What Degree Do You Need to Become a Translator?

woman translator introducing two businessmen

A professional translator is responsible for rendering communications from one language into another. Typically, a translation degree refers to a bachelor’s degree in a certain language. For example, if you would like to become an English/Spanish translator and you are a native English speaker, you could earn one of our language degrees. This degree would equip you with the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue a successful career as a professional translator.

In This Article:

What Is a Language Translator?

The terms “translator” and “interpreter” are often used interchangeably. However, they refer to two different roles with different career paths. A translator translates writing from one language into another. For example, a translator may translate a book originally written in Spanish into English. In contrast, an interpreter is someone who works with spoken language.

Since translators work with written materials, they have the luxury of being able to consult language reference materials as they work. However, compared with interpreters, translators face a much higher standard of pinpoint accuracy. They must also consider how cultural differences may affect the meanings of words and phrases. It is rare for a translator to be able to translate in both directions (for example, from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English). Instead, translators typically work on projects that involve translating the foreign language into their native tongue. For example, a native English speaker will translate Spanish writing into English writing.

Interpreters, in contrast, must be able to translate fluently in both directions — such as from English to Spanish and from Spanish into English. Interpreters must listen to the speaker, identify the main points of what was said and then paraphrase those words into the target language while preserving the original intent, tone and essential vocabulary.

Preparing for a Translation Degree Program

Although a translator can consult reference materials as he or she works, it is still essential to have a native speaker’s grasp of the vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure of the language you are translating. If you are planning to earn a translation degree and you are still in high school, it never hurts to begin preparing as soon as possible. Take advanced language classes if they are available at your school. Look for other opportunities to broaden your language skills and cultural competencies. For example, you can watch movies and read books, magazines and newspapers in Spanish.

Earning Your Translation Degree

A bachelor’s translation degree is all that is required to enter the field. If you already know that you would like to be a translator rather than an interpreter, you will want to focus on your reading and writing skills. Continue to hone your skills by doing extra work outside of class. Practice translating short texts from your chosen language into English. You might also consider joining or forming a club to practice speaking your chosen language.

While you are working toward your degree, look for internship opportunities. Landing an internship at a translation agency gives you the chance to practice your language skills, develop industry connections and potentially meet your future employers. You will also learn invaluable work skills, such as time management and office etiquette.

Acquiring Certification as a Translator

Although it is not strictly necessary for landing a translation job, earning a voluntary certification can be an effective way to demonstrate your skills to employers. It also serves as a reflection of your dedication to accuracy in translation. The leading certification agency for translators is the American Translators Association (ATA). They administer certification exams in a variety of languages, including Spanish.

Note that some translators specialize in certain types of source material, such as medical or legal translation. These specializations require advanced knowledge of industry-specific terms in both languages. If a specialization appeals to you, consider earning an additional certification. For example, you might earn a certification from the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

Exploring Job Opportunities in Language Translation

There are a variety of opportunities available for translators, including work in the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors. Some of the materials a translator may work on include:

  • Books and articles.
  • Court transcripts.
  • Educational materials.
  • Patient health literacy handouts.
  • Multi-language signage and displays.
  • Marketing materials for companies with a global reach.

Blend your passion for language with purpose and start your path to becoming a translator at Grand Canyon University. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers degree programs for aspiring translators, interpreters and educators who wish to develop their writing, reading, listening and speaking skills. To learn more about our college, click on the Request Info button at the top of this page.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.