Five essential skills to help forge a successful career in translation

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You might be a word nerd, a polyglot, or a self-proclaimed linguist – does this mean you were born a translator? Nurturing the passion for languages and translation along with developing the required technical skills lay the foundation for a potential career in translation. Strengthening certain personality traits and forming the right habits are just as important. Talent alone won’t sustain you through the ups and downs of the business, pages of monotonous texts, memorizing terminology, or dealing with pesky clients. Your innate aptitude for languages needs strong companions to transform a gift into a rewarding career in translation.

Patience. There’s nothing more daunting than an 80-page technical specification. Filled with terms and formulas only engineers can decipher, the document might not be your first choice of a book. Yet it ended up in your inbox awaiting your time, brain energy, and words. Translation is not always about high-flown lexicon and elegant sentence structures; oftentimes, the source texts you’ll be getting from clients will be dry, complex, technical, or incomprehensible. Unless you hand-pick projects to take on, you need to build up your patience to power through pages of jargon you’d never use outside your work!

A patient translator practices self-patience: rather than giving up or flipping out every time you can’t find the right translation of a term, give yourself another chance. Slow down and let your brain do its magic.

Creativity. Language can be a great means for creative expression. Rich and diverse, organized and agile, language offers all the right elements to put your thoughts on paper, the right way. The real challenge many translators face is not feeding creative juices when working on a poem or novel, but finding creativity in the mundane: a legal document, a scholarly article, the infamous technical specification. Even in times of regulations, amendments, and guidelines, find room for creativity in your choice of words. Think of new ways to translate similar sentences, research synonyms or idioms to expand your linguistic repertoire.

Precision. Also known as language surgeons, translators pick texts apart, channel them through their brains, and puzzle the pieces back together to convey the exact meaning of the source text in a new language. Strive for precision when transforming a text or selecting a verb among various synonyms; when looking for a corresponding expression or idiom in the target language; when deciding on a language structure.

Curiosity. There’s always something to learn from the texts your clients send you. Find one (or more) things that you love about law or business, medicine or engineering. Immerse yourself in the text, look beyond the language, and absorb new information. As a translator, you’re probably consumed by the intricacies of your language pair, leaving behind everything and anything that won’t help you deliver a high-quality product. While playing with language might be your bread and butter, don’t turn a blind eye to new information that your clients graciously present to you.

Optimism. As with anything in life, positive disposition can brighten gloomy days and bring joy to any text you’re translating. Remember, even the longest technical specification has an end and take pride in having seen all of your contracts to fruition!