What does it take to be a good translator?
- An above-average knowledge of both the Source and the Target languages. The translator must not only know how to read, write and preferably speak the source language with at least college-level proficiency, he or she must have equal or higher proficiency in the target language.
- Specialization in one direction of translation, usually INTO the translator’s native language. That is, he or she must specialize in translating FROM English TO Spanish, for example, or viceversa. Only translators with many years of experience and with a very advanced fluency in both languages can be relied upon to render an accurate translation in BOTH directions. Some very accomplished multilingual translators are able to translate reliably to and from several languages, but these are far and few between.
- Specialization in the subject matter of the translation. A translator with a background in humanities rarely attempts to translate a text on mechanical engineering, for example. A good translator knows to limit his workload to those texts that fall within his or her range of expertise.
- Knowledge about the intended reader or audience for his or her translation. It is important for the translator to know who will read or use his or her translation and how, as this will determine his or her choice of words and syntax. Factors to consider are the audience’s age, educational level, dialect, location, venue, the form of distribution of the translation, its application, etc.
- Extensive terminology resources, such as a good library of reference materials, including thematic and field-specific bilingual dictionaries and glossaries. No matter how much experience and knowledge a translator may have, he or she will always encounter difficult challenges that are often resolved by consulting several dictionaries, as well as colleagues and on-line resources.
- Continual contact with the countries or regions where the source and target languages are spoken. Language is not static, it is constantly evolving. And especially in today's technologically oriented world, it is important to keep abreast of the language's lexicographic evolution.
- Dedication and commitment. The best translators are those that are dedicated to translation full-time. This excludes even doing interpretation work in most cases, because the linguistic and mental challenges of intepretation are different than those posed by translation.
- A good proofreader and editor. Even an excellent translator benefits from a fresh pair of eyes that can give his or her translation a new perspective.