Studying Translation: Degrees at a Glance
Translators translate text from one language to another, while interpreters generally deal with verbal communication. Translators may work on site or work from home for an employer or as self-employed professionals. You could earn a degree in translation and interpretation or major in one or more languages. You might supplement your program with skills-based courses or on-the-job training in translation tools and techniques. Translators may become subject experts in a specialized field, i.e., academia, literature, business, medicine or law. Localization translators may translate text describing products and services used in websites, user manuals or marketing materials.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected overall job opportunities to increase 14% from 2010-2020, and opportunities for interpreters and translators to increase 42% for the same time frame. Income and opportunities may vary depending on your geographic location and language and subject specialties.
The BLS stated that as of 2011, the best opportunities may be available to translators with professional certifications from organizations like the American Translators Association (ATA) and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals who want translation positions or freelance translating opportunities||Those interested in advanced or management opportunities, translation research or teaching|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean wage)|| - Medical translator ($45,000)*|
- Local government translator ($47,000)*
- School translators and interpreters ($56,000)*
- Professional and technical services translator ($56,000)*
| - Editor ($60,000)*|
- Technical writer ($67,000)*
- Researcher (n/a)
|Time to Completion||4 years, full-time||1-2 years, full-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Typically around 120 credits |
- Senior project or thesis
| - Approximately 30-40 credits |
- Thesis or project
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or GED||Bachelor's degree with fluency in English and at least one other language|
|Online Availability||Online degrees are rare to non-existent, but courses, workshops and certification programs may be available||Fully online programs are uncommon, but courses and certificate programs are available|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).
Bachelor's Degree in Translation
Bachelor's degrees in translation and interpretation may be less commonly available than degrees in languages, area studies or linguistics. Though translation and interpretation courses may be taken within area studies, language and literature or cross-cultural studies programs, translation majors may spend proportionately more time developing the practical skill set required for translation careers. You'll learn about language pairs, i.e., achieving competency translating between English and a target language in either direction. You may have opportunities to add a minor that will provide subject matter expertise in an area like finance, or specialize in legal, academic or medical translation.
Those who intend to become translators will need to take courses that address the tools and techniques of the translator, ranging from software programs to content-specific courses for any intended specialties. These courses may be available at your school for credit or as non-credit courses and workshops through professional associations like ATA.
Pros and Cons of a Translation Bachelor's Degree
- Job readiness; employers may be able to hire you without supplying on-the-job training in translation skills that language majors may require
- Work from home, self-employment or entrepreneurial opportunities may be available
- Opportunities are available for adding a specialty field like localization or to become a subject matter expert
- May include opportunities to travel or study abroad
- Graduate degree or certificate may be required for many jobs
- Other careers paths may be more lucrative
- Relatively scarce on-campus translation degree programs may not be available near your location
Courses and Requirements
You'll probably need to start with fluent written, verbal and reading skills in English. You might take advanced level courses in one or more languages, with the expectation that you'll achieve equal fluency in each. You may need to be a good writer, researcher and self-editor in both languages. Coursework may also include area studies courses that increase your understanding of cultural context. Schools may encourage study or work abroad.
You might take these courses like these in a translation bachelor's program:
- Principles of translation
- Technical translation
- Research and technological tools for translation
- Computer-assisted translation
- Court, community or medical translation
Online Course Options
Though fully online undergraduate translation degree programs may not be available, you might be able to take some of your bachelor's coursework online, depending on your school's offerings or willingness to accept online courses transferred from another institution. You may want to take your language courses on-campus to have interaction with professors and classmates that could help you perfect your skills. Language study courses that are not-for-credit may be widely available online. ATA offers online instruction in translation business areas like freelancing and pricing your services.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Future translators may be encouraged to read broadly and consume media in their target language(s). Previous experience with your target language(s) through family or social exposure, high school language study or living abroad may give you a head start. You might take advantage of internships to get as much practical experience as possible, on-campus translation or language-related institutes, language studies collections and translation laboratory facilities.
Schools may offer intensive summer interpreter training programs. Translation and language-related majors might find it helpful to take courses that align with certification requirements of ATA or other organizations dedicated to translation in a specialty area, or study within programs recognized by ATA.
Master's Degree in Translation
Candidates with master's degrees may have the substantive background required for sensitive translation assignments. They could have the opportunity for in-depth specialization. Master's degrees covering translation may be available on campus or online, either independently or as a specialty within language, global, area or international studies programs. Depending on preparation and full-time or part-time status, programs may take from 2-5 years to complete. Joint degrees may be available.
You might pursue a professional track or develop the basis for doctoral studies or research. Programs may require an internship and a thesis. Depending on your undergraduate background, you might be able to explore history, economic and legal aspects of the culture your language represents that could enhance your ability to provide high-quality advanced translation services.
Pros and Cons of Master's Degree in Translation
- Opportunity to work in interesting environments worldwide
- Basis for advanced study in language or area studies
- Opportunity for advanced specializations
- Chances to work in fields like international marketing where advanced language skills and cultural understanding could be useful
- Large investment of time and money, relative to the projected income
- Research may be required before contacting companies regarding freelance work
- Beginning freelancers may not have reliable income
- Success may depend on ability to self-market
Courses and Requirements
Master's programs may presuppose fluency in one or more languages besides English so you can focus on translation techniques. You might also be expected to take coursework in business development as well as various types and levels of translation. These might include translation editing, translation for courts, literature or other areas. You might learn practical skills in managing translation projects.
Commonly, master's-level courses might be available in:
- Translation for localization
- Technical translation
- Culture in communication
- Literary translation
- Second-language learning
Both on-campus and 100% virtual degree options are available, though completely virtual options are less common. Virtual programs may offer part-time or full-time options that provide evening and weekend courses. Online certificate programs may also be available. You'll meet the same level of requirements in online as in on-campus courses, with the added benefit of time flexibility in online programs.
Standing Out with This Degree
Mastery of in-demand languages or those in an emerging need area may make you more employable. Fluency in more than one language pair could also be a plus. Becoming a subject matter expert in a high-paying field could increase your options. Your choice of thesis topic could attract attention of employers in a targeted area. If you're a working professional, you may be able to take courses that could help you get promoted.
You might attend a school with a comprehensive professional examination program that leads to a certification recognized by the industry. Your school might have internship relations with prominent organizations that hire translators. If you're entrepreneurially inclined, you could prepare for starting your own translation business by taking relevant courses or ATA seminars.