Translators are connectors.

They connect people, places and ideas with their ability to speak more than one language. They’re not only bi- or multi-lingual, but they’re also experts on the culture that surrounds the language they translate. A good translator immerses himself in the nuance, metaphors and semantics of a specific language.

Without these people, global documents like books, newspapers, movies and products would only be accessible to one group of people. Businesses wouldn’t be able to market their products anywhere other than their country of origin.

Translators bridge geographic and cultural gaps to make the world a smaller place. They possess an ability to transport themselves or other people from one country to another, without moving a muscle.

A number of different industries are looking for someone who can speak in a language other than their native tongue. The demand for qualified translators is accented in the fact that roughly one in five people in the U.S. speak a language other than English.

But it’s more than just knowing another language that makes these people valuable. So, what qualities do make a strong translator?  Both translators and those who are interested in the profession should consider the following questions.

Do You Have the Necessary Experience?

Native speakers can have a hard enough time learning the ambiguities of their own language as it is. With that said, translators need to be subject-matter experts in not only one language, but at least two. The only way to gain expertise is through experience. It’s a good idea to travel to the country where the language you’re studying is spoken to get a first-hand look at not only the culture but the language itself.

Translators are usually dealing with text that comes straight from the country they’re translating for. The more you can engage yourself with “the real thing,” the better off you’ll be.

Do You Have Industry Specific Skills?

This falls within the same vein as experience. Specializing in one area of translation gives you an upper-hand over those who can only speak a foreign language. Language Solutions Providers (LSPs) do localization work for a number of different industries (i.e. healthcare, legal, financial, etc.) and it’s important to associate yourself with a specific vertical in order to complement your linguistic skills.

Someone translating for a pharmaceutical company should have a strong knowledge base when it comes to medical terms that laypeople wouldn’t be familiar with. The same is true for the legal industry, for example – not everyone can speak “legalese,” and being familiar with the law will help to speed up translations and ensure accuracy.

Do You Have the Necessary Education?

Experience is important, but so is education. A good translator is someone who has gone through the necessary training to obtain certifications and experience in the language and/or field he’s looking to work in. A diploma isn’t everything, as first-hand experience is such an important piece of learning, but it’s a plus.

Are You Tech Savvy?

Although some see it as the technology that will cost them their jobs, it’s still important for translators to have a grasp on computer-assisted translation tools. It’s impossible to shy away from the fact that digital technology is now the norm; as in any industry, practitioners need to not only to be aware of new resources, but able to use them as a tool to streamline processes.

Familiarizing yourself with MT techniques such as Language Identification (LI) can speed up the translation process and take some of the work off your shoulders. Not everything needs to be translated by a human.

Do You Have a Strong Grammatical Foundation?

Good translators are those who are good with words in general, not just in another language.

If you have trouble placing the comma, even if you’re completely fluent in another language, a lack of grammatical knowledge will slow you down. Being a life-long learner of language and its structure is a must. First establish yourself as someone who loves words and has the ability to meld them together.

Do You Love Language?

Maybe most importantly, anyone who works as a translator should be passionate about what they do. Translation is an industry that requires focus, a vast knowledge base and attention to detail. It’s a lot of work, and if you’re not excited about the written word, chances are you’ll have a hard time.

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Language Learner Language Guides Translation

Jake Schild

Jake Schild

A former newspaper reporter and native Minnesotan, Jake Schild is a staff writer in the marketing department at ULG.

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