What immediately comes to mind when you hear someone say something about the translators’ trade? Surely, one of the very first things to cross your mind is that translators are fluent in more than one language. You’re partly right. A good translator is an expert in languages. But it’s not the only thing they do well. Translation agencies in Madrid or in Barcelona work on a daily basis with this kind of professionals, and if they continuously entrust projects to them, it’s because they’re good at what they do. Here are the 8 key qualities of a good translator! There’s a reason why part of your company’s success is in their hands.
- Habits that make it possible
1- Creative translators
It may seem that creativity is a quality that is exclusive to artists, but there is nothing further from the truth. A good translator also has to be creative. As you well know, creativity is more commonly associated with the artistic professions. In this case, when we talk about creativity, we are referring to the fact that translators have the ability to produce what the customer asks them for, even if at first they are not very sure how to do it. All of this is without taking into account that they are often trying to meet very tight deadlines and are under some pressure.
You can talk to the dozens of professional translators with whom we work at Okodia-Grupo traductor and ask them yourself. Without a doubt, none of them will deny the fact that on more than one occasion, they have had to use a little ‘creative magic’ to adapt texts that they were working on to suit their intended audience.
2- Curious by nature
Professional translators are curious by nature. They have to be. A language evolves over time, so they stay up to date with new meanings of a word or neologisms that may arise. They are professionals whose learning process never stops. The key to success? Free resources that all successful translators use.
Good language lovers are not only born but also made. Translators generally specialize in different fields. For example, at Okodia we have sworn translators, legal translators, audiovisual translators, medical translators, etc., and many of them hold degrees in fields such as medicine, law or finance, together with a degree in translation and interpretation. And they still continue training! Because to become a good translator, one can never leave their guard down.
4- Highly professional
When someone decides to join the world of translation, it’s because they’re a good professional. Professional translators are trained to handle a large number of projects and to work under pressure, which is something that usually happens in the case of urgent translations—while still delivering excellent results. Why? Because they love what they do.
Empathy is obviously desirable to do any translation. When we receive a text written by someone else, we must stand in their shoes, understand the meaning and general tone of the input text, and preserve them in the output text.
Our responsibility as translators forces us not to change the text in any way, and impartiality is a good ally to this end. To illustrate this situation, let us suppose that a vegan translator who is opposed to bullfighting has to translate “the bullfighter X did a great job killing two bulls in one afternoon”. Of course, the translator must ignore his ego and find the closest translation to the original text, which conveys the same enthusiasm and does not change its meaning. In this way, English, Russian, and Icelandic bullfight lovers will be able to share the same emotion as the person who wrote the original text in Spanish. The good news is that we will not always face such extreme situations.
How do you become impartial? Luckily, we are not machines, but we have many other resources. In this case, there is no need for complication. Things are much simpler. Thus, adapting one of Mahatma Gandhi’s most famous sayings, we could say: “There is no road to impartiality in translation: impartiality is the way”.
Probably, along the way we will find ourselves in a sort of fascinating bipolarity: on the one hand, our heads should remain as cool as cucumbers; on the other hand, we must focus on reflecting the intentions of the author of the text we are translating, bearing in mind that we shouldn’t change it in any way. Difficulty level: low.
7- Being a Sherlock Holmes
Even if a translator ends up specialising in specific areas, he will always come across different types of text, and will have to do some research, as it’s completely impossible to have in-depth knowledge of every topic. Mr Google is the obvious help in this task. However, you should exercise your judgement when searching and not trust everything that you find online. It’s a good idea to remember that there are also people who are good sources of information due to their experience or personal history. For example, a rock musician can help you with a translation about the legendary vinyl records. In the same way, an oenologist can help you when it comes to translating the characteristics of a wine.
Translators must often be open to working in new environments, as well as to being familiar with new technologies. Technophobia – a disorder characteristics of translators born in the pre-Internet age – is not a good option. If you get cold sweats when a customer’s instructions come in an unknown format and associated program, you should change your point of view. You should take a step back from your fear and think that it can’t be so hard to use, and that any program or application have a well-defined function.
Humility is a must in any profession. It involves being very aware that we are always learning, that other people contribute new and valuable knowledge, and that the world already existed before we arrived.
A translator must be able to assume his or her mistakes. Ouch! The dreaded mistake pointed out in the comments when our work is reviewed. Nobody likes being told that they’ve made a mistake. There is no problem: our humility will help us to accept that we are not infallible and to welcome our mistake as one more teacher in our ongoing learning.
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.