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Translation Training Programs and Requirements

With mastery of at least two languages, translators are able to convert written documents from one language to another with a high level of accuracy and efficiency. They may also be tasked with translating live or pre-recorded speech. Translation training programs include formal and conversational language practice.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Because translators are responsible for converting oral and written materials from one language to another, it is imperative that they be fluent in at least two languages. This includes being able to read, write, speak and understand a language other than English. Although language skills can be developed in a variety of ways, many professionals entering the industry were raised in bilingual households and grew up speaking two languages. Mastery of a second language can also be accomplished through foreign language courses offered through high school and college programs. In addition to excellent written and verbal communication skills, translators must be comfortable using computers and various types of translation software. Although translation training programs come in many forms, employers tend to hire candidates with a bachelor's degree who have received formal translation training.

Formal Education

Formal translation training programs are available through colleges and training centers throughout the country. Translation training may be offered in the form of a degree or certificate program, or as a class within a broader curriculum. The most common language concentrations for translation programs offered in the United States include Spanish, French, German and Chinese. A number of formal training programs provide participants with study abroad opportunities.

Translation Studies Certificate

While some certificate programs are designed to stand alone, others are meant to supplement or follow undergraduate degrees. Both translation training options are commonly intended for working professionals and introduce participants to the basics of translation theory, practice and purpose through classroom courses and applied practice. Students gain a basic understanding of computerized translation tools used to speed up and simplify translation procedures. Coursework teaches enrollees how to translate commercial, legal and medical documents.

Bachelor's Degree in Foreign Language

Undergraduate degree programs in a foreign language are designed to provide written and conversational language skills, as well as an understanding of relative culture and literature. Students are required to complete courses in composition, grammar and conversation. Translation training is often available through elective courses. Language concentrations vary by college, but typically include French, Spanish and German. Less common majors include Latin, Japanese, Portuguese or Arabic. A bachelor's degree in a foreign language usually takes four years of study to achieve.

Master's Degree in Translation

Translation training at the graduate level focuses on translation research and specialized translation applications. Students focus on computer-assisted translation procedures and software development. Advanced coursework is required in the various aspects of translation theory and practice, including in-depth second language studies. Most master's degree programs in translation include a practicum or internship, which can provide students with the experience needed to achieve upper-level translation jobs with higher salaries upon graduation.

Job Experience

An individual's experience in real-world translation situations plays a vital role in cultivating a successful career as a translator. Employers typically prefer to hire candidates with a combination of formal training and work experience; many require 3-5 years of on-the-job experience. Experience can be gained through internship opportunities as well as volunteer positions with community agencies. Aspiring translators can also take advantage of mentoring programs through organizations such as the American Translators Association.

Licenses and Certifications

There is currently no universal certification standard for the translation industry. However, a variety of organizations--such as the American Translators Association and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators--have developed voluntary certification credentials to help translators demonstrate professionalism and proficiency to potential employers.

American Translators Association Certification

A written exam is available to American Translators Association members who are interested in earning the Certified Translation credential. Certification is available in a variety of English translation combinations, including Chinese, French, Dutch, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. In order to maintain certification, associate members are required to accumulate 20 hours of continuing education credits every three years.

Workshops and Seminars

A variety of professional organizations offer workshops and seminars relevant to the translation industry. The most prominent professional development opportunities are those offered by the American Translators Association. Throughout the year, the association offers continued learning through its 1-day seminars, divisional workshops and conferences.

The American Translators Association Annual Conference

This 4-day conference is held each fall in a major U.S. city or popular resort destination. The conference is comprised of training workshops, panel discussions and expert presentations as well as an exhibition hall. Presentation topics cover more than a dozen languages and a variety of translation specialties. Attendees can also expand their list of professional contacts by taking advantage of networking sessions.

Additional Professional Development

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately 25% of translators are self-employed. Freelance translators must be able to keep sound financial records, attract new clientele and set competitive prices for their work. For this reason, professional translators may wish to develop general business skills in marketing, finance and billing.

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