English is the third most widely spoken language on the planet. In terms of political, financial and academic importance, however, English arguably is the language of international commerce. Whether translating to or from English, experienced, educated translators have a high degree of job stability. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, interpreters and translators are expected to see a 46 percent growth in employment between 2012 and 2022.
Start at the Beginning
Being able to speak English fairly well isn't good enough for a professional translator, as meaning is too easy to lose in translation. Those who don’t speak English as a first language, then, must gain a native or near-native level of fluency if they hope to work as translators. Learners might enter classes in a private language school, take continuing education courses at community colleges, earn a degree in English or engage a private tutor. Independent interaction with the language is important as well and often includes immersive activities, such as reading newspapers and books, chatting with native speakers, watching TV and listening to music. English translators must be proficient in all the languages they work with.
Consider the Options
English translation is a skill that requires fluency in at least two languages, and aspiring translators have a range of alternatives for learning this skill. Because holding a degree is often a requirement for translation jobs, many choose to pursue higher education in related fields, such as English, linguistics or a language other than English. Degrees in translation are another choice, such as the bachelor's or master's degree in translation and interpretation studies. Many translation programs focus specifically on translating one specific language into English. Those who have already earned degrees might enter translation certificate programs, which are available for students at undergraduate and graduate levels.
Look Outside the Conventional
Aspiring translators can also learn their craft by attending courses, seminars and training programs offered by non-university organizations. The American Translators Association, for example, offers wide-ranging instruction during its annual conference, from the broad, such as automotive translation, to the narrow, such as translating pronouns in Slavic languages. Several states, including New York, California and Florida, have translation associations with similar offerings, as do industry-specific organizations such as the American Literary Translators Association. Some private language-services companies also offer training courses, both on site and on the Internet.
Jump in With Both Feet
Not everyone has the time or resources necessary for pursuing translation-specific education. For this reason, some individuals prefer to learn English translation through experience by becoming an assistant to an experienced translator, taking on entry-level freelance work or volunteering at nonprofit organizations. Volunteering is especially useful, because most companies and clients prefer to hire translators who can demonstrate experience. Fortunately, volunteer translators are needed in many places, from sporting events to hospitals to community outreach programs.
- Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 17th edition
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Interpreters and Translators Job Outlook
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become an Interpreter or Translator
- The Detail Woman: So, You Want to Be a Translator?
- NYU School of Professional Studies: Certificate in Translation (online)
- Northwestern College: Translation and Interpretation Major: Spanish-English
- American Translators Association: Session Schedule
- Globaltradu: Web-based Translation Workshop
- The American Literary Translators Association: Home
- Jose Luis Pelaez Inc../Blend Images/Getty Images