If you’re interested in a career in translation, this text is for you. Here is some advice on how to become a translator.
Some people think they can translate only because they manage to understand two languages quite well. Those people would be wrong. Knowing a little French and English doesn’t mean you can write and translate perfectly in both languages! Translation is a complex process. If you’ve never taken a translation course, you’re probably not aware of all the details that make up a translation, and you probably couldn’t recognize common translation mistakes.
For example, the average person is only rarely aware of misused anglicisms (such as loan translations or calques), of the existence of false cognates, of the idiomatic expressions of their second language, and so on. Teachers open our eyes to these difficulties and help us to identify our mistakes (for example, shifts in meaning, misinterpretations, typographic errors, overtranslation, undertranslation, etc.). They also help us correct them. Moreover, university classes bring together people with a similar interest for languages; these contacts and connections can turn out to be very useful, especially for freelancers.
Beware of those who equate a diploma with a guaranteed career in translation: you also need experience!
If you are among the few who patiently completed a bachelor’s degree and one or two internships, good for you! Those of you who haven’t had that luck, or patience, take this advice: volunteer.
Many Montreal companies need volunteer translators. Have a look at the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal’s website: you’ll find various postings by non-profit organizations and small companies looking for volunteer translators. Most of this work is part-time and can be done from home. No matter where you live, you can volunteer and gain experience.
Not only will volunteering strengthen your CV and give you credibility, it will also boost your confidence in your skills.
3. Read every day
Read everything. Read in your mother tongue, but also in the language you translate from. Read newspapers, novels, scientific journals, websites, blogs. Read in the metro, on the bus; read as often as you can. Challenge yourself. Is there a particular subject that you are interested in, but know little about? What are you waiting for? Read up on it!
4. Be interested in everything
As a translator, and especially as a freelancer, you’ll be asked to work on all kinds of texts on various subjects. If you are an apprentice and want to start a career in translation, you’re probably not in a position to turn down seemingly boring projects. Be open-minded!
Of course, you’ll be told repeatedly to specialize in a field. But where should you start? If you’re a career shifter, start with your professional background. For example, if you’ve worked in a scientific laboratory, you may be solicited to translate documents in that field, especially if you still have contacts there. But what if this is your first career and your starting point is your strong interest in languages? Be interested in everything!
Don’t only read across subjects; watch documentaries, listen to the radio, garden, sign up for that cooking or carpentry class you’ve always dreamed of! Knowledge that may seem useless today could come in handy during a future translation!
5. Keep up with current events
Watch the news, or better yet, read newspapers. One day, you will be asked to translate a text full of cultural and historical references (especially political ones). Develop good habits today.
6. Learn a third language
Translators disagree on this. Some say it’s preferable to focus on two languages only. Translating well from English to French is already a great challenge! However, if you like travelling and languages, and if you feel like learning a third language . . . don’t hesitate to jump right in!
Learning a third language is beneficial because it opens the mind. It also helps you make connections and better understand your mother tongue. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Hispanic studies, and I don’t regret it. I greatly improved my French writing thanks to those courses.
One last piece of advice: have a solid grasp of the two or three languages you already know before learning a new one. In CEGEP and with only a basic knowledge of Spanish, I began an introductory Italian course . . . Big mistake! I end up speaking in half-Spanish, half-Italian sentences! I barely picked up any Italian and actually regressed in Spanish! But don’t worry; today all is well. The brain does improve with practice!
To learn more about the wide variety of language professions, read the article “The ABCs of Language Professionals: Who We Are, What We Do.”
Translator and copywiter