Translating & Interpreting
Linguists keen to use their language skills often consider interpreting and translating as possible careers.
An interpreter conveys into another language the spoken word of politicians, business people or sports players, for example. Conference interpreting generally involves simultaneous transmission through headphones to delegates of others’ speeches, which would otherwise not be understood. Consecutive interpreting is more likely in a social or business setting, when the original speaker pauses to allow the interpreter to relay the message into the language of the listener. Non-conference interpreting is generally known as ‘liaison’ interpreting – this area of work also includes public service interpreting.
A translator deals with written words, and may have access to reference works, such as dictionaries, glossaries or even databases of specialist vocabularies. Machine translation almost always requires a reviser to amend the text and to retranslate parts, especially the more idiomatic phrases.
There are opportunities to work in a role that combines both of these areas of work, particularly for freelances, although some larger organisations, such as the UN and EU, keep the two career paths quite separate.
The vast majority of interpreters work on a freelance basis, and all interpreters will have received specific training for the role. International assemblies, such as the UN, can be very selective and will only take graduates who have completed postgraduate courses or interpreters with prior experience.
There are far more full-time posts for translators than for interpreters. As well as the international organisations, translators can work in a range of companies, including specialised translation agencies, and many also work on a freelance basis.
Freelance translators are likely to specialise in a particular area, e.g. law or finance. Those specialising in literary translation seek to convey the purpose/effects of the original text into the chosen language – it is quite difficult to break into this area of work.
The main skills that interpreters and translators need to have are an exceptionally good command of their mother tongue and excellent knowledge of one or more other languages. For work as an interpreter, instant reactions, a good memory and stamina are just as important as expertise in languages, and you would also need good public speaking skills. Wide general knowledge, command of political terminology and self-confidence are vital. The National Network for Interpreting has produced an online skills map, which is useful for identifying if you have the skills for this area of work.
In addition to languages, translators must display attention to detail, the ability to recall terminology and a willingness to learn new vocabulary are also required.
For work as a freelance translator or interpreter you will also require a range of skills associated with being self-employed, such as the ability to make contacts and sell your services. Freelance translators may combine this role with teaching or other part-time work, particularly early in their careers.
It is practically essential to study for a postgraduate qualification in interpreting to become a professional interpreter. A languages degree alone does not prepare you for the very specialised nature of this work.
The European institutions recruit interpreters for all 23 official languages, and there is a growing demand for native English-speaking interpreters with two passive languages, preferably including French or German.
Most interpreters work in their mother tongue. Recruitment into the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Interpretation (formerly known as SCIC) is via open competitions, details of which can be found on their website. They also have a Facebook Group – Interpreting for Europe – where updates are added regularly and a promotional Youtube video with the same name. Candidates may have studied on one of the recognised interpreting courses, for which there are annual deadlines. Some bursaries may be available. Freelance interpreters with experience or a postgraduate degree can apply to take a test to accredit them at any time.
The United Nations has only six official languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese. They, too, recruit for a range of language positions via exams.
To begin working as a freelancer, recent graduates of interpreting schools often work in a ‘mute’ booth, and rely on recommendation by former teachers and other graduates in order to gain experience and become part of a network of freelancers. These networks are often informal, but sometimes also built around an agency (ask experienced colleagues for advice in choosing a reputable agency).
For translation careers it is also advisable to consider a postgraduate course, as the number of direct graduate vacancies is very low, and a degree in modern languages does not give you all the skills you need to work as a professional translator. Both the UN and the European Commission’s translation services do not have a regular intake, but run a competition when more staff are needed – the next one for EU English mother tongue translators is likely to be in the Summer of 2013. The Commission’s competitions for translators are normally held every three years for each language, although the interval is sometimes longer. Those recruited in a competition are put on a reserve list, and may wait some time before they take up a post. There is a current shortage of English language translators, and the Commission anticipate that they will need to replace 30% of their linguists by 2015.
The Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) offers five-month traineeships for those wishing to gain work experience in the Commission. You need to be able to translate from two EU languages into your main language. Apply by 31st August (to start in March) or 31st January (to start in October).
If you want to work as a freelance translator it is best to apply to translation agencies. These will probably ask you for sample translations to assess the quality of your work. Professional agencies will never ask you to translate into any language other than your mother tongue. Alternatively you can become a member of internet portals like ProZ.com or TraduGuide.com.
There are a reasonable number of institutions offering courses in translation and interpreting for native English speakers, and some for students whose mother tongue is not English. Some courses focus purely on translation, some on interpreting, and some prepare graduates for careers in either area. Your potential is likely to be tested at interview, particularly for entry to an interpreting course.
Translation courses may have specialist elements, such as economics, law, international relations and technology. Each institution will offer a range of languages, and there are courses available in the major European languages – French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Polish and others. Other courses offer Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. The European Masters in Translation is a partnership project between the European Commission and higher education institutions offering master’s level translation programmes – there are currently 54 Universities mainly in Europe, who are part of this network. The full list is available on the EMT web site – http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/programmes/emt/index_en.htm. Some courses are joint translation and interpreting courses, including those offered at the Universities of Bath, Leeds, Heriot-Watt, Salford and Westminster.
There are also postgraduate courses in the UK which concentrate on interpreting – for example the University of Westminster offers an MA in Interpreting, and there are other courses at the Universities of Leeds and Newcastle. It is also possible to undertake a course in a country where one of your foreign languages is spoken. The European Masters in Conference Interpreting website provides information on conference interpreting training at advanced (postgraduate) level provided by a consortium of European universities in collaboration with the European Commission and the European Parliament. For other international options and a wide range of language combinations see the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) web site – http://aiic.net.
Imperial College runs an MSc course in Scientific, Technical and Medical Translation and a list of institutions offering a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting can be found on the Chartered Institute of Linguists’ website. The University of East Anglia runs an MA in Literary Translation in close co-operation with the British Centre for Literary Translation which is based at the University. A number of institutions run courses in Audiovisual Translation including the University of Leeds, City University London, and the University of Roehampton.
The Prospects web site has a useful directory of postgraduate courses. It is essential to check with each institution’s website and prospectus in order to establish which courses and languages will be available in the year you wish to study, as this will vary from year to year. Do also check the emphasis of the course – is it practically-based or more academic? – and find out about any links with employers that the institution has. It may also be possible to study a new language.
The Chartered Institute of Linguists examines for a Diploma in Translation. The Institute does not itself prepare candidates for the tests, but publishes a list of courses available, including some overseas. It wisely insists that those with a language degree but little professional translating experience generally require extra training or work in the field before being realistic candidates – details from a preparation seminar are available on their website.
It is possible for graduates to go straight into translation jobs and CareerConnect occasionally has opportunities from RWS, Aktuel Translations and other employers (search “Information & Language Services”) as well as government departments, international organisations (e.g. UN, IAEA) and European employers.
Specialist recruitment agencies might be worth contacting, such as Appointments Bi-Language, Top Language Jobs, Language Matters and Euro London Appointments. There are a number of directories of translators and translating agencies on the internet, and it would be worth looking at the websites for the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, the Association of Translation Companies, and the International Association of Conference Interpreters.
In a related field, the UK Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham recruits linguists for its intelligence work. Its strongest demand is for Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages, although they recruit for other languages from time to time, including other European ones. They are sometimes prepared to retrain graduates willing to learn languages in demand. For more details about GCHQ see the Employer File for Public Administration and Government at the Careers Service. MI5 and MI6 are also interested in linguists, particularly those with Arabic or Persian, but also Chinese and some European languages.
Apart from the international organisations, there may be opportunities for interpreters to work in the public sector in the UK. The UK Border Agency, part of the Home Office, sometimes recruits freelance interpreters to work at airports and major ports through its Central Interpreters Unit, although they are not currently recruiting (to be reviewed in September 2012). If you are interested in Public Service Interpreting, look at the National Register of Public Service Interpreters web site to find out more, especially the news section.
EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS AND EQUALITY
The law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. Find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel have been discriminated against by visiting:
Your personal circumstances regarding career choices and whether you should or need to tell a potential employer about your circumstances (e.g. time out from studies owing to depression or health needs) is highly individual. Although there is legislation, you may find it helpful to see a Careers Adviser to talk through your particular circumstances and to decide whether to tell someone about xxx, if yes, when and how to disclose. To arrange to see a Careers Advisor regarding this, please contact our Reception team on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01865 274646.
There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW) when undertaking work experience or an internship visit: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/TheNationalMinimumWage/DG_198089.
There are frequent changes to the rules affecting international students and recent graduates wishing to work in the UK. Non-EU graduates are most likely to gain permission to work under Tier 2 of the Point Based System which will require a job offer, support from an employer, a minimum salary and you will usually need to apply from within the UK. There are also more limited opportunities in other immigration categories. It is recommended that, for the most complete and up-to-date information, you check the UKCISA: UK Council for International Student Affairs website which offers independent information and advice about immigration, finance and working in the UK, and also the UK Border Agency website. Please refer to our Diversity files at the Careers Service for more information, or consult the University’s Student Information and Advisory Service which can provide specialist immigration advice.
For full details of events, check the What’s On section of our website and log in to CareerConnect. There are general talks about translation and interpreting in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms.
Careers in translating and interpreting -13th November, 17.15
OXFORD CAREERS NETWORK
The OCN is a database of Oxford alumni who are willing to be contacted about their career. Read their case studies for behind-the-scenes insights into an organisation or occupation, and contact volunteers for more advice and information via CareerConnect.
The Careers Service has an extensive resource centre at 56 Banbury Road, Oxford, where you can drop in to browse during opening hours.
- Occupational Files: O4 Translation and Interpreting
- Using Your Subject Files: Modern Languages
- Great Careers for People Interested in Languages
- Careers Using Languages
- Life After … Languages and Literature
- AGCAS leaflet: Using your language skills (www.prospects.ac.uk/using_your_language_skills.htm)
- ITI Bulletin (bi-monthly, free to ITI members)
- The Linguist (published by the Chartered Institute of Linguists)
- DVD: Interpreting for Europe (available at the Careers Service)
The Careers Service has recorded a series of podcasts. Subscribe in iTunes or find a full list here: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/#career-unit
In addition to the websites listed below, all companies and organisations mentioned throughout this Briefing can be found via a web search.
- www.lingo24.com online career guide and case studies.
- www.iol.org.uk Chartered Institute of Linguists, job vacancies, networking and events.
- www.languageswork.org.uk useful website for linguists.
- www.proz.com network of translators
- http://www.toplanguagejobs.co.uk/recruitment-and-expat-fairs language recruitment fairs.
- www.toplanguagejobs.co.uk recruitment agency
- www.mi5careers.gov.uk MI5, opportunities for linguists.
- www.nato.int NATO, recruit English/French and French/English translators and interpreters.
- www.un.org United Nations
- www.fco.gov.uk Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/aboutus/workingforus/centralinterpretersunit UK Border Agency Central Interpreters Unit
- www.aiic.net International Association of Conference Interpreters
- www.iti.org.uk Institute of Translation & Interpreting
- www.thamestranslators.co.uk Thames Valley Regional Group of the ITI, directory of members and quarterly events (students welcome).
- www.ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/index_en.htm European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation
- www.cdt.europa.eu Translation Centre of the Bodies of the European Union
- www.gchq-careers.co.uk information on GCHQ linguists
- www.atc.org.uk Association of Translation Companies, produce a directory.
- www.prospects.ac.uk postgraduate course information
- www.nrpsi.co.uk National Register of Public Service Interpreters
- www.nationalnetworkforinterpreting.ac.uk National Network for Interpreting
- www.bclt.org.uk British Centre for Literary Translation
- www.societyofauthors.org/translators-association Society of Authors – Translators
- www.cilt.org.uk National Centre for Languages
- www.ciuti.org information about courses worldwide.
- www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk information on training as a BSL interpreter
- www.fit-ift.org International Federation of Translators
- www.appointmentsbilanguage.co.uk recruitment agency
- www.bilingualpeople.com recruitment agency
- www.languagematters.co.uk recruitment agency
- www.eurolondon.com recruitment agency
Twitter is a quick way to develop your knowledge about the sector and find opportunities. You can read and search it without an account. We’ve made 20 handy lists, so that you can see at a glance information tailored to your interests. See http://twitter.com/#!/OxfordCareers/lists
If you’d like to join Twitter, remember to ‘follow’ us (www.twitter.com/OxfordCareers) as well as your chosen lists to keep receiving useful information to help your career.
See also our International-Languages list at: http://twitter.com/#!/OxfordCareers/international-languages
16th May 2013
Some budding literary translators may be interested in attending this conference on 21st June at the University of Westminster in London. The Languages of Exile: Translating Modern and Contemporary Hispanic Literature will bring together scholars, translators, writers, publishers and others from a variety of different backgrounds and interests to consider representations of exile and how… Continue reading →
17th Apr 2013
We've been notified about some interesting events on translation, that may suit some of you budding linguists. Details for booking to attend are given with each event. Seminars taking place at Europe House, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU - free to attend but space is limited, so, please register asap: A seminar entitled "Freelance… Continue reading →