Being a translator requires more than knowing two or more language. A translator must first and foremost be fluent in both their source language and the target language, which means their knowledge of these languages has to be exemplary. However, there is more to being a good translator than just this. There are certain skills and qualities that distinguish the average translator from the industry leaders, and we’ve shared a few of them below…
Advanced language knowledge
It is the minimum expectation for a translator to be proficient in more than one language, but a good translator needs to be near-native level in terms of their understanding of spelling, grammar, punctuation and also their ability to recognise both literal and nuanced meanings in the source material. For those working in transcreation, this understanding of nuances will be essential in making sure the messages in the original material are portrayed in the translated version. To get this level of language knowledge many translators study translation, or a language-related subject, at Master’s level whilst continuously building on their knowledge throughout their career.
Excellent writing capabilities
As a translator, the majority of your work is likely to be working with text in more than language, unless you’re also a transcriber or an interpreter. Therefore, it is essential for a good translator to have excellent writing and presentation skills. Depending on the subject matter, a translator may need to show off their literary flair or they may have to stick to being very factual and in line with the source text. A good translator will know which approach to take and will adapt their writing style for the different projects that they work on.
Not only does a good translator need to have excellent language and writing skills, but they should also have a strong cultural understanding of the country where the language is prevalent. This cultural knowledge should consider the values, customs and behaviours of that specific culture as these will all have an impact on the language that a translator chooses to use in their work. Whilst some words may have a literal translation that is accurate, a translator with strong cultural knowledge will be able to recognise if this word is the best option to use or if there is another word to use that would be better received by the target audience.
Be a strong researcher
Part of a translator’s role is research. This could involve researching words and phrases, jargon, background information or cultural insights. The key to this is knowing what to research, where to look for it and how long to spend on research tasks in order to be as efficient as possible.
Computing and CAT skills
Long gone are the days when translators would have to write out their translations by hand, these days everything is done on a computer and this requires translators to have a decent understanding of programs such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint and more. Translators will also need to have a strong understanding of specific CAT tools such as Memsource, SDL Trados, Memoq, WordFast and more.
Whether a translator is working as a freelancer or if they’re working in-house for a translation company, communication skills are just as important. If you’re a freelancer, you will need to liaise with your clients and make sure you understand everything about the project and the client’s expectations. If you’re an in-house translator, you will need to communicate clearly with your team members to make sure there is no misunderstanding between the project managers and the translation team. Without good communication, deadlines can be missed and client’s expectations can be let down.
Being self-motivated is particularly relevant to freelance translators who are likely to be in charge of their own clients and projects. Working on your own can be isolating and it can sometimes be difficult to stay motivated without a team behind you. It is important for freelancers to be self-motivated and disciplined to make sure that they meet their commitments whilst also not suffering from burnout.
As with most client-facing roles, clients must be able to rely on their translator to respond promptly to communications and meet translation deadlines. Translators must also uphold professional ethics such as maintaining client confidentiality and conforming to the industry’s best practices.
When trying to provide clients with the best possible customer service, flexibility is often required so that deadlines and special requests can be met. The ability to be flexible is highly desirable in a translator and is what can help you get recommended to future clients.
Expertise in a specific field or sector
Areas of expertise can make a huge difference to being hired as a translator. Some recruiters will look primarily for consumer experience and others will look for medical, legal or technical experience. Being an expert in your chosen field is what people look for in a translator.
We know that there is still much more to being a translator than what’s on our list, but if you can show you that you have some of these skills then you’re definitely on your way to being a great translator. If you can think of any other skills which are important for a translator to have, let us know in the comments!