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How do I Become a Book Translator?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A book translator takes a book in one language and translates it into another. If you want to become a book translator, you'll typically need to be able to read and write fluently in both your native tongue and a foreign language. You may be able to find work as a book translator without formal education, but some prospective employers and potential clients may prefer to hire book translators with degrees in a foreign language, linguistics, or literature. Additionally, some experienced book translators recommend visiting the country from which the second language originates. Doing so may help you gain a firmer grasp of the nuances of the language before you begin translating.

In order to become a book translator, you'll typically need to be fluent in reading and writing in your native tongue as well as at least one other language. You'll typically need a firm foundation of knowledge when it comes to writing as well. For example, you'll usually need to be capable of translating sentences in keeping with the other language's sentence structure and grammar rules. You'll likely need good spelling ability as well or a reliable spell-checker that works with the language into which you will be translating books.

Graduating from high school may be the first step you take toward becoming a book translator, though you may choose to earn a general educational development (GED) diploma instead. While in high school, you may do well to take courses in composition and literature in preparation for a career in this field. Once you've graduated from high school or earned a GED, you may decide to go on to college to earn a bachelor's degree in your second language, literature, or linguistics. Some experts in this field even recommend earning a master's degree in one of these majors in order to become a book translator.

You may also do well to visit the country from which your second language originates to learn more about the language from its native people. For example, some aspiring translators spend a year abroad and submerge themselves in the culture and language of a foreign country. You might, for example, teach your own language in the foreign country while you work to enhance your knowledge of the language. This is not typically a mandatory step, however.

After you've prepared to become a book translator, you may contact publishing houses to look for a job. In many cases, however, book translators work on a freelance basis. This means you may have more success with landing book translation contracts than securing full-time employment.

PracticalAdultInsights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a PracticalAdultInsights writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon357963 — On Dec 08, 2013

I'm sorry to say this article doesn't give a satisfactory answer to the question of what it takes to become a translator of literature.

In the first place, being bilingual is only the beginning. Just as many people who speak only one language aren't capable of writing a good book in that language, many people who speak a second language don't have the writing skills to translate a book into something worth reading in a second language. So translators need not only fluency in two languages but also great skill with words and passion for the language into which they translate.

Secondly, GEDs and post-graduate degrees aside, many translators acquire some sort of certificate that attests to their translation skills. To acquire such a certificate, translators must usually take an exam. This may or may not be related to any traditional degree-granting university.

Finally, a thorough understanding of the cultures of both languages is absolutely essential to the translator. In fact, many successful working translators spent years abroad to acquire that understanding, and continually keep themselves up-to-date by following the news and culture developments of the countries related to their language pairs.

By tigers88 — On Apr 29, 2012

I worked briefly as a book braille translator. I would take books and magazines and program the words into a computer that would print them in braille. I ended up losing the job because the company started to get the files electronically and there was no longer a need for the translator. Replaced by a machine.

By whiteplane — On Apr 28, 2012

It is hard to say exactly how to become a translator. This is a very specialized job and not a huge industry. You have to distinguish yourself with talent first and foremost. It is not enough to have just degrees on the wall.

I think the best training for any budding translator is to try and translate as much as you can. Make it a daily exercise. Read other works in the language you are translating from. Read criticism about the work you are translating. The more time you can spend with the words the better.

By truman12 — On Apr 27, 2012

Until you have translated something yourself it is hard to know what a challenging and rewarding experience it can be. I have heard several stories of writers who will type out the words to other authors work just so they can have the experience of writing like them. Translating is like that but even more intimate. Because you are changing things just as much as your are copying them.

It is an amazing mental endeavor too. You have to have the skills of a linguist, the mind of a literature scholar and the heart of a poet. There is a reason that some translators become famous. Their translation is a work that is almost equal to the original piece of writing.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a PracticalAdultInsights writer, where she focuses on topics...
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