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The Role

Translating is the process of transferring written text from one language into another. Anything that is written can be translated: advertisements, books, games software, legal documents, websites, film subtitles etc. Translators work either in-house (as employee of an organisation) or freelance. Usually, translators work from one or more languages into their mother tongue.

Languages have existed since about 100,000 BC, and there are now around 6000 languages spoken in the world. Only 6% of the world’s population speak English as a first language, 75% of the world’s population don’t speak any English at all.

Employers value language skills, research has shown that using language skills in business opens the door to a wide range of economic, social and personal benefits. 74% of employers are looking to employ people with conversational language skills. Customers addressed in their mother tongue are much more likely to do business with you.


How to get into Translating

You can become a translator with any language combination but some combinations may be more sought-after than others. At the moment, German to English is a highly sought-after combination, so if you are an English native speaker, German is a good language to have in your portfolio. If you are just beginning your language studies, you should aim to learn two languages, one of which might be a non-Western-European language. In order to work for the European Union institutions you need either French or German and one other EU language. In order to work for the UN as a translator into English you need two of the other official languages of the UN - Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and/or Spanish.

You can also become a Project Manager whose task is to coordinate multilingual translation projects (this is a common pathway into the profession). You would also probably specialise in one or more specific types of translation. Some of the more lucrative areas include legal, medical, technical or financial translation but there are many, many possible areas of specialisation. Translation for the legal and health services and by local authorities is known as 'public service' translation. Other prominent forms of translation include localisation, video game translation, subtitling, dubbing and audio description. Many aspiring translators are attracted by the idea of literary translation of fiction, theatre or poetry. This is an area in which it is difficult to make a living full-time, but many translators combine it with the translation of other published material such as academic books, non-fiction or trade publications and with copy writing.



Most translators hold a degree. This may be in languages or translation. Some entrants do a first degree in a different subject, and then take a postgraduate course in translation. Masters degrees are offered by several universities, while the Chartered Institute of Linguists (IoL) offers a postgraduate-level Diploma in Translation.


Salary Expectations

Salaries vary greatly. Typical starting salaries for in-house translators or interpreters are between £18,000 and £26,000. These can go up to £50,000 and £60,000 with experience. The European Union institutions and United Nations  are the best paying employers of senior translators and both institutions have a severe shortage of native English language speaking language translators and interpreters.

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