Since I work for a language services company, I often get asked whether we are hiring translators. I don’t mind the question. We’ve all had to hunt for work, and these days far too many people are without it. However I’ve found that roughly 90% of those who inquire are not qualified to be translators or interpreters. Being bi-lingual is an excellent skill, but as ESPN analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not SO fast, my friend!” Fluency in another language means being able to comprehend, speak, read, and write in that language at the level of an educated native speaker. Being fluent is only the first step in becoming a professional translator or interpreter. Like any other profession, it requires practice, experience, and training. There’s no one path to success, but here are some good guidelines:
Step 1: Get Certified
The first thing I tell people who want to know how to become a translator is to get some sort of accreditation or certification. Having credentials provides documentation that you have the skills required to translate or interpret professionally. Many universities offer advanced degrees and professional certifications in translation, and we have a separate post dedicated to the subject: Top 10 U.S. Translation Schools. Want to be a translator? The American Translator’s Association offers certification programs for translators. Want to be a judicial or medical interpreter? Organizations such as the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and the International Medical Interpreters Association offer certifications as well. Finally, check to see if your state offers accreditation programs for translators / interpreters. Being certified through one of these organizations is also helpful because you will be listed on their website directories, where potential clients requiring your services can find you. Overall, certification may not be required to be a successful translator or interpreter, but if you’re starting out in this industry, it is the best place to start.
Step 2: Get Tested
Another resume builder is to take language proficiency tests such as the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) or other language proficiency tests to show potential clients that you are indeed fluent in your specific language.
Shameless Plug Alert: we also offer language proficiency tests and DLPT training here at ALTA.
Step 3: Gain Experience
The next step is to gain experience. All of us have had to start out doing internships or working entry-level jobs in order to climb the ladder, and the language industry is no exception. If you’re enrolled at or live near a college, take classes in translation / interpreting and look for opportunities to perform translation or interpreting work on campus for various departments. It is crucial to get experience where you can show samples of your work to potential clients and get recommendations.