Are translation skills enough, or are there other skill sets that are just as important for success in the profession? What useful skills of a professional translator which can really help him in practice?

These seem to be rather simple questions, but providing the answer for them at the same time seems to be not very easy as there are so many things to consider. Let’s highlight three simple skills, but the ones that will become the key to colossal professional success.

Useful skills of a professional translator

Of course, translation skills form the foundation for every translator and are a prerequisite for success in the role.

To be able to translate well, you need a very deep understanding of both your source and target languages, strong terminology research skills, and a highly developed ability to transfer ideas from one language to the other. This is the focus of most of the courses that make up the translation degrees and certificates available from universities around the world.

The scholastic ability to earn a degree or certification can turn to be very useful for career development.

How to improve these skills:

  1. Get a degree in translation or your area of specialization.
  2. Take courses in translation or your area of specialization; the courses can be online or in person, short or long

However, skills of a professional translator aren’t the only competencies that professional translators need. There are another two crucial areas that determine translators’ success or failure in the profession.

Writing skills

Edith Grossman, a well-known translator, said that serious professional translators think of themselves as writers. Translators need to be masters of their target language and possess an exceptionally strong sense of writing style. This is why it’s standard practice for translators to work from a foreign language into their native language – at least in major language pairs. Most people can express themselves far better in their native language than they can in a foreign language, no matter how long they’ve studied its nuances.

While some translation degrees and certificates include courses in writing, many don’t. This seems to be a serious omission that may be setting graduates up to fail.

How to improve these skills:

  1. If you are not living in a country where your native language is spoken, it is extremely important that you spend a lot of time in such a country as often as you can in order to keep up with the evolution of the language.
  2. Purchase and refer to language and style guides, and update these resources regularly.
  3. Read newspapers and journals, watch TV and listen to a radio in your target language.
  4. Take continuing education courses to improve your writing skills and writing style.
  5. Collaborate with proofreaders and ask to see the changes they make so you can both learn from each other.

Subject-matter skills

The third aspect that is absolutely critical to success is appropriate subject-matter skills. Because translators don’t just translate words, they translate meaning. If you don’t understand the subject of a text, you won’t be able to produce a convincing translation in the target language.

This would seem obvious, but it’s astonishing how often it’s overlooked. Translators with no understanding of engineering, law, medicine, business or finance are tasked with translating in-depth materials on these and other topics, for publication online or in print.

To be an expert translator in one of the major language pairs, you need to have a high level of expertise in one or more specialist areas, ideally acquired through study or professional experience in the field. This factor seems to be almost entirely overlooked in many translation degrees. It is therefore unsurprising that specialist texts are often poorly translated, resulting in obviously sub-standard translations that reflect badly on the profession as a whole.

The ability to specialize in one or a few subject areas is a very important competence. If you know a lot about a subject, you can provide better translations when working with that subject matter.

Ideally, you should be able to discuss the subject matter with the people who wrote it as if you were one of them. You can choose an area of expertise from your professional history if you have one. If not, you may be able to find family members or close friends with expertise in a subject matter that you can learn from. You can also take courses in a subject matter to learn more about it, or ask a colleague with expertise in an area to train you in translating related material. Having a specialization will also make it easier to market yourself to your ideal clients since you can narrow down your target group and speak directly to them.

How to improve these skills:

  1. Choose an area of specialization relevant to your academic, professional or other related experience.
  2. Consider the time that researching texts in your area of specialization will require, and charge accordingly.
  3. Keep up to date on the latest developments and terminology through various media in your source and target language(s).

The translation skills triad

To produce texts of the standard required for publication, translators need highly developed translation, writing and subject-matter skills.

A lack of any of these skill sets tends to result in second-rate translations with sections that are awkward, inaccurate or just plain wrong. But the good news is that we can always improve our skills, through reading, research, study, deliberate practice, feedback, and collaboration with our peers.

As well as these three core competencies, complementary skills in technology and business can help us thrive as translators. But the primary skills of a professional translator form the basic building blocks that every translator needs to succeed.

Translators need an exceptional mastery of the source language and must be capable users of technology. They need to be always updated on how to hone the key skills of a professional translator, to help you raise your game, stay ahead of the machines, and build a fulfilling and fruitful professional career. Another simple tip on how to turn in a super professional is to enjoy learning and strive to constantly learn new things.