Professional translator?
Thread poster: Williamson

Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:58
Flemish to English
+ ...
Sep 7, 2006

Suppose you were a HRM-professional at a (language) company and your boss told you to draw up a profile of a professional translator. What items and characteristics would you look for?


Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
English to German
+ ...
I would look for 3 main characteristics Sep 7, 2006

- familiar with the subject areas to translate
- native in target language
- several years of experience and/or a degree in translation


Joost Elshoff  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:58
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
experienced in working with CAT of course Sep 7, 2006

Knowledge and experience with CAT tools and computer literacy would be convenient. But I think the three main characteristics Harry Bornemann posted would be the most important things to have in a profile.

Other things to look for:
- project manager (after all, translating is not just arranging translated words into sentences)
- good contact skills
- very good/perfect knowledge of the source language the translator has to work with.

Personally I'd add a creative mind to that list.


Niraja Nanjundan (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:28
German to English
I would add...... Sep 7, 2006

.....reliability and a willingness to cooperate. I suppose you would need good references from former clients to be able to judge this.


Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:58
French to English
+ ...
and also Sep 7, 2006

excellent writing skills!


RobinB  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:58
German to English
Several criteria Sep 7, 2006

adapted from our standard presentation to students and junior translators:

1) Sheer talent. Paper qualifications are no substitute for talent; at best they may be a general guide to an individual's academic performance, at worst they are a dangerous delusion.

2) Outstanding, exceptionally good command of native language, i.e. in the top 2% as far as writing skills, expression and familiarity with grammar are concerned.

3) Ambition, passion, a desire to improve – translators have to *care* about their work, while still being adaptive team players.

4) Curiosity, compulsive learners, a "dustbin mind"; translators have to be "switched on" - all the time.

5) Ability to learn and continuously extend knowledge of multiple subject areas.

6) Extremely sound, growable knowledge of source (foreign) language(s).

7) Translators need organisation, process and self-discipline, plus a willingness to "get their hands dirty".

8) Good general grounding in business, irrespective of the subject areas translated.


smarinella  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:58
German to Italian
+ ...
excellent writing skills.. Sep 7, 2006 the mother language are for me the A and O of a professional translator, as Patricia said before.

Only for a technical translator, for instance, competence in CAT tool or high computer literacy are important.

I work myself mostly for the press and in my CV is written: I dont' use CAT tools, since I 'm not a technical translator.

And working also as a revisor - I hate it but I sometimes do it all the same - I know how poorly written texts sometimes can be [as this small English text of mine..].

So I would say:

a) excellent writing skills in the mother language

b) excellent knowledge of the source language - in the areas of expertise (+ direct knowledge of ountry, mentality and so on..)

c) marketing ability

[Edited at 2006-09-07 13:33]


Joost Elshoff  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:58
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
Nice profile Sep 7, 2006

I especially like RobinB's description of a translators profile. I think most of us here should even be able to recognize themselves in that description.

Nothing more to add to that!


Local time: 02:58
Spanish to English
+ ...
Bravo, RobinB Sep 8, 2006

Your eight great traits are much more important than a translation degree. Of course the ninth, acquired over time with practice, is experience (both life experience and translating experience).


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:58
Flemish to English
+ ...
Conclusion Sep 8, 2006

Conclusion: To study for a master in Translation is a waste of time and there should only be schools for interpreters, given that interpreting is not something you can learn overnight?
I wonder if you are interested in learning say Chinese upto translation level, how do you go about. Just translate overnight without learning the language?


Local time: 11:58
French to Dutch
+ ...
That's your interpretation Sep 8, 2006

Williamson wrote:

Conclusion: To study for a master in Translation is a waste of time

A translation degree can be a great shortcut to speed up most of Robin B's points, for those who are motivated. In each case, you're trained for your profession. It makes you win years.

I would like to add another point :
9) Resistance to stress.

This makes that a translator who meets all points would be a kind of perfect person or sheep with 5 legs. I am sure not everybody would recognize himself in this description! Let us be reasonable, nobody is perfect.

[Edited at 2006-09-08 08:07]


RobinB  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:58
German to English
Don't misconstrue my words Sep 8, 2006

Williamson wrote:

Conclusion: To study for a master in Translation is a waste of time and there should only be schools for interpreters, given that interpreting is not something you can learn overnight?

That's not what I said, is it? No, of course not. What I said was that a translation degree is no evidence whatsoever of ability to translate. It *is* evidence that the individual concerned has completed a course of academic studies.

The problem is that (certainly for languages such as German/French and English, going either way) there are hardly any university-level courses worldwide that actually *teach* people how to translate, rather than providing some sort of academic insight into "translation science". Forty hours of classroom translation per academic year is a waste of time and taxpayers' money.

My conclusions from my experience as a translator (17 years) and employer of translators/reviser (10 years) is that, overall, and with a handful of honourable exceptions, the academic translation qualifications on offer today simply do not provide a reliable guide to an individual's ability to translate.

I think that, compared with interpreters, translators are, on the whole, extremely poorly served when it comes to professional training. If translation students were to receive the same breadth and depth of professional training that interpreting students do, then of course postgraduate translation courses would be more worthwhile.

But it's very *difficult* to teach translation, that's clear. In fact, I'm convinced it's more difficult to teach somebody to translate excellently than it is to teach somebody to interpret excellently. I know that this goes against the received (academic) wisdom, but OTOH, this received wisdom seems to have been written largely by interpreters. The university selection criteria for interpreters are also much stiffer than those for translators, which merely adds to the perceived lower status of translation and translators versus the "stars", the interpreters. Basically, translation students get a bum deal.

That's why initiatives such as the Legal Translation MA proposed by City University in London are so exciting (2-year, part-time specialist translation MA; largely distance learning; aimed at working translators, not newbies; a combination of subject-area knowledge and practical translation involving that knowledge). And if the Legal Translation MA is successful, further specialised translation courses will follow.

I really do believe that we need to radically rethink the concept of translator training. Forget the theory, the pseudo-science: "principles of translation" are what's needed. Forget the couple of hours a semester translating an article from the Economist: 20 hours of classroom translation a week are what's needed (for a full-time course at least). Forget the excessive focus on language technology: a couple of days in the final semester are all that's needed (there's little point teaching people about translation technology if they can't translate in the first place). And so on...

[Edited at 2006-09-08 08:06]


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:58
Flemish to English
+ ...
Some time ago: from a continental point of view. Sep 8, 2006

It was not my intention to misconstrue your words.

Don't you view things from a British perspective?

Because there seems to be a difference between the translator's education in Britain and on the continent.

FWIW , Translated from my (continental) degree:

The training consists of

During the first two years, two years of study:
1. Dutch (270 hours): Diachronic (historical study of the language) and synchronic
(present day )grammar-Noam Chomsky).
Theoretical and practical pronunciation exercises.
Political, economic and social structure of the Low Lands.

With what I know now, I would have chosen one of the three Belgian schools where French is the basic language. After all, it was the "language next door" (to be taken literally).

2. Foreign languages:

English (420 hours): Grammar, acquisition of the language-, oral and written command of the language, practical exercises in off-the-cuff and written translation.
Spanish: (420 hours): ditto.

- Language acquisition: I have assimilated Spanish by syntactical and semantical analysis of a Spanish writer, who writes sentences which are 20 lines long on an average. The French equivalent of Francisco de Ayala is Marcel Proust.
The exercise consisted in giving the meaning of the words, denominate them by their name and explain their place in the sentence. Syntax is the structure of a language a speaker has in his head. This exercise made you understand the structure of the chosen language.
Together with a lot of obligatory reading and lessons taught by natives, who encouraged you to watch Spanish TV as much as you could and go to Spain as much as you could, I found this a good method of teaching. 20 years ago, you did not have the luxury of the web.
My teacher of English was the BBC-world service. Favorite series: All Gas and Gaiters", Lord of the Rings, Yes, minister and Yes, Prime Minister.
At the time, I tried to comprehend the lingo of Sir Humphrey and the implicit suggestions, which are embedded in the English language.
However, the level of the Economist and the English equivalent of LeMonde Diplomatique is a tad higher.
Who does not remember on the more "vulgar" side: "On the buses","Are you being served?" Dad's Army', "Fawlty Towers" etc.

3. General formative courses:
Philosphy (30 hours): logic,
Law (60 hours): Compendium of the legal system, general law principles, compendium of municipal law, compendium of international law, compendium of commercial law.
Economic sciences (90 hours): General economics, economic geography (about the geography of the world and its resources), (history of) economic and social doctrines.
Sociology: general sociology, labour sociology, sociology of language. (30 hours)
Introduction to art history (30 hours).
Introduction to CAT

In between the first two years and the last two years : Compulsory military service as a translator/interpreter at the Belgian equivalent of the J.A.G.s -office in German ( which at the time was near the Möhnesee) with for a change French, German and Dutch as source and target-languages. Here, you were not asked if you had a degree, you just had to translate the files you were given or be the go-between between the unilingual French-speaking magistrate and the Germans. Most of the Dutch speaking magistrates were multilingual

In short, a good practical exercise of 10 months and a taste of reality of translation of criminal records, autopsies, drunken driving reports, parts of NATO-treaties, etc... with in between and during service hours a translation for an agency back home.
To continue:

1. Dutch: (60 hours) : Oral and written mastery of the language, terminological problems, communicative skills.
2. Foreign languages: English and Spanish (600 hours each):
Both languages comprise structural grammar, diachronic linguistics, political (constitution of the USA and the functioning of the British parliament), economic, social and cultural structure of the countries where these languages are the most usual official languages (meaning North-America, Spain and Latin-America), present-day literature (which for Spanish entailed the reading of about 10 books in two years of a minimum of pages-that way, I became a "hopscotch specialist" (Rayuela), for English it was a bit less), theory and practice of written translation (business, medical, technical, commercial correspondence), communicative skills, consecutive and simultaneous translation and interpreting.

3 General courses

Comparative study of Indo-European languages (15 hours)
General stylistics (30 hours)
General dialectology (15 hours).
Ethical code of the translator and the interpreter (15 hours).
Sociolinguistics (30 hours)
Scientific and technical problems (15 hours).
International institutions (30 hours)
International Politics (30 hours)
Subtitling and CAT (30 hours)

+ a graduation paper about the "Big Bang" (Computerization of the Trading on London Stock-Exchange (1987) (about 150 pages).

and because one of my fellow students (love is a strange thing) studied Italian, in the evening I helped her with a lot of her assignments until the early hours of the morning. In the end, I knew a lot about Italian politicians of the day , like Aldo Moro. Today, I still can read and understand the Corriere della Sera.

For the past ten years, I have been attending courses, but without or with scant mathematical skills some studies, like business studies are full-time occupations. No time to work against a deadline when at the same time you have to deliver a paper or an ULM-flow-chart which the assistant-professor changes constantly.
However, according to some that is what the ideal translator is all about. A person well-versed in a couple of languages, who has acquired an extra degree in another field and has some years' of experience in that field. In other words, "Rara Avis" wanted.
In the little kingdom of Belgium, there are 7 institutes for translators and interpreters. 3 of them produce graduates with French as mother-tongue and one with German, because in the region of Eupen most people are German-speaking or bilingual German-French (Lüttich or Liège being next door). Switzerland is a trilingual country with English as the semi-official fourth language. If I am not mistaken, the oldest school for translators and interpreters is in Geneva. It should be too difficult to find people with a high-level in French/German there.
I guess that at other continental institution the curriculum may differ a bit, but not in the number of hours graduates will have attended upon graduation (About 1050 hours of each foreign language). No basis to start as (freelance translator)?

[Edited at 2006-09-08 11:23]


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