To mark Adult Learners’ Week (17th- 23rd June), an annual campaign coordinated by the Learning and Work Institute in partnership with Welsh Government, we take a look at how you can embark on a career in professional translation, whatever your age.

If you’re someone who speaks two or more languages, the chances are that you automatically translate things all the time without thinking, whether it be e-mails, road signs or dinner menus.

You’re also probably used to friends and family calling you up and asking if you could do them a favour by translating everything from medical records to estate agent contracts.

If this sounds like you, you’ve probably wondered what it would be like to get actually paid to translate for a living. After all, once you’ve learnt another language, that’s the hard part done… right?

The truth about translation

The truth is that, in such a competitive industry, becoming a professional translator requires a significant amount of studying, training and experience on top of simply being multilingual.

What’s more, there are specific qualities that a professional translator needs to possess, including an unrelenting intellectual curiosity, passion for research and an obsession with detail.

Is translation for me

Sounds challenging? Don’t be put off pursuing your dream profession just yet. The good news is that any two translators’ professional paths will rarely be the same, and it is absolutely a career that you can start later in life.

In fact, many people believe that approaching translation when you’re older can give you a huge advantage. After all, you are more likely to have a richer vocabulary, a specialisation and plenty of life experience– all important elements that make a great translator– compared to your early twenties.

Where do I start?

1. Master the language - it's more than just grammar

It goes without saying that you should have a strong, in-depth knowledge of a language other than your mother tongue– we’ll call this the ‘source language’. Your knowledge of the source language should be continually developed and improved through reading, writing and chatting with native speakers.

As well as being able to boast linguistic know-how, aspiring translators should be highly-informed about contemporary issues affecting speakers of the source language by regularly listening to the radio and reading around the news.

Furthermore, you would also be expected to have spent a significant chunk of time in a country where that source language is spoken. This experience will give a translator linguistic and cultural exposure that is impossible to gain from textbooks alone­. Indeed, understanding the nuances of a culture is crucial when translating humour, idioms and colloquial language.

2. To study or not to study

Whilst specific qualifications are not mandatory to become a professional translator, they certainly do help you to stand out in a crowded job market.

Many people study one or more languages at undergraduate level and go on to do a postgraduate qualification in translation– but this isn’t the only possible path. Nowadays, there are an abundance of flexible, part-time and distance-learning qualifications offered by various institutions, such as the Open University. There is also the option of completing the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) independently.

And don’t despair if you don’t have a plethora of language qualifications behind you. It is sometimes more beneficial to have an educational background in something totally unrelated, such as law, science or business, prior to beginning your translation journey. Highly technical knowledge of a specific subject area is particularly advantageous in translation, and could lead you to establishing your own niche and specialisation.

3. Experience, experience, experience

The catch-22 about starting out as a translator is that you will normally have very little professional experience, and yet every agency and job seems to require professional experience. One way to solve this could be to volunteer your services to NGOs such as Translators Without Borders. Many translation agencies also offer flexible internships and work experience that you could do alongside a part-time job.

But your learning shouldn’t stop there. A prerequisite to becoming a professional translator is being tech savvy. Luckily, there are countless courses online to help you brush up on your IT skills, from creating invoices to using translation software. It would also be important to become comfortable with using CAT tools, as most professional translators now integrate them into their everyday work.

4. Working 9-5?

Once you’ve built up some experience, it’s time to look for paid work.

Most translators work on a freelance basis. In the UK, this involves registering as self-employed with HMRC and you can then start earning straight away from the comfort of your own home (or coffee shop, or park bench). However, if regular office hours are more your thing, you may want to consider keeping an eye out for in-house translator vacancies. These are usually available with larger, international companies.


If you decided to go freelance, it’s important to market yourself and your skills. Contact translation companies and ask if you can undertake any internal linguist tests so that you can prove you deserve to be on their team.

Finally, don’t panic if the jobs trickle in very slowly at first­– this is normal. Think of the beginning of your career as an opportunity to build a CV and portfolio. Ensure that you hit the deadlines for every project– showcasing your reliability early on will create a positive reputation amongst potential clients.

Last but not least, don’t forget the golden rule of being a professional translator: never stop improving and learning. Good luck!

Wolfestone is always on the lookout for talented translators to join our already established fabulous team. Read more here.