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The Path to Becoming a Professional Translator

 

Working as a professional translator is a popular career choice for an increasing number of modern language graduates and for other people who have a flair for foreign languages. Translation involves converting copy from one language to another and all translators are required to be fluent in their native language as well as at least one other language. Interpreters, on the other hand, specialise in the translation of the spoken word.

 

French is one of the world’s major languages and is a key medium for communication within the European Union. Translators who are skilled in French are widely in demand in business, science, medical, legal, academic and diplomatic circles. The role of the translator is often a very challenging one and, while the skill-set demanded by the profession requires far more than just being good at languages, complete fluency in at least one foreign language is a non-negotiable starting point.

 

Becoming Fluent in French

 

Being able to ‘get by’ in French is not enough for anyone who aspires to become a professional translator; one needs to immerse oneself thoroughly in the language to the extent where one becomes completely fluent. Achieving this level of fluency is something which demands a lot of time and effort. Among the learning strategies aspiring translators have found to be helpful are the following:

 

Formal courses

 

Most UK universities offer degree courses in French and other modern foreign languages. Typically a degree course involves three years at the British university and one year living abroad. The year overseas is spent in a country where the language one is learning is spoken and will involve either working as a school classroom language assistant or following a course of study at a university.

Once they have graduated, many language students will then go on to read translation studies at post-graduate level. This is the career path for a significant number of people entering the translation profession each year. Translation studies courses are available on a full and part-time basis, so it is possible to combine study with a period of work-experience.

 

In the case of people for whom four years of full-time study is not a viable option, local college courses in French are widely available at beginner, intermediate and advanced level. The Open University (OU) is another excellent option for studying French up to degree level. OU courses are sufficiently flexible to fit in with most people’s work and family commitments.

 

Although OU study is essentially home-based, they also offer opportunities to interact in French online and at weekend and residential study days. This provides a forum for practising your French skills with your tutors and fellow students. Many students report that this is the most useful and enjoyable part of an OU course.

 

Private tuition

 

Private tuition is a useful alternative to formal study both for beginners and for more advanced level French students who wish to hone their language skills to a higher level. Tuition is offered, in most cases by native French speakers, in many parts of the UK. Tutors work either on an individual or a very small group basis. Many private tutors organise and lead language trips to France so that one can enjoy a holiday at the same time as immersing oneself in the French language and culture. Many students find that they can make rapid progress when working with a good private tutor.

 

Online options

 

In recent years the internet has begun to offer a range of options for learning French that were never previously available. Sites such as Duolingo.com and Bonjour.com specialise in online courses. There are also numerous online discussion forums, communities and online ‘pen-pal’ sites for people learning French. These give the opportunity to converse with others in French, both in writing and in live conversation via Skype and similar applications.

 

The internet also provides several reliable, up to date online dictionaries where one can quickly look up a particular French word or phrase to check its meaning or spelling. Whilst it is important to have a good, hard-copy dictionary, these can quickly become relatively out-dated because French, like all other languages, constantly develops and adopts new words and phrases. This happens, one must observe, despite the best efforts of the French Ministry of Culture to resist such changes.

 

Online French Courses

 

Learn French - BBC

Learn how to speak French with audio, video and games, including the alphabet, phrases, vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, activities and tests.

 

Learn French online - Babbel.com

Learn French Online at Babbel with our award winning interactive French online courses. You'll make fast progress & have fun doing it.

 

Live Mocha - French

Learn French for free with online French lessons and study partners. Learn to speak French for free in our online language learning community.

 

Duo Lingo - French

Offers free language instruction where users translate documents and vote on the accuracy of those translations. Contains a description of how it works, a blog...

 

French learning Blogs

 

Oui, c'est ça! | A blog for learners of French

A blog for learners of French

 

I Learn French Blog

A good French blog with information regarding most aspects of the language and culture

 

Love Learning Languages | Your Passport to French

A good blog to read if you're starting out learning French, includes grammar, youtube videos and word of the day.

 

Learn French Now Free

If you want to learn French for FREE, you came to the right place. This blog offers basic and advanced French lessons for everyone. Also here you can find the right usage of French for the right situation. Just click on the links at the sidebar and start learning French.

 

8 Great French Blogs Every French Learner Should Read

Looking for the web's best blogs for learning French? Look no further! We've searched far and wide for the best French blogs for French learners.

 

Audio books

 

Audio books are essentially modular learning programmes which allow the learner to progress by a combination of reading, listening and speaking. Packages typically include a linked book and CD and can cater for all levels of French learner, from the complete beginner to more advanced students. Audio books of this type are a particularly useful learning resource for those who wish to improve their conversational French.

 

They also have the advantage of the student being able to learn ‘on the go’. Thus, one is able to slip on the headphones and work at improving one’s French while relaxing with a coffee, making the long commute to work or while pounding the treadmill in the gym.

 

French movies, TV and other media

 

By watching French movies and TV without subtitles, listening to French radio stations and reading French novels, newspapers and magazines one is able to immerse oneself in the French language and its everyday usage and idioms. Listening to French music, concentrating on the lyrics, can be an enjoyable way to learn more about everyday French too.

 

But one should not expect to understand everything at first; native French speech will seem bewilderingly fast for the learner and progress with a French novel will inevitably be painfully slow at first. But, with practice and the judicious use of a dictionary and other reference sources, one will begin to progressively improve one’s knowledge of spoken and written French. In fact, there is no shame in starting the process of reading in French with children’s books.

 

As a bonus to spending time absorbing the French media, one will also begin to gain an insight into the French world-view, and understanding a people and their culture is an integral part of learning their language. But this is not just a process for the French learner, people who are fluent in French, including professional translators, need to keep in touch with French language and culture on an ongoing basis. Fortunately, the internet and satellite TV makes this requirement much easier than it ever was before.

 

National French Newspapers

 

L'Express

A French weekly news magazine. When founded in 1953 during the First Indochina War, it was modelled on the US magazine Time.

 

L'Humanité

Formerly the daily newspaper linked to the French Communist Party (PCF), was founded in 1904 by Jean Jaurès, a leader of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO).

 

La Croix

A daily French general-interest Roman Catholic newspaper. It is published in Paris and distributed throughout the country, with a circulation of just under 110,000 as of 2009.

 

Le Canard enchaîné

 

A satirical newspaper published weekly in France. Founded in 1915, it features investigative journalism and leaks from sources inside the French government, the French political world and the French business world, as well as many jokes and humorous cartoons.

 

Le Figaro

A French daily newspaper founded in 1826 and published in Paris. It has been generally well respected in post-World War II France. Its editorial line is conservative.

 

Le Monde

A French daily evening newspaper founded by Hubert Beuve-Méry and continuously published in Paris since its first edition on 19 December 1944. It is one of the most important and widely respected newspapers in the world.

 

Le Nouvel Observateur

A weekly French newsmagazine. Based in Paris, it is the most prominent French general information magazine in terms of audience and circulation (currently at 538,200).

 

Libération

A French daily newspaper founded in Paris by Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge July in 1973 in the wake of the protest movements of May 1968. Originally an extreme left newspaper, it has undergone a number of shifts during the 1980s and 1990s to take the social democrat position.

 

Living in France

 

For all the merits of the various methods of learning French previously discussed in this article, by far the most effective way of absorbing the language is to spend time living in France, or perhaps another French-speaking country, and taking the opportunity to engage on a daily basis with native French speakers.

 

By living in France for an extended period of time one is able to immerse oneself in the language, hearing and speaking it every day. For most people who are fluent in French, and especially for those who go on to become translators, living in France for several weeks, months or longer was an essential step.

 

Some French learners combine their wish to live in France with a period of study at a French university or college. Others find that they can pay their way by taking up temporary employment in France; in fact, the French workplace is the perfect place to practice one’s language skills. There are a number of websites which concentrate on assisting those seeking temporary work in France. As co-members of the EU, there are very few bureaucratic barriers to UK nationals working across the Channel.

 

However, should it be for financial reasons or maybe because of family commitments, there are a number of people for whom going off to spend a year in France is not a practical proposition. For these people the learning methods we have already discussed offer ample and very effective alternatives. But, even if one can only manage a holiday of a week or two, a vacation in France still offers scope for a short but intensive immersion into the everyday use of French among native speakers.

 

Becoming a Translator

 

So, assuming you are now fluent in French, how do you get launched on the career path of becoming a translator? Taking one step back for a moment, the real starting point should be to make sure you understand what the work of a translator involves. Once you are certain you have full cognisance of the role, you can then establish whether it really is the career you wish to pursue.

 

The work of a translator is rarely glamorous and can be quite repetitive and intense. One is also required to work accurately and to very tight deadlines. Remuneration is often not as high as that enjoyed by graduates who go into other professions, such as the law or the financial sector. However, for those who enjoy meeting new challenges and expanding their skills on a daily basis, translation is a very rewarding career.

 

As well as fluency in at least one foreign language, the work of a translator demands a number of other skills. These include self-motivation, the ability to deal with pressure and work to deadlines and good IT skills, as well as some knowledge of a specialist area such as business, law or education.

 

Improve your English

 

Whilst fluency in French is of course essential if one aspires to become a French translator, one should not forget one also needs a high level of competency in English. This level of competency is a given if one is to produce good quality French to English translations; after all, the quality of the final product is only as good as that of the translator’s written English. Strategies for improving one’s English include reading extensively, word games and studying grammar. One might also consider completing a creative writing course and making a habit of practicing daily writing assignments.

 

Proficiency tests

 

Taking a proficiency test is an essential first step for anyone who aspires to becoming a translator. This is your proof of competence and confirms that you are fluent in your chosen language.

 

Many graduates in French, some of whom have successfully studied to master’s level, question why they need to take a proficiency test, often suggesting that their degree should speak for itself. However, meeting the standards required to graduate in French from a British university is not proof in itself that one has the ability to communicate fluently in French in business and other professional circles.

 

The proficiency test is a rigorous, independent assessment of one’s level of skill in the French language and is an essential requirement for anyone who wishes to become a translator. The following are amongst the leading proficiency test agencies:

 

• Test de Français International (TFI)

• Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF)

• Test d’Evaluation de Français (TEF)

 

All of the above agencies offer testing facilities in the UK and, in some cases, online. TEF’s website features a number of practice papers to give you an idea of what is required and the opportunity to practise.

 

All of these test agencies are approved to issue successful candidates with certificates that confirm their level of competence in French. In the case of TCF, the agency has the approval of the French Ministry of Education. TEF is supported by the Paris Chamber of Commerce. The certificates these agencies issue are widely recognised in business circles and the translation industry and are an essential component of an aspiring translator’s CV.

 

Becoming certified

 

The next step for the novice translator, after passing a proficiency test, is to become professionally certified. For future employers and clients this provides the assurance that you are as competent in translation as you say you are. It also provides them with a remedial route should things ever go wrong.

 

For the new translator, and indeed for more experienced ones, certification can lead one into making new contacts and discovering new openings for work. It also offers a forum for further learning and the opportunity to improve one’s professional skills.

 

Internationally the leading body for translators is the US-based American Translators Association (ATA) Candidates who are able to pass the ATA’s very challenging three-hour examination are eligible include the prestigious ATA certification on their CV and use the designation CT (Certified Translator) after their name. UK-based translators are eligible to join the ATA and apply for certification. However, certification examinations are currently only offered at test venues in the United States. The AFA’s website provides details of upcoming test dates.

 

In the UK the leading association for professional translators and interpreters is the Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) The association brings together some three thousand translators and interpreters and is a major force in the translation industry.

 

The ITI maintains a register of qualified translators and, whilst being accepted onto that register does not in itself guarantee regular work, it certainly puts one into the shop window to be seen by businesses and institutions looking for a competent translator.

 

Translators who are accepted into membership of the ITI will all have been required to demonstrate an accepted level of professional competence. Membership also gives potential employers and clients the reassurance that they are employing a translator who they know is bound by the ITI’s code of professional conduct.

 

For the rookie translator, membership of the ITI opens up networking opportunities, gives access to job adverts and offers a range of learning events. ITI membership is available at a number of levels to reflect one’s degree of professional development. Similarly, membership fees are on a sliding scale.

 

Breaking into the profession

 

Some translators are employed by companies or institutions. However, the majority of translation work available is offered on a freelance basis. But no matter how good one’s language skills, it is very difficult to obtain translation work at any level without being able to demonstrate that you possess previous experience.

 

For some aspiring translators the only way to square this particular circle is to go out and secure a period of unpaid internship or work experience. Most openings are based in the UK’s larger towns and cities. However, if you live in or near a university town, translation skills are much in demand at many academic institutions.

 

As another option to consider, many charities and community organisations have short-term opportunities for volunteer translators. A quick Google search will give you lots of leads in your local area. The organisation Translators Without Borders maintains an international database of such opportunities - Translators without Borders

 

One step up from unpaid work, but nonetheless a very good opportunity to build up a portfolio of experience, is to look at some of the low-paid translation assignments many agencies offer to beginners in the profession. This also helps one to build up a network of professional contacts. Again, a quick internet search will point you in the right direction.

 

Market yourself

 

When looking for that first opening into the profession, your curriculum vitae (CV) is your key resource. It is, therefore, vitally important to review and update your CV regularly, and in particular to do so as and when you build up your experience and develop new skills. You should also maintain a portfolio of examples of your previous work to show to potential employers and clients.

 

A lot of companies and organisations, particularly those with a regional focus such as your local police authority, like to be seen to support local businesses. It is, therefore, a worthwhile step to deliver your CV to such organisations. You can do this by email if you prefer, but delivering it in person, person, particularly if you can get to meet the person who commissions translation work, is far better.

 

Given that a lot of the translation work available is offered on a short-contract or freelance basis, it is important that you market yourself. To this end, it is essential to have your own website; your place for you to market you as a professional translator. The site should include information about you, your skills and experience. It should also include details of the services you offer, several options for contacting you, examples of your work and testimonials from satisfied clients.

 

Unless you already have web design experience, you may wish to pay a one-off fee for someone to design a site for you. This is particularly relevant if you require a relatively sophisticated site, such as one which offers more than one language, which makes sense if you are marketing yourself as a translator. Alternatively, there is a lot of free, simple software available on the internet to help even the web design beginner to get started with a basic but perfectly acceptable site.

 

An aspiring translator also needs to have a visible social media presence, in particular on Twitter and LinkedIn. This helps to raise your profile and projects you as an active presence in the profession.

 

The internet, of course, has revolutionised translation services just as much as it has for other professions. For the freelance French translator one’s location is almost irrelevant. Email, Skype and online collaborative working packages make it possible to take on assignments from almost any part of the world

 

Developing a specialism

 

To successfully translate a document one has to do far more than just transpose the French words on the page with English ones, or vice versa. By definition, most of the work that translators do involves some kind of professional specialism; these are the types of organisation that need to have their documentation accurately translated. Specialism's of this type include business, the law, academia and the medical profession. All of these specialism's have their own terminology and vocabulary, their own ways of communicating with one another. In order to successfully translate a specialist document, a translator has to be familiar with the modes of communication that are used within that specialism.

 

So when one is thinking about developing one’s career as a translator, it makes sense to build up one’s knowledge in one or more specialist area. Many French translators are already qualified to master’s degree or PhD level in the language, so the academic world and the language it uses will already be very familiar. Translators with a first degree in another subject, such as a science, may find they are able to specialise in that area. A particular leisure interest, such as a sport, may open up other opportunities to specialise. Looking beyond these options, through study and experience one can also build up a useful working knowledge of the terminology used in other specialist areas.

 

Translators who, through professional achievement, become widely recognised as being particularly skilled in working with the language used in a specialist subject, often find that their services are very much in demand. A specialism can also lead to one being able to ask for a higher scale of fee.

 

A Rewarding Career

 

Some French translators have regular careers and are employed by large translation agencies, multi-national companies or major institutions, such as the European Union. Such employment brings with it all of the terms and conditions one would expect from a major employer: a contract, regular hours, paid holidays, maternity leave, pension scheme, and so on.

 

Many other translators, however, work as freelancers and have to forego many of the benefits of regular employment and live with a little more uncertainty. However, freelance work brings with it the advantage of variety, flexibility and the opportunity to establish one’s own work-life balance.

But there is a down-side to the translating profession; and that down-side is that it takes an awful lot of work to initially develop one’s language skills to translator level, and then it is very hard to make that crucial initial break into the profession.

 

However, for those who succeed in becoming French translators, the rewards are very significant. In particular, job satisfaction levels for translators are very high. Indeed, for someone who loves the French language, what could be better than a career where one works with the language every day, all the time learning more and more about it?

Translation Resources

Please choose a category:
Multilingual Dictionaries

 


Multilingual Dictionaries

foreignword.com - Word translation, text translation, glossaries, translator listings, and more in a wide number of sources.
Ajeeb - The Tarjim site for online Arabic-English translation. Requires user registration.
The LOGOS dictionary - Multilingual Dictionary.
The LINGUIST List - Web resource listings of online language dictionaries.
Word2Word Online Dictionaries and Translators - Word2Word is pleased to provide these dictionary links in the hope of all people developing a better understanding of others through the use of language.
The Terminology Collection - Collection of online dictionaries.
Yahoo! Reference:Dictionaries:Language - Another reference site from Afrikaans to Yiddish
All Health Net Medical Dictionaries Page - Foreign language, multilingual and English medical dictionaries and glossaries.
Multilingual Glossary of Medical Terms - Project commissioned by the Eur. Commission and executed by the Heymans Institute of Pharmacology and the Mercator School, Department of applied Linguistics.
The Translation Service on EUROPA - Home Page of the European Commission's Translation Service.
Countries and Currencies - Countries and currencies lists of the European Commission's Translation Service.
Multilingual Euro Terminology - Abbreviations is all EU countries for countless standards
EUR-Lex - European Union law in all EU languages.
Euterpe - terminology of the European Parliament - Can be found on this page as a downloadable file (23 MB).
TERMITE - ITU Telecommunications Terminology Database in English, French, Spanish, and Russian
NetGlos - Multilingual glossary of Internet terminology.
Internationales Immobilien-Vokabular - Real-estate terminology in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian.
Dictionary of European Inland Navigation - About 6.000 words related to navigation, shipbuilding, waterway engineering, transport etc, in German, Dutch, English, and French.
The Alternative Dictionaries - - Slang dictionaries in many languages.
Online Film Dictionary - In German, English, and Spanish.
The Microsoft glossaries - FTP site.
Apple Localization Tools - Including glossaries (FTP).
Dogs and Horses: Breeds & Colours - English, German and Dutch list. Incomplete (suggestions are welcome).

 

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Reference

Other Pages with Useful information for Translators

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Discussion - Conferences, Mailing Lists and Usenet Newsgroups

Web Forums

Mailing Lists

General Language-specific
  • Vertalers - mailing list for Dutch/Flemish translators.
  • SPITS - Dutch mailing list for writers, editors, translators, etc. Subscription form on web page.
  • U-forum - German mailing list for translators. To subscribe, send the message subscribe u-forum to listserv@twh.nbg.de.
  • U-litfor - German mailing list for literary translators. To subscribe, send the message subscribe u-litfor to listserv@twh.nbg.de.
  • Traducteurs - List concerning French translation issues. To subscribe, send a message to traducteurs-subscribe@egroups.com or go to the home page.
  • Sptranslators - Mailing list for Spanish<>English translators. To subscribe, send a message to subscribe-sptranslators@egroups.com or go the home page.
  • Translist - Mailing list for Spanish and English translators. To subscribe, send an empty message to translist-subscribe@egroups.com.
  • atp-info - Lista de discusi�n de la Asociaci�n de Traductores Profesionales.
  • Honyaku - Mailing list for Japanese - English translators. To subscribe, send a message containing the text subscribe honyaku firstname lastname to listserv@peach.ease.lsoft.com.
  • Trad-Prt - Mailing list for Brazilian Portuguese translators. Subscription form on web page.
  • Hebtranslators - Mailing list for Hebrew translators and interpreters. To subscribe, send an empty message to hebtranslators-subscribe@makelist.com or go to the list's home page.
  • Mfefo - Magyar Ford�t�k Elektronikus F�ruma. List for translators translating into Hungarian. To subscribe, send a message to mfefo-subscribe@egroups.com or go the home page.
  • Bahtera - Indonesian language and translation. To subscribe, send the message subscribe bahtera to majordomo@lists.singnet.com.sg.
  • SwissTranslation - Mailing list for translators and other language experts who deal with texts relating to Switzerland

Usenet Newsgroups

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Finding jobs/translators

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Translation Tools

  • Babylon Tool - Glossary and information tool.
  • TRADOS - Platforms for multilingual content management and localization.
  • Déjà Vu - A powerful and customizable computer-aided translation system.
  • Star - Software for globalization and localization.
  • Systran - Machine translation software.
  • PASSOLO - Software localization tools.
  • SDLX Interactive Translation System -Translation and localization tools.
  • FreeBudget - Freeware text-counting and budgeting tool for .rtf, .doc and .txt files.
  • RC-WinTrans - Translation software for Windows resource files and Windows applications.
  • Restorator - UI editor for Windows Programs.
  • Search and Replace - Fast search and replace utility for Win 3.x/95/NT. Extremely useful!
  • Transword - Transit, Termstar, Dutch E-dictionaries.
  • WebBudget - text-counting and budgeting tool for HTML files and projects.
  • Smartlink - Language and translation software for English and Russian.
  • Evaluation of Natural Language Processing Systems - EAGLES (Expert Advisory Group on Language Engineering Standards) EC initiative.

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