How to Become a Translator


Translators interpret and transform text from one language into another. They can be found everywhere - working for government agencies, schools, individuals, and private companies across many industries.


A career in this field is likely an excellent choice for someone who has a keen interest in other languages and the cultures that speak them, as well as the discipline and intellectual ability to become near-native fluent in another language, with a great eye for detail.


If you want to know more about what it takes to become a translator, read on below; we’ve outlined the education, training, experience and skills you’ll need, as well as provided details of what this profession would entail, such as what you’d be doing, where you could work, and how much you could earn.



Learning About the Career - General Job Description

Translators are responsible for converting one language to another, in written, verbal or visual form, while ensuring to convey meaning as accurately as possible. 


They might work on a variety of projects, such as translating documents for international trade publications, news articles, industry manuals, books, legal documents, technical reports, television scripts and others. 



Typical Duties Involved

Although their duties can vary, translators are generally responsible for performing the following duties:


• Maintaining current knowledge of the latest electronic resources for translators

• Maintaining mastery of both source and target language

• Liaising with managers or clients in order to identify documents that require translation

• Converting text from one language into another

• May work with other translators on same text

• Liaising with proofreaders and editors

• Marketing their services, if self-employed



Education Required to Become a Translator

Some employers won’t require that you have an academic degree in the source language, while others will. 


However, whether or not it’s a requirement, having a degree in the source language (likely a bachelor’s or above) would help show any employer that you’re committed to the language, and that you’ve got a strong understanding of grammar, and other technical elements of it.





Additional Training You Might Need

Depending on the area or industry for which you’ll be translating, you may or may not need additional training. 


For example, if you chose to working in medical translation, merely being fluent in another language won’t necessarily provide you with the relevant terminology you’ll need to translate, so you might need to put some additional focus into learning to translate in this area.


Other industries and areas that will likely require you to learn specialized terminology could include business, government or education, among others.



Helpful Experience to Have

A catch-22 in this field is that to get most jobs, you will already need to have work experience under your belt, leaving you with a problem - how do you get that experience in the first place?


An easy way to solve this, is to get some contract or freelance work to add to your resume. You may even find that you end up contracting or freelancing full-time, depending on how much you enjoy it, and how much success you have with it.


Success Tip: Alternatively, you might find it’s easier to get a formal job first, and then move into contracting/freelance work. The world can be a funny place sometimes.



Certification Requirements 

Although translation is not a regulated field, you might require certification in some cases, or find that it’s an advantage to have it if applying for a competitive job, as it will show proficiency in your chosen area of specialty, or in general translation competence. 


In Canada and the United States, there are many public and private certification bodies, such as the Federal Court (United States), the American Translators Association, the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council, as well as many other organizations.





Skills and Traits You’ll Need to Be Effective

What many who have an interest in becoming a translator fail to realize, is that there’s a lot more to being a professional translator than being able to speak another language with near-native, or native fluency. Some key skills and personal attributes are required to perform the duties of the job effectively, including:



• A solid understanding of the culture of the source language country or region

• Excellent writing and reading comprehension skills

• An eye for absolute accuracy 

• Marketing skills (if working on a self-employed, or freelance basis)

• Familiarity with translation-specific computer programs, such as Memsource, Wordfast, memoQ and/or SDL Trados Studio



• A willingness to work long hours when required to meet deadlines

• Should enjoy transcribing and analyzing text

• Should enjoy determining the most appropriate adaptation from one language to another

• Inquisitiveness and an interest in researching information



How Much You Could Earn

There are several variable that affect how much you could earn as a translator. For example, your salary would be dependent on:


• Your level of education, experience, and certification

• Your employment structure (i.e., full-time, part-time, etc.)

• The size and type of your employer (or, if you’re self-employed)

• The region in which you will be working

• The scope of job duties and functions to be performed 

• Other possible factors


Salary - Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2017 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the average wage of Albertans working as translators is $35.24 per hour. Unfortunately, at the time of writing (June 13, 2019) there were no figures available from reliable sources for the rest of Canada.


Salary - United States: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary level of Americans working in the Interpreters & Translators occupational group is $49,930 is per year (May, 2018 figures). The report also states that the lowest 10 percent of salaries in this group were below $27,230, and the highest 10 percent were more than $90,610 per year.



Types of Employers

Translators can be employed with a variety of organization on a part-time, full-time and contractual basis, including:


• Private translation firms

• Publicly traded and private corporations

• Primary, middle and high schools

• Colleges and universities

• Federal and provincial/state government agencies

• The armed forces

• Publishers, including mainstream media 

• Many other types of organizations



Finding a Good Job Opportunity

Take a look at our job board below to see if there are any opportunities to get your foot in the door with an employer, or gain some relevant work experience...or, to find a good long-term fit!



Career Advancement Possibilities 

Career advancement as a translator could come in various forms. For example, with enough experience and skill, you would be able to work on assignments that are more difficult and/or take on editorial responsibility. 


Alternatively, you could advance your career by becoming certified, becoming fluent in an additional language, or becoming specialized in a certain industry. 


You could also choose to manage or start your own business, or take on freelancing projects if you aren’t already. Taking on more clients and possibly employing other translators would be forms of career advancement from that point.



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Below is a list of careers in our database that are most similar in nature to ‘Translator’, in that they’re in the same field, or they involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities:


English Teacher Abroad

ESL Teacher

Foreign Language Instructor


Speech-Language Pathologist 




Please consult the following resources to learn more about this profession:


• Occupations in Alberta: “Translator.” (March 25, 2016). Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved June 13, 2019.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Interpreters and Translators.” (April 12, 2019). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved June 13, 2019.

• Blog: “How to Become a Translator: 7 Steps to Your Dream Job.” Meredith Kreisa. (n.d.). FluentU. Retrieved June 13, 2019.

• Career Development: “How to become a Translator.” (n.d.). Institute of Translation & Interpreting. Retrieved June 13, 2019.

• Certification: “Certification Process and Title Protection.” (n.d.). Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia. Retrieved June 13, 2019.

• Certification: “Certification.” (n.d.). Canadian Translators, Terminologist and Interpreters Council. Retrieved June 13, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Translator

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below lists areas of academic focus that pertain to this career. Scholarships matched to those fields of study can be found on our Scholarships Organized by Field of Study page.



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below will serve as an excellent educational foundation for becoming a translator:


Top Banner Image: