Top Ten Qualities of a Great Translator | Blog

Top Ten Qualities of a Great Translator

Top Ten Qualities of a Great Translator

Sunday, September 29, 2013

As a professional working in the language translation industry, I have come to recognise key skills, education and personality traits that distinguish an average translator from an excellent translator.  At Translationz, we employ excellent translators that possess these key qualities.


1. Fluency Depth.  An excellent translator is fluent in the source language and the target language.  In most cases, the translator is a native speaker of the target language.  While fluency in both languages is important, it is the depth that sets the best apart.  Having a deep knowledge of a language requires the understanding of puns, slang, colloquialisms, cultural aspects, irony, subtleties, customs, social elements and particular nuances of the language. This usually comes from intuition acquired, in most cases, from having lived in the native country. Excellent translators strive to get across the exact intended meaning by tapping into their language intuition as well as their background, experience and education.

 2. Busy. An excellent translator is an active translator utilising his or her skills daily.   As with any skill such as playing the guitar or tennis, if the skill is not exercised regularly, the effectiveness is reduced.  Skills not sharpened become dull.  If you don't use it, you lose it. An excellent translator will actively hone his or her skill. Busy translators listen attentively and are fervent readers and researchers of various types of writing styles and topics. Excellent translators study well-translated work and travel back and forth to their native country keeping current with changing vocabulary, customs and social issues.

3. Specialised.  Excellent translators are experts in one or two industries.  For example, the terminology and writing style used in medical documents is vastly different from the terminology and writing style general used in legal documents.  By specialising, the translator’s speed and accuracy increases substantially. Specialised translators can jump right into translating and have the necessary tools and resources at hand.

 4. Education and Certification. The best translators are generally professionals and have completed substantial hours of related education. Most have language, linguistic or translation-specific degrees. These translators are often certified translators in their residing country. Certification is required, in most cases, to translate government documents such as marriage or birth certificates. Increasingly, corporations are requesting certified translators to complete translation projects. For translation project in specific industries such as medical, legal or engineering, the best translators are those whose first degree is in the particular industry (lawyer, doctor or engineer) and subsequent degrees are linguistic or translation related.

 5. Excellent Communicators. Excellent translators are prolific writers both in the source and target language. The translator should have university-level grasp of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation. The best translators understand their country’s various dialects and formal and informal writing styles and nuances. In addition to having these text-book qualities, translators also must be able to write in a style that conveys the intended meaning, tone, impression and feeling of the source document. All too often, this element is overlooked and the thus the saying “it gets lost in the translation” emerges.

6. Resourceful. The best translators utilise all resources available to them such as bilingual dictionaries and industry-specific (medical, legal, computer) dictionaries. The best translators also utilise encyclopaedias, participate in language forums, language organisations and chat groups to ensure their translations are accurate and exact to the meaning of the source document. Words can have many different meanings and knowledge of this is critical to bring across the exact intended source document meaning. Choosing the best translated word to bring across the intended meaning is a talent that develops over time.

7. Experienced. The best translators have years of experience and thus have acquired the background and knowledge that make them excellent translators. Experienced translators have learned from their mistakes, continuously strive to improve, understand the process and have perfected their skills.

 8. Client Focus. Translation is a service industry and translators must deliver for their clients. Quite often translation projects require immediate turnaround. We live in a fast-paced world and time is of the essence. Excellent translators are dedicated and are flexible to meet the client’s specific needs. Excellent translators will do whatever it takes to meet project deadlines and produce high quality accurate translations.

9. Reputation. The best translators have enormous pride in their work and value their reputation. They strive to consistently get it right. The translation industry if very competitive. The best translators, can identify with this correlation “salesman is only as good as his last sale” and “a translator is only as good as their last translation”. Excellent translators believe that every piece of work is important and can positively or negatively impact their reputation

10. Responsible. Excellent translators have a deep sense of responsibility and understand the significance of their work. Inaccurate translation can be damaging to organizations particularly in areas such as medical, legal and contract documents. There have been many instances of inaccurate translation of marketing materials. As an example, when Pepsi introduced its products in China, their slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" was literally translated. The slogan in Chinese was written "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the grave.” Employing an excellent translator for translation projects requires due diligence. The time and effort spent is well worth it given the risk of damages if “it gets lost in the translation”.

Author: Karen Hodgson is business manager of a company that provides Australian translator and interpreter services for most languages.


Karen CEO 70

Written by:
Karen Hodgson, CEO of Translationz

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