8 Traits of a Great Translator

What's vital for success in the field of professional translation

Not just anybody can cut it as a professional translator. It is a demanding career that requires a great deal of drive and natural talent. Translators must consistently produce perfectly translated text—all while maintaining the passion and curiosity that Lionbridge, our success stems from the diversity of our translator community. No matter the project, we can find someone with the right linguistic and subject matter expertise.

Here are the Lionbridge team's 8 qualities of a successful translator:

1. Linguistic Expertise

Many translators are native speakers of more than one language or grew up in bilingual homes. If not, qualified translators have a level of fluency that enables them to communicate and understand the languages they translate at a near-native level.

Linguistic excellence hinges on the mastery not only of basic vocabulary but also the specialized terminology and differences in intonation that can completely alter a word or phrase's meaning. Translators should strive to master regional differences and dialects, as these can have a significant influence on comprehension.

2. Appreciation for Other Cultures

Good translators appreciate and respect the cultures they represent through their translations. The best translators are determined to break down the misconceptions, stigmas, and other barriers that prevent various cultural groups from understanding and embracing one another. They believe they have a valuable role to play by sharing their linguistic appreciation with the world.

Translators should be well aware of the attitudes and traditions that distinguish various cultures—and they should understand how these factors ultimately influence language itself. There is a constant interplay between culture and language. Translators who are able to pick up on this relationship ultimately produce translations with greater accuracy and nuance.

3. Awareness of the Evolution of Language

Vernacular is constantly changing. Look at literature and media from years passed. Whether it’s from the 1900s or 1990s, the language will be different from what we use today. Translators need to make every effort to stay up-to-date with modern trends of vocabulary.

Additionally, as technology evolves, translation methods and modes of delivery can shift as well. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example, are poised to make a huge difference in the professional translation industry. Successful translators do not avoid these changes; they view them as opportunities to better serve their clients.

4. Area of Specialization

Many successful translators hold specialized knowledge that allows them to cater to different types of clients, whether that be industry or language specific. At Lionbridge we recruit translators with expertise in a variety of industries to support the needs of our diverse client-base. For example, when dealing with high-stakes legal matters, we find translators who have specialized legal expertise. Legal documents often contain extensive jargon and complicated concepts that require the trained eye and knowledge of someone with experience in the field.

Even the world’s rarer languages require translation services. Lionbridge supports translation services for a growing number of indigenous languages, some of which have under five hundred documented native speakers. Fluency in a rare or underrepresented language can be an extremely valuable skill in the translation community.

5. Attention to Detail

When it comes to professional translation, no detail is too small. A single word, letter, or even accent can alter the entire meaning of a document. Professional translators take care to be consistent with previously translated materials. Compliance with established glossaries is essential to avoid discrepancies in translating specific technical terms. It also helps to maintain the style of translation that reflects the customer's wishes—whether that be more casual and modern, or professional and traditional.

Skilled translators check, double-check, and triple-check to ensure that every detail is correct.  They scour the documents they translate, making slight alterations as necessary to deliver the most accurate translations possible.

6. Ability to Accept Criticism

Translators demand perfection from themselves and those around them—and they feel confident in the quality of their work.

All the same, even the most accomplished professionals hold room for improvement. Successful translators accept and even encourage criticism in the interest of improving their skills.

7. Time Management Skills

Tight deadlines are standard in professional translation, and sometimes every minute can make a difference. In high-stakes situations, clients may call upon translators and ask them to complete major projects in record time.

That said, mistakes made due to rushing can cause even more lost time. Clients cannot afford to waste valuable time amending or adjusting improperly translated documents. Successful translators know how to strike the perfect balance between speed and accuracy to keep their clients happy.

8. Passion for Language

Translation can be stressful. The best translators have a deep interest in language and translation that inspires them amid the pressure. They take pride in their work and are committed to continuous improvement and optimization. Lionbridge seeks translators that embody these qualities.

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Sophia Eakins
Sophia Eakins