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.
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.
Habits that ensure a good job
The human translator is a craftsman of language, with the mission to produce the perfect piece of work and, as a result, looks for their own muses and sources of inspiration and sticks religiously to every habit.
The preferred time of day for translation is one of them. It’s quite common that as professional translators we find ourselves buried in constant translation marathons, but there’s always a particular time of day when concentration and inspiration seem to be at their peak. We could divide ourselves into two large groups: the early birds, the early risers for whom the piece and silence of the early hours of the morning help to increase productivity, and the nocturnal birds, whose creativity is heightened during the mystery of the night.
Workplace and posture are two key elements. Without a doubt, the image of translators at work would show them in a sitting position, always with a straight back, hands in the correct position, never with crossed legs and so forth for hours on end. But the reality is that we are perfectly imperfect and that, often, we will set to work in a specific corner of the sofa with our legs crossed and covered by our favourite winter blanket, in bed just before going to sleep or on the kitchen table.
Maybe we don’t have quite the same habits as the Majorcan tennis player, but we all have our self-confessed rituals before starting to work. Among these can be drinking a coffee or tea from our favourite cup, taking several deep breaths, exercising, watch the sunrise or sunset, lighting an incense stick, read or listen to the news, take the dog for a walk, etc.. The list is endless.
And now we sail into dangerous waters: the dress code. We translators are real experts in household glamour when it comes to getting dressed for work. Our wardrobe is brimming with sweatshirts, trousers that are somewhere between tracksuits and pyjamas and comfortable T-shirts – perhaps even with an inspiring message. All very clean and fragrant, just in case you were wondering. There are also days, evidently, when the diva within us is revealed and we dress to kill. Footwear deserves a special mention, and just as well that this is hidden during Skype conversations with clients!
We read our translations out loud, like an actor rehearsing a script, which can be considered as another translator ritual. Whether it’s a tourism translation, a medical translation, a legal translation or an audio visual translation, the Robert De Niro within us is always unveiled when we hear the text in our own voice and this, in addition, helps us spot areas for improvement.
But the moment where translators´ rituals reach their full glory is at the deadline. The “before” is usually a spiral of stress, but we are all different in the way we commemorate the “after”. There are those that open a bottle of wine to celebrate the accomplishment with family, those that haven´t laid their eyes on us for several hours, there are those that crash onto the sofa and get caught up in the TV soap operas – something we don’t have to think about – or those who immerse themselves in a forgotten hobby for hours on end.