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Translators transfer written texts from one language to another. This is where they differ from interpreters, who translate oral statements.
Translators work with a wide range of text types. They can include anything from flyers and brochures, business reports and contracts, official documents and certificates, technical and medical reports via belletristic literature, scientific texts and websites to user manuals.
We all know literary translations from our everyday life. However, they are among the rarer tasks that translators work on and tend to be not as well paid. Technical translations, software localization and terminology management, on the other hand, are in high demand. Software localization experts translate computer applications with regard for cultural conventions for international target groups. Terminology and translation managers often work for companies or organizations, manage external translation orders, for example, or develop and maintain internal and external corporate terminology and create their own translations of texts.
In contrast to multi-lingual administrative assistants (Fremdsprachenkorrespondenten), who are mainly working on administrative and commercial tasks, translators usually work on a higher professional level for companies, for example, in project management.
Translating is not only about transferring texts to the desired target language word for word, but also about conveying possible interpretations and trains of thought that are hidden between the lines. The competences required for the profession are not only excellent foreign language skills, but also a deep knowledge of the expressions, associations and metaphors of the respective language. The author’s intent must not be distorted or altered. You will therefore need a lot of creativity and a well-developed sense of language for the profession, so as to stay as true as possible to the original when it comes to style and meaning, while also factoring in the reading habits of the target language. This also requires technical skills and effective work techniques, including the use of word processing programs and technology databases.
There are various ways to qualify for the translator profession. There are degree programs in translation studies at universities and universities of applied sciences, but also training opportunities at professional academies, which impart knowledge on theories and methods of translation. With technical and specialist translators in high demand, it might also make sense to make a lateral entry into this profession after a degree program in law, psychology, physics and the like. To access many of the master’s degree programs in translation studies, an aptitude test is required. So anyone who has completed a linguistic or other specialized bachelor's degree program can learn the necessary translational techniques in a postgraduate master's program.
The professional title “translator” is not protected under German law. This means that anyone can call themselves a translator. Some Chambers of Commerce and Industry offer opportunities to take an examination to become a certified translator. Some Federal States also offer examinations for certification as a “state-certified translator”, which might be required in order to work as a publicly appointed translator in courts.
Many translators are freelancers. It is therefore important to also familiarize oneself with business management issues as a newcomer, for example in marketing, customer acquisition, networking, accounting, taxes (possibly also abroad) and insurance. The Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer e.V.), for instance, offers suitable advisory services in this regard.


Federica Salentino

Federica Salentino

freelance conference interpreter and technical translator for Italian, English and German

Typical tasks

Possible places of employment

Sources and further information on the profession