Learning Languages to Become a Translator

Searching for a job I came across the idea of become so fluent in a language that I would be able to pick up a job as a translator. I’ve been going at my Korean for 5 months now, not anywhere near fluent, but I do love the process and I’d love to become a translator. My concerns are how long it would actually take to become that fluent in a language, and how long translator jobs are going to last in this day and age. Working from home translating texts is the perfect job for me, working from home is my dream job!

To become a translator, it is much more important to master your mother tongue than any foreign language. When I attended university, I had a lot of mates with a poor Italian who may have been quite good at foreign languages but weren’t good translators.
If you are interested in translating, feel free to get in touch with me.

What level would you need to be a translator? C1? C2?

What level in which language: the source language or the target language?
I’d say it depends on the text, but in any case you need a C1 or C2 level in the target language, while you may even have a low level (like A2) in the source language. At university, I studied the Slovene language and Slovene-Italian translation for two years. Most of the times I could translate very well into Italian (I got a mark of 28/30 at both translation exams), even if I never learnt to speak Slovene and I found it hard to write it. Today (about seven years after dropping Slovene), I doubt I can write much in this language, but I could translate a text into Italian.
Of course, if you want to translate literature, you need at least a C1 level in the source language and a native-like knowledge of the target language.

It all depends on what sort of texts you’ll be required to translate. If you’re expecting to be able to translate all kinds of texts, you not only need outstanding mastery of the language (C1 at least), but also a deep grasp of the corresponding culture. Although that doesn’t guarantee you success in the field. It’s just the beginning.

How long it would take to achieve that level depends on you and your dedication. It took me 5 years to get my degree in translation, but I wasn’t as dedicated as I could be, so I suppose I could have done it faster if I had applied myself more. What took me the longest was to actually mature as a translator. Language takes time to sink in, even if you keep at it for many hours a day.

As mentioned, you need to really work on your native language too, and write and read a lot. If it’s your dream job, go for it!

I’ve been a translator for about 12 years.

The first skill you will need is excellent writing skills in English. Few people can write well and this skill is increasingly harder to find in people younger than, say, their mid-thirties.

Second, although it’s true that you don’t need to speak your L2 perfectly, you do need near-mastery of the language if you intend to work professionally. People with approximate understanding translate incorrectly because they fail to understand the nuances of the source text. On the other hand, I’ve had to revise people who misrepresented their skills and translated into their L2 with embarrassing results.

I know quite a few people in Canada who are bilingual enough that they can use 2 languages almost interchangibly and yet, they don’t have enough literacy in either language to work as a translator. In other words, as hard as knowing a second language to that degree can be, it isn’t sufficient – you also need an aptitude for deciphering the meaning of a text and a knack for finding just the right natural-sounding way to say it in your L1.

Obviously, English and French are a lot close to each other than English and Korean. Knowing what it takes to be a translator, and knowing what learning a language entails, I gave myself 5 years to reach translator level when I began learning Japanese. It’s been about 3.5 years now and I’m nowhere near that level, although I did do simple translation jobs as a volunteer. It probably wasn’t a very realistic goal, but I knew that – I just wanted to push myself. Then again, I didn’t work that hard at it. So maybe you’ll be further ahead than I in 5 years, who knows. But I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 years were a more accurate time estimate.

I know a number of people who translate from Japanese. Depending on the topic, you can begin fairly early, but most things require a tremendous amount of experience. You have to learn not just a different language, but a different culture and a different manner of expression. You also have to have some area of knowledge that you will translate. I tried to do some translation, but I didn’t have enough knowledge of the topic I was translating, and this caused a lot of difficulties.

Hi! Maybe, you should get a more intensive course to become fluent in Korean sooner? And about working from home: there are a lot of freelance job boards where you can get a translation project and work on it remotely. For example, I often look for translation jobs here: https://www.xplace.com/translation/jobs. This commission-free website has higher rates than the majority of others. And there are also a lot of entry-level projects which allow you to gain some experience.