A translator is kind of a magician. They touch intangible words in order to transfer them into another language. Yet translation can also be understood in a much more ordinary way: as a traditional, albeit demanding, craft which you can learn. So, if in addition to your mother tongue you have a high level of proficiency in a foreign language, you are on the right track. And if you turn languages into a working tool, you can become a translator.
Training to be a translator
It is impossible to do this without an excellent knowledge of two or more languages, because a translator is always working on the borders of linguistic worlds, on the borders of cultures. The path to becoming a translator therefore begins with careful study of a foreign language, but this does not mean that every translator must study translatology or philology. On the contrary, it can sometimes be an advantage to have a degree in another field, which gives the translator a specialised expertise. (We have discussed the importance of specialisation for translators here.)
In any case the translator must have a professional level of language skills, ideally at C2 level of the European Framework of Reference. They should therefore be able to demonstrate their language competence by means of appropriate certificates (CPE, GDS, DALF, DELE, etc.).
Being bilingual might not always be an advantage
The seemingly ideal prototype of translators would therefore be bilingual speakers who are proficient in two languages at mother tongue level. Yet even two mother tongues may not be a guarantee of a good translator, as mere knowledge of a language is not enough to master the craft of translation. It is also necessary to have the talent and linguistic sense to even be able to cope with stylistically more demanding texts so that they sound as natural as possible in translation, and of course a good knowledge of grammatical and spelling rules.
However, translating into a mother tongue gives a competitive advantage, and any experienced translator knows that when translating into a language other than their mother tongue, it is desirable to have a native speaker read the text at least once.
Why knowing a language isn’t enough
Other aspects also play a role in translation. What is very important, for example, is the translator’s knowledge of the cultural environment of the languages being translated and the ability to navigate the different stylistic levels of the language. However, just like in any other craft you cannot achieve perfection without practice and years of experience.
It is also misleading to think that really good translators can perfectly translate any text on any subject. This is only true to a certain extent. In the case of highly specialised texts that contain complicated specialist terminology, even experienced translators can encounter difficulties.
Therefore, when it comes to industry-specific orders (translation of medical reports, economic reports, company contracts, engineering documentation), translation agencies always give preference to specialists in the given field who are secure in their knowledge of the field and also have a perfect command of both languages. Top translators, in fact, always focus on a few selected areas in which they continuously educate and develop themselves.
Some types of translations also require special studies – for example, court translators must undergo special legal translation studies at universities in Prague or Brno.
Translation work is demanding, but if you are eager to show what you can do and are interested in a regular flow of new stimuli, information and knowledge, don’t hesitate to inquire about working with one of the renowned translation agencies. As a freelance translator you will receive a stable job influx and a guarantee of a regular income.
Quality agencies cherish good translators and keep a close eye on the quality of their work. In return they offer them specialised translation training or access to advanced digital translation tools.
A translator’s salary is usually based on the quantity of translated text as well as the quality of their work. And if you have a high level of proficiency in one of the less common languages in demand (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese), your price on the translation market will sky-rocket.