What Makes an Effective Translator?

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Think that anyone who knows two languages will automatically make an excellent translator? Think again. Translation is a complex process; it requires skill, practice, and creativity. Take a look at the top four traits of every successful translator.


Every effective translator is incredibly knowledgeable. Many people make the mistake of assuming that translators speak dozens of languages. However, more often than not, this simply isn’t the case. Most translators have specialized, in-depth knowledge of a language pair, specifically focusing on translations from French into English, for example. The key to successful translation is a nuanced understanding of both the target language and the source language, and that entails much more than just basic proficiency. Furthermore, translators also need to have an in-depth knowledge of the different translation strategies. When is it most appropriate to use literal translation and when should modulation or adaptation be used? Effective translators don’t just know what to say; they know how to say it. Lastly, the most skilled translators will also have a specific topic niche, allowing them to develop mastery over a specific subject matter. After all, you wouldn’t want someone without any medical knowledge translating instructions for an open-heart surgery. The bottom line? The knowledge required for translation goes well beyond linguistic knowledge.


Translators don’t just need to know how to translate information. They need to know how to do so professionally. Your translator should always behave and communicate in an incredibly professional manner. This entails tact, grace, and punctuality.


Translation is a pretty tough job. It’s more than just reading a sentence and rewriting it. In virtually every case, it takes more time, energy, and thought to translate a text than it does to write a text. Translators need to consider tone requirements, the reading level and comprehension skills of the audience, flow, etc. Throw a tight deadline on top of all those considerations, and stress levels can really flare up. You need a translator who is disciplined and can effectively manage his or her time in order get you a high-quality translation on time.

Research Skills

Translators are not omnipotent. At one point or another, they are likely to encounter a word they don’t know how to translate, or they might be forced to translate a text without having a thorough understanding of the topic or subject matter. When a translator doesn’t know something, he or she needs to be able to research the answer, and that, of course, requires excellent research skills. Translators should know where to procure information from high-quality sources and how to do so efficiently.

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