He who doesn't take risks, doesn't drink champagne - Russian proverb
Before you can become a Russian translator, you will need to work hard and master the Russian language and have knowledge of Russian culture at your fingertips.
As you know, a translator 'converts' texts from a source language into his native tongue. Thus, if you become a Russian translator, you will translate from Russian to English (if English is your mother tongue).
If you are perfectly bilingual in Russian and English (having been raised in an Anglo-Russian family, for example), you will be able to translate from Russian to English as well as from English to Russian.
In this complete guide, we give you all the information you need to become a translator of Russian: the training you might undergo and any needed diplomas, possible salaries and opportunities, places you might work...
If earning your living as a Russian translator is your goal, after taking in this information, you will know everything you need to do to reach it.
What Training is Recommended to Become a Russian Translator?
To train in translation and become a translator of Russian, you have the option of following a course in a specialized school or at the university. In any case, an academic degree in Russian studies will help with all the peculiarities of the profession.
Immersing yourself in Russian culture wouldn't hurt, either. Perhaps your school courses or the language training facility you study at offer a few months of internship. If so, that's an opportunity you shouldn't pass up.
Expatriating a few months in Russia - in Moscow or Saint Petersburg is an excellent idea to fully grasp Russian culture and history. Doing so will also allow you to learn to speak Russian as native Russians do.
Do not hesitate to do it if you have the opportunity to spend a few months in Russia. You will progress much faster in your knowledge of the Russian language.
If such a move is impossible for you just now, here are a few possibilities for you to develop as a Russian translator in the UK.
- Sit the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language (TORFL) exam. In the UK, only the London School of Economics Language Centre and the Russian Language Centre on Bloomsbury Square in London are authorised to administer this exam. Note that, to qualify as a translator, you will have to test at Level C1 (TORFL Level 3) or better.
- Join the Russian-speaking community. All around the UK are Russian cultural centres, student societies and other Russia-affiliated associations you may join to participate in activities and events that centre on Russian culture. The UK's Russian Embassy web page has a page listing all of the opportunities for contact with native Russian speakers as well as a summary of Russia-centric activities and events you may take part in.
- Take a distance learning course with Translator Training. They offer a three-step training programme in a variety of languages, including Russian. Their courses are structured to prepare students for the Chartered Institute of Linguists' Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) qualifications ordeal.
Finally, note that no diploma is required to become a Russian translator. However, you will gain self-confidence and employability if you can prove your Russian language abilities. The above-listed suggestions are great ways of doing so.
Which Qualifications Are Required to Become a Russian Translator?
In theory, the translator profession is open to everyone who can speak a second language: no diploma or qualification is required, and no professional experience is necessary to look for work as a translator.
However, there is one way in which we Brits are at a disadvantage.
In many countries, it is compulsory to study at least one foreign language. In the UK, learning a second language is voluntary, which puts us at a slight disadvantage over language learners in other countries.
So, unless you were born into a mixed family - say, British and Russian, you will have to work harder at gaining mastery of the Russian language and understanding the country's culture.
After all the hard work that language learning involves, most prospective translators sit the DipTrans, and then, expatriate themselves to Russia for several months or years to totally immerse themselves into the language and the culture.
If moving to Russia is out of the question - and as no diploma is required to become a translator-interpreter, it would be best to have a few qualities to augment your value as a translator of Russian:
- Orthography: your work will consist of translating documents from Russian into English and/or the other way around, so your syntax, conjugation, grammar and vocabulary must be spot-on. Not only will you be expected to fully understand the original document, but you will also be expected to translate it as correctly and accurately as possible.
- Excellent knowledge of Russian culture: the translation of documents is not verbatim. It is more a question of translating the message so that it is understood in an English-speaking context. Thus, it is necessary to understand all the subtleties, nuance and context present in the original text.
- Specialized knowledge of a particular field: there are many fields in which you can specialize. Most translators have a double degree to be able to be an expert in a field of translation: legal translator, technical translation, translation of a medical document...
And, while you're waiting for a translation gig to come your way, why not offer Russian lessons?
What Kind of Salary and Opportunities Can a Russian Translator Expect?
The pay of a Russian translator varies widely depending on two essential criteria:
- your work status: salaried or freelance
- any specialization you might have: as a sworn translator (for legal documents), literary translator, expert translator in a technical field, terminologist translator, audiovisual translator, reviser translator, localization translator and so on.
If you're just starting your career as a translator or interpreter, you can expect to earn around £18.000 annually if you work in a translation agency; slightly more if you work in a government office or an international company.
The average salary is just under £24.000 per year and the top end of the pay scale sits at around £39.000 per year.
If you decide to work as a freelance translator or an independent translator, your compensation will vary greatly. You will first need to decide on how you will set your rates: by the word, by the hour, by the page or by the document. And then, will have to find regular customers to ensure a salary.
As a freelancer, there is no fixed salary. You may have months of earning £1000 and then luck into a £6000/month contract that will last for a year.
Do not forget, though, to take into account that HMRC has a claim on some of your income. Such is the status of the micro-entrepreneur: what you collect is not your real salary and it is up to you to declare your income and pay your taxes.
As your career progresses, you will be able to expand your profession as a translator into interpreting, journalism, teaching or even writing.
You may even be able to exercise both the profession of translator and another profession.
Many independent translators take on extra work when times are slow. You have every right, for example, to work as a translator in translation agencies and to have an independent status to carry out other assignments you seek out on your own.
Where Can You Work as a Russian Translator?
As you can see, remuneration depends on how you practise the profession of Russian translator and where you practise it.
You may first decide to work with a translation agency. Although many such offices contract with professional freelance translators, there are a few translator positions open to temporary or permanent employees.
Agencies can either specialize in a language (Russian in this case), or in a specific field of translation such as legal translation, the translation of administrative documents or translation of medical written works.
If you work with agencies as a freelancer, you will likely need to take a test that will assess your skills (make sure the agency pays for it and compensates you as well!). Be aware that the wages an agency offers will probably be lower than if you work directly with a client, as the agency will take their commission fee off the top.
You can also work for an international company, especially if you specialize in an industry such as communications, legal or commerce.
You will then have to translate documents for clear internal communication, and also documents for external communication (adverts, press releases, websites and so on) in line with the values of the company and the specifics of the country - Russia.
Note, though, that these positions are rather rare.
If you want to practise your profession as a freelancer, we advise you to specialize. You will be able to work with publishing houses (as a literary translator) as well as production companies (film or series subtitling) or various sectors (mechanics, sciences, pharmaceutical industry and so on).
Perhaps you want to become a court translator? For this, you will have to approach the magistrate to find out what's required. You will then be in charge of translating official documents. You will be able to work with the police, the government or the courts. Your translations will be made official through your seal. For this type of translation work, you must obtain approval and take an oath.
So, are you ready to become a Russian translator? What are you going to do first? Take Russian lessons?