Working as a Translator

If you’re thinking of working as a translator, you need to consider your skill level in the languages you’re translating from and to. It probably isn’t sufficient to have just learned the language in school, from completing an online course, or from basic conversational phrases that you've acquired. Even then, you might be able to translate worksheets for school children, but not technical documents. Make sure your skills match the magnitude of the task!

It’s important to consider regional differences in language as well. If you normally speak Canadian or Belgian French, you have to be aware of the changes you need to make to write for an audience in France – or vice versa.

You also need to make sure you understand the challenges of translating between the two languages. For example, French has different pronouns depending on the formality level: “tu” and “vous.” When translating a Web page from English to French, it might be okay to go for the informal “tu”, but if you’re looking at something more formal, you need to know when and how to use “vous.” Likewise, idioms and jokes can be difficult to translate, as you need a good working knowledge of both languages to make sure you’re achieving the right effect.

Tools

There are tools you can use to help you find the right words, or perhaps even the right grammatical construction. Google Translate can be helpful, especially if you use it to check your work or to get and compare several alternate translations, but relying on it would be foolish. It’s just a machine, and it can’t make the complex decisions outlined above. A bilingual dictionary may also be useful, but it can’t convey any subtleties in the usage of the words therein.

The best resource of all would be a native speaker of the language you’re translating to, who is also fluent in the language you’re translating from. If you can work in a team like that, you’ll produce even higher quality work. They can check your translations and advise you on any inconsistencies.

Translation is Interpretation

Whenever you’re translating something from one language to another, you have to figure out what exactly is being said. If there’s an ambiguous sentence – for example, where you’re not sure what the subject is – then it’s likely that there are several different ways to translate it to make the meaning clear. The least effective way is probably a literal word-for-word translation!

At this point, it’s great to be able to communicate with your client and ask them what the intent of the original document was. Once you know that, you can choose an unambiguous translation that reduces the risk of misunderstandings. If you’re not sure, you could even provide options for your employer to choose from.

Final Draft

Even if you’ve been communicating with your employer and checking in with a native speaker (for whichever language is not your first) who can proofread for you, don’t consider the work complete once you have a final draft. Reading the piece as a whole could still raise questions or reveal a gap – so be ready to edit and re-edit your work until your client is as happy with it as you are.

Nicole Walters
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