Interpreters and Translators – How to Make it in the Industry

Learning a language will stand to you personally and professionally but how many people can actually make a career of it? Using your aptitude for language to work as an interpreter or translator will put you in charge of your own career and ultimately your own success or failure. Here’re my top tips for getting ahead in language translation.

Learn the right language(s)


This may seem obvious but being able to market yourself as knowing a language that is currently in demand will make you more useful i.e. more employable. This can be tricky though. What’s in demand changes and it takes time to learn a language to a professional level. While French might have seemed useful when you were first choosing your language courses back in high school it’s Chinese, Arabic and Punjabi that require translators now.

Make your choice based on population immigration trends in your country, future moves you hope to make and successful global economies. If necessary learn a new language. By adding a language now you’ll broaden your linguistic offering for the future.

Develop your language skills to a specific niche

As well as choosing a sought after language you can specialise your knowledge further by learning key terminology for specific niches like medicine or law. By doing so you become one of a smaller group of highly skilled interpreters making competition for jobs with your skill set less fierce.


Interpreters need an additional set of skills on top of their language fluency. Without these you’ll never excel in the role.

  • An ability to understand a number of regional dialects, accents and differing inflections.
  • Skills to recognise the non verbal signals and cues that form part of the way humans communicate. These are learnt through a practice known as ‘shadowing’ which involves mimicking the behaviour and the exact speech of a speaker in their own language.
  • Develop a standard working practice that best creates an atmosphere of natural communication between the speakers for whom you’re interpreting. These should include making yourself both inconspicuous (by sitting to the side, avoiding eye contact and adopting a neat, composed posture) and easy to understand (by speaking clearly and audibly).

Use your own language

If, like many other people in the UK, you grew up fluent in two languages e.g. English and Arabic, you could put your native language to use. Apart from translating documents or acting as an interpreter where native speakers are not necessarily required you could utilise your natural accent and fluent knowledge. How? By lending your voice to Arabic voice over work. Become the voice of a foreign language tv show, a public transport announcement service or voice dub over for films.

Finding work

There are various avenues open for interpreters and translators to find work. Freelancing is one of those. Freelancing can lead you anywhere from translating documents to working with companies or charities who deal with foreign nationals.

One way of finding companies who might need your skills is to contact a foreign consulate in your city. They should be aware of foreign owned companies in your area or companies who conduct business oversees, both of which may need translation services. Freelancing opportunities could lead to a permanent position too.

For those linguists with special skills you should look for work within specific industries e.g. translating legal documents or working with solicitors who have a large foreign client base.

You could also join an agency who will find work for you. In this case whether you have special niche knowledge will also change the nature of your day to day work. If you know Punjabi and are familiar with medical terminology you could become a regular translator in doctors’ clinics.

With high fluency, accurate translation skills and proactive attitude the sky’s the limit!


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