will forge strong relationships with clients as once an author, or the press relations agent, or marketing creatives (the list goes on!) are happy with the style and fidelity you keep with the original texts, they may just trust in you for the rest of their career. Companies and individuals not only need thoughtful but consistent translations, so if you do a good job, you can count on them coming back for your way with words for years and years! 

This rings especially true within the literary translation sphere. Authors are extremely selective with who has the pleasure of translating their work, and take time to cultivate a special bond with their translators in the hope that they will transmit strong signals of the meaning and nuances they wish to be captured, transported, and conveyed in the new language. Here are 7 of the best literary translators out of whose books you may take a leaf or two! 


Engaging Your Own Creativity 

If you are unfamiliar with this career path, you might think that translating is simply taking someone else's ideas and rewriting them in a new language. No! Translation is anything but impersonal. Your capacity for creativity and thinking outside the box is just as important as the original authors because what they have said simply won't always translate into the target language. You have the great responsibility of interpreting what was originally said and expressing it in a way that may be (verbally and syntactically) completely different but you believe reflects the essence. You are bestowed with the opportunity for using poetic license


Opportunities for Growth

The longer you are in the industry, the more respected your work becomes and the more trusted a translator you become. What does that mean? You will be more regularly called upon for important tasks, paid more, and perhaps asked to check over newer employees works or respond to queries they might have. You are rewarded for the effort you put into your career as a translator and will steadily move up the ranks. 




Reasons Not to Pursue a Career in Translation 

Now, we would hate to discourage you from pursuing such a stimulating and rewarding career, but we would advise you to be cautious when entering into the translation sphere for questionable reasons. 


Writing Is Your Calling

As we have said, a penchant for literature and a creative mind are assets in the translation sphere. However, if you envision yourself as a writer and want to put your spin on every text you read and reproduce, this area is not for you. You are above all meant to remain faithful to the original text and how the author wanted it written, if you wish to embellish or change aspects, it is better to write your own novel in the first place. 


You Want to Get Rich Fast

Of course, working as a translator can be very lucractive, but you cannot just do it for the money. You need a passion for languages and a sense of responsibility towards the message and how it will be conveyed to thousands of fresh sets of eyes. 


You Are Indecisive 

Translation certainly involves a lot of 'umming and ahing' but when the deadline arrives, you have to have made a decision that you are proud of and could argue your reasoning behind. Hence, you should also steer clear of this career if you have issues with time management.



Machines vs. Your Career in Translation 

In many sectors these days, there are always naysayers warning that machines will replace human positions, such as the simultaneous translation equipment. With a career in translation, we assure you that there is nothing to worry about.

  • Machines simply cannot compete with the human sensitivity to style, genre, slang, comedy, register, rhyme, rhythm, etc...
  • Nor can they keep up with the fluidity of language and new words popping up each week
  • Machines are not culturally-aware
  • Machines do what they are told using algorithms, they have no raw human creativity 
  • Machines have no concept of context and cannot select the correct meaning out of various signficances of just one word 



If you have made it through this article, all that is left to ask you is: what's not to like? Translation is a beautiful beast and there are many advantages to pursuing it professionally. Being a translator is more than a good career, it is a fulfilling passion that teaches you something new every day! Tell us what you like most about being a translator in the comments below.