Being a translator isn’t just about how many qualifications you have or words you know in two, three, (or more) languages. If you make a living as a translator, you’ll know that replacing one word with another is not what translation involves. There are many skills every translator should have, including the ability to understand the wider context and create meaning in the target language.
Being a translator is a challenging job, and takes a lot of talent, study and hard work to master. Most languages are living and change as our world evolves. Translators need to permanently develop their skills and stay connected to at least two different cultures. If that wasn't enough for you, check out the following seven important skills every translator should have:
As odd as it sounds, being a good listener is essential for being a good translator, and among the most important skills every translator should have. Always read through the text before starting, or listen fully to the recording to understand the context. If you have any doubts, ask relevant questions and try to visualize the message the author wants to send. Remember that it’s not about you or how you would say things, so learn to listen and follow instructions.
You can practice your listening skills during working hours and in every day life. Make a point of really listening to people around you to understand them. Don’t just give them the smart answers or suggestions you think they want to hear. In the long run, this skill will help you develop better working and personal relationships.
Writing skills in both your native and target language are important. Many people say that being a good writer is a talent, not a skill, but this is not entirely true. You can learn to be a writer, just as you can with any other profession. And even if you are a natural, you’ll still need to study to perfect your grammar and use of syntax.
Go to writing classes, read technical books, take online courses, and keep up with changes in vocab and spelling. Modern languages are constantly evolving and expanding their vocabulary, so make sure you’re up to date at all times. Being able to adapt to these changes it vital in producing high quality translations.
Reading can also help you improve your writing skills. So, try to read at least one book a month in every language you work with. It might seem like a lot when you’re already working hard! But thanks to modern technology, you can carry your e-book around with you and read whenever you have a chance.
3. Cultural Intelligence
As a translator, you often have to deal with the cultural barrier between two different countries. You’ll almost certainly learn about this when you study the language, although cultural intelligence isn’t something taught in a dictionary.
To be able to give your all to a translation, especially where localization or transcreation techniques are required, you’ll need to be culturally intelligent. You’ll need to be able to sympathize with the audience who will be reading your translated text.
Cultural intelligence will not only improve your skills as a translator, but it will also help you to work with people from all different backgrounds. You’ll be able to assess a person’s motives for behaving a certain way and become a better manager. You’ll also make more interesting friends from all walks of life!
4. Specialist Knowledge
Most translators also have a specialization in at least one field. This is a smart move, as it will expand the projects you can work on, as well as the price you can charge. From medicine, to IT, law to biotech, being able to understand the specialized jargon within the language is crucial. Not just anyone can translate legal documents, technical texts or scientific reports.
Having a degree or a certification in a specific domain will give you access to higher profile clients and even make you an authority in the field. This will lead to repeat business and overflowing inbox! What a nice problem to have!
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes here, but it helps paying attention to what people say and, most important, how they say it. Jargon, colloquial phrases, special constructions, these are rarely found in dictionaries and guides. The only way to know how to use them properly is by carefully observing native speakers.
Try to become a word collector in all your languages of interest, from Russian and Ukrainian, to English, Chinese or Arabic. Technical terms, new concepts, patterns, and anything else that might help you understand how natives think. Social media can be a good source for this.
You can further develop your observation skills by traveling, watching television shows and movies, reading books, blogs and newspapers. Joining an intercultural club, where people from various countries meet up, is also great alternative if you don’t have time or resources for traveling.
6. Computer Skills
As more clients require translations to be done directly on their websites or through their in-house applications, you’ll need to improve your computer skills constantly. If you’re working on large projects, working with translation memories and glossaries will increase your efficiency.
Invest in a decent computer with the latest versions of the programs you frequently use, such as Word and Excel. It’s also extremely worthwhile investing in the best Internet connection possible, especially if you need to hold online calls with your clients. Learning how to research online and the best resources to visit will also help you understand the projects you translate.
7. Time Management
Most translators work from home or take individual projects as freelancers, so learning to organize your working hours is a must. Time is money, so you need to learn to keep a consistent working schedule. Try to organize a workspace inside your house and limit distractions when you’re working – which includes your 10-15-minute Facebook breaks. There are many apps that you can download to help you organize your time better, so check out the best one for you.
You need a lot of time and practice to become a good translator. But master these seven skills and you’ll become a great translator! Learn to evaluate yourself objectively and never assume that you have nothing left to learn. This is a challenging job, where you have to change style and reinvent yourself almost every time you start a new project. But it also brings great satisfaction whenever you receive positive feedback from your clients and repeat business.