How to Become a Translator

7 steps to build your multilingual career

With the proliferation of online machine translation apps, one might conclude that translation jobs are headed the way of printed encyclopedias and record stores. But not so fast. Professional translators—especially certified translators—are still in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects interpreter and translator jobs to grow much faster than average through 2026—at a rate of 18% for the period. Compare that number against the Bureau’s overall expected growth rate for all professions: a healthy 7%.


Translators do work that’s interesting. They do work that’s important. They do work that compensates them well while offering opportunities for flexibility.

Interested in finding a translation job? Then you’ll need to know what kind of skills successful translators need. With the right language, computer, and small business skills—and, of course, a passion for translation—you could attain this coveted job.

7 steps to become a translator:


#1 Choose your language(s)

The simplest steps are often the most important. It may seem obvious, but professional translators have to carefully consider which languages they are capable of translating. You need to have excellent or near-native fluency in the language that you are translating from (the source language), and native fluency in the language you are translating to (the target language).



#2 Seek formal translation training

The BLS reports that most translators have at least a college degree before they enter the world of professional translation. But it’s not enough to feel comfortable and confident with multiple languages. Successful translators still need to formalize that knowledge and experience. How do you get there? You can take post-secondary courses on oral comprehension or written comprehension in your target languages. Or, you can shore up your knowledge in an area of specialty.



#3 Specialize in a particular field

Many translators find that they’re more competitive if they specialize in a particular field, or speak a less common language. If you are fluent in the Quechua language, for instance, you offer a valuable translation service in a very small pool of translators. Specialized understanding of industries such as business, medicine, law, or even gaming will also boost your qualifications. Subject matter experts can often land translation jobs that require more precise translations because they know the jargon and the lexicon—and offer a leg-up over the competition.



#3 Promote yourself to your market

Many translators find their jobs on a freelance basis. That means that translators need to build their own businesses, find their own work, and leverage their own networks. While freelancing often allows more freedom than employer-employee based jobs, all that non-translation work can feel like another job in and of itself. As a translator, you should be ready to be your own marketer, your own salesperson, and your own accounts receivable manager, too.



#4 Become a certified translator

Certifications help assure your current and prospective clients that you have the expertise required to deliver quality work. A translator’s certifications can be general to translation or specialized for a particular field. Many certification providers, like the American Translators Association, offer translators the opportunity to appear in their directories. This, in turn, can attract new clients and new business.



#5 Gain translation experience

Practice, practice, practice. As you gather experience translating, you will find yourself landing new clients more easily. You’ll also find that you can provide more references, reviews, and testimonials, to your marketing materials. Plus, as you translate more, you learn more, and your translations improve.



#6 Form relationships with clients

Each client brings new challenges, preferences, likes, dislikes, and cultures. What works well for one client may fall flat with the next. Develop a system that helps track client preferences in terms of style, voice, register, and syntax. Gain an understanding of rules and regulations that may influence the way you translate a document. Above all, always remember to treat client documents with respect while observing confidentiality.



#7 Reassess: How can you improve?

Like any profession, the translation profession experiences trends in technology, style, and approach. Stay on-trend by communicating with others, pursuing continuing education, and gaining membership in professional associations.



The Bottom Line

It takes effort, skill, and strategic planning to build a successful translation practice. But, as the profession continues to grow in the coming years, pursuing translator jobs is well worth the effort.


Interested in becoming a translator for Lionbridge? Join our team.

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Sophia Eakins
Sophia Eakins