German to English Translation Career?

by David

I am considering a career move into German to English translation. I had 4 years of High School German & 2 years in College but that was quite a while ago. However, I have been reviewing and things are coming back. Are there any good resources you can recommend? Have you any idea about how much time it would take for someone in my situation to be proficient? Any advice would be welcome. Thank you

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Starting out in German to English translation
by: Joanna

Hi David

Thanks for your question. My reply is fairly general, as I don't know the specifics of your situation, but I'd make the following points:

Are you clear why you want to be a translator? Do you love languages? Writing? Plays on words? Is your English great?! If not, forget it. It's hard to be successful doing something you don't love!

Any German to English translator has to feel totally at home in German and understand both the meaning and subtle nuances of the text they are asked to translate. Ideally, the fastest way of getting your German up to speed would be to immerse yourself in an German-speaking environment? I don't know how practical this would be in your case. You should also listen to German TV & radio and read German newspapers.

How long would it take to become proficient? Very hard to say, it depends on your linguistic abilities and determination! Translators need to be able to work quickly if they are going to make a decent income. I'd suggest maybe looking for post-grad courses in German translation (not just German) run by universities and colleges near you - many offer distance learning courses which you could do part time. To get an idea of your current proficiency, try a few translations yourself. Here are some links to free sources of - German texts and their English translations - only look at the English after you've tried translating the German yourself!

If you have expertise in a specific professional field - medical, technical, legal, accounting, IT, pharmaceuticals, art etc. - then seriously consider specialising as translator in this field. You could start off doing some freelance translation related to your professional specialisation (first jobs probably via word of mouth) - you'll need to get well established as a translator in this niche before you give up the current day job. It is much harder to establish your value if you start out as a "general" translator.

You are going to have a lot of competition so a professional qualification in translation will be invaluable. As you are based in the US, your first stop should probably be the ATA. It's mine of information on working in translation and they have their own set of professional exams. These are important because they recognise that being a translator involves more than understanding German. Translation itself is a skill. Your college German may well count towards a translation qualification.

I hope this reply gives you some food for thought and some ideas about where to go next.

Good luck in your endeavours!


Thank you!
by: David

Thank you, Joanna for your helpful reply. I do enjoy language study and was a High School English teacher for 3 years so I have a pretty good grasp of grammar. I have also studied Latin, Greek & Hebrew.

I appreciate your advice as well as the links you sent and will definitely follow up on these. I can see that the field is competitive but I will pursue it, keep studying, and see if I can claw my way to success! Any other advice you may have along the way will be much appreciated!


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German to English Translation

Joanna Scudamore-Trezek

I'm a German to English translator living and working in Vienna, Austria. I turn German texts into clear and accessible English, allowing clients to present their stories, ideas and information to a completely new audience. My business and marketing clients rely on me to get their message across clearly and effectively.  How can I help you today?

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