What qualifications do you need?
Strictly speaking, qualifications are not necessary to be eligible to work as a translator, although for some areas such as court interpreting, you need to do a special course and get an official certificate. Where qualifications do add value is in the finer techinical points of translation and they will also lend credibility to your profile.
As Brunner points out, “For the more complex translations, the really important aspects to observe are professional formatting and layout, a proper command of translation software and a lot of other aspects which are not strictly connected to linguistics. So I only ever work with people who have a translation degree or even better, an interpreting degree, just to make sure they are up to the task technically.”
How many languages do you need to speak?
Most translators and interpreters speak three or four languages and you will obviously need to speak at least two languages fluently. Remember though that it’s a case of quality and not quantity, and you should avoid biting off more than you can chew.
“I speak German, English, Spanish and Italian, and dabbled in French and even Greek at one point”, says Brunner. “As an interpreter or translator, four languages is pretty much all that you can do though – if you want to maintain them to a high standard, that is, and have a life at the same time, of course.”
Where can translators and interpreters work?
Translators have a lot of options here, from working for translation companies to forming their own business, working as intepreters or getting involved in sectors such as dubbing, subtitling and gaming.
The EU is another popular destination and currently employs about 2,000 translators to handle eleven languages, with monthly salaries for permanent staff going from €4,349 to a whopping €18.370.
As Brunner says, “The EU certainly offers one of the most interesting and well-paid employment possibilities for translators. The admission exams are awfully hard though, and I’ve seen some excellent people fail there. Subtitling is also interesting for a translation agency, especially if you can offer an all-in-one package.”
Do translation graduates often end up as translators?
A lot of language students tend to plump for translation degrees, though not all translation graduates go into the field upon graduation.
“A lot of students of translation don’t actually work as translators. Some go into tourism, others into the language business. I myself worked as a director of a language school for many years. So for a student of translation, there are a lot of fields that they can work in.”
Is translation a good business to get into?
The work can, it seems, be a mixed bag and go from the tedious to the very interesting. Entrants should also be aware that the internet has brought with it a significant drop in rates and a highly competitive arena:
“The translation business is as strong as it’s ever been but more people are offering the service, and some bilingual people are selling themselves cheap in the online marketplace for as little as 4 cents per word – that’s 4 euros, not dollars! That’s quite ridiculous, and it harms the global translation community. Plus, there are millions of translation businesses out there, and competition is fierce.”
How can newcomers stand out?
Given the high competition and falling rates, many aspiring translators could well be discouraged. According to Mr Brunner, offering quality is where they can excel.
“The quality will make the difference. Not only do they need to do a good translating job, they need to think how they can add value – for instance, we offer SEO consultancy and we can also put work directly onto our customers’ websites, saving them valuable time. Things that like that add value, and make our clients come back.”
Mark Heaney is a freelance writer living in Valencia, Spain. He has also worked for an english german translation company and teaches English to foreigners. His great passions are linguistics, football, and fashion.