Many translation or interpreting students wonder whether they need a degree in these disciplines in order to do better. Qualifications related to these careers range from a certificate, a diploma, a degree all the way to masters level. But foremost, what is the difference between a translator and an interpreter?
Simply put a translator writes content from one language to another. A translator has the time to research and use various programs to come up with a document in the target language that reflects the original message in the source language. In addition to this, a translator must know the culture of the target language people to create an effective translated work.
An interpreter on the other hand verbally interprets spoken words from one language to another immediately without the benefit of research or time to think much.
Whereas an American Translation Association (ATA) certification may be adequate, further qualifications are necessary depending on factors such as:
- The cost. Attaining a degree costs relatively high. It is important to consider this and compare it with your financial circumstance as well as expected prospects after attaining the degree. Training and living costs can go close to $300,000 for a 2 year degree course program considering tuition and lost income opportunities if you were already doing some freelance translation jobs.
- Your potential employer. Some organization will require a degree relevant to translation or interpreting. Working for agencies such as the U.N or the foreign missions will almost always require you to have a degree in translation or interpretation. Many translation in-house jobs will also require a degree. Other employers will be satisfied with non-degree qualifications. Still if working as a freelance translator, it is the quality of your work that will determine your standing with clients. Some interpreters working in court rooms are not required to have any form of certification so long as they do a good job.
- Your area of specialty. Many specialized in-house translation jobs in areas such as legal, medical or financial require the translator to have a degree in the relevant field. This is a basic requirement while another degree in translation may be needed.
- Your expectations. While some translators dream of climbing the ladder of translation as a career, others are more content with doing it as a side hustle. Somebody in the former group may find going for a translation degree worth it.
- Your background.
- Personal image. Without a degree, some potential clients see you as ‘not educated’ and hence less knowledgeable. A degree increases your chances of working with people or organizations that share such an opinion.
From the above points, getting a degree in translation is worth it depending on many factors. While it can open up opportunities in many areas including the academia, it may not be worth the cost and time for a translator who wishes to pursue freelance translation jobs or lifestyle only. Regardless of whether one has a translation degree or not, qualities and skills of a good translator or interpreter are important. These include:
- Good research skills
- Professionalism in dealing with clients. This can include areas of public speaking and ability to remain composed under pressure.
- Desire to keep abreast with new developments in that field
- Good cultural knowledge
- Team playing ability
- Relevant computer skills
- Good writing skills
- Good organization
The decision to have a degree in translation or interpreting is a heavy responsibility. Having considered all factors, it is important to choose the preferred college wisely.