How to become a professional translator

At least once a week, someone says to me “Hey, I know someone who is bilingual. Are you looking for translators?” As owner of a translation agency in the Chicago area, I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such linguistic diversity. However, while I always appreciate a referral, what most people don’t understand is the level of skill, training and experience that it takes to be a professional translator. To that end, I’ve asked Meredith, one of our in-house translators, to share her insight and experience. Meredith, take it away!

Professional Translator Training

In college, I majored in Spanish. I traveled twice to Spain, spent a semester in Mexico and immersed myself as much as possible in the ins and outs of the language. And yes, understanding the language was a great start—but it wasn’t until I formally studied translation in a professional certification program through NYU that I learned to skillfully balance the words, meaning and context (oh, how translators love context!). Beyond the words, I learned about translation history, ethics, industry trends and best practices.  My translation training gave me essential skills I would have never picked up elsewhere. Once you learn to break down a text to its barest essentials, you can build it neatly back up into your own language. And with proper training, you become invisible. So the saying goes: “Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they’re no good.”

Translation Industry Expertise

I specialize in legal translation, which means I don’t only deal with two languages; I have to juggle two very different legal systems. At the broadest level, the US uses a common law system, whereas most Latin American countries go by civil law. That means in Mexico, there are legal codes and job titles that don’t even exist in the US system. But I know exactly how to handle these sometimes delicate situations because of my training and experience (and many, many legal dictionaries!). Most translators have expertise in a particular industry, whether that’s medicine, patents, marketing or nuclear physics, and it’s essential to match the right person to each job.

Translation Certification

There are many ways a translator can be certified. One of the most recognized ways is through the American Translators Association (ATA), which certifies many, but not all, language pairs. There’s also NAJIT, a national legal certification for interpreters and translators. There’s certification at a regional level, by industry (medical certification, for example) or by qualified university-level programs. While there’s no industry-wide qualifying exam or certifying entity, it’s my opinion that any type of certificate or diploma is a good sign that the translator is committed to his/her practice and has received some type of formal education in translation.

Translation Technology

The world of translation is changing every day thanks to advances in technology. I’m not talking about Google Translate—I’m talking about the type of tools many professional translators use today to improve the quality and consistency of their work. CAT tools (Computer Assisted Translation) help translators process a document and save “strings” of text as they translate them to keep terminology consistent throughout the project. To be clear, these tools DO NOT translate for the translator (that’s Machine Translation, or MT). With CAT tools, translators can save translation memories for future retrieval, either within the same document or across different projects. This is a huge benefit for a regular client, as they can be confident that their terminology will be translated the same way every time.

Continuing Education for Professional Translators

The training doesn’t stop with your translation degree, certificate or certification. A professional translator never stops learning! There are endless courses, seminars, conferences—online and in person—that a translator can take to improve and expand upon his/her skills. Translators can also gain experience by doing volunteer work for non-profits that desperately need them.

A great translator is not just a bilingual speaker, but an experienced professional that harnesses years of training, industry expertise, certifications and technology—and who never stops learning. At Multilingual Connections, we make sure you’re getting the best of the best. Are you one of them? Fill out our online application here!

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