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 medical interpreter? We have our own online medical interpreter training course to help you learn how to put your language skills to use. For those who have already had professional training, organizations such as the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and 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 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

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  • Victor H. Lopez
    Posted at 18:49h, 18 May Reply

    Great Ideas Thank you

  • Pingback:Paths to Success in Translation: Interview with Translator Mary Maloof-Fleck
    Posted at 14:14h, 25 June Reply

    […] between the fun language articles, we occasionally offer advice on how to become a professional translator, and we try to deliver some context on the history of translation, as well as some of the trials […]

  • Jennifer Hernandez
    Posted at 23:12h, 02 January Reply

    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.

  • ammar ahmed
    Posted at 02:23h, 11 April Reply

    thank you for your support

  • Adriana
    Posted at 17:40h, 21 June Reply

    I would like to know the requriments and cost.

  • Abdelnour Hindeleh
    Posted at 09:29h, 16 December Reply

    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

    Posted at 12:51h, 14 February Reply

    very fantastic

  • Marcia karina filippini
    Posted at 14:38h, 18 May Reply

    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

  • Rosa A. Rodriguez
    Posted at 07:31h, 02 November Reply

    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!

  • Nicole
    Posted at 11:33h, 09 November Reply

    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.

    Posted at 04:18h, 30 December Reply

    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.

  • joy ugwumba
    Posted at 02:00h, 22 May Reply

    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!

  • Katrena
    Posted at 22:53h, 20 June Reply

    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?

  • francois kizabi
    Posted at 10:21h, 17 August Reply

    hello everyone. it is good to follow this advice. it was great and helpful in my life.

  • David klava
    Posted at 08:42h, 20 February Reply

    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?

  • Christy
    Posted at 19:45h, 13 March Reply

    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

  • Khadar
    Posted at 21:54h, 08 August Reply

    Nice, i would recommend to a friend.

  • Savoia Ellis
    Posted at 10:12h, 17 August Reply

    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?

  • Maribel Regalado
    Posted at 06:01h, 10 September Reply

    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?

  • hussein elwahy
    Posted at 15:23h, 04 February Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this article !!

  • Tuyet BN
    Posted at 16:52h, 27 February Reply

    Great article; thank you.

    • Driss Ettazi
      Posted at 18:54h, 02 April Reply

      i am so interested and all ready I have experience I am interpreter I speak Arabic , French Spanish tagalog

  • professional translation
    Posted at 23:30h, 20 May Reply

    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.

  • Mohammad Abdelrahman
    Posted at 08:09h, 30 June Reply

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

    • Fauwaz Ali
      Posted at 16:45h, 10 November Reply

      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.

  • Seth
    Posted at 11:17h, 14 August Reply

    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!

  • Raquel
    Posted at 20:07h, 21 August Reply

    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

  • S. M. ALEEM
    Posted at 03:00h, 28 August Reply

    I am interested in acquiring certification for Japanese-English Translation (Generic / IT domain). Please guide on the steps for an online certification.

    • Dung Ha Thuy
      Posted at 22:09h, 23 September Reply

      Even though, having been a translator and interpreter for many years, but still found this is greatest post for me.

  • Quora
    Posted at 00:51h, 23 October Reply

    How do I study English to Chinese and Chinese to English translations?

    If you are interested in becoming a translator or interpreter, I have a few favorite resources. General Translation: Meaning-Based Translation by Mildred L. Larson Becoming a Translator by Douglas Robinson Literary Translation: Performing without a Sta…

    • Saeed Chen
      Posted at 23:49h, 26 August Reply

      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.

  • Joanna Gipson
    Posted at 15:43h, 11 November Reply

    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.

  • mohamad
    Posted at 08:01h, 13 November Reply

    nice advice

  • Rosalinda
    Posted at 20:48h, 09 December Reply

    I am very interested to know how I can be a certified translator (Spanish to English)

  • Delmas
    Posted at 17:15h, 24 December Reply

    Delmas is my forename and i am much interested in translation because i act as a person who renders services to the others. we are together.

  • Sulaiman Ibrahim Algamawi
    Posted at 07:31h, 01 January Reply

    Good ideas which will widen horizon of potential translators

  • Randy
    Posted at 08:08h, 07 January Reply

    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.

  • Luna Verano
    Posted at 05:25h, 27 February Reply

    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!

  • Leticia Lopez
    Posted at 15:19h, 07 June Reply

    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!

  • delmas
    Posted at 05:51h, 20 July Reply

    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.

  • Maria ibarra
    Posted at 22:21h, 20 January Reply

    How much are the classes??

  • Fatri
    Posted at 19:30h, 24 February Reply

    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?

  • agner
    Posted at 20:53h, 25 February Reply

    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

  • Fatri
    Posted at 09:35h, 21 March Reply

    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

  • Jane oyama
    Posted at 13:04h, 27 March Reply

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

  • Awa Gueye
    Posted at 20:24h, 12 April Reply

    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

  • Luisa A
    Posted at 18:34h, 13 May Reply

    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

  • Sadia
    Posted at 15:54h, 20 May Reply

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

  • Cisco V.
    Posted at 03:39h, 21 May Reply

    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.

  • Mmaphefo Elizabeth sewa
    Posted at 02:38h, 03 August Reply

    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?

  • Soraya Bucar
    Posted at 06:32h, 19 August Reply

    Very nice !

    Posted at 04:35h, 31 August Reply

    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.

  • Pingback:How To Become A Court Translator Uk | Information
    Posted at 02:42h, 02 September Reply

    […] 5 Steps to Becoming a Professional Translator – ALTA … – […] between the fun language articles, we occasionally offer advice on how to become a professional translator, and we try to deliver some context on the history of … […]

  • ADOU Kouablan Bienvenu
    Posted at 06:20h, 07 September Reply

    I am very happy to know all these important elements for becoming a good translator.

  • Pingback:How To Become A Language Translator In Uk | Information
    Posted at 22:10h, 30 September Reply

    […] How to become a translator – ALTA Language Services – […] between the fun language articles, we occasionally offer advice on how to become a professional translator, and we try to deliver some context on the history of … […]

  • Adán Soto
    Posted at 10:58h, 03 October Reply

    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.

  • Pingback:How To Become Language Interpreter Uk | Information
    Posted at 00:46h, 06 October Reply

    […] How to become a translator – ALTA Language Services – Just moved to the UK and would like to be … I am from Albania and I am interested in becoming an interpreter.I have finished the … ALTA Language Services | An … […]

  • translation agency
    Posted at 23:00h, 06 October Reply

    This is a great post, Achieving a successful career in the field of translation and interpreting is not easy. and this advice helped me a lot. Thank you.

  • Nothwala Maria Sibeko
    Posted at 13:27h, 12 October Reply

    I have to pay to certified as a Translator.I am a student at UNISA doing -BEd (senior phase and further education and training.

  • Hashim Alghouleh
    Posted at 15:56h, 18 October Reply

    Iam interested to become Atranslator and you guys make it so easy. l speak Arabic . Iam 52 years old

  • Pingback:How To Become A Certified Translator Uk | Information
    Posted at 15:37h, 29 October Reply

    […] 5 Steps to Becoming a Professional Translator – ALTA … – The first thing I tell people who want to know how to become a translator is to get some … and becoming a certified court or … ALTA Language Services. […]

  • Yumersy Santos
    Posted at 13:11h, 01 November Reply

    Hello, I would like to enrol, but I live in Tampa, FL.
    Please, someone can contact me? Thanks

  • Sawsan B
    Posted at 15:44h, 04 November Reply

    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

  • Pilar de la Mora
    Posted at 16:11h, 04 November Reply

    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.

  • angela henriquez rowell
    Posted at 21:49h, 08 November Reply

    Thank you for the information. I am bilingual and I will follow some of your ideas. Great information!!

  • Pingback:How To Become A Translator For The Us Government | Information
    Posted at 19:46h, 13 November Reply

    […] 5 Steps to Becoming a Professional Translator – ALTA … – […] between the fun language articles, we occasionally offer advice on how to become a professional translator, and we try to deliver some context on the history of … […]

  • Kate
    Posted at 05:18h, 04 December Reply

    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?

  • theara than
    Posted at 07:51h, 11 December Reply

    very good

  • Maria moran
    Posted at 11:23h, 29 April Reply

    Thank you so much for the information you have in this page. In being very helpful.

  • Pingback:23 Digital Nomad Jobs: Take Your Desk Around The World
    Posted at 18:02h, 18 April Reply

    […] Steps to Becoming a Professional Translator  […]

  • Big Guy
    Posted at 12:11h, 24 September Reply

    It’s irresponsible to tell people to get certified by ATA when the artificially-implemented passing rate is only 20% and having a certification from a for-profit company with no oversight does not qualify your translation skills.

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