Translation Agency Tips: #3 What qualifications and experience will you need?

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qualifications, languages, translators, interpretors, atlas translations, how to become a translator, work experience


We are often contacted by parents of A level students, language students, teachers wanting to change careers… all looking for advice on how to get started in translation, or interpreting and whether they need particular qualifications.


There are so many ways people find and come into this exciting and ever-changing profession that we can’t tell you exactly what to do, and there is no “right” way. I can tell you the most common ways people get started. How did you get started? Do let us know, as I’m always amazed at the routes people take to get here!


By accident – doing another job

These people are already working in another career. Word goes round the office that they are bi-lingual and before they know it, they spend more time helping with translation or attending meetings to interpret than doing their actual job! They discover that they really enjoy this, and are good at it.


By accident – doing a language-related degree

These people love languages and so chose a language degree. Then they discovered that they could have a career using their languages in translation or interpreting. They focus on this during their degrees and may consider doing an MA after their degree.


With careful planning and gaining qualifications

These lucky people know that this is what they want to do from an early age! So they plan their education and possibly an MA to match.


With careful planning – from another job

These are people in other careers who have always loved languages, kept them active, and decide to take the plunge and make a career change.


So what qualifications do you need? Well, as you can see, this can vary. You could be a bi-lingual website designer who discovers you enjoy languages more than designing websites. Or you could be a new graduate with a degree in Business and French, and an MA in Translation. Both routes can work. You could also consider the DipTrans, a widely respected qualification offered via the Chartered Institute of Linguists.


This leads us on to experience, and there is no getting away from the fact that no experience = no work offers. Why would any prospective client offer work to someone with no experience when they could work with someone who’s been in the industry, specialising in their area for the last 10 years?


That’s what many people find most frustrating and a tough nut to crack. There isn’t an easy answer, but we do offer some tips to build up your portfolio:


  • As soon as you can, start looking for voluntary opportunities – a charity you love, a local tourist attraction, a local worthy cause – all these people would potentially love to work with you if you are offering your services for free. I do suggest that you only work for free for non-profit-making organisations expressly to gain experience, and ensure that you get a written reference when you deliver work.
  • Join local groups – such as translation based ones run by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). You can also join ITI as a student member and immerse yourself in the industry, learning from people who have been in your position.
  • Look at free and low-cost webinars to find out how to grow your business. We recommend eCPD Webinars, who offer professional development online for language professionals at all levels.
  • Ask friends and family if they need translation help – it’s amazing how languages are needed in so many businesses!
  • Craft a CV, proofread to perfection, and seek feedback from someone in the profession.
  • Consider a work placement in an Agency (like Atlas) or other company where you could learn about the industry and what’s involved.
  • Enter the industry indirectly by working in a Project Management position at an Agency.


Future blogs will give more advice in this area, but please do ask any questions in the comments, and let us know what worked best for you when you were getting started.


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