How do I become a translator or an interpreter? And what are the best proofreading courses?

Watch your languages

Q. I'd like to become a translator or an interpreter. I'm not fluent in a language yet but I have basic Japanese reading, speaking and writing skills. I'm looking into home courses in Japanese and Mandarin and would like to translate books and magazines, work in business, or teach Japanese to English people or vice versa. How do I start?

A. Knowledge of Japanese is anadvantage, but are you keen enough to reach a level where you will be able to outface some of the considerable competition? And do you have the time or finances? These are very crowded professions. As the Institute of Translation and Interpreting ( uk) makes clear on its website, for both interpreting and translation you will need "a high standard of education" (a degree is considered essential, though not necessarily in languages - it can be an advantage to have qualifications or experience in another subject). Postgraduate training, particularly in translation, is useful. You also need to have a thorough knowledge of the culture, institutions and practices in the relevant country. This usually means spending time there. Start by acting on your interest in teaching. It's acceptable to do this without specific training. Summer schools here, in the US or in Japan and China are always looking for high-calibre staff. A few months at a school might help you decide if languages are the right career for you. The Institute's downloadable guides Getting into interpreting and Getting into translation will answer your questions about first steps and training and point out the differences between the various styles of interpreting, such as, say, simultaneous or consecutive. The ITI also lists university courses offering Japanese or Mandarin and specific courses in both translation and interpreting. It's best to be realistic about both career paths - then there won't be surprises later on.

Proof positive

Q. I would like to do a course in proofreading and copy-editing. I've been agonising over the question of which one to choose. My aim is to be able to work from home.

A. There are no national criteria to follow, but there are differences in the length and rigour of courses. Follow the recommendation of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) for distance-learning courses run by the Publishing Training Centre ( uk). These may be more expensive than others, but this is not about chasing down the cheapest course, unfortunately. You need one that is up to date (with the latest information about proofreaders' marks, for example), which runs for long enough to impart the basics, and is assessed by professionals. Once you complete a PTC course, you can advertise on their website for work. If you also want to be added to the SfEP directory, you need to be a member, which involves being assessed on a points system that covers various aspects of your training and experience. Address queries directly to SfEP ( Have a subject you wish to work in, and look out for opportunities to network. SfEP has a mentoring scheme for those who have attended its day courses (which may be useful for you in assessing your skills now, since they are run from beginners' level upwards) as well as online discussions, special interest groups, and newsletters.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to