A successful translation career starts with language skills, but it certainly doesn’t end there. In fact, professional translation, whether you work freelance or for a translation company, requires a whole host of abilities as well as the actual translator skills. In this post, we’ll take a look at the translator skills you need and why they are important.
Let’s start with the basics. What is a translation service? A translation service converts one language to another. The translation can be of a document, an audio file, a video file, or a spoken language event such as a presentation or webinar (i.e. interpretation services). Clearly, language skills play a key role in this. Without being able to speak two languages fluently, you won’t fare well as a translator.
However, there is a whole array of other skills that you need in order to translate well. The Open University’s course on Translation as a Career highlights this starkly when it lists the competencies required to make a good translator. Of the 15 skills listed, ‘excellent knowledge of the foreign language’ only places 12th on the list.
What skills do you need to translate professionally?
If you’re asking yourself, “What qualifications do I need to be a translator?” then it’s important to look beyond language. A formal qualification such as a language degree is an excellent and often essential starting point, but then it’s time to focus on soft skills.
How are your organisation skills? What about your attention to detail? Both of these will stand you in good stead if you want to translate professionally. You will need to be organised in your handling of individual translation jobs, as well as your approach to managing everything from clients to invoicing.
Attention to detail, of course, is a must when you work with language. A single mistranslated word can change the meaning of a sentence or, indeed, render it meaningless. And when it comes to medical translation, legal translation, and the like, a mistranslation can have significant consequences.
Excellent IT skills are also a must. Translation technology has a lot to offer when it comes to helping to translate more efficiently and accurately. Those who can quickly embrace the latest software will have a distinct advantage.
On a more traditional level, translators also need good, old-fashioned writing abilities! Writing for a living, whether it’s your own copy or the translation of someone else’s document, requires not just perfect spelling and grammar but also an instinctive feel for the flow of the languages that you’re working with.
Marketing your translation service
Networking skills are essential if you want to succeed in providing translation services for a living. You’ll need to find a steady stream of clients and then impress them with more than just language skills. Being personable and professional will help you to make the right connections and then develop them into relationships.
This need to network well applies no matter how you plan to market your translation service and obtain clients. Whether you’re going for work with a translation agency, through a freelancing site like Upwork, or by connecting with clients directly, you need to be able to build bridges and make them last.
Part of maintaining a client base is being flexible and adaptable. There are times when a client will realise far too late in the day that they need a translation urgently or will change their mind halfway through the translation job about some important detail that will impact the way the work needs to progress. In these cases, it is the translator who can flex their services and timescales who will end up retaining the client’s business over the longer term.
Sector-specific translation experience
Successful translators often bring a great deal of subject knowledge to the table as well. This allows them to specialise when they translate. That can involve offering anything from marketing translation to video translation – and anything and everything in between!
This specialist knowledge can help clients to laser-focus their translations in order to obtain the best possible results. Translators with plentiful experience of a particular sector can work faster and, arguably, more accurately than those who lack such specialist knowledge. This passes obvious benefits to the client.
Cultural awareness also comes into play here. Translators at the top of their game can gently mould the text that they work with to ensure that it perfectly meets the cultural expectations of the intended audience. It’s a skill that develops natively over time and is an essential part of successful professional translation.
Routes into translation as a career
Once you’ve got a language qualification under your belt, there are various routes into professional translation. You can apply directly for a job with a company that needs translation work completed regularly and so is hiring in-house. You can also apply to one or more translation agencies, in which case the agency will take care of the finding clients and billing elements of the work, leaving you free to focus purely on the translation.
Online job sites (Upwork, Fiverr, and the like) mean that you can also set out to find your own clients, albeit with a percentage of your income paid to the relevant site. You can also recruit clients directly through your professional network and word of mouth. If you plan to take this approach, a strong web presence will certainly be a help.
If you’re looking to stand out from the crowd when it comes to translation work, think about the additional skills that you can offer. From localisation to desktop publishing, there are skills that clients will be looking for over and above linguistic talent. If you can provide them, you’re already a step ahead of the competition.
Of course, we should end by pointing out that skill with language is and always will be a key factor in translating for a living. What languages are in high demand for translators? These will vary depending on where you are based. However, Ethnologue notes that English is the world’s largest language in terms of native and non-native speaker numbers, while Mandarin Chinese is the largest based on the number of native speakers. As such, if you’re wondering, “What is the best language to learn for translation?” these make a good starting point for your consideration!
Author: Paul Fernandez