There's a lot more to being a professional translator than being able to speak another language well. On this page we outline the kind of skills you'll need and where to get them.

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 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. Please click here for the list of ITI Corporate Education Members 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 jobs for translators at translation agencies (Language Service Businesses, or LSBs) or major institutions such as the EU, but most translators tend to work freelance. There is lots of help and advice available such as the ITI SUFT course (Setting Up As A Freelance Translator) and the SWATI series of talks.

How can I improve my mother tongue skills?

The three Rs: read, read, read! Subscribe to high-quality publications, journals and newspapers in your source language or in your mother tongue, for example.

Also look for writing skills courses, either general or specific to a particular 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 and 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 different ways on an ongoing basis throughout their careers.


Check out the links below on working as a translator:

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