Are translators born or made?

Translate comes from the Latin verb transfero which means to transcribe, to transform. Many theorists have developed translation competence models, such as D. Kelly, Nord, Campbell, Wills, Pym, Roberts or Delisle, among many others. This competence refers to the set of abilities, skills, knowledge and attitudes which define professional translators and which they should possess; this is what sets professional translators apart from amateurs or native speakers (also known as amateur intrusion).
On innumerable occasions, we’ve heard people ask “why do you study translation if anyone who knows English and how to use a dictionary can also translate?” (Here’s the rub: by dictionary, they’re actually referring to Google Translate.) The only thing we can do at this point is to put our poker face on and agree just to stave off getting into a lengthy discussion. Things like this are what drive many (including myself) to rethink this profession.

There are surely translators who are more inclined to agree with one stance over another. In the words of García Yebra: “The golden rule for any translation is saying everything said in the source text, not saying anything not said in it, and saying it as properly and naturally as possible in the target language.” That said, I don’t believe translators are born. But neither do I believe translation is something that can simply be learned through training, as theory and practice have to go hand in hand.

Here are the Top 10 Qualities and Skills that translators should have:

1. Excellent command of their native language and the target language (in all aspects).
2. Cultural knowledge (having lived in the country where your foreign language is spoken is absolutely essential in order to discover many cultural aspects which you simply can’t learn from books and which you have to experience first-hand).
3. The ability to work well under pressure. Translators know they have to meet the deadline come hell or high water. Those who know how to organize their time and don’t procrastinate deserve a special award, as our colleague Carmen Velasco says (although we all have our days).
4. Knowledge of current events (How many times have we heard this in interpretation classes? Too many to mention).
5. Staying up to date. Translators should stay up to date (not only with billing, hehe) with all the resources and new developments being released. They should be familiar with both paper and computer-based documentation resources to know what are available and how to use them.
6. Initiative and decision-making capacity (the dilemma between the option and the choice).
7. Concentration when understanding and reproducing a piece of text.
8. Setting the bar high. Go over the text as often as necessary to get it just right.
9. Adapting to the project, whether in terms of format, type of text, register, etc. 10. Loving what they do. This may sound very idealistic, but if you don’t possess these qualities, despite having received the best training, you won’t be able to turn in a good translation.
For those who are of the opinion that translators are born, pondering on the reason for specific training will certainly give you food for thought. If, on the other hand, you believe that translators are bred, it would be worth asking why—supposing that all translators have the same academic background, professional experience, linguistic competence, cultural knowledge and skills—not everyone translates the same way and produces the same level of quality.