A Career in Irish Translation


In the DCU Language Services Translations Department, we are often receive queries from people looking for advice on becoming a translator – how can they can gain experience, where can they study translation, etc. Being a Dublin City University Company, people sometimes confuse us with being a Translation School (such as SALIS in DCU). Neverthless, despite the fact that we operate as a Professional Translation Company just like any other translation agency in Ireland, we are still a part of the University and as such we always try to assist as best as we can with advice.

The following article which has been written by one of our Irish translation team, an Irish language translator with 8 years' experience in the industry, gives some insight into the workings of a Professional Irish Translator. 

I started my career in Irish Translation in 2002 after completing a graduate diploma in Staidéar san Aistriúchán (Irish Translation Studies) in NUIG (National University of Ireland, Galway). It was another few years before I began to work as a freelance translator and I have never looked back.

It was for the love of my native tongue and the opportunity to make use of the language I grew up with that made me decide to pursue my career in Irish Translation. There were a lot of opportunities emerging in this field around this time with the introduction of the Official Languages Act 2003. 

Although I would have been happy enough to work as a full time translator in a company or firm I saw many advantages to being a freelance worker, such as the freedom and flexibility to work whereever I wanted, choose the hours or days I wanted to work and being my own boss, amongst others. 

I have now been working as a translator for the past eight years and have enjoyed a good steady career for the most time. So far, despite the recession, even though there have been bouts of quiet periods, there were usually enough boom periods which enabled me to level my earnings across the year. It’s been said that translation is one of the few industries that have been the least impacted by the economic downturn.

Whether a professional freelance or full time translator , a career in translation can be both satisfying and challenging alike. There is an element of creativity and art in translating, though in reality most of the materials that you end up working on as a translator tend to be more technical (science, law, economics, politics etc.) than in the area of literature. technical translation tends to be easier anyway as there is very little ambiguity involved.

I may or may not be speaking for my fellow native speaking translators but I was very surprised at how little I knew about Irish grammar when I started off my studies in translation. Coming from a Gaeltacht area, we learn and speak the language without thinking of the grammar but when it comes to writing it down it’s a different story due to all the complex aspects of Irish grammar, especially the ‘tuiseal ginideach’.

Some people think that native speakers are the best translators but this is not necessarily the case. Although its hard to match the linguistic skills of native speakers, non-native students usually learn the language from scratch with a strong emphasis on grammar thus giving them the advantage of not having to unlearn the mistakes that native speakers have  had to learn, and getting a better grip of the grammar earlier on in their courses of study. Little emphasis is put on grammar in the Gaeltacht in primary and secondary education and sometimes even at university level (or at least this is how it was when I went to school!). Thus both native speakers and non-native speakers are equally trained to the same degree of professionalism and competence.  It’s essential to get the appropriate training and qualifications in order to become an Irish translator or indeed a translator in any language whether you are bilingual or not!

There is no doubt that the translation industry has changed and evolved over the last couple of years and the demand on translation in the European Union has been on the rise since 2008. Many jobs have been created since then including jobs in Irish translation. A lot of new translation companies have been set up in Ireland in the past few years as well and there are many course available in Irish Translation in Universities and across the country.

One development has been in the area of Machine translation or Computer-Aided Translation (CAT), which has become popular in the translation industry over the past few years as well and has been adopted by many Irish translation companies.  CAT covers a range of tools such as translation memory databases (Trados, MemoQ etc), spell checkers, grammar checkers and search software.Focal.ie and An Foclóir Beag  are valuable on line tools for Irish language translators, as is WinGléacht, an electronic version of the Ó Dónaill Irish-English Dictionary which can be bought on CD and installed onto your PC.  IATE, Acts of the Oireachtas are amongst other helpful on line Irish dictionaries for the Irish language as well. It is of critical importance that translators have a a good knowledge of, and keep up to date with technology and software.

Gaining experience and feedback is the best way for anyone to go forward in their translation career. Most translation agencies tend to choose translators with years of experience over newly qualified translators so for any new translators, I would recommend to get as much experience as you can even if it’s just doing some translations for other translator friends and asking for their feedback. Start off slowly and don’t take more than you can manage. Increase your knowledge in specialists fields as well as it helps to be familiar with particular subject fields.

Reports suggests that careers in the the Translation Industry will continue to grow over the next decade and this no doubt applies to the Irish Translation Industry as well. I thoroughly enjoy working as a freelance translator so I’m very much hoping that this is the case.

Written by Berni Ní Bheagáin