If you have a knack for languages and love communicating with others, being a translator can be a great idea. There are a lot of people applying for translator positions, so you need to make sure you stand out. Follow this guide to improve your chances of getting a job as a translator.
Do You Need a Degree to Become a Translator?
Technically, a college degree is not required to become a translator. This field does not have rigid guidelines, so just about anyone who can speak multiple languages can call themselves a translator. Especially if you are working casually or doing freelance jobs, you may not need any degree at all. Some people are translators without even having a GED.
However, for more formal jobs, a college degree is necessary. If you want to work for the government or other major organizations, you typically need to have a bachelor’s degree. Even small businesses tend to prefer their translators to have a college degree. Getting a degree in translation studies or linguistics is your best option. Often, these degrees can take the place of other translator certifications. Even if you don’t have a degree in translation or linguistics, you may need a bachelor’s degree in any field to qualify for a translator position.
Do All Translator Jobs Require Certification?
Even if you do not have any degrees, you will typically need some certifications. Translator certifications are very important because they are a quick way of telling potential employers whether you are fluent in a certain language. Employers rely on various testing agencies to ensure a person has the ability to translate documents or conversations effectively.
To get translator certifications, you usually need to pass several lengthy tests. These exams are mostly written, but some certifications will also include a spoken portion. Depending on where you get your certification, there may be various levels of certification available. Getting a higher level of certification can help you find jobs with better pay and more responsibilities.
Types of Translator Certificates
There are a few different styles and levels of certifications to choose from. Any certificate can be helpful, but some work better in certain situations. Depending on the type of job you want, you may want to try getting one of these certificates.
Overall, the most common type of certification for translators is the American Translators Association (ATA) certification. As one of the most widespread and respected credentials, this is a good certification to have if you don’t know exactly what job you want. It opens a lot of doors and will help you qualify for the majority of positions. ATA certification requires sitting through a three-hour exam. You have to show you can comprehend the source language, translate with multiple techniques, and write in the target language.
The Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) is the standard certification for those working with the federal government. There are different levels ranging from 0+ to 4 depending on the language you are testing for. Higher levels are more difficult but offer more career opportunities. To get this certification, you have to pass foreign language tests administered by the Defense Language Institute. Once you pass these tests, you can do things like translate for the military.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) certifications are the certifications you need to teach a language to others. This certification is useful for proving you are proficient in your language of choice even if you haven’t been able to take the ATA test yet. They are internationally recognized and work very well for less formal translator jobs.
Local Government Certifications
If you want to work with the government, there may be some location-specific certification courses you have to pass. These certifications are for those who want to do things like translate court proceedings or translate police interviews. You’ll need to talk to your local city government or state government department to see if they have any official certifications you have to pass.
Other Common Types of Translator Qualifications
The right certifications are just one small part of becoming a translator. You usually need a wide range of skills to get this sort of job. Depending on the job you want to apply for, you may need one or more of these qualifications.
Experience Living Abroad
As any experienced translator knows, languages have a lot of small nuances you only get by speaking to native speakers. Many companies will look more favorably on translators who have lived in a country that uses certain languages. Not only does it show you are comfortable enough to perform tasks in the language, but it also shows you may be more in touch with certain types of slang or accents.
Specialized Knowledge on Relevant Subjects
When you’re translating for specific industries, they may want to know you also have experience on the topics you are translating. For example, if you are translating technical documents for an engineering company, a degree in engineering could be useful. Having this sort of specialized knowledge on complex subjects reduces the risk of you getting confused and making mistakes while translating.
Build a Translation Portfolio
Translating is all about producing quality work. Though certifications are certainly important, employers mostly want to know what you are capable of doing. Having a portfolio filled with past projects can show you are able to turn classroom study into real-world experience.
Ultimately, the right certifications and skills help you create a translator resume that appeals to employers. Though it can take a little time to pass your certification exams, the effort is certainly worth it. These helpful tests allow you to prove your skills even if you haven’t been able to get a degree or a lot of work experience.