Should You get a Translation Education? Here are Three Options.

Today I’m going to talk about education options for translators.

If you want to become a translator, what are your education options for learning how to become one?

Or, what are your options in general for learning the ropes to become either a freelance translator or in house translator? If you want to enter into the translation industry, what are your options?

Let’s take a look.

Translation and College

The first option that you have, and here I’m talking about post high school or post secondary education options, is to go to college.

It’s actually an option that many people choose in their path to become a translator.

If you do choose the college option, there are a few different things to think about. The first thing to think about is whether or not you will do a degree specifically in translation, or whether you will do with degree in another subject, and then specialize in translation, or get a degree in a language department with a specialization in translation.

In other words:

  • one degree in translation, or
  • one degree in a specialized subject, or
  • two degrees, one in translation and one in a specialization.

The route that I chose after high school was I got an undergraduate degree in Spanish Translation and also another undergraduate degree in linguistics. That was the dual major route.

Other people have done the route where they just get a degree in translation.

And yet other people have done the route where they get a degree in a different subject, say, biology or history or engineering, but then also have the necessary knowledge and experience of a second language and are able to transition into translation that way.

Now, which option is the best?

Well, one thing to think about is that not every school in the U.S. offers a degree in translation as an undergraduate degree.

Here are 15 to think about:

  • UT Arlington
  • College of Saint Rose
  • Oral Roberts University
  • Goshen College
  • UT Rio Grande Valley
  • Kent State University
  • UMass
  • University of Arizona
  • Loyala University
  • Barry University
  • Indiana University
  • University of Houston
  • Brigham Young University
  • Gallaudet University
  • St. Catherine University

So, there aren’t too many to choose from.

Even so, it might be the case that getting two separate degrees is not possible for you because of the cost or time associated with getting another degree.

Most people don’t want to spend forever in college and getting another degree.

That being said, there are schools, however, that offer certificates in translation, which allow you to get a degree in different subject but then also get a translation certificate.

These certificate programs don’t require as many classes as say a full-on translation degree, and for that might prove a better option.

Now what if the school you want to go to doesn’t offer a translation degree nor a translation certificate program?

Well, almost all schools offer language courses in addition to other degree courses.

So if you don’t speak a second language already and would like to learn one, you could certainly go that route where you go to a college, learn a learn a second language through maybe a study abroad, and then also get a degree in something you want to specialize in.

Now, before we get to the next option, I think it’s important to mention again how important specialization is for a translator.

If you want to be a successful freelance translator, that it’s vital that you specialize in a specific topic. Because while of translators can do a decent job of translating lots of different subjects, when you specialize, you’ll be able to command a much better pay and you’ll be able to stay out from the crowd.

Let’s say I’m a translation agency and I’m looking for a translator to translate something for a client that I have. In this case, he’s a biologist from China who is doing research on some sort of DNA testing.

He’s written a paper in Chinese and needs it translated into English but it’s a fairly technical paper. It not only needs to be done, but it needs to be done properly because he wants to submit this paper to some other journals for publication and to be able to get some money to further his research.

Well, if I’m that translation agency, I am going to want to find a translator that does Chinese to English translation. But I also want a translator who understands the subject matter intimately. I want somebody who has studied biology, who hopefully has studied specifically DNA technology, who can talk at least in English, to the topics and the questions and the issues that the client’s research deals with, at least on a general level.

I don’t want to just give that translation job to just any translator that maybe doesn’t understand anything about biology because I want the best job done for my client.

So if you applied to work for that translation agency as a Chinese to English translator, and somebody else applied to that translation agency as a Chinese to English translator, but you just have a translation degree and they have a degree in biology and they’ve done a lot of translation work in the biology field, you won’t get the job. Instead, the other translator is going to be much more prone to get the job from that client.

Translation and Experience

The second option that you can do in order to become a translator is to not go to school at all and go the experience route.

Let’s assume that you already speak two languages or that you’re already fluent in two languages. Instead of going to school, the other option you have is to start getting experience and start trying to find clients.

If you don’t have education, then in order for a translation agency or a client to hire you to be comfortable in hiring you, you need to show that you have experience. The good thing about this is that a lot of the time, experience will trump education.

However, on the flip side, it can be hard for you to get experience in the beginning if you don’t have anything to show that you’ve done any type of transition work in the past. You know, nobody wants to hire somebody that doesn’t have any experience. But you can’t get an experience until you get hired.

This path might appeal to many of you that have already gone to college or are already working full-time and don’t have the time, energy, or desire to go back to school to get a degree or even a certificate.

And for you it works out great, actually, because what you can do is use the experience that you have gained in life or at a previous or current job as a foundation.

Say you worked in a certain field your whole life. Well, if you can talk about that field, then you should look for translation work that has to do with that field because you’re more experienced in that field and more importantly, you can point to that experience as a translator.

Now what if you’re just starting out, you’re relatively young, and you don’t have any experience in translation?

One of the best things that you can do to get that experience is to volunteer as a translator. There are lots of agencies and lots of organizations that need people to help them with language work. And one of the things that you can do to gain experience is to start working on a volunteer basis with these groups. You can definitely find many of them online, but what I think would be even more powerful (and helpful for you), is to find those organizations within your own community that need that type of assistance.

Not only would you be gaining experience for yourself, but you’d also be providing a tremendous service to people in your own community.

Translation and Online Courses

The third options for translators looking for education and experience is to go the online route.

There are lots of legitimate companies out there today that offer great courses for translators.

I won’t go into that here.

Instead, I’ll point you to Udemy. If you haven’t heard of Udemy, it’s one of the top websites for providing inexpensive courses on practically anything you might be interested in.

If you’re interested in taking one of these courses, here’s an article I published a bit ago that outlines the top translation courses on Udemy for 2019.

Conclusion

OK, so those are at least three options for translators looking to get a “translation education.”

  • Go to college
  • Gain experience on the job
  • Take online courses

Sure, there are other options out there and if you know of any that have worked for you, please share in the comments below.


P.S. For more tips on how to become a successful translator, read my book.

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