5 Qualities of a Quality Translator

5 Qualities of a Quality Translator

It is often suggested that because someone speaks two languages, that makes them able to translate. However translation is a complex, learned skill that is based on knowing two languages but goes much further. What makes a translator different from a bilingual person is that they’re a language expert, rather than just a language user. Here are 5 things that make a good translator stand out from someone who is merely bilingual.

1. A translator must be a good writer

After all it is their writing that the intended audience will be reading. Not only do translators convey the meaning of the original text, but they have to go beyond the words themselves. This includes writing in such a way that the reader believes the document was drafted in his or her own language. It also includes conveying the appropriate tone and register. Even if the meaning is conveyed accurately, translating a formal document in an informal way or vice versa would not leave the reader with the impression that the writer originally intended.

2. A translator must be familiar with the culture as well as the language they are translating from

This is important because often what is written assumes knowledge that a same-language audience would have. In translation, no such assumptions can be made. Therefore it is up to the translator to recognize these issues and ensure that their translation is done in such a way as to bridge this gap.

3. A good translator is up to date with their own culture and language

It is equally important that the translator be up to date with what is going on in their own language and culture. This is generally the language that they are translating into. Ideally, the translator is living in their own country, which makes it easier to keep current and to keep their native language skills sharp and unaffected by other languages that they speak.

4. A translator must be familiar with their subject area

A translator’s understanding of a document goes far beyond what a normal reader would pick up from reading it through.

Many translators are specialists in a particular subject. This allows them an in-depth understanding of more technical texts, which they can use to explain them well. A translator’s understanding of a document goes far beyond what a normal reader would pick up from reading it through. They analyze each sentence one at a time to make sure it is clear in their heads exactly what it means. This may raise questions that the average reader may never have considered. It also highlights ambiguity which must be queried, as often in translation one must commit to a specific meaning.

5. A translator is a research whiz

There will always be areas where the translator is uncertain or not familiar enough with particular detail in the text. This means that they have to be excellent and efficient at research. Dictionaries yes, but this goes far beyond. It includes going through materials in both languages to get a complete picture of what is going on. The translator will have to be able to analyze possible translations for a term and determine which ones will work for the particular context and then decide on which of those is most suitable in the particular case.

Translation goes far beyond being able to see it and say it in another language. To be able to translate well requires the ability to go deep into the words on the page and extract the author’s intent in the context of their culture, and then communicate that intent well in the new language.

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