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How to become a successful Professional Translator and Interpreter

Just like any skilled profession, becoming a professional translator or interpreter requires very specific skills and attributes.

Over the last several years, demand for professional translating and interpreting in South Africa has seen a significant rise.

Because the country is a melting pot of diversity, it means that a great deal of business and operations are done in first languages that are not English, and often different from one another. This includes South Africa’s 11 official languages and a variety of foreign languages.

This is where the professional translator or interpreter would step in. To find common ground between entities that otherwise be left in a haze of confusion, misinterpretations, and a lot of frustration in the end.

It goes without saying that above all else, a professional translator/interpreter would need to be able to speak, understand, and interpret at least two languages fluently. Generally, completion of a tertiary education in Linguistics (or something similar) is required. In addition, the most significant attributes a professional translator should have are ethics, efficiency, and a willingness to learn.


One simply cannot come into this profession without integrity. In your career as a professional translator/interpreter, you will come across and work with a lot of highly sensitive information. Information that the client will trust you with. It’s essential that the client can rest assure that this information and their interests are protected.

By conducting business in an ethical manner, you not only build trust, but a successful career as well.


Being efficient in any industry or occupation is key to any a person’s success, and translating and interpreting are no different. A profound understanding of the target and source languages is the essential differentiator between successful and unsuccessful translation and interpretation.

Apart from mastering the different languages one would specialise in, familiarising oneself with the field that the translating or interpreting would apply to is of paramount significance and value, be it law, politics, academia, et al.

Willingness to learn

Rapidly evolving technology means that translators and interpreters need to adapt accordingly. So it is important to be up to date with the most recent communication tools and learn to use them to utilise their full benefit.

Seeking advice from more experienced language practitioners is also another form of learning the ins-and-outs of the industry.

Constantly reading, listening, and speaking in the specialist’s languages are the best ways to constantly better oneself in the profession. Obtaining additional qualifications and completing recognised short courses are also great at staying on point.

With the above attributes, accompanied by full dedication and some hard work, there is no limit to an interpreter or translator’s potential for success.


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