We wrapped up our most recent blogpost entitled “MACHINE VS HUMAN TRANSLATION” with a few reasons why it is widely impossible to replace “human” with “machine” translations from various standpoints. In particular, these reasons include the fact that machines simply transcribe words from one language to another without considering the context of a given word. It is particularly clear that it does not factor the customer/linguist relationship in any manner whatsoever. Just like it fails to take into account potential if not at times necessary consultation between the translator and the person who drafted the text in question.

In light of the above, in this blogpost we will take you through the distinctive features and traits required of a professional translator.

To begin with, let us kill a few “myths” concerning translation as a profession. I would like to do this starting by answering one of the most frequently asked questions. 

Is proficiency in a language other than my native language all I need to become a translator?

Maybe the answer to this question will actually lie with who is reading this post, once I am through with drawing a general profile of a professional translator.

Besides supreme proficiency in the native language into which he/she is expected to translate, translators must be knowledgeable with search tools that aid them whenever faced by any translation-related quandary. More often than not, this occurs when you wander into a linguistic territory not only unfamiliar but totally uncharted to you up to the time your customer requested your services.  

Hence, firstly let’s kill the myth according to which translators spend their days buried under a heap of reference books, dictionaries, studies and papers. The days of “pen and ink” are long bygone for them too. As a matter of fact, theses addressing specific matters, specialised forums and experts in the specific industry in question are translators’ best friends, especially when it comes to technical translations. Translators must go beyond some chemical unbeknownst to them or new otherworldly discoveries or inventions with little or no background in literature, save for the text source of the challenge they are faced with.

There is much more to translating a text than simply transposing words from one language to another. In context, words placed next to each basically acquire new meaning and create an entirely new world. As a matter of fact, understanding the content of a text and which element or mechanical part a given word refers to is one thing while putting a finger on a specific term bearing specifically the same weight as the foreign word to be translated is a totally different thing altogether.

Thus, translators need search and computer skills entailing ability and knowledge beyond language proficiency. Besides appropriate internet search (search between quotes, without quotes, using asterisks and so on and so forth), one must be proficient with Microsoft Office Package and graphic programs (customers often require translators to maintain the layout of the source text hence one must add images, tables, charts and formulas).

Furthermore, translators need self-learning skills. As a matter of fact, translators often have to turn to computer-assisted translation tools (so-caled CAT tools) which make their work easier as they can create custom-made translation memories and glossaries for their customers. One is basically forced to learn these skills on his/her own given that save a few webinars here and there or consulting fellow translators, no one teaches how to use them. Lastly, translators must be great problem-solvers too given that besides translating to the best of their ability, they also need to keep an eye on their customers, prepare quotations, request payments while meeting tough delivery deadlines at the same time.

“- When do you need your translation?

 – Yesterday!”

This clearly shows you the tough deadlines translators are often required to meet. This also bearing in mind that timely delivery is a must if you want to keep your customers for long and rest assured they don’t lack alternatives out there in a super-competitive industry like ours. As if not enough, to top up these wild requests we also statements like: “come on, today is Friday while I need this job come Monday.

You have a whole weekend and that is surely enough, isn’t it?” One cannot help wondering why everyone sees translators like a desperate lot willing to take in any project at whatever terms. It is a job like any other. Given that most translators are freelancers, it goes without saying that they will take all they can, given that they suffer from the “who knows what tomorrow brings” disorder. However, they are human too and toying with the idea that they might need some rest here and there is not so far-fetched after all.

Thus, with everything above said and done, just like any other job it is crucial that translators love what they do for a living too. You need to be ready to spend most of your time in front of one or more screens, weigh every single word or concept, search words, meet tough deadlines and be particularly painstaking both in terms of content and style.

So, in light of the above, do you still believe that proficiency in a foreign language is all it takes to make a good translator and a translator by profession?