Like with any other profession, attaining a certain degree should represent some sort of proof that the person gaining it should do a good job within it. Still, there always remains a question of whether such a person needs other qualities to do their job at a high level. These same questions arise when there is a ‘translating’ debate. Debate about whether a professional translator should have a translation degree to do his job in the best manner.
Quite a number of things can factor in, from natural talent to experience and specialization. To that effect, getting a translation degree should guarantee that a potential client will get a good translation.
Translation is one of those professions where laymen often express doubt that you need a translation degree to be a good translator. This doubt is often based on the misconceptions or lack of insight into what is involved in a translation process and what a translator has to do to come up with a good translation.
Pangeanicnotes that “most people argue that their proficiency in multiple languages should be a direct bridge to a translation career without owning a translation degree.” After all, according to that line of thinking, all you need is to be proficient in a certain language.
But what does being proficient in any given language mean? “ The concept of “proficiency” can vary greatly from one individual to another.” (above) Being a native speaker of say English and an excellent speaker of Spanish, does not “necessarily mean you are a perfect speaker, or more importantly, a perfect writer.”
So what does a translation degree bring? First of all, it should guarantee that a potential translator (or interpreter) has attainted fluency in one or more foreign languages. It should also guarantee an absolute fluency in her/his native tongue. It also includes a number of specialized skills necessary to come up with the best translation possible.
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This post has been updated in August 2021.
What knowledge comes along with a translation degree?
Many people doubt the need for a translation degree if you have fluent knowledge of a certain language or languages. On the other hand, Learn.com points out that The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) their main requirement for a translator is a bachelor’s degree.
Again, that does not mean that it has to be a degree in translation. Many translators work in a specialized field like law and medicine. For them, it is often essential to have a degree in those fields. Still, “translators typically do need some sort of professional training to learn techniques for keeping the original meaning in the translated piece, considering slang, cultural terms, and popular expressions.” (Learn.com)
Like any other academic study, getting a degree in translation these days pushes a potential student to learn much more. Study.com lists quite a number of skills such a student would need to master. Among others, these include:
- the use of computer tools in translation tasks;
- translation of general texts;
- translation of specialized texts;
- liaison translation;
- management of documentation and information;
- editing texts;
- designing linguistic projects.
To achieve the degree of bachelor of arts in translation and interpretation the students have to “gain mastery of both the written and oral components of a foreign language and to apply that knowledge to advanced skills in translation and interpretation.“ (Study.com) In most cases, this often includes a partial study-abroad program.
Many academic institutions that are offering a translation degree offer courses for specific translation fields that require more specialized or technical translation courses. Some of the courses that may be offered in this bachelor’s degree program include:
- Advanced translation
- Specialist texts
- Oral expressions
- Translation and media
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What about other degrees and professional experience?
As Pangeanic (above) stresses, “every translation degree is highly focused on the student mastering his or her native language.” Yet, with all the focus on the linguistic side of translation, day-to-day translators deal with many different and diverse subjects and themes.
This often requires them to be equally proficient in one or a number of other fields. It is no rare occurrence that a political scientist or an engineer with a degree in those fields has become a professional translator.
So, a potential translator needs concrete knowledge of other fields. Still, he mainly needs to be adequately proficient in one or more foreign languages. That is why many institutions require a translation degree or certificate that can show that she/he is able to do the translator’s job.
With natural aptitude, a degree in another specialized field and a solid level of experience in translation such certificates are achievable. Still, getting a translation degree can in a way guarantee two of the above – natural aptitude and knowledge base to translate. In that case, a potential translator has to gain experience in one of the fields he wants to specialize in.
Of course, a translation degree from a reputable academic institution gives him some specific possibilities. These include professional fields like language education, theoretical linguistics or advance translation tools and terminology.
So, degrees in other specialized fields can represent a good basis for a successful translation(s). So can a solid translation experience. But getting a translation degree represents a secure base that one of the prerequisites for a good translation is there. Knowledge of language(s) and linguistics.
Going a step further – a masters degree in translation
Getting an academic degree can be an expensive affair. Masters or a Ph.D. degree even more so. Still, what would be the advantages or disadvantages of doing so?
Colorado Translators Association (CTA) makes a good point when it says that “ having a master’s degree in translation doesn’t make you a great translator. “ As mentioned above, “as long as you have a basic understanding of linguistics and practical experience in your chosen specialty, you may very well be a successful translator even without a piece of paper to prove it.”
Yet, getting a higher-level degree in a specialized field like computer technology can certainly help a potential translator.
In its analysis, CTA lists arguments pro and con of getting a higher translator degree.
- Competitiveness: Translators with higher degrees and experience achieve a ‘market value’ that usually surpasses that of “a translator with equivalent experience but without a degree.”
- Intellectual challenge: “Most grad school assignments mimic real-world projects, providing you with practical experience and the added benefit of getting feedback on your work.”
- Credibility: A lot of clients would feel more comfortable working with someone who has a higher educational degree.
- Differentiation: Translators that work with more common languages like Spanish and French might need a differentiating factor. “An advanced language degree is such a differentiator.”
- Possible affordability: “If you are already working as a translator, any investment you make in a translation degree is tax-deductible as a business expense.”
- Expense and loss of time: It is not the only tuition. As a professional, you need to devote time to studies. On the one hand, you need to take time from work, on the other, you need to cut free time.
- Alternative avenues and arduousness: If you are a good translator and work in a specific field, you can establish yourself among the competition in other ways. Also, grad school is not for everyone.
A translation degree has more advantages than disadvantages
Examining all the factors, it turns out that getting a translation degree has more advantages than disadvantages. This is the case both for translators and for their potential clients.
Learn.org (above) cites the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) concerning translation jobs. According to BLS, translation has a much faster than average job growth of 18%. This would add about 12,100 translating and interpreting jobs in the 2016-2026 decade. “Individuals who hold at least a bachelor’s degree and professional certification should have an advantage in the job market.” Also listed by the BLS, the 2018 median salary for translators and interpreters was $49,930.
Translator Gigs (above) points to another thing. Without a degree, some potential clients see a translator as ‘not educated’ and hence less knowledgeable. “A degree increases your chances of working with people or organizations that share such an opinion.” Usually, such institutions are government or international institutions like the UN.
Also, a translation degree can open up opportunities in many areas including academia. Still, it may not be worth the cost and time for a translator who wishes to pursue freelance translation jobs or lifestyle only.
For potential clients, a translation degree can represent some sort of a guarantee. A guarantee that their translation project would be done in the best possible manner.
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