More Than Just Language: Essential Skills For Translators

Written by Mo Stone

For a career in the translation industry, it’s obvious that you need to possess good language skills and have a high competency in your target language. But what other skills should you have for a successful career in this competitive and in-demand field? Read on for our list of essential skills for translators. 

Know Your Tools

Luckily, as a translator in the modern world, you don’t have to rely on only your language knowledge to get by. These days, most translators use a host of CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools and translation software to help them, and it would behoove you to study up on the industry standards of these, including DeepL, memoQ, and Trados Studio. In addition, you should have good computer skills in general, such as a fast typing speed and a familiarity with commonly used software programs such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. Translators that work with translating text in illustrations would find a knowledge of design programs like Adobe InDesign useful as well. 

Keeping up with the latest and greatest in software and technology requires good research skills, another ability that is necessary for translators. Language is constantly evolving, and translation work often necessitates researching phrases and jargon to ensure that the word choice is appropriate for the job. And unless you are living in a country where the target language is spoken, you will need to check sources for cultural knowledge as well. The key to good research is efficiency, and the ability to choose between sources to find the best information.

Operate Like A Pro

If you are a freelancer, organization and time management are essential for success. Even if you are an in-house translator, you will often be working on multiple projects simultaneously and will need to communicate and pass items to your team in a clear and timely manner. Plus, being able to consistently meet deadlines will keep your clients coming back.

Freelancers will also need to attract their own clients, and should learn some marketing skills as well. These days, most marketing happens online, via websites, social media, and email. Strong marketing will tell your clients exactly who you are and what you can do for them. Because having good marketing can be so beneficial and lucrative, translators might consider taking an online course to learn more and perfect these skills, such as through Coursera or Skillshare

Keep Them Coming Back

Lastly, there are many soft skills that will keep clients coming back to successful translators. Good translators ought to have a strong cultural awareness about both the source and target languages to better understand and convey the nuances of each. To improve this, translators can spend time in the countries of these cultures and consume media such as news, books, and series, in addition to putting those research skills to use!

Two other key attributes that translators should possess are neutrality and flexibility. It’s important to put one’s opinions aside and translate exactly what the original writer said without the judgements and feelings of the translator coming through. It’s also quite possible that as a translator you will have to translate thoughts and opinions that you don’t agree with, so maintaining a sense of neutrality is key. This, as well as being flexible for your clients, will keep them returning to you again and again.

For more information about how to become a translator, check out our article on breaking into the translation industry. Which skills do you think are the most important for success? Are there any that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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