The Skills You Need to Work in Translation

Some of us are great at languages. Others aren’t. Some people really struggled with high school Spanish and spent hours studying every word that we had to learn, while other people seem to have the most wonderful ear for languages. They pick them up quickly, just by listening to other people speak. They can come back off a short trip to a different country being able to speak a lot of the language without any effort. These people often enjoy learning new languages and are very tempted by the idea of working as a translator. 

People with a keen ear for language are needed in many different industries and areas. Before looking for a job in translation, you should read about the difference between translation and interpretation at, and you should ask yourself if you’ve got the skills that it takes to be a translator. 

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It might sound obvious, but to be a good translator, you need to be able to listen. And not just listen to the words, but to listen for implications and deeper meanings. You must be able to pick up on tones and listen to voices in a crowd. You’ll need to be able to listen to a dialogue, and gain context quickly, which many people struggle with even when what they are hearing is in their mother tongue. 


Some translators rarely write. They translate what they hear in speech without ever needing to write it down. But, these only work in particular fields. Most translators will need to transcribe what they have heard. You will need to write quickly and clearly. But, you will also need to be able to communicate with your clients in writing, in both your mother tongue and different languages. 

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Specialist Knowledge

Translators need to be able to understand what they are listening to. To hear something isn’t enough. Without understanding, you can’t find the words in another language, you can’t grasp the context, and you can’t explain what you have heard fully to other people. Think about what sector you’d like to work in, and make sure you know enough about it to be successful. 

Cultural Intelligence

Lives around the world aren’t all the same. Our cultures make us different. Things that are normal in one place are offensive in another. This can affect your translations, and to work well, you need to understand the sometimes subtle differences across cultures. You at least need to be willing to learn.

Time Management and Organization

Most translators work from home, at least some of the time. Even those employed in offices often take freelance work from time to time. Working from home can be great, but only if you are able to keep your work organized, avoid distractions and manage your time well.  

If you are keen to work as a translator, consider jobs in the private sector, working for global companies, working in a specific field, like legal translation or working as a freelancer, offering your services to different industries. If you’ve got a keen ear for languages, you’ll always have options.