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How do I become a translator and what to expect? A guide.
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What's the matter?
The most important misunderstanding right away: translator and interpreter - these are two different professions! Unfortunately, even some career sites consider the two terms synonymous. Interpreters mediate verbally, so to speak, “live” between two or more people with different languages. Translators, on the other hand, transfer written texts into another language, ideally their own mother tongue. They also proofread colleagues' translations and can take on a variety of other related tasks, such as desktop publishing or video subtitling.
The job title is not protected for either of them, so theoretically anyone can become a translator. Anyone who wants to work successfully should still receive thorough training and then have their suitability confirmed. Nowadays, bachelor's and master's degrees from universities and technical colleges as well as state recognition are ideal.
Translators spend most of the working day at their desks. Most of them - namely the free ones - don't even have colleagues, at least not on site. Very few freelance translators form office communities; the majority actually work alone and at home. The translation profession looks like in everyday life can be roughly summarized:
- the smallest part of the language workers are interpreters or work among other things. as an interpreter
- the majority of translators are women
- Most translators in Germany work on a freelance basis, often for various translation agencies
- English accounts for the largest share of the translation volume
- almost all jobs come from people whom the translator has never met personally
- and as a rule, translation is mostly done into the mother tongue. This has the advantage that the selected expression fits very precisely in the target text and that technical language, colloquial language or figurative language can also work very well, e.g. B. in advertising. Conversely, it is an advantage of translating from the mother tongue into a foreign language that the source text is understood one hundred percent correctly.
Translators are pure brain workers. You have a pronounced feeling for and interest in everything spoken and written, verbal and non-verbal expression and communication in general. They pick up languages faster than average and are very thorough in dealing with them. You value absolute grammatical correctness and appropriate formulations and avoid unnecessary phrases and empty words.
In addition, they have one or more subject areas that they are really familiar with. This can be technology in general, body construction in particular, or education, woodworking or dairy farming. So you shouldn't only be interested in languages, but you can also bring in your hobby. Anyone who has always been interested in railways and knows all types of operational lighting by heart can fill a niche with it.
It goes without saying that the future translator speaks at least one foreign language and knows the relevant cultures. He is not afraid of technology and can use his powerful computer quickly and efficiently, because he works with sometimes very complex software, the so-called translation memory systems (TMS), which make his work easier - as soon as he has mastered the technology. He finds information quickly, mainly on the Internet, can assess its reliability and process it correctly in the text. He always considers his knowledge to be expandable, continues to educate himself in his languages and subject areas and stays up to date.
How do I become a translator?
You can study translation. Several universities and technical colleges in Germany offer regular courses in the most important languages (all English, most also French and Spanish, many Arabic and Russian), which are completed with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. The translation student usually spends several stays abroad in order to get to know the country, the people and the language for himself.
During the course of study, there is an initial orientation with regard to possible future subject areas. In line with the job market, many universities offer technical subjects to prepare their students for challenging technical translations.
In principle, vocational training courses, such as foreign language correspondents, also qualify for translation work. They can also be accessed without a high school diploma, but in most cases there is a fee and they do not qualify for all parts of the translation work. For example, foreign language correspondents are usually not eligible for a court sworn oath that enables them to legally translate official documents and deeds or to issue certified translations. Rather, it is a commercial profession and most foreign language correspondents have mainly secretarial tasks in a foreign language context.
Furthermore, lateral entrants with excellent knowledge of several languages can become good translators, for example people who grew up with two mother tongues or those who have lived abroad for a long time. Depending on the federal state, the hurdles for recognition as a state-certified translator are high, in some a degree is sufficient, in others a demanding state examination must be passed. A good start without proof of qualification is only possible and realistic in small niche languages for which no university education is offered. Such translators prove themselves in their daily work. However, you have to master rare languages such as Pashto or Malay first - this possibility of delimitation is primarily open to the corresponding native speakers.
Where do most of the translators work?
As already mentioned, the vast majority of translators work freelance for a wide variety of clients - either directly for private and / or corporate clients, but often also for translation agencies. As in all industries, the decision for or against self-employment is a fundamental and also a question of type. Freelance work formally means above all that you do not have to join a chamber and do not have to take out any social insurance. You can easily set up your sole proprietorship and submit a less complex tax return than the managing director of a GmbH.
For the almost unlimited entrepreneurial freedom, however, you accept the entrepreneurial risks: As a sole proprietor, you are also liable with your private assets. You can take out suitable professional insurance, but of course the price has to be earned first. The same applies to the many peripheral tasks: customer acquisition and marketing, billing and taxes can be given to external service providers for a fee.
In addition, as an entrepreneur you have to bring “soft skills” with you, which should not be underestimated: If you want to be successful, you have to be able to maintain pleasant and productive contact with your customers, work thoroughly and reliably, deliver on time and keep an eye on your figures. If the customer cannot or does not want to pay, the entrepreneur must politely but firmly insist on his claims in his own interest and, if necessary, collect the debts.
All of this is not for everyone. In return, the freelance translator can refuse assignments that he is reluctant to do for whatever reason, and also determine when, where and how he wants to work.
The free form of work goes well with the female character of the job, because - regardless of emancipation or not - bringing up children is predominantly a woman's business. The freelance translator is more likely to cope with this task than with a permanent job outside the home. If there are actually children there, a good part of the 40 hours that she undertakes and has to afford can take place outside of normal working hours. If she is smart and self-confident, she can negotiate an express surcharge for it if an order is not confirmed until the evening, but has to be on the customer's table the next morning at the start of work, thus making a virtue out of necessity.
2. Employed translators
Permanently employed translators are rather rare and can only be found in a few large corporations with their own language services or very large translation agencies. In the few companies in question, in addition to technical tasks such as legal translations, trained translators usually also take on other office tasks such as correspondence in foreign trade or technical documentation in their mother tongue, which is also the business and national language.
Only a very small number of employed translators can devote their entire working day to their main task. However, even these often do not set their own pace. Competitive agencies in particular often specify a workload per hour that some translators say underhandedly that it is occasionally at the expense of quality. The fluctuation in many agencies is quite high and the starting salary is often low for an academic profession.
For this reason, many translators only see dependent employment as a first step directly after university, where they get a taste of the company atmosphere and gain practical experience. They expect to become self-employed in the course of time anyway, and some of them do so on the side. In doing so, however, they have to observe non-compete obligations, because of course they are not allowed to poach customers from their employer.
The employer "Europe" is prestigious, but has relatively few needs and very high demands, which it ensures through extensive tests - even for freelance translators. Even if you have passed the difficult selection process, you are initially only on a list that is only used if and if there is an actual need for translators within four years. After this time, the lists expire and the recruiting process starts all over again.
3. Project manager
Anyone who has to or wants to keep an eye on their money can work as a project manager, where the salaries are generally higher. For him, the really translating part of the work is minimal and he will only scan incoming translations before handing them on to the customers. He spends the whole day delegating the jobs that come into translation agencies to external freelancers. So he maintains a network of translators and is there for customers at the same time.
The project manager is necessarily more concerned with commercial than linguistic issues. He literally stands between the customer and the translator, who is not allowed to come into direct contact with the customer in the event of queries. If the two parties have different views, the project manager must convey what requires high social skills and inner calm. This is very much in demand, because translators in project management report that constant juggling is sometimes quite exhausting, for example when you have accepted an urgent assignment from a customer but cannot find a suitable translator quickly.
The project manager is only satisfied when he distributes all orders that are passed on to him during his working day. Its ideal state is the empty shelf.
How do I become successful as a translator?
It is undisputed that the best way to get started is after a thorough training. Those who complete a degree in translation receive a title that is valued and protected in the market. Those who want and are qualified can have themselves sworn in as a translator by the regional court of their federal state. Then he can also translate certificates and other official documents and stamp them, which opens up a large area of activity for him. Whenever someone wants to study abroad or get married, they need a sworn translator who prepares their documents accordingly.
As in most other professions, further training is important. Anyone who thinks they have finished learning and can lean back will not be successful as a translator for long. A good translator not only has to keep pace with changes in his working languages, most of the subject areas - especially technology - are constantly evolving.
Speaking of specialist areas: in a profession that is theoretically open to anyone who believes they can speak a foreign language reasonably well, it is important to stand out. This can be done through the choice of language, because niche languages are definitely in demand. Those who, on the other hand, want to assert themselves in the huge mass of English translators, offer one or more subject areas. That can be quite general, for example law or medicine, but also very specific such as oenology or sanitary engineering.
International trade promotes the need for translations, but it also brings with it competition. In fact, there are market participants in the far eastern countries who offer German translations. Although their quality is mostly inadequate, at least for the first order, for some customers only the price counts.
One hears again and again about machine translation. Large Internet companies want computers to do the mediation between languages. Everyone can try out how well this works on the relevant pages. The results are sometimes frightening, but mostly really funny, but ultimately hardly usable. Therefore no translator has to fear being replaced by a calculating machine in the next few years.
Ultimately, when it comes to translating, it is like any other job: You are successful if you have a good education and are continuing your education.Social skills and an authentic appearance are part of it, and a certain talent and a bit of luck can't hurt either. Ultimately, those who are convinced and passionate about it will be happy with their work.
How do customers get an offer from the TYPETIME translation agency?
Customers who need a quote for a professional translation can request a quote using our quote form or our contact page. Of course, we are also available by phone at any time.
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