Translation requires the individual to accurately convey the meaning of the written words from one language to another.  They translate written material from one language into another, ideally from their second language into their first language. The work demands a high level of training and language skill. Translators form vital links in the local and international communications network and play an important role in multilingual countries such as South Africa.

Translators predominantly work with business, technical, legal and scientific written materials including letters, reports, articles, books etc.  Translators usually start by studying the text to be translated. They often have to do research on the contents and background of the text. Translators need to understand the nature of the information in the text well and know where to find additional information on various subjects. Their work includes writing and editin copies, preparing summaries, consulting clients and developing contacts and using translation computer programs.

Their work ranges from the written translation of legislation and reports of government commissions to instruction manuals, tourist brochures, company reports, patents, scientific papers, advertisements, educational texts and even literary works.

This means that translators not only need excellent language skills, but also require expertise in various fields. In addition, a potential freelance translator needs good business and marketing abilities to be able to set up a successful business on their own.

Translation is a versatile career, since translators may also qualify to work as language editors, dubbers, interpreters, journalists, copywriters, public relations officers, terminologists or lexicographers.

They need to be able to work to deadlines, have a good general knowledge, fluency in at least two languages and IT skills.

Personal Requirements

  • excellent command of languages
  • able to grasp complex and subtle concepts in one language and convey them effectively in another language
  • versatile mind capable of switching with ease from one field of knowledge to another
  • well informed on topical questions in political, economic, educational, social, scientific and technological fields
  • wide range of interests
  • perfectionist
  • ability to work alone

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

  • National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
  • National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: BA with at least two languages as major subjects. Language Practitioners - UFS, NWU, Linguistics - UZ, US, Wits. Translation - Wits, UL.

Most translators have a BA degree in Languages, but it is also a good idea to do some courses in Economics, Law, Physical Sciences, etc. to broaden your field of knowledge.

Diploma: Language Practice, Translation - CUT, DUT.

Those wanting appointments as language officers in the Language Service Bureau of the Department of National Education must first pass the Bureau’s translation or terminology examinations.


  • banks
  • advertising agencies
  • courts
  • parliament and government departments
  • translation agencies
  • NGOs
  • universities
  • insurance companies
  • self-employment, as free-lance translator

Further Information

The South African Translators’ Institute
P O Box 1710
Rivonia, 2128
Tel: (011) 803-2681 Fax: 086 619 9133

Getting Started

  • hone your language skills and practise translating written texts into other languages and interpreting by listening to radio programmes in other languages
  • arrange to speak to translators about this career

Programmes by Study Institutions

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