How to Become a Translator in South Africa


Translation is a rewarding and challenging career that requires not only linguistic skills but also cultural awareness and subject matter knowledge. As a translator, you can work with various types of texts and documents, such as books, articles, legal texts, and more. You can also choose to specialize in a specific field, such as legal, medical, or technical translation.

In South Africa, where there are 11 official languages and a growing international business sector, the demand for professional translators is high. If you’re multilingual and have a passion for languages, becoming a translator could be an exciting career path for you. This blog post will guide you through the steps to becoming a translator in South Africa.

Understanding the Role of a Translator

Before embarking on this journey, it’s crucial to understand what being a translator entails. Translators convert written material from one language into another while maintaining the original content’s meaning, tone, and context. They work with various documents such as books, articles, legal texts, and more. A good translator doesn’t just translate words; they convey concepts and ideas between languages.

In South Africa, where there is significant linguistic diversity, translators play an essential role in facilitating communication across different language groups. For instance, translation services in Johannesburg are vital in business settings where contracts or marketing materials need to be understood by diverse audiences.

Academic Qualifications

To become a professional translator in South Africa, you typically need at least an undergraduate degree. While degrees specifically in translation are available at some universities such as the University of Pretoria or Stellenbosch University , having a degree in any field can be beneficial as it provides subject matter expertise which can be useful when translating specific types of content.

However, if you don’t have a degree but are fluent in at least two languages (one of them being English), there are still opportunities for you. You can take up short courses or certificate programs offered by institutions like Wits Language School that provide training on translation techniques and principles.

Professional Certification

After acquiring academic qualifications or relevant training, consider getting certified by the South African Translators’ Institute (SATI) . While not mandatory, having this certification can significantly boost your credibility and increase your chances of getting hired by reputable translation services in Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa.

To get certified by SATI, you need to pass a professional exam that tests your translation skills. Once certified, you’ll be listed in the SATI directory , which is often used by potential clients to find professional translators.

Gaining Experience

Like any other profession, experience is key in the translation industry. Start by taking on small projects to build up your portfolio. You can find freelance work on various online platforms or reach out to local businesses that might need translation services. Another great way to gain experience is through internships or volunteering at non-profit organizations .


While being a general translator can be rewarding, specializing in a specific field such as legal, medical, or technical translation can make you more marketable. Specialized translators are often in higher demand and can command higher rates due to their expertise in a particular area.

To specialize in a specific field, you may need to acquire additional qualifications or certifications that demonstrate your knowledge and skills. For example, if you want to specialize in legal translation, you may need to have a law degree or pass a legal translation exam offered by SATI .


Becoming a translator in South Africa requires dedication and hard work but can be incredibly rewarding for those with a love for languages and communication. With the right qualifications, certification, experience, and specialization, you’ll be well on your way to offering professional translation services in Johannesburg or wherever your career takes you.

Remember that continuous learning and improvement are crucial in this ever-evolving field. Stay updated with language trends and industry advancements to keep your skills sharp and relevant. With passion and perseverance, you can achieve your goals and make a difference in the world of translation.

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