Minimal Requirements to Qualify as a Translator

February 20th, 2013

The minimum requirements for anything can often be a moving target!

Brass Tacks of Translation

Maybe it’s because I run a small business working in legal translation, but that attitude is ridiculous. High quality translation is, as a service, a simple equation: you are paid to bring a text from one language to another, preserving the style and meaning of the original as closely as possible while using your experience to figure out how to translated concepts and phrases that don’t necessarily exist. Of course, the actual practice of this is much more complex, but from the outside looking in – if you’re in the hunt to hire a translator, for example – that’s it in a nutshell.

So what are the minimum skills of a translator, then, if we accept this basic premise? They are fairly simple. Here’s my suggestions – keeping in mind I may be as lacking in self-awareness as some of the people I’ve referred to above!

Minimum Requirements for a Document Translation Pro

1. Fluency in two languages. It really does not need to be more than that. People who declare you must be fluent in three or four languages, or who have specific suggestions on non-Indo-European languages are simply patting themselves on the back. Two caveats, of course: First, fluency is a concept that goes beyond being able to speak and write a language. It implies a complete comfort level as well as a cultural mastery. Second, the languages you know will have an impact on the work you’re able to get. If you speak a rare language you may be commended, but you won’t get much work in it!

2. Training in Translation. This doesn’t necessarily mean formal training such as a course or degree; many translation services professionals are self-taught. But you must have some training in the general philosophy of document translation, and have a knowledge of the rigorous standards applied. This can be absorbed just as easily from mentors as from academics.

3. Discipline and the Ability to Work Alone. Translation is often a solo activity, and you must be the sort of person who can take delivery of 500 pages of manuscript and perform thoughtful, high-quality work on it in the prescribed time period.

That’s it, frankly. With these minimum skills you can take on any amount of translation work.

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