The Characteristics of an Effective Translator

January 26th, 2014

An effective translator isn’t just someone who knows two language quite well. There are many skills that go into being good at this job.

The Characteristics of an Effective Translator  | One Hour Translation

If you’re a young person with a dedicated love of languages and a certain ‘way’ with them that makes it relatively easy to learn them – the sort who can quickly grasp basics and be speaking rough sentences in a matter of days – then you may have considered a career in the translation industry. You may have been guided towards it, in fact, by a teacher or other person with a stake in your development, because translation is a hot industry right now. Globalisation has spiked the demand for competent, trained translation professionals in both the ‛classic’ language pairs that have always been important and emerging language pairs for emerging markets. In short, there’s a lot of work out there.

But what makes an effective translator? What skills do you really need to do this work? Before you commit to any sort of career trajectory, it’s well worth your time to think about whether you’re truly suited to this job.

Essential Skills: Languages

Obviously, an effective translation professional is fluent in at least two languages (one of which is always their native tongue). But the word fluent isn’t quite strong enough – you must really, really know your languages. You can’t rely on native comfort – you have to treat your native tongue almost as rigorously as your second language and know all the ins and outs and nuts and bolts of it.

Essential Skills: Subject Matter

Second, you must have a good working knowledge of whatever field you’re going to be concentrating in. While there are general translation tasks that require simply language skills, a huge portion of the translation market is specific to an industry, such as legal translation, medical translation – and even more diffuse concepts such as pop culture. After all, if you get hired to translate a novel, do you possess the pop culture IQ necessary to get all the references and allusions right? This requires expertise.

Essential Skills: Discipline

Translation isn’t an easy job. You might imagine we all spend a few hours every day dabbling in words and then take long naps, but the fact is the workload can be crushing and the demands very stressful, and translation is never as easy as reading a sentence and re-writing it. You must understand what’s being said, then filter in all the other requirements of the job: Tone requirements, comprehension requirements – you’re not just mechanically bringing words from one page to another. You have to think about each and every one, and that means you have to be willing to work as long as the project requires, day in and day out.

The list goes on, including computer software skills and other technical requirements. Translation work can be a very satisfying career for someone who loves working with languages, but it’s not for everyone who loves languages. My best advice for anyone considering this career is to seek out someone like me who’s been doing it and talk it over with them.

Image courtesy thinkersincorporated.com

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