A professional translator is not simply a person who speaks two languages.
Any professional translator will tell you that it takes a lot more than a bilingual dictionary, a working knowledge of both the source and target languages, and a reliable Internet connection to become a successful professional translator. Even without a specialty, all translators need many, many hours of practice followed by a lot of experience before they’re confident enough to tackle difficult translations and certain topics.
When a Translator Is Not a Translator
- A professional translator is not simply a person who speaks two languages, even though they may speak them at native level. Certainly, this is a pre-requisite, but on its own, it’s not enough.
- A professional translator is not a student of languages. They may be on their way to becoming a translator, but at this stage, they cannot be called a professional translator.
- A professional translator is not a teacher of languages because translating and teaching are entirely different skill sets. Certainly, a translator can be a teacher, but a teacher of languages cannot necessarily translate. Of course, the opposite is also true, that not any translator can be a teacher.
- And finally, a professional translator is not a walking dictionary! Many people just assume that a translator knows all the words in their language pair, but any experienced translator knows that it all depends on the context.
Be Careful What You Translate
Translators who have already become successful understand the cost involved, and this includes practicing and gaining experience, followed by a lot of hard work, many challenges along the way, and continuous marketing. If you’re already doing small translations, but on a casual basis, the translations you do should also be casual. By this, we mean that your work should not be able to adversely impact the reader of the target text. Deciphering the instructions on a coffee machine probably doesn’t require a professional translator, but more important translations definitely warrant hiring a professional translator. And even with your coffee machine, you could well void your warranty if the instructions are incorrectly translated!
The Correct Approach to a Career in Translation
There’s no single right way to become a professional translator: some people take the translation studies route while others move to a career in translation after working in an entirely different profession. The United Kingdom does not require certification, but irrespective of what some people claim, that still doesn’t mean anyone can call themselves a translator. Alternatively, there are countries who do require specific certification for people wanting to work in the field of translation.