The Translation Profession

By Chris Richardson

Working as a translator can be a full-time career, but it also offers many opportunities to part-time and freelance contractors. By identifying their translation niche, many translators make good money doing something that they love, often from the comfort of their own home or as part of a small team.

The history of translation

Throughout history, cultures have required translators to disseminate their work around the globe. Almost every historical text, epic poem, and great work of fiction has been through the hands of translators. In a way, translators are the link not just between different languages, but between periods of history as well.

Great scientific discoveries owe their dissemination to translators, and today translators continue to supply a valuable service to the scientific community, as well as to international business, academia and private correspondence.

How do you become a good translator?

To become a good translator you will need to possess the following skillsets:

Strong understanding of at least two languages

While it's best to be a native speaker of the language you are translating into, you will need a passion for both languages, and to read extensively in both to achieve a high level of quality translation.

Capacity to research

The desire to research the primary fields in which languages require translation is part of the trick to becoming a good translator. Ask yourself: what sort of work exists in these languages? Is it primarily in the field of books and comics, or business contracts, or contract law? Will you be translating scientific or academic texts? Knowing the niches within the industry will greatly assist your overall success as a translator, as will the willingness to understand those fields.

Good ethics

As a translator there is an ethical responsibility to produce work that communicates the intention of the language to the new audience. You will also be required to protect the confidentiality of that work in some circumstances. Demonstrating good ethics and gaining your clients' trust is a great way to improve your standing as a translator.

Set goals

Know what you want out of this industry. Is this part-time work or a full-time career? Do you want to start your own agency? How much time do you have to research and improve your translation skills? Goals are an important element in improving your translation abilities.

Keep up to date with popular culture and the news

News and popular culture can demonstrate the way language is used and will impact the quality of your translation. Not only must you understand the industries you are translating, but how they are affected by recent trends.

What tools does a translator need?

There are a number of tools that can help anyone in the translation profession:

Computer aided translation (CAT) software

Tools like SDL Trados can help translators increase their production volume. Good CAT tools possess a translation memory that will identify similarities across like for like translations, expediting the process. While a CAT tool won't give you naturalness in language, it can 'learn' from your naturalness and greatly assist any translator.

Cloud based collaboration

While Dropbox is a fantastic cloud storage tool, web apps like Google Drive and Docs allow the simultaneous collaboration of many authors and editors on a single document. Other services, like Evernote, also feature handy presentation modes and other useful features.

Project management tools

A tool like PODIO is useful for managing projects in a team-oriented environment.

As you can see, the translation profession can be a complex adventure. Knowing what you want out of it is the best place to start.

About the writer

Chris Richardson is a writer with Translation Services Singapore. He lives in Singapore and loves to eat and travel.


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