Many blogs and articles talk about translators positioning themselves as experts. However, is it possible for a translator to become so knowledgeable in their specialist field that they feel confident enough to call themselves an expert? And if so, how do they achieve this level of specialisation?
An expert translator constantly updates their subject knowledge
One thing is clear: when it comes to translating, language skills aren’t enough. Many translators choose their specialisation based on their previous employment. Others only have professional experience working with languages and therefore have to acquire subject knowledge while they work. The latter situation is why continuing professional development (CPD) is so important. An expert translator needs to keep up to date with the latest developments in their specialist fields. This often involves doing online courses, attending webinars and reading trade journals. Many translators also find it beneficial to do practice translations when they aren’t busy with client work which enables them to maintain their knowledge of any industry-specific terminology in their specialisation.
They only work on texts they feel comfortable with
I’ve stated before on this blog that a translator who works on technology texts probably isn’t the right person to discuss a legal text with. However, I’ve also spoken to translators who have taken on jobs they thought they could manage only to find themselves out of their depth. A translator needs to have an in-depth knowledge of both the terminology used and the concepts outlined in a text. This is why an expert will always ask to see a text before they agree to work on it.
They do research and consult other experts
Many people who don’t have experience in the translation industry do not realise the amount of research that’s required to translate a text. A translator should have in-depth knowledge of the subject they are translating. However, they’ll often have to consult several resources and other experts in the field to find the exact terminology required in a particular situation.
They have excellent writing skills
One of the most important skills required by a translator is the ability to write well in the language they translate into (their native language). An expert in translation can produce texts in different styles according to their client’s needs. For example, marketing materials targeting the general public will need a different tone of voice from those targeting the luxury market. Acquiring such high-level writing skills takes time and practice. Translators read a wide range of publications in their areas of interest and many take monolingual writing courses.
They manage their client’s expectations and tell them if these aren’t realistic
There have been many advances in technology that help the translator. Even so, it isn’t always possible to turn out polished translations of long, complicated texts within twenty-four hours. The expert translator will look at a text and discuss the client’s requirements with them before establishing a realistic deadline. For example, a 500-word marketing text will probably take longer to translate than product instructions of a similar length. This is because marketing texts often use slogans and cultural references which can’t be translated literally. The translator has to consider how to convey the original message to readers in the target country. Therefore, a 500-word marketing text might take two to three days to translate, while a technical text of the same length which requires less creative thinking might only take a day.
Many translators claim to understand their specialist fields. However, becoming an expert takes time and practice.