6 qualities that set a translation professional apart from an amateur

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After hours of scrolling through online profiles of prospective translators, flipping pages of portfolios and references, how do you land on a top few? Or maybe it’s your first time engaging a translator in a project, or you’re partnering up with a new person. What qualities and experiences beyond the professional platitudes found in resumes signal real professionalism?

Before committing to a candidate, get to know them and learn about their approach to translation. Try arranging an informal chat or a call to discuss the nuances of a job and determine if it’s a fit. In preparation for your first conversation, review these hallmarks that can help tell a seasoned translation professional from an amateur.

1) An adept translator will take time to understand your needs. Rather than saying yes to a project from the outset, they will take the time to delve into the details, discuss timelines, and expected outcomes. Discussing a job should look like a full-blown conversation rather than a monologue—not only will it give you reassurance that a candidate is in fact qualified, but also that they are keen on engaging with you, collecting information, and learning more about your business.

2) A professional might not be a Jack of all trades. In other words, if a legal translator is willing to take on an academic paper on trenchless technologies in engineering, they might be overly-ambitions. While a legal translator might be perfectly suited to tackle accounting documentation, if they claim a full mastery of two drastically different fields, be sure they are not exaggerating.

3) A master translator will know their approach to translation. Even though you might not know much about translation theory, ask a prospect how they go about translating a complex, heavily technical documents, where they search new terminology, and how they keep track of the jargon they specialize in. Let their personality come through as they share some of their professional challenges and successes.

4) An accomplished translator possesses specific topical knowledge. On top of fluency in at least two languages, they can hold an educated conversation on the topic of your translation project, and have a firm grasp of the topic.

5) A skillful translator takes interest in the field and is genially passionate about translation. They invest time in honing their skills, growing, and learning. They are members of professional organizations, frequent workshops, and seminars.

6) A professional asks for more context, as needed. With experience comes the confidence to admit that our knowledge is limited. An expert translator might ask for more background information on a project, additional resources, or a contact who might be able to help. They won’t shy away from sharing their concerns, doubts, or dilemmas.

While your initial search might not screen out translation dilettantes from experts, have your questions ready to make the right pick. Even though a prospect might not have the most experience in the field, they might demonstrate superb knowledge of their field, great research skills, attention to detail, a well-grounded approach to translation, professional honesty and integrity—all the key elements to translate your project right.