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Can You Be a Translator Without a Degree?

Posted by Dr. Nelva Lee on Mar 24, 2021 2:00:00 PM
Dr. Nelva Lee

Can You Be a Translator Without a Degree

What is a Translator?

Translation services are ingrained into our day-to-day lives.

Whether you’re watching a foreign film or Googling how to order a drink in French or Korean, language is becoming more and more accessible to everyone. 

And we have translators to thank for that. 

A translator is more than just fluent in a foreign language. They transcribe information from a source language (the original content) into a target language (the new content). This differs from an interpreter. 

An interpreter translates orally. Translators convert text; their job is to maintain the original subject matter’s intended meaning, structure, and cultural value without confusing foreign readers.

A common question asked by beginners is whether you need a degree to be a translator. And the answer is no, you don’t. In this article, we’ll shed some light on the process and guide you on how to build your career without a translation degree.

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Do I Need a Degree to be a Translator?

The short answer is no. You do not need a college degree to become a translator!

At a minimum, you will need a high school diploma or GED. 

The long answer is still no, but a degree helps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most entry-level positions as a translator or interpreter look for a bachelor’s degree. Be it in translation, linguistics, or a relevant specialization, a degree will give you an advantage with employers. 

But it’s not the only thing that matters. Employers will also consider a translator’s language combinations, expertise, and training.

Language combinations and competencies

You’ll likely find an English speaker who is also fluent in French or Spanish. You are less likely, however, to find a Farsi speaker who is also fluent in English, Japanese, Mandarin, and/or Arabic. Language combinations act as a niche in the translation industry.

The more unique your language combination(s), the less competition you’ll face on the job market when an opportunity pops up. 

Furthermore, while fluency is important, native language does not equate to native proficiency. The average person uses language casually; translators must have extensive knowledge in grammar, syntax, tone, dialects, and cultural cues to translate accurately.

Level of expertise

While you don’t need a license to be a translator, certification is proof of competency. Of over 10,000 members of the American Translators Association, only 20% have passed their ATA exam

Accreditation speaks to your abilities as a translator, and the right qualifications can be just as important as a translation degree.

Employers also consider translators who have certification or experience working in a specific field or discipline. 

As a specialized translator, your job is to communicate complex information to everyday people. For example, a certified translator with a background in healthcare is more likely to be hired as a hospital translator than a translator who is uncertified or has little work experience. 

Personal/independent training

Language skills only improve with time and practice. Not even translators at the top of their field are exempt from this rule. Develop your translation abilities through training programs, examinations, online courses, and everyday usage. 

The stronger your talents, the more impressed a potential client or employer will be.

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How to Become a Translator Without a Degree

The beauty of translation is in its versatility. 

Translators are employed in various fields, fulfilling various roles. As a translator, you may work in literature, law, education, or healthcare. You may translate articles, websites, or novels. 

A degree isn’t necessary to do any of these things.

What is necessary is perseverance. Becoming a professional translator without a degree isn’t easy, but neither is studying in college for 3 to 4 years. Your path may not be as direct as others, but what matters is experience. It’ll take up to 1 to 2 years to develop the skills and portfolio you need to land a full-time position. 

Luckily, you can start tomorrow. 

We’ve prepared a step-by-step list of strategies to guide you on your way to becoming a professional translator.

  • Start gaining experience (voluntary or pro bono work)
  • Get independent qualifications/certifications 
  • Take specific courses and workshops
  • Self-study and leverage CAT tools and resources
  • Start freelance (paid) independent jobs
  • Market yourself (LinkedIn, job boards, etc.)
  • Develop a translator portfolio/build your CV

Start gaining experience (voluntary or pro bono work)

All translators have to start somewhere. Without a degree, it’s unlikely you will qualify for a position at a translation agency. Fortunately, you can gain relevant work experience through volunteering and pro bono work. Familiarize yourself with translation work by volunteering in your local community or online, translating blog posts, Wikipedia articles, and YouTube videos.

Get independent qualifications/certifications

Translators don’t need a license, but qualifications and certifications are signs of credibility. They’re also necessary if you want to pursue a specialization. 

You can typically earn certifications online through remote learning. At MiTio, we offer just that. 

Regardless of your experience in healthcare, our diploma program will prepare you for a fulfilling career as a specialized medical translator. In addition to working and learning remotely, upon completion of our course, will you be certified, and you’ll have the chance to kick start your career through our exclusive job opportunities! Start now, and you won’t need a translation degree.

Take specific courses and workshops

Continue to expand your translation skills through online courses and workshops. With or without a degree, as a translator, knowledge is your best friend. This is especially true when working as a specialized translator. 

After completing our 40-hour course in medical translation, you’ll have the toolset required to boost your career and beat competitors. Through our course, you will learn translation ethics, standards of practice, complex terminology, and much more at your own pace.

Our courses are offered year-round—and no, you don’t need a college degree! 

Review our course comparison to find the best price for you and start your career in medical translation.

Self-study and leverage CAT tools and resources

As a translator, you’ll need to be acquainted with CAT tools. Short for “computer-assisted translation,” CAT is not an automatic translation tool such as Google Translate. Instead, it’s a workflow aid that translators use. 

Free options such as Smartcat offer beginners a place to learn before moving on to industry standards such as SDL Trados and memoQ

In addition to CAT, educate yourself on professional etiquette and the translation industry as a whole. Invest in self-study, learn how translation works, and find better ways to apply your craft!

Start freelance (paid) independent jobs

Once you have some experience under your belt, consider freelancing. As a freelance translator, you’ll get a taste of what it’s to work full-time—all while pacing yourself and building your resume.

You should expect low-paying opportunities at first, but don’t undersell yourself either; your time and talents have value. When you’re not getting paid, continue strengthening your skills through volunteer work. 

Market yourself

Remember: Consistency is essential.

Freelancers have to advertise their services to get noticed. Be polite, punctual, and patient with clients. Encourage reviews and testimonials without being pushy. Keep an eye out for paid opportunities on social media, and sign up for job boards and freelance websites like ProZ, LinkedIn, Smartcat, Upwork, and Translator’s Cafe.

Develop a translator portfolio/build your CV

Compile your experiences into a translator portfolio or CV. A compelling portfolio or CV should highlight your skills, training, certificates, and any courses you’ve taken. 

 

Be sure to include how many hours/years you’ve worked (including time as a volunteer), your language combinations, the number of words you’ve translated, and any relevant specialties.

 

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How MiTio Can Support You

With or without a degree, becoming a professional translator requires time, patience, and, above all else, hard work. It may take you anywhere between 1 to 2 years before you’re working full-time—but it is possible. And the best part? 

You don’t have to do it alone.

Here at MiTio, we can provide the support and resources you need to pursue your dreams without a college degree. 

Our diploma program will give you the experience, expertise, and accreditation required to start your career as a specialized medical translator. Cut the learning curve in half—gain access to discounted textbooks, live practice sessions, virtual classrooms, and exclusive job opportunities after completing our course. 

We also offer medical interpreter training and certification for talented bilinguals looking to make a difference. View our guide on how to become a medical interpreter to learn more.