Degrees in Translation: Program Overviews

Translation requires near-native fluency in two languages. Programs in translation studies are available at the undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree levels.

Essential Information

Translation programs are rare at the bachelor's degree level, but students who wish to enter this field may be able to work with a faculty advisor and put together a curriculum. Students in bachelor's degree programs take courses that include conversation and writing in the desired language, phonetics and technical writing. They may gain further knowledge through courses in history and culture. Bachelor's degree students also must complete general education courses such as mathematics and social studies.

Applicants to a master's degree program in translation should have a bachelor's degree and significant knowledge of the language. At this level, courses focus on literature and written translation, along with exploration of how the language developed over the years. Some of these programs may be offered online.

Doctoral programs are research-intensive examinations of topics such as literary analysis and cultural studies. These programs require a master's degree and fluency in two languages. Typically programs take two to three years to complete, and much of this time is spent researching and writing a dissertation.


Bachelor's Degrees in Translation Studies

While technological advances have helped to speed transcription and translation, linguists are still needed to translate with knowledge of connotation and idioms specific to each language. Because a high level of second-language fluency isn't found as commonly at the undergraduate level, translation-specific, undergraduate programs are uncommon. Students unable to find a program can often design a translation concentration through an interdisciplinary studies department. In addition to study abroad opportunities, programs in this field often include training in the following:

  • Conversation
  • Culture studies
  • History
  • Phonetics
  • Technical writing

Master's Degrees in Translation

Graduate-level translation training generally focuses on literature and written word, rather than extemporaneous speech. Students in these programs learn about language structure, ways to research historical points of reference and the connotations of specific words, in order to learn how natives used a language over time. Courses involve translating works of various lengths and practice translating literary works as well. To develop their skills with translation, students train in the following areas:

  • International literature
  • Legal translation
  • Scientific translation
  • Software localization
  • Translation theory

Ph.D. in Translation Studies

Doctoral programs offer training in comparative literature, literary tradition, textual analysis and cultural studies, primarily through independent research that results in a dissertation. When translating historical texts, a lack of context can lead translators to downplay elements that are misunderstood or that contradict current teachings. Learning to construe the original intent of an author from a different culture often requires knowledge of:

  • History
  • Linguistics
  • Political science
  • Philosophy
  • Translation criticism

Popular Careers

Literary, medical, legal, scientific and business documents all need to be translated in order to ensure the participation of various groups in a multicultural society. Professionals are also employed to translate spoken words. Careers in the interpretive and translation arts include the following:

  • Contracted conference interpreter
  • Governmentally contract linguist
  • Software localization engineers
  • Translation project managers

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), interpreters and translators are projected to see a 29% jump in employment from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS mentioned that specialists in Spanish are projected to have good opportunities, due to the anticipated increase in the Spanish-speaking population in the country. The May 2015 BLS reports showed that 49,650 interpretation and translation professionals were employed as of that time, and their median annual wage was $44,190.

It is possible for bilingual students to get translator training at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree level. In an increasingly multicultural country and globalized world, graduates can look forward to significant job growth in the future.


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