Professional Qualifications

Excellent reading comprehension in one or more source languages. In addition to knowing the language itself, an applicant must be well versed in the culture, government, society, economy, and daily life of source-language countries. Such knowledge may be acquired through a college education with studies covering a source-language country or region, lengthy residence in a source-language country, or other suitable experience.
Excellent target-language writing skills. An applicant must be able to write the target language well at an educated, native level with reasonable speed in a variety of styles. A successful college education or work experience are the best indicators of this qualification. LS generally tests applicants only into their native language. Applicants claiming an acquired target language must demonstrate lengthy residence in a target-language country or show other evidence of extensive experience writing the target language in a setting where writing on an educated native level is demanded on a frequent and regular basis.
Experience. LS cannot train contractors in the practice of translation or provide feedback on every assignment; applicants should thus have considerable recent professional experience translating written material comparable to the kind of work done by LS. Please note that bilingualism, interpreting experience, and spoken fluency in another language, though highly desirable, are not necessarily indicators of aptitude for translating written materials. Broad understanding of U.S. and foreign politics, government, history, economics, and culture, as well as current events and international affairs.

Typical translation assignments

Translations assigned to contractors cover a wide range of styles and subjects. Typical examples would include laws; treaties and international agreements on technical, scientific, military, economic, and cultural subjects; training manuals; court documents; political speeches and position papers; slide presentations; and official correspondence between government leaders. Hence, suitability of style and fidelity to nuance must accompany a high degree of factual and conceptual accuracy in the target language rendition. High quality word-processed output is usually required.

Other work assigned to contractors includes on-site support for meetings or conferences, summarizing documents, reviewing translations, and ascertaining the substantive conformity of texts written in two or more languages (comparisons).
Contractors receive and return their work by e-mail, fax, mail, courier, or in person. All work must be done by the contractor who holds the basic ordering agreement with LS. None of the work, in whole or in part, may be subcontracted.

Translation work assigned to contractors covers a wide range of formats and subjects, such as:

  • Treaties and other international agreements on technical, scientific, military, economic, and cultural subjects
  • Laws
  • Training manuals
  • Court documents
  • Political speeches
  • Slide presentations
  • Audio files

Other points to keep in mind:

  • Translation work is freelance, which means the schedule can be very flexible (working around other jobs for other clients), but there is also no guarantee of regular work.
  • Language Services contractors are self-employed contractors and are not considered federal employees or State Department employees.
  • Skills required: Excellent target-language writing skills. Applicant must be able to achieve precision in meaning and a smooth, readable style in the target language. The Department of State’s Annual Reports page is a good example of the style of work LS/T translates.
  • Applicants should have at least five years of professional experience translating written material comparable to the kind of work done by LS.
  • The process leading up to an initial contract assignment typically takes 4-6 months, which includes a four-hour translation test in DC and a background check.
  • For more information, please take a look at the guidance sheets documents below and the English source text sample translation test.

Guidance On Becoming A Professional Translator [133 KB]

Guidance On Choosing Your Moment [122 KB]

Guidance on Preparing for the Translation Test [144 KB]

Sample Translation Test English Source Text [138 KB]

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future