Translators work with the written word and translate materials from one language into another. A career in translation is interesting and varied but there’s a lot more to it than just being able to speak another language well.

What do translators do?

Translators are different from interpreters. Translators work with the written word whereas interpreters work with the spoken word.

Translators usually translate materials from a foreign language that they are fluent in into their mother tongue.

They translate many different types of materials, from legal, technical and financial documents, to marketing and advertising materials, and product manuals. Literary translators translate works of fiction and subtitlers translate dialogue on films, TV and video games. You can specialise in an area that interests you.

What skills will I need to be a translator? 

To be a professional translator you will need:

  • A fluent (near-native) understanding of at least one foreign language (source language)

  • A solid understanding of the culture of the source language country, usually gained by living and working there for a prolonged period of time

  • Excellent writing skills in your own mother tongue

  • Preferably, an academic degree in the source language or in another subject which could lead to a specialist subject area

  • An eye for absolute accuracy and endless curiosity!

Do I need a qualification in translation to become a translator?

Not necessarily, although an MA in Translation or another similar qualification such as the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) gives you credibility and an edge in this highly competitive market.

What training courses are available for translators?

Many of the universities in the UK offering an MA in Translation or equivalent qualifications are Corporate Education members of ITI. On our Universities and courses page you can see a list of these universities, details of the courses they offer and links to their websites.

The DipTrans is a postgraduate-level qualification consisting of three exams in different subject areas. Preparatory courses are run by various providers.

Once I have my translation qualification, what job opportunities are there?

There are in-house jobs for translators at translation agencies (Language Service Providers, or LSPs) or with major institutions, such as the EU and UN.

However, most translators tend to work freelance so you need to consider whether this is something that will suit you. It does take time to build up work as a freelancer so you may need to take on another job initially while you become established.  

How can I improve my language skills?

Excellent written mother tongue skills are essential to any translator.

One of the best ways to improve is to read, read, read! Subscribe to high-quality publications, journals and newspapers in your source language and in your mother tongue, for example.

Also look for writing skills courses, either general or specific to a genre, such as technical writing, copywriting, or legal drafting.

Become a grammar and punctuation pedant! A professional translator working into English must be absolutely sure how to use commas, semi-colons and colons, and what does or doesn’t take an apostrophe, for example.

Follow a style guide for guidance and consistency in your work. Many translators apply the style guides of the major newspapers and magazines, such as The Economist, or the EC Style Guide.

These are just a few examples – honing both source language and mother tongue skills is something professional translators do in many ways on an ongoing basis throughout their careers.

Explore these resources to help you get started in a career in translation

Universities and courses

These universities are Corporate Education members of ITI offering postgraduate or equivalent qualifications in translation and/or interpreting

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Find out more

Starting Work as a Translator or Interpreter

An introduction to the profession for anyone considering a career in translation or interpreting.

IgnITIon

ITI’s online magazine for students and those who have recently started a career in translation or interpreting.

Career Bulletin

Packed with useful articles including how to get started, establishing yourself as a freelancer, charging models, and finding your niche.