This is a personal blog post based on my experiences as the founder and managing director of TranslationsInLondon and my direct experience as a former student of translation and interpreting. I am still very much a student of language, you never do stop learning.
I’ve worked in the translation and interpreting industry for over a decade now and I’ve come into contact with hundreds if not thousands of translators, “wannabe” translators and students of language. The common interest burning inside these people is a real passion for language, communication and culture.
We all face some challenges when we decide to become professional translators as there is a huge gulf from what we learn at university and then what we are actually faced with in the real world when you work as full-time in-house translator or as a freelance translator.
It’s not my intention to criticise the current educational system or the translation courses on offer but to emphasise the differences between the academic process and the current job market in order to promote the lacking skills that seems to be commonplace.
1) CAT (Computer Assisted Technology) tools
Graduates in translation should (must!) know and be familiar with CAT tools and their functions. In the industry, agencies will always assume that translators own and can use a CAT tool. The industry standard tools such as Trados can be a significant investment, especially for a freelance translator at the initial stages of their career. In most cases, the translation agency would recommend a specific CAT tool that should be used for the task, this could take the form of an online portal or specific piece of software. Understanding how TM (translation memories) work is also vital, this is worth some additional research but to summarise a TM is essentially a database of agreed translations for specific sentences. It would often be provided to ensure consistency throughout documents. A basic understanding of HTML tags is also a big advantage. Many projects included HTML code used for formatting and the translation needs to work in and around this code without causing issues.
2) Translating into our native language (almost always!)
Translators should in almost all cases translate into their native language, while there certainly are translators who have studied and have a deep knowledge of additional languages this is more of a rarity. Even if someone has a real grasp of a language and its grammar often if it is not their mother tongue it doesn’t quite come across as well even if “technically” it is grammatically correct. This is obviously dependent on the type of document being worked on.
3) Great command of their source language and its terms/technicalities
As obvious as it sounds, understanding what you are translating is vital. Knowing a language doesn't mean you can understand everything in that language. This particularly applies to medical and legal translations which use very specific terms. Specialising in a specific industry that perhaps you are already qualified in could give you an edge when it comes to certain work.
4) Productivity and Deadlines
A professional translator should be able to translate 2,500 word per day on average. This can be quite challenging when dealing with un-editable PDFs or texts with many tables. Also, determine what the agency or the end client are expecting in terms of the final output. Does the layout need to be completely reproduced or do they just want the text. Ensure that you factor this is when you are agreeing to the deadline. Delays on delivering the final files will result in frustration and even refusal of payment. It is better to be realistic than over promise and under deliver.
5) Reading between the lines
Source texts are not always prepared by professional writers or copywriters. As challenging as legalese is as an example, the real challenge is translating a text written poorly in the source language. As a translator, we shouldn't guess on the meanings of sentences if it is not clear so we should ensure there is the facility to have a dialogue where these points can be discussed. Comments should be used on the files where needed to make it clear where there is any potential misunderstandings or a clarification is required.
6) The boring admin
The majority of translators are freelance and therefore the usual self employed admin processes apply. Here isn't really the place to go into these too much but as a translator you also need to ensure you keep up to date with things such as:
Legal obligations (Did you agree to delete your copy of a document after the work was completed)
Paperwork (often NDAs and other legal documents are signed when translations are of confidential documents, ensure this is all filed away as you never know when you will need to access this paperwork)
Professional Memberships (these may be required for you to perform certain translations)
Translation Memories/Glossaries (keep your personal TMs and glossaries up to date to make your life easier in the future)
Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us?