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Translation requires the individual to accurately convey the meaning of written words from one language to another.

Working as a freelance translator is common.

What does a translator do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Translators predominantly work with business, technical, legal and scientific written materials. These include letters, reports, articles and books. However, translators can also translate fiction books. The work incorporates:

  • reading documents
  • writing and editing copy
  • using software and bespoke applications to upload content, if required by a client
  • preparing summaries
  • consulting with experts in a specialist field, if required
  • developing contacts and building relationships with clients.

Some translators may specialise in a particular type of work or in a particular industry sector: for example, specialising in translating technical, legal or financial documents.

Depending on your employer, career progression can come from taking on a project management or team coordination role.

Typical employers of translators

  • Translation companies/agencies
  • Commercial and industrial organisations, such as manufacturers
  • Local, national and international governments and international bodies such as the United Nations
  • Other public sector bodies, such as the police.

Many translators are freelancers or work for agencies; they can be paid per word.

Vacancies are typically advertised by recruitment agencies, careers services and jobs boards, as well as on the websites and in the publications of relevant professional bodies, such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. Posts within government and international bodies are often advertised directly on their websites.

Qualifications and training required

A degree is not always necessary, as long as the required fluency in the specified language(s) can be proven – however, some employers do request degrees or at least A levels/Highers (or equivalent) in specific languages.

Governments and international organisations such as the United Nations typically do require a degree in the specific language. For graduates from other disciplines, there are postgraduate translation qualifications available.

The CIOL and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting offer a range of professional qualifications and membership categories. Although optional, they can testify to your competency and help make you more employable.

Key skills for translators

  • Ability to work to deadlines
  • The ability to grasp new concepts quickly, eg technical terms
  • A clear writing style with an impeccable knowledge of spelling and grammar
  • Attention to detail
  • Fluency in at least two foreign languages
  • IT skills
  • The ability to build good relationships with clients.

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