I got a pleasant surprise a couple of weeks ago when I logged on to Twitter and found that several translators had been tweeting and retweeting the link to the “How to Be a Good Translator” page on my website. If you haven’t seen them, here are the tips from that page — I hope you find them helpful.
- Love language, especially your own. And keep studying it.
- Learn to write well.
- Learn about and study your passive language and the culture it comes from.
- Only translate into your own language.
- Select a specialist area of expertise, and study and be prepared to learn more about your specialist subject. Constantly.
- Read: books, newspapers, blogs, magazines, adverts, style guides, cereal packets…
- Listen: to TV, the radio, friends and family, strangers in the street, on the bus, in bars, in shops…
- Attend workshops, seminars and conferences in your subject area – listen to the experts, absorb their language. Even their jargon – but try not to use it.
- Keep up with current affairs.
- Keep your IT skills up-to-date.
- Practise and hone your skills — keep up with your training.
- Listen to the words that you write (some writers and translators read their texts out loud to themselves). Languages each have their own rhythm. If your writing doesn’t “sound” right, try changing the word order, not just the words.
- Use your spell-checker. Use it judiciously, but use it. Always.
- Print out your translated text and read it on paper before delivering it to your client. Always. Especially if you use computer-assisted translation (CAT) software. Print it out.
- Ask yourself if your translation makes sense. If it makes you stop, even for a second, and think “what does that really mean”?, then there’s something wrong.
- Write clearly and concisely, using the appropriate sentence- and paragraph-length for your target language. Use simple vocabulary. You can convey even complex ideas using clear, straightforward language.
- Inform your client of any mistakes, typos or ambiguous wording you find in the source text.
- Find ways to add value for your clients.
- Always keep your reader in mind.
- Always use your brain. That’s what makes a good translator a really good translator.
The list is of course subjective, and not complete (just take a look at Lanna Castellana’s description of the translator’s ideal life, training and career path!). So if you’ve got good tips that I’ve missed out, we’d love to hear about them in the comments.
By Marian Dougan