He who knows much sleeps little - Russian proverb

Russian is the native language of over 150 million people around the world. Although it seems complicated, it is one of the most widely-spoken languages on the planet. More than 260 million people speak Russian; can you?

If so, why not step into the world of translation?

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Are Any Certifications Needed to Become a Translator of Russian?

In the UK, it is not necessary to have a diploma to work as a translator. No official certification is required, nor must you have any special qualifications. In other words, the translator profession is open to everyone, at least in theory.

Anyone can get started as a translator but it is important to have a solid foundation in foreign languages, obviously.

People in Estonia also speak Russian
Estonia is one of the many countries where Russian is an unofficial language. Photo credit: wonderferret on Visualhunt.com

Generally speaking, almost all translators translate from a foreign language into their mother tongue. Much less often does the work go the other way around - from one's native language into a target language.

That might be because one's mother tongue is the language best mastered. Even if you were to live in another country, mastering its language at the level of your native tongue would be very difficult to achieve. After all, you've been speaking in that language since childhood.

People who are bilingual - those with two mother tongues are the luckiest.

To become a translator, if you do not have a repertoire of languages at your disposal, you will have to learn a foreign language. You can do this in a language school and through other training.

You could also learn a language by immersing yourself in it. How would you like to live abroad? Why not combine the two learning ventures - steeping yourself in the Russian language while living the culture?

Many translators have gone through theoretical language lessons and then left the country to hone their learned language skills while travelling. Spending a year in a foreign country is excellent training. Immersing yourself in a country allows you to better understand its culture and, therefore, its language.

Furthermore, daily exposure to the language allows you to progress faster and learn the typical expressions of the country; the type of language that doesn't feature in textbooks.

To become a Russian translator, you could obviously go to Russia, but also to other countries whose official language is Russian, such as:

  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Belarus

Even though Russian is not the official language, it is nevertheless also spoken in:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Moldova
  • Mongolia
  • Poland
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan

Take your pick of where you'd like to sojourn!

The Skills and Abilities Needed to Be a Russian Translator

More than a diploma, it is necessary to have the skills to become a good translator of Russian.

Besides essential Russian language skills, the translator must have an excellent grasp of English. This means being flawless in spelling, syntax, grammar, etc. The translated documents must be free of errors. Thus, translation is not just about understanding Russian well, but also knowing how to convey the exact meaning in English.

In addition to Russian and English language skills, the Russian translator should be familiar with the culture of the country of origin of the translated document.

The translation is not just an exercise in literal translation. It is not enough to translate a Russian text word for word; if that were the case, there would be no need for translators - online translation software can manage that fairly well.

The DipTrans and TORFL are two certifications you can earn for Russian translation
You may earn a Russian language certification by sitting the TORFL and DipTrans exams. Photo credit: MDGovpics on Visualhunt.com

The Russian translator must, first of all, understand the meaning the text conveys in order to translate it correctly. The text must have the same meaning in English as it does in Russian.

Understanding the subtleties of the texts you translate is vital to your abilities as a translator. And this exercise is perhaps the most difficult part of translation work! Knowing Russian well is not enough to be successful in translating it.

As a Russian translator, you can specialize in a field; to do so entails knowing the related vocabulary perfectly. Science and medicine have their own language, as do the mechanical/technical fields, cultural media, literature, and so on.

Finally, translators now use many computer tools to translate. You will therefore need to know how to use computer-assisted translation software (also called CAT software).

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Proving Your Russian Language Skills Through Exams

Even if a diploma is not required to become a Russian translator, it can be useful to certify your level of Russian, to gain credibility if you work as a freelance translator or to enrich your CV when applying to different companies.

To prove your linguistic abilities, certain language exams may be useful. In English, the TOEFL and IELTS are the most renowned of such exams. They provide a concrete indication of one's level of English through a scoring system.

To prove your Russian language capabilities, you may choose:

  • TORFL: similar to the English exam, the Test of Russian as a Foreign language assesses your level of Russian on a tiered scale. However, unlike the TOEFL and IELTS results, you will be assigned a level rather than a score. Your exam results should show you to be at least Level 3, which is equal to Level C1 on the CEFR scale. In the UK, you may sit this exam at the London School of Economics language centre or at the Russian Language Centre on Bloomsbury Square (London).
  • DipTrans: this rather amusing acronym stands for Diploma of Translation; it is accorded by the Chartered Institute of Linguists after the successful completion of the translation exam in the language of your choice - Russian, of course! 

The University Degrees that Qualify You to Be a Russian Translator

Some aspiring translators prefer to undergo university education before taking the plunge into professional translator work. Indeed, for several branches of translation such as literary translation and jobs with international organizations, diplomas are essential.

In taking Russian language courses, you will be taught by masters of the Russian language. Towards the end of your learning, you may opt for an internship in a translation firm, coordinated through the university. Another possibility: an internship abroad - in Russia... what an advantage you will have once you get started with your career with that listed on your CV!

Note that, as an undergraduate, you may not be offered many such opportunities but, should you continue on with your studies at the graduate level, you will surely have more of a chance of landing a prestigious assignment, either with a prominent firm in the UK or a golden chance to live and work abroad.

What if you're not a university student and would like to learn the skills needed to become a professional translator?

Going through a translator training course would allow you an excellent foundation in the practice of translation. Through such courses, you can learn the very specific techniques and knowledge required for professional translation services. Beware, though, that you must already have the needed language skills; they do not offer language lessons.

Unfortunately, they do not offer any internships, either, but they may help you with job placement, and they will certainly prepare you well for the DipTrans exam.

If it's been a while since you've used your Russian language skills, you may need to find a Russian language course in London to brush up on them...

The UK has no provisions for sworn translators
Many countries have guidelines for becoming a sworn translator but the UK has none. Photo credit: deusto on Visualhunt

What About the Sworn Translator of Russian?

There are many translator specialities, among them is the sworn (certified) translator.

Sworn translators are licensed by their country's Public Prosecutor office to translate official legal documents such as procedural documents, notary acts, bailiff's acts, administrative acts, etc.

In the UK, there are no sworn translators. There is no avenue to become a sworn Russian translator in the UK, nor are there any specific diplomas or credentials to be had, indicating that you specialized as a sworn translator.

Generally, documents needing an official, certified translation are handled by a translation agency vetted by the courts. The agency will certify that they have provided a true and accurate translation of the documents in question and provide the name and contact details of the translator (or a company representative). That person would be accountable in a court of law should the translation become a part of a court case.

As the translation industry is only loosely regulated in the UK - it's really more of an honour system, it would be best for you to have all of the necessary training and obtain what certifications are available to back up your translations, should you be called on to swear on your translations.

As you work to obtain your certifications, how about earning a bit of cash by giving Russian lessons?

Russian Translators: No Diplomas, Just a Portfolio

Even if highly recommended, becoming a translator is possible without going through the process of earning a diploma.

If you are unwilling or unable to obtain a diploma, know that the most important thing for a translator to build up is their portfolio. That's besides their language skills, obviously.

Another reason to build your portfolio: it's not uncommon for job recruiters to ask about your experiences in translating Russian. So, it's best to be prepared to present samples of your work as a Russian translator so you can prove your abilities to potential clients.

What if you have none?

It's time to get to work, then. Select a few texts, preferably those that best represent your interests and abilities. If you're mad about sports, you might translate an interview with an athlete, a news write-up about a big match or event and a chapter of a fictional work with a sports theme.

It would be a good idea to diversify your material.

Mad for sports though you may be, clients need all sorts of things translated. Thus, you may translate the lyrics of a song, film subtitles - not for the whole film, just a part of one, a few paragraphs of classic literature, philosophy or the current top-selling book and add them to your portfolio.

In short: the greater your flexibility to translate all types of material from Russian to English, the more likely you will be to land the job(s), and the sooner you can do that, the sooner you can start earning your keep as a translator of Russian.

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.