The Best Education Advice For Would-Be Translators

There are no gatekeepers to the translation industry in the United States.

Nobody has the power to regulate, sanction, bless, or approve who can and who cannot be a translator.

That’s a great thing because the market can then decide who is worthy enough and good enough to business.

Just as there is no organization that stands in the way of aspiring translators becoming professional translators, there is no educational institute that has the final say in who can become a translator.

For that reason, a lot of translators don’t even go to college and still manage to become successful in the business.

Even more so, most translators don’t graduate from, or even attend,┬átranslation-specific programs.

Yet a lot of these people are doing well in the translation industry.

Still, though, a lot of aspiring translators are still convinced that going to college is the best way to become a translator.

“I am not sure what college major I should study if I want to become a professional live translator. I want to get a bachelor’s degree. Should I get it in communication or is there another major I could consider?”

College sometimes isn’t the best way to prepare for a career in translation, but if you don’t believe me and still want to go to college, let me give you some advice.

Tip #1: Stay Away From Strict Language Degrees

I know, not the advice you were expecting.

But it’s true.

A language degree is not going to help you become a translator any more than a degree in Linguistics will help you become a professional writer.

Yes, you need top-notch language skills to do either one, but you need something else even more.


And a degree in Spanish or Russian or German isn’t going to give you that experience by itself.

Instead of spending four years in college learning a language, spend two and live in a country that speaks the language you want to learn.

Then use free online educational courses to build your knowledge and become a specialized transalator.

You’ll be two years ahead of the game, have valuable experience in the game, and more contacts than you would be staying at school.

And while your at it…

Tip #2: Avoid Other Humanities Degrees

Unless you’re going to be a literary translator, you’d do yourself a favor by staying away from other language-y degrees as well, like Linguistics or English.

One of my undergraduate degrees was in Linguistics.

I enjoyed it, sure.

But it didn’t give me any advantages when I started my translation career.

Here’s the hard truth.

Almost nobody will hire you (freelance clients and potential employers alike) just for your ability to speak/read/translate another language.

Look where most people put their languages on a typical resume

On the skills portion, right after all their work experience.

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“I’m fluent in Hindi, and I can use Microsoft Word.”

Yeah, that’s not going to get you a job or a client as a translator.

Neither is putting down that you know how to understand the syntax in a Navajo sentence.

So instead of getting a degree from the Humanities department, you need to look somewhere else.

Tip #3: Get a Degree in a Hard Science/Law/Business

If you want to be a successful translator, you need to go where the money is, and the money is where the demand is.

If you need a refresher on where that demand is, check out translator salaries by language and specialization.

The most common areas of specialization reported were business/finance (57%), law (55%), medicine (47%), and industry and technology (38%). Uncommon areas of specialization included entertainment (18%), natural sciences (16%), and pure sciences (8%).

The money is in business and finance, law, medicine, or industry and technology.

If that’s the case, you need to become an expert on one or more of those areas.

And for a translator, there’s two ways to become an expert:

  1. Get some real hands-on training, or
  2. Start by learning about the topic in school

A degree in one of these areas will not only prepare you to be ahead of everyone else in the translation game who decided to major in 9th Century Russian Literature, you’ll also have a degree in a relevant field that can get you a full-time job somewhere if the translation thing doesn’t work out.

That can’t be said for someone that graduates in the humanities.

That’s all.

Until next time.

3 thoughts on “The Best Education Advice For Would-Be Translators”

  1. Milton Saucedo

    I don’t usually take the time to comment on the web, but the content on this website is incredible! Thank you very much! Any quick advice or web pages you have written on this topic (education), specifically in the Spanish>English (law) industry? I am a newbie translator, a working state certified interpreter in california looking to do translations part time. Thank you for this Website!

    1. Hey Milton, glad you stopped by! I don’t do legal translations so I don’t have all the answers in that area. However, I will say that the legal industry is a great area for translators. You’ve already got a leg up on your competition because of your state certification in interpretation. Make sure you highlight that for potential clients. If you want to build up your experience in legal translation, do it by finding clients in that industry. You could also volunteer to do some pro bono translation work for lawyers in your area. If you really don’t have any experience in legal translation and have to start from the basics, then I would suggest you look for boutique classes/degrees at a local university that teach translation and terminology in the legal industry. Hopefully that helps, and good luck!

      1. Milton Saucedo

        I see. Great. Thnks for the advice!

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