Translation companies are never short of CVs from language graduates aspiring to become translators. Among their list of skills, they often cite a year abroad at an overseas university, additional language qualifications, as well as a passion for languages. And the response from the translation company? “Thank you, but we only work with professional translators.”
The problem is that going to a translation company and saying “I have great language skills” is like applying to a high-end restaurant and saying “I can cook really well”. When you apply for a job at a translation company, it is assumed that, as a minimum, you have great language skills, but these do not equate to an ability to translate. Here are the key areas in which an aspiring translator must develop their skills and advice on how to do this.
What does it mean to translate?
The skill of reading a foreign language text and transferring that information into the target language is not easy and takes time to develop. Source languages and target languages are structured differently and may contain cultural references or concepts that do not make much sense or even exist in the target language. For inexperienced or underqualified translators, it proves a difficult challenge to create a translated text that sounds natural to the target audience. Remaining so faithful to the source text that the target language sounds awkward is a common problem in beginner translations.
Time is never on your side
The translation industry is a deadline-driven industry. It is one thing to be able to effectively transfer information from one language to another, but it’s an entirely different skill to be able to do this under time pressure. This is a major hurdle for inexperienced translators and many are defeated by tight deadlines. A professional translator, however, can work within a specified time frame and still produce quality work. Some of the difficulties translators face when translating texts include the omission of a subject in Japanese sentences, or long sentences in German that must be reconstructed into multiple English sentences. An expert translator can look at these problematic paragraphs or sentences and make quick decisions. They can also perform effective research on specialist terms when necessary, understanding the best places to look for this information and selecting the appropriate translation for the purpose.
Learning the tools
Translators use translation software to maintain consistency of terminology. There are a variety of software packages available and different language providers will choose different brands. A translator, therefore, gets used to working with different kinds of software and moves away from traditional “Word document” translation, which is only usually suitable for small projects. These days, translation service providers like to see experience with at least one software package. They are usually expensive, but free trials are sometimes available and professional translation organisations may offer seminars that teach translators how to use translation software.
Specialising is key
To gain an advantage over the competition in the translation industry, a great translator will have excellent translation skills plus a subject specialisation. The difference between a specialised text translated by someone who understands the subject matter and someone who doesn’t is significant so, for many translators, specialising in documents such as legal contracts or annual reports is the key to success. Opportunities through study, professional seminars or work experience focused in one particular area help to develop an excellent understanding of a subject area that a translator wishes to specialise in.
A practical path to success
Practice translating texts, join a professional translation organisation and participate in their seminars and Continued Professional Development courses, or volunteer as a translator for charities. Post-graduate courses in translation at universities are gaining in popularity and offer opportunities to learn about translation software, translation techniques and strategies. However, translation companies may be sceptical about the ability of new graduates to produce quality work to real deadlines. CEO of EVS Translations, Edward Vick says: “Bring a translated text to your interview and show what you can do. The mistake is equating a language degree with an ability to translate professionally. Unfortunately this is not the case; you have to learn a lot before you can start working as a translator.” This is why EVS Translations periodically offers a six- to nine-month trainee programme for university graduates to become in-house translators. They start out as a junior translator and work towards becoming a senior translator or a proofreader, who is responsible for ensuring the final quality of translations.
If you’re a language graduate, don’t be disheartened but rise to the challenge that comes with translation. Translation is an opportunity to channel your passion for languages, which is the reason you apply to work in translation, but not the evidence of your ability. Expect to work hard to develop your skills in all of the areas outlined in this article and don’t forget to get in touch with EVS Translations if you’re interested in joining its talented team of translators.