Translation is a complex skill which is honed over a number of years. Being a freelance translator can be a highly rewarding job, but not everyone is cut out for it. See the nine qualities we think are most important when it comes to being a great translator.
1. A passion for language
This goes without saying. You have to care about languages and translating high quality material and take pride in your work. If you don’t have a natural passion for languages the work will quickly become dull and will affect your output and quality.
2. Mother-tongue speaker
For high quality, consistent translations it isn’t enough to have studied a language. A non-mother tongue speaker is likely to be unable to convey the nuances in the source text, for example slang words, regional dialects and words and cultural differences, which will affect the final product.
3. Research skills
Translators must have the readiness and ability to research. Often the client will provide notes to guide the translator but extra research is regularly required in order to translate documents to a high quality.
It can mean the difference between completing a job and missing a deadline. However there is no clocking in and clocking out like there is with many jobs. Successful freelancers are self-motivated. They must also create a schedule and stick to it.
5. Translation qualifications
Being bilingual does not automatically mean you are a good translator. A bilingual individual is someone capable of expressing their own ideas in two different languages. A translator is a skilled professional with qualifications and experience in accurately expressing someone else’s ideas in a language different from the one in which they were originally issued.
6. Project management skills
A good project manager in a translation agency will take away much of the need for this however a translator is in charge of managing their own workload. They must be able to effectively manage their different projects and always meet the timeframes they have committed to.
7. Ability to say no
This goes hand in hand with project management skills. The idea of the extra money you’d get for a job may seem alluring but if you take on too much work and miss a deadline the opportunity cost can be significant. Agencies don’t mind translators saying no; they would rather that than be let down by a translator or be delivered a poor quality translation.
8. Specialisation in a subject
Having knowledge and comprehension of the subject you translate is a key asset.
A translator working in the medical field for example does not need to have a degree in medicine, but they would have to know how the human body works, the name of each disease in their target language and how various pharmaceuticals work in order to provide an accurate translation.
It is a good idea to choose a specialism relevant to them and something they are interested in. Learning about it will become much easier and don’t forget they’ll be translating this subject area day in, day out so it helps if they actually find it interesting.
Here at The Language Factory we only accept translators with at least five years’ experience in translating. A translator starting out may be good but experience will turn them into a great translator.
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