Kaiwhakawhiti Reo ā-Tuhi
Translators convert written material from one language into another.
Pay rates for translators vary depending on your ability, how often you work, and what type of work you do.
Source: New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters
In New Zealand, translators are generally paid on a per-word basis. Other options are charging per line of translated text, per hour or on a project basis. The New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters estimates that a skilled translator earns an average of $360 a day (based on translating 2,000 words at a rate of 18 cents a word). This sum can vary depending on the working languages and on whether the translator works with direct clients or agencies.
Source: New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Translators may do some or all of the following:
- read material from the source language and rewrite it in the required (target) language
- check that the original meaning and feeling of the text is not lost
- ensure that technical terms are correctly translated
- proofread and edit other translators' work
- discuss clients' translation requirements and give quotations for services provided
- research the meaning of words and terminology using dictionaries and the internet
- use computer-aided translation tools.
Skills and knowledge
Translators need to have knowledge of:
- written English and a sound general knowledge
- at least one other language and culture
- small business management if they operate their own business.
Knowledge of the Māori language may be useful for translators working in New Zealand.
- usually work regular business hours, but may work longer hours when they need to meet deadlines, or may work part time
- work in offices, libraries and their own homes.
What's the job really like?
"If you have an interest and natural curiosity for language, then translation’s a very good discipline," says Patrick Geddes.
Translating as a problem-solving exercise
"I enjoy the translation process itself, just the act of changing a text from one language into another – it’s a problem-solving exercise more than anything else.
"You’re recreating a text in the target language, and for the target culture so you almost need a journalistic level of written competency in the language that you’re translating into".
Working to deadlines an essential skill for a translator
Aside from translating, Patrick also manages the workflow to in-house and external translators, and makes sure they meet their deadlines.
"Time management is key because we are always facing deadlines. We set ourselves a target of meeting 98 percent of our deadlines for the whole year, which is quite a big task."
A bridge between two cultures
Despite these pressures, Patrick finds translating fascinating. "We enjoy finding good solutions to complex concepts, and you’re like a bridge between two cultures. You can see how one culture will do it this way, and then you see how another culture will do it another way, and you sort of compare the two."
- Coming up with a good translation for a difficult piece of text.
- Getting to know and understand other cultures.
- Working to deadlines, and getting work given to you at very short notice.
- Infrequent work.
There are no specific requirements for becoming a translator. However, the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI) recommends that you take a course in translating to increase your skills and improve your chances of getting work, and of becoming a member of professional associations.
Courses in translating range from certificate to Master's degree level.
Some employers may require you to have accreditation at the professional level from the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters Australia (NAATI). NZSTI provides assistance preparing for NAATI accreditation. Translators gain most skills on the job, and are encouraged to continue to improve their skills by attending courses and gaining NAATI accreditation.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful secondary school subjects include English, languages, history and geography.
Translators need to be:
- adaptable and motivated
- able to keep information confidential
- able to work efficiently under pressure
- able to concentrate for long periods
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- skilled at writing and research
- organised, with good administration skills.
I think you need to have passion and a really strong interest in languages and words – even in your own language. Learn about words by writing, and read a lot.
Useful experience for translators includes:
- work with people from different cultures such as new migrants
- work in professional sectors such as law enforcement, scientific, legal, technical or medical environments
- living and working overseas – for example, going on a student exchange programme
- language study.
The New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters Incorporated (NZSTI) represents professional translators and interpreters in New Zealand. Registration is not compulsory.
Find out more about training
- Māori Language Commission
- (04) 471 0244 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tetaurawhiri.govt.nz/
- NZ Society of Translators and Interpreters Inc (NZSTI)
- (09) 529 1138 - email@example.com - www.nzsti.org
What are the chances of getting a job?
Opportunities for full-time employment as a translator are rare, so many supplement their income by working in other jobs as well.
If you are setting up your own translation business, you need to have perseverance and be prepared to spend six months to a year establishing yourself. Once established, you need to do continual professional development and market your skills and specialisations.
Translators with a qualification and a subject specialisation have the best chances of finding work
Chances of getting work as a translator are best for those who:
- have specialist and technical knowledge of legal, medical or scientific terms
- have accreditation through the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
- have full membership with the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI)
- can translate from English into Māori, Pacific Island languages, Mandarin, Spanish, French or Japanese.
Increased immigration creates some opportunities for translators
More migrants from non-English-speaking countries have been coming to New Zealand, which creates some opportunities for translators. They are sometimes called in to help migrants resettle, which can involve translating documents, such as birth and medical certificates, and other legal documents.
Translators commonly self-employed
Translators in New Zealand are often self-employed, and work with a range of clients and agencies.
Translators may contract their services out to, or be permanently employed by:
- private companies that offer translation services
- the Department of Internal Affairs and other government departments
- businesses that export goods
- foreign embassies and consulates.
Translators may also work for overseas clients, via email, because the time difference between New Zealand and Europe allows work to be delivered in time for the European working day.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Spiessl, K, national secretary, New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI), Careers New Zealand interview, April 2016.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Translators may get experience at a government department or commercial service, then move on to set up their own businesses.
With further training, translators may also become interpreters (translating the spoken word).
Last updated 6 December 2018