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Careers in Translation

Linguistics is not the study of languages, but a linguistics background is an advantage for a bilingual who wants to become a translator. Linguists study the semantic, syntactic and stylistic differences between languages, as well as the relations between language and culture. This knowledge helps a translator to understand the issues involved in trying to express equivalent meanings in two languages.

Fluent bilinguals can begin working as translators even before finishing a degree.

How to become a translator

The information below is mostly summarized from the ALTA blog and Translators Cafe.

Build up credentials

Certification is essential for specialties such as court or medical interpretation, and useful for marketing your services in general. A number of organizations offer various kinds of certificates:

Needless to say, before investing in a certification you should do some research to see whether potential employers accept that certification.

Another credential option is to pass tests like the Defense Language Proficiency Test.

You can even get a degree in translation. There are a variety of programs addressing different needs. One place to start research is the ALTA blog’s picks for the top 10 U.S. translation schools.

Get entry-level experience

Any translation experience, from coursework to volunteering to freelancing, builds a portfolio of work to show potential clients. CSULB offers several translation courses: SPAN 461-467, GERM 306, FREN 460, and RGR 603.

Many community organizations, especially nonprofits that serve immigrants, would be happy to accept volunteer translators. Volunteer work helps you build a reputation and a network of contacts.

With some volunteering or coursework under your belt, you’re in a better position to market yourself as a freelance translator. You can contact translation companies or register on websites such as:

Learn related skills

Language skills

It goes without saying that you need to be highly fluent in at least two languages. Bilinguals whose knowledge of one language is largely oral (i.e., from the home) should look for advanced coursework to improve their literacy and vocabulary. Reading a lot also helps.

Business skills

Many translators are entrepreneurs who work on a contract basis, so accounting and marketing skills are useful. CSULB’s Minor in Entrepreneurship would be a great choice for a translator. Some translators start companies and manage teams of other linguists.

Writing skills

Translators need impeccable knowledge of prescriptive grammar and an ability to write clearly. Coursework from CSULB’s program in Technical and Professional Writing would look good on a translator’s resume.

Computer skills

Translators need to be able to use the software their clients use. CSULB offers several relevant courses, such as IS 100, 233, or CECS 101, 110, 202.

Domain-specific knowledge

To accurately translate business, scientific, court or medical documents, you need to understand them. Coursework in these areas will build your vocabulary and comprehension.

Translation companies

This is only a small sampling of the language services companies that employ translators.