Translators convert the written word from one language to another ensuring the original meaning is retained. They usually have a good knowledge of at least two foreign languages and translate materials such as text books, instruction manuals and research papers.
As most translating is done from the foreign language into the translator's own language, translators must be able to write well in their own language. In addition, they may specialise in a particular type of material, such as news, legal documents, or scientific reports.
While 'staff translators' are usually employed full time with large companies, government departments, international organisations and European Union departments, 'freelance translators' work for themselves and are generally registered with an agency which arranges new contracts and negotiates fees. The subject matter that staff translators deal with can have consistency and similarity as similar themes are often dealt with on a day-to-day basis.
Many translators now work in industries that combine technology and languages; software localisation probably being the best example.
- Compiling terminology and information to be used in translations, including technical terms such as those for legal or medical material
- Checking translations of technical terms and terminology to ensure that they are accurate and remain consistent throughout translation revisions
- Reading material such as legal documents, scientific works or news reports and rewriting it in specified language or languages; following established rules pertaining to factors, such as word meanings, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and mechanics
- Preparing the final word-processed copy.
Travel – not a normal feature of the job as freelance translators can be home based.
Working hours – mainly 9.00 am-5.00 pm, but may be required to work to strict deadlines.
Location – not restricted to towns or cities.
Opportunities for self-employment – many work on a freelance basis.
Republic of Ireland: Language agencies, software development companies including game developers, e-learning, web developers, etc.
Overseas: United Nations, Directorate-General for Translation (DG Translation), other EU institutions and bodies e.g. Council, Parliament, Court of Justice, Economic and Social Committee, Court of Auditors, etc.
The majority of translators in Ireland are freelance. Those starting out will usually do a sample translation for an agency, which may be specialised, semi-specialised or of a general nature depending on their background and the type of work they are seeking. Smaller projects are usually undertaken initially and then, depending on progress and experience gained, more sizeable jobs are contracted.
Progression can be difficult initially, but at an international level prospects are good. It can be difficult to get established as a freelancer, but once established you can be selective in undertaking work. Some freelance translators set up their own translation agencies after several years' experience.
Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: earning potential depends on language combinations, subject knowledge, translation skills and employer.
With very few exceptions (eg those with minority languages) a degree is essential, although not necessarily in languages; it is a positive advantage to have qualifications or experience in another subject.
It helps to have good knowledge of a third language, for example being able to offer one of the lesser-used languages in the European Union. Vacation work abroad can help to improve your foreign language skills, as can reading foreign language publications including business and trade journals.
It is an advantage to have a knowledge of and/or interest in specialist areas such as computing, law, science, medicine, engineering and finance/banking. The range of qualifications needed vary depending on the type of work. A degree in science, law, business or engineering and fluency/proficiency in two other languages is sufficient. A qualification in technical writing could also be relevant.
Other essentials include well-developed written communication skills in your mother tongue (including a thorough knowledge of grammar and spelling) and a good sense of personal integrity. Material dealt with can often be of a sensitive and confidential nature, so the utmost discretion is called for.
Specific degree subjects required
- Modern European languages
- Modern non-European languages
Other relevant degree subjects
- Politics/government/public administration
- International business with language
- Marketing and languages
- Combined business/technical subject with language and/or technical translation.
There are a number of programmes at masters/graduate diploma level in translation.
Specific entry requirements
A degree in languages and a qualification in translating along with one or more specialist interests is the most frequently required background.
Essential requirements for most jobs include:
- An excellent level of fluency in written and oral English
- Fluency in at least two other languages
- Ability to understand texts in the source language and to render them correctly in the target language using a style and register appropriate to the purpose of the text.
- Thorough knowledge of the institutions, culture, attitudes and practices in the countries where that language is spoken, normally acquired through residence there.
ITIA run an annual Continuing Professional Development for Translators and Interpreters.
Tips for application
Make sure your standard of English is impeccable in your written application. It should contain a record of any translations you have already done and grades you were awarded for translation assignments in college. The selection process will almost definitely include a translation assignment – practise, revise and prepare. It can help to view the interviewer as a potential ‘client’. See this as an opportunity to let them know that you have the skills, the interest and knowledge needed to give them what they’re looking for.
Skills and qualities
- Sensitive and considerate to other cultures; able to fit into a multicultural working environment.
- Self-reliance and self-discipline are very important qualities because translators work alone, often with difficult and challenging texts.
- The ability to work consistently and under pressure — independently and as part of a team — and to meet deadlines.
- An ability to grasp varied and complex issues, react swiftly to changing circumstances, manage information and communicate effectively.
- Good awareness of current affairs, cultures and politics. Familiarity with and flair for research on economics, financial affairs, legal matters, technical or scientific fields.
- Competent IT user with excellent word processing skills and the capacity to master computer-assisted translation and terminology tools, as well as standard office-automation software.
- Resourcefulness, problem-solving skills.
- A very good memory.
- Knowledge of a specialist area.
- Natural curiosity and willingness to learn.
Labour market information
The demand for highly qualified translators is expanding as the EU and other employers strive to cover their growing multilingual communication needs.