Learning German in middle age

Hi, Joanna

I'm just beginning my German studies, at 52 years of age.

I adore linguistics and language, and have a background in speech pathology/communications disorders, so my love of language is reflected in my career choice.

My question is: do you think it would be possible to become fluent in German at my age, to the point that I could translate German to English as a possible career? I have read of Mary Hobson, who began studying Russian in her 60s, but she sounds like an exception.

Thank you.
Kind regards,

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It’s never too late to learn something new!
by: Joanna

Hi Hannah

Many thanks for your email. It’s always great to hear from people considering a career in German translation.

At 52, I guess what you need to do first is to weigh up whether you are prepared to invest the time, money and effort required to:

1.) gain a command of the German language sufficient to consider a career based on German,
2.) qualify as a German translator,
3.) and establish yourself as a new-fledged translator, before you can enjoy a sustainable and profitable career in German translation.

Although the trend these days seems to be to work much longer and retire later in life, you will need to judge whether your potential years of earning will be adequate pay off for your input.

I don’t know enough about your specific situation, but I would say your chances of succeeding would be reasonable if, for example, you’re based in a German-speaking country and are immersed in the language 24/7; there is likely to be plenty of translation work available in your area of expertise; and if you can survive a few years of earning little from translation.

If, on the other hand, you are just starting to learn the language and won’t have the opportunity to practice your language skills intensively, your path will be much longer.

It might interest you to know that I was recently introduced to someone around the same age as you who is planning to make a similar move. In his case, he was a lawyer by trade but had studied French at university. He is in the lucky situation of being financially able to retire now, and would love to spend a pleasant retirement translating French poetry. Sounds ideal! He has the benefit of already having good language skills and is actively seeking to qualify in translation by studying for a Chartered Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation. However, he is sufficiently realistic to understand that he is much more likely to find clients for French legal translations than poetry.

The global translation industry is becoming increasingly divided, into general and relatively unqualified translators, and specialized and highly professional ones. With the increasing sophistication of machine translation, the only human translators who will make a good living and command decent prices are the second group.
Bearing all this in mind, I suggest you read around the subject a bit more, perhaps looking at my page with 30 top tips for translating German as a professional career, and maybe picking up a copy of the classic reference book by Corinne McKay on How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. That’s a good place to start.

I’d love to hear how you get so, so please stay in touch!

All the best,

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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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