Career as a translator

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Helen Ball is a translator and project manager. She speaks French, German and Spanish and spends most of her time using her language skills to translate all forms of written and spoken words into various languages.

How would you outline your career as a translator?

I work for a company that carries out translations in many media forms. For instance, the services include proofreading, subtitling, doing voice-overs, telemarketing, copywriting, indexing, transcribing and providing deaf and blind communication services for any form of words in a variety of languages.

What is your weekly routine?

I start a typical translation project by talking to the client and giving them a quotation, which states how long the project is going to last and how much it is going to cost them.

Translators often work to very tight deadlines and can translate an average of 1,500 words a day depending on the technicality of the text. In addition, it is my job to brief freelance translators on the work that is needed.

What training have you done?

I completed a degree in Modern Languages and Literature (French and Spanish). As part of my course, I spent six months living in France and six months living in Spain. I carried on to do a Masters in Applied Translation Studies (French and Spanish), which involved 100 hours work experience in a translation company.

What hours do you work?

I work from 8.30am until 5.15pm, Monday to Thursday and from 8.45am to 5pm Friday.

What's your working environment like?

My office is very busy and is split over two floors. It is very spacious and light. We each have our own desk with computer, printer, scanner and telephone.

Who do you work with?

There are usually six or seven of us based in the office. We also have a full-time translator who works from home and we work closely with our three freelance suppliers who we are in constant contact with via email and telephone.

What special skills do you need for your career as a translator?

It is essential to have good computer skills. It is also vital to be organised and to know how to manage your time correctly. It can get very busy so it helps if you can keep calm when under pressure! You need to be friendly and have a good telephone manner.

How much use do you make of your language skills?

All the time! We deal with different languages every day and I speak French, Spanish and German. Clients don't always understand about the requirements of different languages so it is our job to explain these to them.

For example, some languages when translated use longer words and won't fit into the original text area of a poster or booklet. In the office I have colleagues who speak French, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish and Polish.

Why did you choose this type of career as a translator?

I enjoyed the translation module of my degree course so decided to do a Masters in Translation to further my skills in this area. I did some work experience in a translation company and enjoyed the project management side of the work as much as the translation. I decided to look for a job in a similar company.

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Salary of a translator

  • Newly-qualified translators can earn around £17,000 to £20,000, rising to £30,000 or more.
  • Translators working in specialist areas, such as technical, medical or business translation, may earn more.
  • Freelance translators are paid on a word-rate for each project.
  • Rates vary according to language combinations and subject and interpreting environment.

How to become a translator

  • Most translators hold a degree in languages or in translation and interpreting, or a combined degree of languages with another subject, such as business or law.
  • Spending time overseas is almost essential to gain experience and fluency.
  • There are usually more opportunities and better pay for people who also go on to do a postgraduate degree or diploma.
  • The Institute of Linguists offers exams that validate skills in a range of languages. These include a Diploma in Translations, which is a recognised qualification and may be an alternative to a degree course.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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