Training > How to become a translator

Becoming a translator/interpreter

The essential features of a good translator/interpreter are to be interested in language and to appreciate what a remarkable gift we have in being able to communicate with each other. The essence of the process of translating between languages lies in understanding words and the different ways in which words in different languages work. You must then possess the ability to link words together skilfully to create high quality translations or successful interpretations.

The ability to speak both English and Welsh doesn’t make you a translator/interpreter. Far from it.

When considering a career as a translator/interpreter, ask yourself:

  • Do I have strong language skills in English and Welsh, and a good grasp of both languages?
  • Am I able to understand and interpret texts in both languages confidently?
  • Am I able to write proficiently in both languages?
  • Am I able to solve problems and overcome obstacles?
  • Am I aware of the major and minor differences in the various dialects of Wales?

Can you translate?

The next step is to consider whether you can translate, and whether you enjoy doing so. So have a go at translating something from English into Welsh, possibly some text from a website, article or report. Another option would be to try to translate one of the passages set in Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru’s examination for Basic Membership.

Once you’ve composed your translation, consider how successful it is. Is it grammatically correct and easy to read, or is the language incorrect, it reads uncomfortably and riddled with mistakes? As this can be difficult for a novice to judge, ask a translator with a wealth of experience for a balanced view on the merits or otherwise of your work. Once you’ve been give a description of your translation’s good and bad points, you’ll see whether you’re likely to develop into a proficient translator. If you don’t know any experienced translators, ask Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru whether it can find someone to help you.

Fundamentals of good translating

From the outset, you should be familiar with the basics of a good translation. Your goal, therefore, will be to:

  • create a translation that conveys the meaning of the original correctly, but not slavishly;
  • ensure that the style suits the target audience;
  • use language and the appropriate register correctly;
  • make sure that expression in the target language is convincing;
  • seek to give the reader the impression that this is the language in which the text was originally written.

Academic qualifications

You need to be educated to degree level to become a translator/interpreter. While it’s commonly believed that Welsh translators/interpreters have to study Welsh at university and earn a good honours degree, that's not always the case - especially as the opportunities to study a variety of subjects through the medium of Welsh have now been widened by the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. Quite a number of excellent translators/interpreters have come into the profession having pursued and graduated in other subjects (including taking a joint honours degree in Welsh and another subject).

The Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and Aberystwyth University have developed a national postgraduate scheme in Professional Translation Studies.  For further information about the course is available on the University's website.

Starting a career

Most translators/interpreters learn their craft by working in translation units or services in the public sector or in translation companies or agencies in the private sector. This will provide you with a solid foundation to underpin your career. By producing translations, discussing them with your colleagues and learning from your mistakes, you’ll get a grounding in the fundamentals of good translation.

A trainee translator will usually work under the daily supervision of an experienced senior translator or editor responsible for overseeing the trainee’s development. As a trainee translator, you’ll probably develop a variety of skills such as revising, refining and proofreading translations as well as developing your own areas of specialist knowledge.

The bread-and-butter work of most translators in both sectors is the translation of documents. And because all kinds of work usually flow in and out with hardly a break, it’s important that you’re able to work accurately and quickly to deadlines and that you always respect the confidentiality of both the text and of the customer.

The nature of work being so variable, it’s also important to have a good understanding of a whole variety of subjects and to be particularly interested in current affairs. Often, you may have little idea of the subject of the next piece you’ll be asked to translate.

It will also be essential for you to have robust IT skills and be ready to develop them further as you learn more and more about the whole field of translation technology.

Intperpreting

As interpreting is both an art and a very specialized craft, it is possible that you’ll get a chance to try it out.

The interpreter has to be able to interpret accurately, quickly and fluently. There’s no time to refer to a dictionary or grammar, and the speaker’s words have to be translated simultaneously there and then so that the listeners lose nothing of what is being said.

With the best interpreters at work, meetings proceed smoothly. Any non-Welsh-speakers present will be able to follow all that’s being said, and the language of the meeting will flow easily from Welsh into English and vice versa.

University of Wales Trinity Saint David offers a Postgraduate Certificate in Interpreting, which is taught at its Lampeter campus.

First steps

One way of getting started is to explore opportunities to do voluntary translation work. If you’re a student, what about doing some translation work for the Students’ Union or a student society? Is there a group or organization in your community that would like its materials translated?

Providing translations for a group or voluntary organization for free or for a small fee can be a valuable way of gaining experience and help to strengthen your application for a translator post at some later stage.

If you’d like to have a go at interpreting, what about starting by listening to a radio programme? Choose part of a discussion programme where the presenter and participants speak quite naturally but are aware that there’s an audience out there listening. Interpret the debate silently first and then do so as if you were speaking into a microphone.

Student Affiliate

If you’re doing a degree and want to pursue a career as a translator/interpreter, consider becoming a Student Affiliate of Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru.

Offering recognition as a Student Affiliate is meant to encourage and support students who wish to pursue a career in the profession. The Student Affiliate will benefit from access to networks and sources of advice and also from some of Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru's activities, such as attending its workshops and paying a discounted fee to sit its examinations. Being a Student Affiliate does not involve becoming a member of Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru and you won’t be charged a membership fee.

As a Student Affiliate, you’ll gain experience of Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru's activities and meet up with experienced translators/interpreters, thus helping you to develop your career. It will also serve both as an indication of your aspiration and desire to grow and succeed as a translator/interpreter and of your commitment to attaining the highest professional standards in your work.