“Translation affects every aspect of your life – and we’re not just talking about the obvious things, like world politics and global business. Translation affects you personally, too. The books you read. The movies you watch. The food you eat. Your favorite sports team. The opinions you hold dear. The religion you practice. Even your looks and, yes, your love life. Right this very minute, translation is saving lives, perhaps even yours”
Kelly / Zetsche
Found in Translation, 2012

Staff and freelance translators

Professional translators are either staff translators (employed by companies, the EU or government departments) or freelance translators.

Freelance translators are self-employed and either work directly for the client (companies, embassies, solicitors, the authorities) or are commissioned by translation companies.

Some of the areas requiring translation are medical, legal, technical, business and literary and there are many sub-areas within each of these areas, for example, within legal: property documents, employment contracts, company statutes and within technical: automotive, electronics, maritime.

Typical documents that require translation are annual reports, technical specifications, health and safety manuals, EU Directives, travel guides, websites, birth certs.

Over the past number of years, additional stand-alone areas of activity have emerged for the translator: proofreading (for example of texts written by non-native language speakers), sub-titling, project management, post-editing (of machine-translated texts), abstract writing.

Skills and aptitudes required to be a professional translator

Translation is a very specialised skill. In order to be a successful translator it is not sufficient to be “good at languages”.

  • Proficiency in the Mother tongue
  • Thorough understanding of the language and culture of both the language from which and into which you are translating
  • Ability to analyse and process written information quickly
  • Ability to transfer the text to suit the intended purpose and audience
  • Great intellectual curiosity
  • Complete intellectual integrity
  • Ability to move into new areas of specialisation
  • Adherence to deadlines
  • Self-reliance
  • Self-discipline
  • Perseverance
  • Very strong IT skills
  • Resourcefulness for dealing with the unexpected
  • If working as a freelance translator, the willingness and ability to run a small business

Check out our members stories where ITIA members talk about their work as translators and/or interpreters.