How to become a Translator

As a translator, you do not simply rely on dictionaries and vocabulary lists, rather you master a highly developed sense of language. Unlike an interpreter, a translator translates fixed texts (usually written) from the source language to the target language.
A job in translation is highly varied and interesting. This applies especially to independent translators. Translators and interpreters not only have to master particular foreign languages, but also have to know and understand the culture and history of the relevant countries, and have a highly developed sense of typical communication patterns and techniques.
Furthermore, a mastery of one’s native language is of crucial importance as it is usually translated into the native language. In addition to this, depending on the relevant field of expertise, country-specific or language-specific expertise and knowledge of the respective texts are clearly essential.

Training and Exam Opportunities

In Germany, the profession of translator is not regulated by law. Similar to journalists and authors, whoever wants to call themselves a translator can do so. Nonetheless, there are numerous training opportunities all the way up to an officially-recognised training, which is only offered in some federal states. Basically, you can go about training in three different ways.


In Translation and Interpretation Studies you study 2 or 3 languages intensively, which you choose at the beginning of your studies. In addition to typically-studied foreign languages, specialising in sign language for example is also possible. The course includes intensive language teaching. Until recently the degree was still called a Translation Diploma, now it is a Bachelors, and with good grades a Masters is possible. Learn more:

State Certified Translator

In some states a state recognised exam is offered for interpreters and/or translators. If you pass the exam, you may use the term of ‘Certified Translator’, ‘Certified Interpreter’ or ‘Certified Sign Language Interpreter’. Successful admission to the exam is either on the basis of relevant training (e.g. professional academy) or proof of relevant foreign language and specialist knowledge, as well as 3 years’ professional experience. A passed state exam (as well as a university degree) can serve as a basis for a Court Interpreter/Translator. Learn more here:


For those who do not want the challenge of a Translation Studies degree, you can sit an exam at IHK. Requirement for admission to the exam is regular participation in an appropriate preparation course, offered through a private educational institution. Thus, the training is often in a school setting, followed by sitting an exam. Learn more here:

Being a Translator: Career and future

Naturally, an increasingly globalised world and a trade economy drive the need for translators, but this also leads to more and more competition. Many people today are bilingual or multilingual, and if you are not your chances are narrowed. There is also a growth of mass-produced products from Far East countries, that even have German translations. Often the quality is very poor, but the price is the customers’ priority.

The competition for computerised translations is ever increasing. Lots of big firms in the online sector are working on mainly getting their translations from computerised systems. Even if the results up until now have rarely been satisfactory, and even sometimes odd, one should be aware that development is ongoing and in the long run such systems could compete. However, it is obvious that certain things such as intercultural communication cannot be translated by machines and they will never fully replace human translators.

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