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How to Become a Translator Part 1

December 26, 2008 3 Comments »

Love languages? Looking for a stimulating career path or some freelance work on the side? Becoming a translator may be for you. Professional translation has been growing rapidly in the past decade, yet remains a mystery to many outside the field. What does it take to get started in the translation industry? What does a professional translator do? For the next few weeks, I’m going to take you through the steps of what you need to know and what you need to do to get started.

Language Knowledge and Education

First off, you need to know one language exceptionally well. You mean two, right? I’ll get to other languages later. I’m talking about your native language, be it English, Spanish or Farsi. This is something that is often overlooked in the translation field.

A translator is first and foremost a writer (of someone else’s material). Hopefully you paid attention in your grammar courses and are a voracious reader. You need to have a grasp of different genres of writing in your native language, know the rules of punctuation and basically have such a strong grasp of this language’s structure and use that you can spot a missing comma from 30 yards away in the dark. This can be learned in school (from elementary upwards) or can be acquired on one’s own through reading, private study and writing.

Now, what about your second, third or ninth language? Ideally, this will be your source language, or the language you are actually translating. The value of a good foreign language course cannot be snubbed, be it learning the colors in kindergarten or writing your thesis on the greats of Russian literature. These classes will introduce you to different cultural aspects, grammar structure and more. Formal University study is not a prerequisite, but a strong desire to learn this new language certainly is.

In my opinion, the key to truly understanding the vocabulary, grammar and basically every other aspect of the written language itself comes from reading everything in that language that you can get your hands on. Reading different styles and types of writing in this language will serve you well. Whether it’s a novel, bird watching magazine, online cookbook or instructions on how to put together a ping-pong table, it’s going to teach you something new or reinforce what you already know.

So those are the basics on what you need to know to get started as a translator. In the coming weeks, I’ll talk about the actual act of translating, the translation industry and some other significant topics.

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