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Train to Be a Translator

Read about translation degree programs at the bachelor's and master's levels, and check the availability of online learning options in this field. Review the course topics you'd study as a translation student. Get info on what jobs you could pursue with a translation degree and what specialty areas you might consider, like medical translation.

What You Need to Know

To become a professional translator, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree. You can major in a specific language, such as French or Spanish, but many schools offer formal translation programs at the bachelor's and master's degree levels.

Degrees Bachelor's and master's degrees related to a specific language
Courses Legal translation, linguistics, commercial and financial translation, medical translation and localization
Future Career Options Legal translator, localization translator or literary translator

What Will I Learn in a Degree Program?

You'll generally cover the same subjects at both the bachelor's and master's degree levels. These subjects include legal translation and localization. Localization translation is the process of converting text found on products and services, such as software and websites, into different languages for use in different cultures. You might be studying these topics as well:

  • Linguistics
  • Commercial translation
  • Financial translation
  • Medical translation

What Other Topics Can I Study?

Additionally, you'll study a specific foreign language in your degree program. Depending on the program, you might end up learning to translate written materials in several different languages. Languages that have traditionally been in demand include:

  • Portuguese
  • French
  • Italian
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Russian

What About a Study Abroad Program?

Though it may not be required, some schools recommend that you participate in a study abroad program, through which you can immerse yourself in another culture and learn the language. Also, since degree programs allow you to choose electives, it may be wise to take courses that help you develop your skills in the following areas:

  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Research
  • Analytical thinking skills

Can I Earn a Degree in Translation Online?

Online translation programs are typically only available at the master's degree level. The format of your classes will vary from one school to another. Some incorporate live video conferencing and other modern technologies, such as social networking sites, chat rooms and blogs. For these features, you might need a high-speed Internet connection for optimal quality. Additionally, you might find that some programs offer hybrid courses. This means that you'll split your time between the classroom and the Internet.

What Can I Do After I Graduate?

Many career areas present options to qualified translators, explains the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You could work in a legal setting as a judiciary translator. Translated legal documents may range from contracts to scientific reports, explains the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (www.najit.org). To work in this field, you'd have to choose a translation degree program that offers training in legal terminology. Legal translators may work with documents that pertain to foreign countries' legal systems.

What About Other Work Opportunities?

If you choose to work in a healthcare setting, you could translate patient medical forms and hospitals' posters as well as educational brochures, says the International Medical Interpreters Association's Guide on Medical Translation (www.imiaweb.org). To work in the medical field, your degree program would need to offer training in medical terminology.

You can also be a translator in the literary field, collaborating with authors to translate their poems, short stories and novels. The College Board warns that literary translation job opportunities are scarcer than other types of translation jobs (www.collegeboard.com). Finally, you can work as a localization translator, working with information found on marketing materials, publications, websites and software applications.