Career Development

Translator Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

Translators are professionals who specialize in the conversion of one language to another. Translators must be not only fluent in both languages, but also adept at writing and editing their work to ensure that they convey the same information accurately in both languages.

Translators are professionals who specialize in the conversion of one language to another. Translators must be not only fluent in both languages, but also adept at writing and editing their work to ensure that they convey the same information accurately in both languages.

In addition to translating written material, translators may work with audio or visual materials as well. They may also assist in teaching others how to translate a certain language, or they may serve as a local expert for a specific language or culture. Most translators work with a specific type of material such as legal documents, contracts, medical records, marketing materials, etc.

Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a translator and what it takes to become one yourself.

Translator Job Duties

Translators typically perform the following duties:

  • Translating documents such as legal documents, medical records, and marketing materials from one language to another
  • Preparing written translations of business correspondence, contracts, and marketing materials for clients
  • Performing translations in court or at other official events when a certified translator is required
  • Considering the cultural differences between the two languages when translating material in order to ensure proper word choice and syntax
  • Assessing the accuracy of translated documents and revising them as needed to ensure that they are factually sound and accurately convey the original message
  • Maintain consistency in style and terminology across all relevant translated documents
  • Updating glossaries of foreign terms used in various fields of study (such as computer science) to ensure that they accurately represent the most current terminology
  • Conducting research on topics related to the text being translated, such as culture or history, in order to provide context about the subject matter of the text.

Translator Salary & Outlook

The median annual wage for translators is $50,422. The highest earners make over $87,000 per year. Those earning higher wages tend to work in scientific research and management.

Demand for translators is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. As the world economy grows, there will be increasing demand for services that help people communicate with each other.

Translator Job Requirements

To be a translator, you need to have a variety of knowledge and skills. You should:

Education: Translators generally need at least a bachelor’s degree. Some translators have a master’s degree in translation. These programs cover not only translation and editing basics, but also the business and legal considerations of transcription and translation.

Training: The training required for a translator varies by employer. Most translator roles require on-the-job training, where candidates learn from more experienced translators. Because there are so many different languages, it is important that candidates learn the specific guidelines for each language they will translate. Training can help candidates learn how to produce quality translations.

Certifications: While certifications aren’t required, many organizations value having one. There are various associations that offer professional certifications. For example, the American Translators Association (ATA) provides the ATA Certification.

Translator Skills

The following skills are required for this job:

Communication skills: The ability to effectively communicate with clients, customers, and coworkers is essential. Translators need to have strong verbal and written communication skills. 

Comprehension skills: Translators must be able to understand their source material as well as its intended audience. They also need to be able to determine the context of the information and its purpose before translating it.

Language skills: Translators are required to have a good command of at least two languages. They will need to understand what they hear in one language and be able to express it in the other.  

Research Skills: Translators must be able to learn about and research new ideas quickly in order to complete projects on time.  They may need to learn new industry terms or complex concepts in order to ensure messages remain clear. 

Interpersonal skills: Good interpersonal skills are necessary for communicating with your supervisor and coworkers. Translators will often need to work with others in order to complete their projects. 

Good memory: It is important for translators to have a good memory because they often need to translate long texts and ensure accuracy. 

Translator Work Environment

Translators work in a variety of settings, including international businesses and educational institutions. Some translators work on their own as freelancers.

Translators usually work in offices, but they may travel to other locations for meetings with clients or to translate documents. They spend much of their time sitting at desks, listening to recordings, reviewing documents, and writing translations. Because translators are often expected to meet strict deadlines, they may have to work long hours or weekends.

Translator Career Path

Getting Started

Translators without credentials have it the toughest because they must build their reputations from scratch. Translation agencies are difficult to break into, so only the most talented and persistent get in. Translators without credentials must build relationships with agencies, which are often difficult to come by for an unknown.

Five Years On The Job

By five years, translators have established themselves in the field and tend to specialize in a particular subject area (for example, legal or technical translation). Tenure at this level is usually rewarded with increased responsibility and greater compensation. The number of hours worked varies widely; some translators work long hours while others work regular business hours. But most translators feel that they are respected members of their communities and enjoy job satisfaction.

Ten Years On The Job

A translator’s reputation is fully established after ten years; many people seek out his or her services because of the translator’s specialty knowledge of a subject or language. Translators who remain with one organization often make lateral moves into new areas within their organization (e.g., marketing). Translators who have been freelancing may start their own translation companies or move into other translation-related areas such as translation management or literary translation criticism or editing. Satisfaction levels are quite high for most translators; they enjoy what they do and feel that they are accomplishing something worthwhile.

Translator Trends

Here are three trends influencing how translators work. Translators will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Changing Roles of Translators

Translators are becoming more important than ever as a growing number of international businesses look to break into the global market.

In addition, because translators have unique skill sets that allow them to read and write in multiple languages, they are also being hired for positions that require writing content in different languages, such as technical documentation or marketing materials.

Machine Translation Becomes More Common

As businesses seek to reduce costs, machine translation will become more common in translating documents, particularly as the technology improves.

For example, recent advances in machine translation allow for text written in one language to be translated into another language using an online tool.

This technology is already beginning to make its way into customer service systems where customers can communicate with companies via email and receive automated responses translated from their original message. This trend is likely to continue increasing in coming years as machine translation continues to improve and more companies realize the benefits of cost-effective automated translations. 

Increasing Importance of Cultural Sensitivity

As the global economy continues to expand, translation professionals will have to develop a heightened sensitivity to cultural differences in order to avoid offense and ensure that their clients’ messages are effectively communicated.

How to Become a Translator

1. Planning Your Career

The world is becoming increasingly globalized, which means that translators are in high demand. If you’re thinking about a career as a translator, it’s important to have the right skill set for the job. 

You will need to be able to read and write fluently in the two languages that you want work with. If you aren’t fluent in both languages, consider taking language classes or learning another language entirely.

Make sure that you are skilled in understanding source material well enough to convey its meaning accurately in the target language. Translators also need excellent writing skills in order to produce polished work that will please the clients.

2. Writing a Resume

If you are applying for a translator position, your resume should be tailored to emphasize your fluency in the language you are applying to translate, as well as your ability to meet the specific job requirements.

You can demonstrate fluency by including details such as references from previous employers, certifications, and credentials. In addition, be sure to mention how many years you have been translating or speaking the relevant languages. Detail the type of documents or materials you have translated,  and the software you’ve used. It is impressive to provide relevant samples if possible.

If you want to show your passion for the work you’re applying for, you can include information about your language learning experience.

3. Applying for Jobs

Translation is an industry that relies heavily on word-of-mouth and networking, so this is where you should start. Use your existing social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) to find other translators and ask if they’d be willing to take a look at your portfolio and provide feedback. The translation community is very close-knit, so be sure to reach out to as many people as possible and take advantage of any resources provided by translation companies and their careers page.

4. Ace the Interview

When applying for a translator position, you will need to show that you have sufficient knowledge of both languages and sufficient skills in writing, translating and editing.

Prepare for the interview by carefully reading the job description and the employer’s website to see what kind of experience they are looking for. Then tailor your discussion so it highlights your relevant skills and experience. 

As always, be prepared for an interactive interview where you will be asked to talk through specific scenarios, such as how you would translate a certain type of text or what steps you would take when faced with a deadline in a foreign language.


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