24 Mar /15

Part II Ingredients for a Quality Translation: Translator Work Skills

I remember for some coursework being given three days to translate 300 words – it seems strange because now I would be expected to do that probably in less than an hour!

EVS UK, Translator

In Part I (Ingredients for a quality translation: linguistic ability), we looked at how the linguistic ability of a professional translator might differ to that of an inexperienced translator.

In Part II, we will look beyond linguistic skills and think about work skills; that is, how a translator applies their linguistic skills in a real work situation.

EVS Translations adheres to standard EN-15038:2006 which states that a translator must demonstrate the professional competences specified in the standard by meeting at least one of three requirements.

  • Advanced translation studies (recognised qualification)

  • Equivalent qualification in another specialisation plus a minimum of two years documented experience in translation.

  • At least five years of documented professional experience in translation.

The standard places emphasis on professional work experience because, although it goes without saying that a translator must have excellent linguistic ability, without the experience of applying these skills to a professional project, a translator can still fall far short of the mark. Here are some of the skills that a professional translator must have:

Producing quality writing under time constraints (deadlines)

The translation industry is a deadline driven industry. It is one thing to be able to effectively transfer information from one language to another (as discussed in Part I), but it’s a whole new skill to be able to do this under time pressure. Many inexperienced translators are defeated by tight deadlines, but a professional translator can work within the specified time frame, and still produce quality work. In part I, we looked at some of the difficulties translators face when translating texts: missing subjects of Japanese sentences, long sentences in German that must be transferred into multiple English sentences – an expert translator can look at these texts/sentences and make quick decisions. They can also perform effective research on specialized terms when necessary, understanding the best places to look for this information and selecting the right translation for the purpose.

Using Computer Assisted Translation tools (CAT 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 according to their or their client’s requirements. 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.

Working with client-specific style guides, terminology and other reference materials

Translators have to learn to work according to the needs of the client. Put simply: an experienced translator may produce a target text in a way that they perceive to be an accurate translation, but an experienced translator will work while constantly referring to client-specific style guides and any other reference material the client has handed to them. This is because they understand that the translation of words is not just about what sounds natural, but what the client specifies as their company’s standard terminology. Failing to correctly work with client specific style-guides, terminology or reference materials can affect something is major as product branding because the terminology used by the inexperienced translator doesn’t correspond with any other materials published by the client’s company.

Specializing in a specific area of translation, e.g. law, finance or pharmaceutical

To beat the competition in the translation industry, a great translator will have excellent translation skills plus a good knowledge of a second subject area. For many translators, building a knowledge base in a subject such as legal contracts, annual reports or clinical trial documentation is key to a successful career in translation. Opportunities through study, professional workshops and seminars or focused translation work experience in one area help to develop a solid understanding of the subject area they are interested in. The difference between a specialized text translated by someone who understands the specialization and someone who doesn’t can be significant.

All of the above skills are perfected by professional work experience and this is why the industry standard EN 15038:2006 places a strong emphasis on it. (Although the standard also states a professional qualification in translation as a means of proving professional competence, such qualifications do have their limitations, since producing a quality translation to a client’s required deadline can be a difficult, if not impossible, situation to recreate in the classroom.) What is clear is that standard EN-15038:2006 defines expert translators not by the number of years they have spoken a foreign language, but by professional qualifications and/or solid professional experience, and this is for a simple reason: to guarantee quality.

A look at Part III

There is one more ingredient in our recipe for quality translation: the in-house translation system. See Part III of our series and why the creating the right environment for translators helps to cook up the perfect translation.