6 things you should know about professional translators (+ 2 bonus tracks)
The easiest way to describe the task a translator carries out is by saying they convert one text from one language to another. Simple, isn’t it? Well, there’s actually much more than that!
As Günter Grass once said, “Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.” Professional translators do not simply swap terms from language A to language B indeed. The aim of translation is providing the target audience with a flawless text sounding just as if it was written in that very same language in the first place, something you cannot attain via a word-for-word translation. The form and the code change, what stays the same is the meaning and the message conveyed. This whole process does not simply imply a mere linguistic adaptation: it takes cultural awareness, stylistic sensitivity, and in-depth research.
Needless to say, being bilingual is not enough. Let alone having some sort of familiarity with a language after a stay abroad.
There is a quote I’ve often seen on the Internet with a perfect parallelism:
“Knowing two languages doesn’t make you a translator, any more than having ten fingers makes you a pianist.”
So, let’s move on to see what distinguishes professional translators from your cousin who did their Erasmus in Madrid (aka amateur translator).
1. They have an excellent (not to say impeccable) understanding of the source language.
This could seem quite obvious, but being familiar with a language and thinking one can bridge the gaps by using dictionaries is completely misleading. Of course, professional translators do use supporting materials for terminology, but they have no hesitations as to the comprehension of the intrinsic features of a language (say syntax, grammar, etc.).
2. They only translate into their native language.
Want to know why? As soon as I began to write this chunk the very first exclamation that came up to my mind was “E qui casca l’asino!” (that is, here’s where the truth comes to light). And you know what? I wouldn’t know how to put it properly and as effectively into English! So here you have the answer: only in our mother tongue can we provide a flawless message that sounds natural and conveys 100% our ideas, not only the content, but also the intention, the register, the style. Written words deserve special care, and so do your texts. So steer away from people who declare they can translate texts into different language combinations. Sure there are exceptions to this general rule, but forewarned is forearmed!
3. They have formal training.
Professional translators usually start their career after attaining a University degree in translation or related subjects. There are also translators whose background is different and who then decided to specialize in translation. Far from being a mandatory requirement, receiving formal training is de facto more than recommendable. Simply the fact that most translators (if not all) keep on learning, training, and practising their entire life gives you an idea of the importance of becoming familiar with translation processes, tools, and strategies. Experience will give you a lot of lessons, but following experts’ advices and teachings is something priceless. I cannot even count the many conferences, meetups, webinars, and so on, that I take part in every year as continuous practice development.
4. They work in specialized fields.
You cannot master everything. As already said, translating does not simply imply swapping one word into another from another language. Professional translators usually specialize in certain fields and only accept assignments related. In doing so, they guarantee they can provide you with the best quality possible. Being familiar with the topic—or at least with the industry—, they will be able to understand its meaning from within and to deliver an accurate translation, by choosing the right terminology thanks to their knowledge of the jargon, their extensive glossaries and/or their ability to refer to the right material in the target language.
5. They revise what they write and are detail-oriented.
People who know me know how much I do hate double spaces. I see them everywhere: billboards, web pages, leaflets. That’s the downside of having the trained eye of a proofreader. Professional translators are always alert to spotting typographical mistakes, inconsistencies, and errors, even in their own translations. This does not only affect typos: we check for inner consistency, cohesion, style, we want texts to flow naturally and beautifully, even more so when it comes to marketing translation.
6. They carry out in-depth research.
Neither we are walking dictionaries nor we know it all, not even in our specialized field(s). However, we know where to look for it, how to check the source is trustworthy and relevant, we spend hours and hours checking parallel texts, and our PCs are full of verified glossaries and translation memories/termbases. And if all of this doesn’t work, we can reach out to fellow translators and have access to our professional associations’ forums. We do this all the time, even for one single word. We don’t just drop the first term we find on a dictionary and forget about it. That would be unethical. And unprofessional, no need to say.
They usually belong to a professional association, and they generally use CAT tools. However, the opposite does not necessarily mean lack of professionalism.
I will cover these two topics in a future entry, I promise! ;)
In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me if you have any doubts, any suggestions as to how to translate “E qui casca l’asino” into English (very appreciated), and of course, if you need a professional translator for your contents. Here to help!