Beyond Words - Language Blog

5 Steps to Becoming a Professional Translator

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, International Medical Interpreters Association and Breaking Boundaries in Healthcare 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.

Step 4: Market Yourself

After getting credentials and some experience, it’s time to market yourself to law firms, police stations, hospitals, government agencies, and language agencies that may need translators or interpreters in your area. Most translators / interpreters work for clients on a contract basis, not as full time employees. A great way to market your services is to start a website or blog and join the active community of online language professionals. Also, make sure you have your resume and rates ready! The best indicator that an aspiring translator or interpreter is not a professional is when they have no idea what their rates should be! If you don’t know what rates to charge, call other interpreters and translators and find out what theirs are.

Step 5: Keep Learning!

As you progress as a translator / interpreter, there are other areas to consider as well. What specialized industry or industries can you translate or interpret for? Do you keep up with industry terms and trends? Are you computer savvy and knowledgeable regarding translation memory software? Can you provide simultaneous as well as consecutive interpreting? If you have had success as a translator, maybe you could consider diversifying and becoming a certified court or medical interpreter. Overall I hope I have not discouraged anyone from becoming a translator or interpreter. My purpose here is to provide a helpful guide to entering this highly competitive industry. Below are some links to articles about what it’s like to be a professional translator, and the paths others have taken to success. Good luck!

Paths to Success in Translation

What it’s like to be a translator
Interview with Translator, Mary Maloof-Fleck
Tranlstor’s Cafe
Interview with Translator and Interpreter, Aaron Maddox
ProZ Translator Resources
Top 10 U.S. Translation Schools

More About ALTA Language Services

ALTA has more than 30 years of experience providing translation, transcription, and localization services to small businesses, law firms, government agencies, and international corporations and organizations. Our Translation Quality Management System is ISO 9001:2008 certified. We’re proud to say that we passed the compliance audit without any nonconformity. Contact us today to get started on your next translation project!


  1. Pingback: Paths to Success in Translation: Interview with Translator Mary Maloof-Fleck

  2. I liked the way you described how being an interpreter takes more than knowing the language. I have translated in my state part-time in a municipal court. I was certified by Social Security Administration, but I will follow your advice and try to get certified by the state or an accredited organization.

  3. Where can one learn English to Arabic or Arabic to English translation in Sydney in order to get a diploma or degree as professional translator.
    Thank you

  4. HI,
    my name is Karina,i have been always interested to become a translator.I can speak English and Portuguese at the moment.i am looking forward to learn Spanish.i would love to know how to get started.thanks

  5. I’ve been working as an medical interpreter for few years, but I feel that I’m not going anywhere. can you suggest me how i can improve and may be getting into the legal interpretation field.
    Thank you!

  6. Thank you very much for all the guidance.

    I am bilingual in English and Spanish but I am looking to sharpen my grammar skills in both languages. Are there any tools out there to help me better my grammar by December 10,2011?

    I will be staring a translate/ interpreter program at Castate LA in December.

  7. Is is pleasure to share ideas relating to our career , but i would like to ask you how to improve your skills in the working language example FRENCH English as the mother tongue is neither one of the two.

  8. it is really wonderful knowing what it takes to be a translator or interpreter. i wish i could really be one best translator and interpreter. thanks so much! merci beaucoup!

  9. Hi I have a quick question. I am a 17 almost 18 years old and i know some sing language and Spanish and i was wondering what colleges you would recommend for me to apply for once i get out of high school next may. And I live in Oregon and want to be close to Oregon so what would you recommend doing?

  10. Hi.
    I know 3 languages English Latvia,Russian and i am 16 but i want to become a translator
    is there places that i coud start?

  11. Hello
    I am studying now ESL in community college . I want to be interpreter ,I need to know this course help me out to be interpreter or not ? If not what should I study to become interpreter ( Arabic : English )
    Thank you so much

  12. Thank you so much for this! In the competitive world of translating and interpreting do you need a degree? At your job do people get turned away for not having them? I’m working my way to become a polyglot. Would that make my skills mote desired over a translator who knows one language but has a degree?

  13. I totally agree! Fantastic way of describing what translators and interpreters really are and do! I graduated from the E.T.I. (Ecole de Traduction et d’Interpretation) in Geneva but have not worked with translations in many years. I now want to reintroduce myself to this amazing world. I am a native Spanish speaker and am fluent in English and French. Just moved to the UK and would like to be certified in this country, who should I contact?

  14. Pingback: How to become a professional translator/interpreter | Spanish in the Business World

  15. let us not forget that a degree is also essential. Not because it’s necessary in language but it is a a positive advantage to have qualifications or experience on the other side.

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  17. Good morning,
    I am looking for an English into Arabic or Arabic into English legal translation course or training online.
    do you provide that ?

    • Try New York’s university certificate in translation, or City university’s course( UK), with the aim to pass the highly regarded diploma in translation from the institute of linguists. Both courses online.

  18. This is a great post, thanks for sharing! Do you have any tips for step 4? I have started a website but I need to do more to market myself and my services. Thanks!

  19. Hello I am wanting to get certified in the state of California. I have worked in the medical field for over 8years and have translated for various Doctors and attorneys but not being certified is a disadvantage. I would like some type of guidence. Thanks

  20. Pingback: Quora

    • Hi, im an international salesman in a Chinese company; and sometimes, i will work as an interpreter for my boss when it is necessary. Besides, i found actually, it is not a necessity for many export-oriented company to have a full-time interpreter rather than have someone who is bilingual to do interpreting job.

  21. I am a teacher who helps others learn Spanish, but to be honest, I am still learning the language. Thank you for the link to the schools that I can check out to help me on my journey. You gave me realistic information. Now I know what steps to take to becoming a translator.

  22. What about bonding? As a translator, how does one get bonded? and is it a requirement? I’ve been told my documents have to be translated by a licensed and bonded translator.

  23. This is a big boost to my morale. I have been freelancing for the EnglishFilipino language pair for more than a year now. I do translation and proofreading but things have not been very inspiring until now. I do get disheartened a lot because of the lack of projects and the bad/ non payments of many suppliers, but reading articles such as this makes me realise that other people went through great lengths to master the craft and equip themselves better to make it big in this industry. Thank you for the inspiration and the tips, Mary. Thanks for this learning platform too, very helpful indeed!

  24. Thanks for taking your time to write a out this matter.
    I’m starting this new path in my life and your advice are definitely what I was looking for to begin. Thanks!

  25. let’s us bear in mind,as translator or interpreter,culture plays an important role. so,whenever we translate/interprete for people,we should heed their culture. because this latter influences languages. that is why i am writing an m.a paper of which the topic is ” impact of culture in translation and interpretation”. so, your contribution will be welcomed with particular attention. regatds delmas.

  26. I’ve finished the gymnasium high school here in Albania and I moved to England. I’ve passed English ESOL ENTRY 3 at Carshalton College, London UK. I came back to Albania and i did a test and I passed it. So i started work as a teacher and worked for ten years. I am following World English Institute. I have already finished the advance level. What if someone hasn’t finished the university and his English is fluent,? Am i allowed to take the interpretering exam. What can I do? Can i work as an interpreter if i take the IELTS Academic test or shall i take another one?

  27. these tips are great to become a professional interpreter/ transalatr but it´s a hard path to take isn´t easy but for sure the biggest sacrifice have the best taste

  28. Hello. I am from Albania and I am interested in becoming an interpreter.I have finished the Gymnasium high school here, in Albania and I have taken the ESOL course ENTRY 3 Certificate from Carshalton College,London UK and I have being working as an English teacher for 10 years. What should I do to get an inerpreter deegre. I am also following the WEI an online institute. Any advice

  29. Would appreciate more informations on becoming Englush/Korean translator. Also is there a way to speak to someone who is already in this field?

  30. I am looking for translation classes to get a certificate in translation.I went to school for translation way back and need some refreshing training and guidance.I Live in Pennsylvania

  31. How long does it take to get a Certificate/ Bachelors degree? I’ve had always been interested in languages, I speak Spanish and English, been wanting to learn more about the latin languages such as Italian, French and Portuguese that I am learning now

  32. I would like to become an international translator and interpreter professionally for medical and social settings.

  33. My name is Cisco V. and i am fluent in English and Spanish. I would just like to know which schools are available in the state of AZ to become a certified interpreter.

  34. I’m interested in becoming a profressional translater,BT I don’t HV matrix,does it matters BT I HV passed grade 11,so what step should I take?

  35. Really it is very good tips and ideas to upgrade the standards of the Translators and Interpreters so thanks a lot but i would be most grateful if you talked about the length and cost of the programs and how to performs it. so do i need to enroll at the college or just finished it online.

  36. Pingback: How To Become A Court Translator Uk | Information

  37. Pingback: How To Become A Language Translator In Uk | Information

  38. Hi there, I would like to be an English to Spanish translator in order to work as freelance. What should I do? Thanks for the advice. Adán.

  39. Pingback: How To Become Language Interpreter Uk | Information

  40. Pingback: How To Become A Certified Translator Uk | Information

  41. I just want to ask how can I become translator as I’m in level 1 now . I’m interesting this course but I’m not sure what do I need .
    Thank you

  42. Hi, I have a bachelor’s degree in Education. I’m currently working as a School District Translator and Interpreter English – Spanish. I would like to become a freelancer in the education industry. I’m working on getting ATA certified. How do I get in contact with companies or people interested in my profile.

  43. Pingback: How To Become A Translator For The Us Government | Information

  44. Hi I’m in high school now and starting to look at Colleges to go to next year. I’m fluent in English and Chinese and French. But I don’t know what to study in college? Also what is it that you do if your an interpreter or a translator?

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