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Poll: Which of these traits is most important to a good translator/interpreter?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

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Nov 9, 2017

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Which of these traits is most important to a good translator/interpreter?".

This poll was originally submitted by Nicole Blanc. View the poll results »



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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:58
Spanish to English
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Curiosity Nov 9, 2017

I really don't like absolutist polls like this asking what "the most" anything is. In real life, I think the actual answer would be "some of the above", but I chose curiosity, as I think it's the one feature mentioned that can keep the dreaded "boredom" factor at bay.

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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:58
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
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Persistence Nov 9, 2017

I don't think any other quality comes even close.

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 05:58
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Common sense Nov 9, 2017

The list of examples would be immense, and the explanations would be even longer, however I feel that every good translator/interpreter must strive to make "common sense" a pervasive trait in their everyday endeavors.

There are several reasons for that:

  • Clients are often unfamiliar with either the source or target language (sometimes both).
  • Some unfounded personal beliefs are often taken as truths (e.g. that a video MUST be transcribed before translating for dubbing or subtitling. This is not true; it becomes more economical to do so when there are more than two target languages at stake.)
  • The concept of "native speaker" is extremely nebulous regarding translating skill.
  • Machine translation/interpreting is considerably less reliable than the amazing examples proudly presented by its developers on YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere.
  • Reliable translators are rare outside their languages' location (e.g. EN > DE translators in the Far East).
  • Prices vary a lot depending on the translator's location, and the language pair too. The one-rate-fits-all approach has lost its place to globalization.
  • Interest rates vary much more, depending on the translator's location, and the language pair too. The one-payment term-fits-all approach has lost its place to globalization.
  • While all translators are presumably bilingual, not all bilinguals are good translators.
  • Language variants may play a much more relevant role than a non-speaker may think.
  • Translation is something that can be completely done with pencil and paper, anything else is additional work.
  • A good translator is not necessarily a good interpreter, AND vice-versa.
  • Differently from what many outsourcers think, CAT tools - particularly Trados - do NOT render translation work as quick and easy as machine translation.
... this could go on and on.

The good translator/interpreter must have a lot of common sense, in order to impart some of it - as necessary - to their prospects, and thus mitigate a number of deeply ingrained (albeit with no pinpointable reason) misbeliefs.


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Egmont Schröder  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:58
Member (2013)
Chinese to German
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Curiosity Nov 9, 2017

This is why I actually love this job: It provides an opportunity to fulfill my curiosity.
This does not only cover areas of specialication where I can read a lot about medical treatments or the newest technical inventions, it also applies to the knowledge about different businesses and the structure of companies (not even mentioning the knowledge about different cultures ...).

But the thing I am most curious about is how to get around as one man company (freelancer). This keeps me learning new skills and improving my productivity.

I believe for every work you are doing it is important to keep the curiosity of a small child.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 10:58
Member (2003)
Danish to English
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Humility? Nov 9, 2017

Certainly not self-conceit! (Undue pride in oneself according to my Concise Oxford).
If that should have been self-confidence, it is definitely an advantage in some situations. Indispensable for an interpreter, I expect.

You do need enough self confidence to trust the gut instinct and the native ear when you KNOW you are right, combined with a certain humility and openness to the idea that there are always more nuances and subtleties to language than you have come across so far - and certainly far more than you can find in your TM.

It is important to know when to be sure of yourself and when to check an extra time.

I would not presume to say that humility is the most important trait, but many of the best translators I know are in fact very humble about their work.

Interpreters need rather different qualities - many are generally more outgoing than translators, with a good deal of empathy, and able to make a quick decision without checking three times before committing themselves! Sometimes it must be a very delicate balance between conveying what is actually said, emotions and all, and maintaining professional neutrality.

I simply could not translate if I had to look my client in the eye every other minute. I cannot interpret - I like to keep at a safe distance from the rest of the human race!


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 09:58
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
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Curiosity Nov 9, 2017

Some say that “curiosity killed the cat,” but at least in my case, curiosity has always served me right. I could add patience, politeness and calm to the list other colleagues have already mentioned.

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Murad AWAD  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:58
Member (2007)
English to Arabic
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MODERATOR
Concentration,research,self-reliance and creation Nov 9, 2017

Hi,

Concentration,research,self-reliance and creation is the most important items for a good translator/interpreter.

Kind regards,

Murad AWAD

[Edited at 2017-11-09 11:06 GMT]


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Morano El-Kholy  Identity Verified
Egypt
Local time: 10:58
Member (2011)
English to Arabic
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Yes, Persistence. Nov 9, 2017

Agree with Muriel,.... Persistence or Perseverance

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jeniorims
Sweden
Local time: 10:58
Swedish to English
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Diligence Nov 9, 2017

to me is the most important trait.

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Yetta J Bogarde  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 10:58
Member (2012)
English to Danish
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Organized thinking Nov 9, 2017

among other things

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Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:58
Member (2015)
German to English
Curiosity Nov 9, 2017

In a very broad sense.

Curiosity not just about language and subjects. About how to do something differently. About what one can learn listening to others talk about their work. About why a client might be unhappy (not simply saying he's unreasonable). About what one might find at that convention, or whether that certification exam is within one's reach, or what that CAT tool can actually do besides the basics.
IMO, persistence is important but if you have no curiosity driving that persistence, then it's going to be a longer, harder journey.


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VICTOR DANIEL P  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 03:58
Member (2017)
English to Spanish
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Bot just among boredom Nov 9, 2017

neilmac wrote:

I really don't like absolutist polls like this asking what "the most" anything is. In real life, I think the actual answer would be "some of the above", but I chose curiosity, as I think it's the one feature mentioned that can keep the dreaded "boredom" factor at bay.


I also thing it is just the one of the mentioned ones which I would consider over the others. In the other hand, curiosity move us ti always improve a translation looking for more information, specially in technical fields.

Greetings

VD


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writeaway  Identity Verified
French to English
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I voted for self-conceit Nov 9, 2017

Based on my personal experience, the most self-conceited translators are often the most successful in terms of workload and earnings. I'm not sure if self-conceit always ties in with being good, but it most definitely ties in with earning a good living.

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Henry Schroeder  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:58
Member (2002)
German to English
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Attention to detail Nov 9, 2017

To add another...

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