7 skills and competencies that make a good translator

Translation is a complex activity that requires skills and competencies that go well beyond the ability to speak more than one language.

1. Be more than fluent in two languages (or more…)

Translation isn’t just switching words from one language to another but transferring meaning in a way that sounds natural in the target language. A translator has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the source language so as not to miss any implicit meanings. He/she also has a perfect mastery of the target language in order to reproduce the context or tone of the original text, and a deep-rooted understanding of the etymological and linguistic correlations between the two languages required for the translation. Furthermore, professional translators are familiar with textual conventions and text types as well as with different registers and languages for special purposes.

2. Understand cultural differences and nuances

A language is a set of words and grammatical rules, but also an extensive system of connotations and cultural references. Translation is a communicative activity that involves the transfer of information across linguistic boundaries. In addition to knowing two languages and understanding the relationship between them, a professional translator will be able to make a text culturally relevant. Thus, he/she is also called a cultural or cross-cultural mediator.

3. Subject Knowledge

The field of translation is broad. There’s legal translation, business translation, financial translation, medical translation, and more. A translator needs to be familiar with the subject matter of the text to be translated. His/her subject knowledge should not only enable understanding what specialists say or write, but likewise being understood. Moreover, translators are often in a situation where they have to switch from one field of expertise to another.

4. Excellent writing skills

Because translation involves reading in one language and writing in another, translators develop excellent writing skills. The use of grammar must conform to rules and standards; word choices must be accurate and appropriate, punctuation perfectly placed, spelling impeccable, expressions and idioms understood and replicated accurately and elegantly. Translators must have the ability to write with flair and will likely need to expand their writing skills across a variety of specialised texts – legal, technical, etc.

5. Computer Skills

This is one of the must-have translation skills and abilities for a translator. In addition to advanced knowledge of word processing software (Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), translators are familiar with various online tools and linguistic resources to support the act of translation. Secondly, translators are familiar with computer-assisted translation tools (CAT tools) which play an important part in the translation process. CAT tools are not the same as machine translation, though.

6. Research skills: One of the Key Skills Translators Need to Master

Translators are always researching things – terminology, wording, meanings, and subject-specific information. It is important to consider that developing good research and information processing skills takes practice because it involves learning how to find useful, relevant, and trustworthy information online. They also, if necessary, consult experts in the field of the subject matter and previous related translations.

7. Sound translation judgement

Good translators make consistently good translation decisions on lexical and syntactic problems, translation strategies (i.e. equivalence, adaptation, omission, etc.), what and where to research, etc.