Translation 101: How to Be a Successful Translator

Translation 101: How to Be a Successful Translator

Do you want to enter the language services field, but worry about the increasing competitiveness of the market? Have you spent time in a foreign country, but are now concerned that your command of the language will slip away? Do you wonder what other skills are necessary to be a successful linguist? At this week’s Brigham Young University Translation and Localization Club event, Barry Slaughter Olsen of the Monterey Institute of International Studies shared some advice to aspiring translators and interpreters for overcoming these and other challenges in entering the language services field:

  • Know yourself: If you don’t like face-to-face communication, you probably shouldn’t be an interpreter. If you don’t like to write or research, translation likely isn’t for you. If you have a deep-seated fear of technology… well, you’ll need to overcome that to succeed in the language services field. Find out where your interests lie and pursue work that matches those interests. Choosing a career that fits your interests and personality will make you happier in the long run.
  • Know other people: “Network, network, network!” The language industry is a big web of connected translators, interpreters, developers, and LSPs (language service providers). Finding work is difficult if you don’t know anyone. Make connections, both in person at conferences or events and also online through websites like or Building a strong network of associates can help you gain credibility and provide you access to many different job opportunities.
  • Know your languages: Success in the language industry depends primarily on having an “impeccable” mastery of multiple languages (your native language and at least one foreign language. Olsen provided the following suggestions for maintaining language skills:
    • Read extensively in all your languages.
    • Watch TV and listen to the radio frequently in your second language.
    • Study economics, history, law, international politics, and science—know what’s happening in the world.
    • Live in the country—both of your foreign and your native tongue. You can’t claim to know a language you’ve had little exposure to.
    • Develop your writing and research skills.
    • Practice your public speaking skills (especially if you want to become an interpreter).
    • Enhance your analytical skills.
    • Become computer savvy.
    • Learn how to take care of yourself (to be able to work continuously without experiencing burnout).
    • Prepare for lifelong learning—languages, people, and the industry are constantly changing. You’ll have to be able to adapt.
  • Know technology: In a world that is increasingly centered on technological advances, translators and interpreters have to be willing to keep up. Those who refuse to use new systems or programs will find themselves losing jobs to those who are more flexible in their use of technology. Stay current on the latest translation software developments and express a willingness to use new and improved technology and learn new systems. It pays to stay caught up, since most of the new technology ultimately makes the linguist’s job easier.
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