Degrees, Certificates and Other Qualifications in Translation

There’s much speculation whether in Arts and Languages qualifications are really needed. In subjective areas like Arts, especially, it seems degrees are useless and nothing but fillers because what matters is innate talent. In Languages, degrees are slightly more valued as they present “proof” of the person’s knowledge and ability. We have discussed previously how being bilingual or multilingual is not enough to become a translator or even a teacher of a foreign language, but do translators and foreign languages’ teachers need to have qualifications? Should this be the base of who you hire to do your translations?

Do translators need to have qualifications?

The short answer is no. Translators do not need a degree or any type of certification to be good translators. Most likely a good translator will have some type of academic qualification in the linguistics or literature field and some sort of life background involving the target language. However, the vast majority of translators who are serious about their work end up investing in qualifications, especially those which will allow them to be chartered. Translation is not the specialised field it used to be because, due to the developments in global technology, there is more work available and more people available for this work too. There is also machine(-assisted) translation competing with people who have spent a lot of their lives perfecting their translation skills. A person who invests in their knowledge and qualifications is someone who is going to take their work seriously and that’s always an assurance for whoever is hiring. However, qualifications alone aren’t enough. Sometimes it’s better to have good references or a varied portfolio that can provide evidence of your work quality and ethic. Translation requires knowledge beyond the ability to speak and write two languages fluently. You have to have a deep understanding of the syntax and semantics involved in both languages and the cultural differences. There’s translation theory that’s been developed for centuries and is worth studying and learning. A qualification will always be a plus but I believe, if you are genuinely good at what you do, no qualifications are needed.

What kind of qualifications should translators get?

There’s plenty of Bachelor’s Degrees in translation, most universities, including the Open University, offer one. Typically, translators opt to get a degree in their foreign language, for example, a BA in French, and then get a Master’s or a postgraduate diploma/certificate in Translation. In terms of reputations, the Diploma in Translation (a post-graduate qualification) offered by the Chartered Institute of Linguistics is the most appreciated and well-recognised qualification in Translation in the UK. Other than that, any type of ongoing training a translator can add to their CV is a plus, whether it’s specialising in certain fields (law, medical, technical), working with CAT tools or project management skills. For any profession these days, constant development is both a necessity and an advantage point, translators are no different. In addition to this, translators can specialise in new fields such as localisation and transcreation, which are well sought-after these days.

Being able to establish yourself as a reputable and trustworthy translator is possibly the hardest part of becoming one. Qualifications will help you to get your foot through the door and recognised but, alone, they can’t sustain your career. You need to be proactive and prolific, especially if you work outside an agency and depend on yourself to get work.