Thinking of Studying Translation? Here's What You Need to Know

October 29th, 2013
Thinking of Studying Translation? Here's What You Need to Know | One Hour Translation

Translation can be a very rewarding and enjoyable career, but there are two rules that any aspiring translation professional must consider before choosing it as a career.

There’s a classic line in the film The Graduate where the young titular graduate is accosted by his elders at a party with life advice, and one unctuous friend of the family tells him he has one word of advice for the graduate: Plastics. The Graduate is, naturally, confused by this mysterious piece of advice, but of course the elder is simply being boorishly know-it-all about the Graduate’s future.

When I was a kid I went through many similar conversations with relatives and other adults who told me to study computer science, because that’s where all the money would be. Career advice like that is always easy to give, naturally enough, and usually centres on the obvious: careers that are already booming, and thus will be saturated with aspirants by the time you graduate from school.

Now that I’m the older friend of the family, I play the role I’m assigned and offer unsolicited career advice to bored kids. The ones that have a knack for languages, I naturally advise to get into the translation business, which is, you might be surprised to learn, a growing industry where you can make a very good living. But I always temper my advice with a few caveats – there are some simple rules about translation as a career you should know before you head down that road.

Rule One: Don’t Expect to Get Rich Quick

First and foremost, anyone seeking a career in translation shouldn’t think that all it takes is a year or so in university and then an online profile and you’re off to the races. A professional translator not only has serious training in translation itself – they have studied their native and target language pairs as well. Many students don’t understand why they should study their native language, but the fact is you don’t know it as well as you think you do.

Once your training is done, translation isn’t a career where you automatically get plum assignments and begin languorously pecking at a translation whilst earning huge amounts per hour. You start at the bottom and work your way up. The best-paid translation professionals have built up a reputation for quality and speed – and that’s why they get paid well.

Rule Two: Translation Requires Thought

Many ‛newbies’ to translation think that it’s all about mechanical word substitution. If that were true no one would need us – they would simply let a robot do the work. Translation isn’t a career that just any bilingual person can leap into – it requires a mind-set that is focused on understanding. You must be able to deeply understand the source material and then clearly render that understanding into the target language – but always maintaining style and vocabulary choices as much as possible. This is real work, and it’s why you get paid. It’s not easy, but it can be rewarding!

Image courtesy shrm.org