What German language qualifications do I need?

by Joanne

I came across your very informative site on German Translation Tips and Resources. I hope you don't mind this random email, but I had a few questions for you about this profession and how you got your start. I hope you don't mind answering a few questions? Any feedback is much appreciated!
First, I see that you received a Diploma in Translation from CIOL. As the field grows and perhaps becomes more competitive, do you think it's important to receive Cerfication or a Diploma? Also, there are a number of German examinations that range from knowing German for professional use, to universal communication, to university success. I wonder, in order to meet basic qualifications to show proficiency, is the Zertifikat Deutsch or Goethe Zertifikat are a prerequisite at this point? This is what I am most confused about.
I have a BA in Economics, and am a US Citizen of Korean descent and can speak Korean conversationally. I am in the process of learning German, and love it. I have considered language programs in Germany to immerse myself in the language and culture, though those can be costly. I currently work as an editor at Pearson Education, but would be interested to hear whether you think there is a greater need for translators vs. intepreters? I have a preference for intepretation work despite my background in publishing where I have experience editing/writing material.
I apologize for this lengthy email. If you've made it to the end, I thank you for your time.


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A few tips on starting out in German translation
by: Joanna

Dear Joanne

You are right in thinking that nowadays anyone considering working professionally as a German translator would be advised to get a qualification in translation - not only will you feel confident about your abilities but clients will be more willing to engage you. However, I think the key point is that it?ll be your TRANSLATION qualification which is important, not a qualification in German proficiency itself. If you are offering translation services, then it will be assumed that you have the necessary language proficiency in your chosen languages - in this case German - either because you have a degree in German, have lived in a German-speaking country or grew up speaking both languages. So for you, step 1 = acquiring the necessary level of German proficiency, and step 2 = translation (or interpreting) qualifications.

Step 1: The Goethe Zertifikat C1 is probably a very good indicator of the level of German proficiency you?d need to achieve before considering a move into translation. As far as I can see from the Goethe Institute site (www.goethe.de), you can take the exams whenever you feel ready and you aren?t tied to a particular German study course. (You can check your progress using sample tests published on the website. The institute has a branch in Boston ? I?d give them a call and ask their advice. If you decide to go a different route, then make sure you enroll in a German course which gives you a recognizable qualification, e.g. credits towards a German degree.
Only after mastering the fundamentals should you consider specializing in a subject area - building on your economics BA would definitely make sense. Time spent in a German-speaking environment will also be really helpful ? failing that, try watching and listening to German TV and radio in your free time to immerse yourself in the language.

Step 2: The Chartered Institute of Linguists recommends that anyone considering taking their professional qualification in translation, the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans), be of a standard in German which is equivalent to a good Honours degree. As you are US-based, I suggest you try an American-equivalent, such as the American Translator?s Association, and check out their qualifications. (More details here.

Re. translators vs. interpreters, my guess is that there is a greater need for the written than spoken word and therefore more work for German translators than interpreters. However, I would say this is irrelevant ? you should do what you do best! Your background at Pearson would certainly be a big plus in your credentials if you plan to offer editing services. Decide later as your German studies progress.

I hope this has given you a few pointers. I wish you all the best!


Thank you!
by: Joanne

Dear Joanna, I cannot thank you enough for your help. I appreciate your very thoughtful comments.

I agree this will be a long journey. And, it's far too early to tell if I should pursue any kind of translation or interpretation work. Interestingly, though the American Translator's Association offers a Certificate in Translation (nothing on Interpretation), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has no form of universal certification. If down the line my skills were sufficient for interpretation, it seems different organizations have their own standards, basing it mainly on professional experience. It seems quite open-ended, which could be nice for someone who hasn't enrolled in an official Interpretation program. Those are my initial observations about how it's handled in the States.

As you said, it would benefit me greatly to spend some time in Germany. Perhaps there are fellowships or exchange programs for young/mid-level professionals. I'm going to look into this. In the meantime, the fun part will be soaking in as much German as I possibly can via various media and literature. With my ipod, I can download German podcasts and programs. If you have any tv programs that you recommend, feel free to share that too.

Many thanks!


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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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