From the formal approach one has to take when translating documentation, to the creative and sometimes wild nature of literary translation, or even the research-heavy and serious world of medical translation, the field is so varied that it has something for everyone.
But translating isn’t just switching words around and hoping things make some kind of sense. It’s a craft that has to be studied and mastered for many years if one hopes to deliver a high quality work and keep the clients happy and coming back for more. It’s a job like any other, and the same expectations will have to be met to succeed.
If you’re thinking about it, there are a few key skills that will prove invaluable to get the hang of the business and how to manage your work. While there are countless tips and bits of advice that can be given to somebody taking his or her early steps, here are five that can’t be ignored.
Master your native language
While it might seem rather obvious, there are varying degrees of mastery, and some of them don’t really work for translation. As a native, speaking and comprehension always tend to be at a reasonably good level, but when it comes to writing, things can start getting complicated. Writing is the side of the language that people tend to pay less attention to over the years, and getting it up to scratch can prove quite a challenge. This is a key skill that is essential for a translator, so if one doesn’t feel 100% confident in their abilities, it’s time to hit the books.
Master your second language(s)
Language lovers always feel the temptation of embarking in the massive challenge of learning new ones, and while that can undoubtedly prove worthwhile down the line, there is a risk of becoming jack of all trades and master of none. Let’s face it though, it’s almost impossible to master a second language to the same degree as a native one, but as far as translation goes, the best option is to get it as close as possible. When that has been achieved, we can move on to another language.
Learning about the cultures in the countries where our languages are spoken can be essential to get a good translation going. One’s native culture will likely come naturally for pretty obvious reasons, but second language cultural contexts normally has to be acquired. Following the news, reading books, watching movies and TV shows, or subscribing to message boards and social media groups can be a huge boost when diving deep into the culture of a country. Make it second nature, and it’s only up from there.
Deadlines and time management
While some translation jobs are in a company and have regular working hours, a lot of translators work in a freelance capacity and have to manage their own timetables in order to get everything done on time. Being your own boss has its perks but also its drawbacks, and learning good time management skills to avoid unsustainable crunch periods can save one a lot of stress-filled sleepless nights.
Be a good researcher
Assuming there is a good translator-client communication, any questions can be easily answered, doubts can be resolved, and everybody can get on with their work. But there is always a time when communication won’t be as fluid as one wishes, and some research will have to be done. Sometimes it will be related to the topic to be translated, which might contain information that escapes one’s knowledge, and sometimes it can be related to the language(s) themselves. Regardless, a good grasp of internet searching and a knack for acquiring documentation will be very handy to get answers in a timely fashion.