What makes a good translator?
Thread poster: Annett Hieber

Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:00
English to German
Aug 27, 2009

Hi Everybody!

I hope I did choose the correct forum - otherwise, dear staff, please move it correspondingly.

I would really like to know what you think makes a good translator? Would you base it on
criteria such as special trainings/exams, professionality, experience, membership at special translators' associations, excellence in use of CAT-tools? Do these criteria automatically stand for high-quality work? Or are there any other, more important criteria?

Please share your opinion!

Annett


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Cilian O'Tuama  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:00
German to English
+ ...
A good translator... Aug 27, 2009

...is someone who submits good translations punctually. End of story.



Cilian


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Kata Koncz  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 21:00
Member (2008)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
many things together Aug 27, 2009

- language skills: very good knowledge of source languages, exceptionally good knowledge of target language
- common sense, logic (a must)
- ability to pay attention (or "constant vigilance!")
- humility (the ability to question your own solution)
- in case of freelancing: good business skills


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perry  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 16:00
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Experience and knowledge Aug 27, 2009

In my opinion, to be a good translator it's necessary some training - I mean, at least a basic knowledge of translation theory and methods -, a very good understanding of the source language, and a deep knowledge of the target language.

I would also include lots of humility, curiosity, wisdom and patience. And last, although not least, experience, which will make a good translator even better, and turn some reasonable translators into good ones.


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Henrik Pipoyan  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:00
Member (2004)
English to Armenian
Better than the original Aug 27, 2009

If you read some text on your native language and it never occurs to you that it's a translation unless you are told, you're reading the best translation. I think this should be the number one criterion for each translator, a goal which is really hard to attain, but which should be a beacon to each translator.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:00
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
A question with a million answers... Aug 27, 2009

...provided that there are a million translators out there.

Annet, I think that each translator will use his/her own approaches to life and work as the list of aspects that make a good translator.

In general, if we for an instant forget about education, training, certifications, and experience, I'd say a good translator is someone who:
- Is curious and wants to know every tiny detail of every human creation
- Likes to know and understand what others do, think, believe and dream and what words they use in the whole process
- Thinks little details are critical
- Feels more and more ignorant as he/she grows in age, experience, and knowledge


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 21:00
Italian to English
Subject knowledge and a "bilingual" ear Aug 27, 2009

Having worked with many translators, good, bad and indifferent, over the years, there are one or two conclusions I can draw.

First of all, for technical translations, knowledge of the subject in the target language is a huge advantage. The best wine translators I know are target-language wine writers or experts with a good knowledge of the source language; linguists or translators with a good knowledge of wine who can write to the same standard are thin on the ground, although they do exist. The wine experts start off with valid target-language models to translate to, and that is what tends to set them apart from the linguists, who need time to assimilate models of their own.

Secondly, a good translator has a "bilingual ear", in the sense that while reading the source, he or she "hears" the equivalent rhythms in the target language. This may involve radical reformulation of the text. Many genuinely bilingual people, whose original production in both source and target languages is excellent, are "cloth-eared", in the sense that they are unable to transfer notions naturally from one language to the other.

Finally, in the case of literary translations, the best translators give their source a "voice". In other words, they take editorial responsibility for the style of the target text and find some sort of equivalent resonance in the target language while remaining absolutely faithful to the original.

FWIW

Giles


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Pablo Bouvier  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:00
German to Spanish
+ ...
What makes a good translator? Aug 28, 2009

a) common sense
b) translation instinct


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Michael Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:00
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
When you are able to tell someone ... that you love them, and, they actually realy FEEL that you do. Aug 29, 2009

Only THEN.

Michael



[Edited at 2009-08-29 00:34 GMT]


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andu
Local time: 22:00
What are translator qualifications,skills what is like common sense what they have to have? Aug 31, 2009

It is interesting. all fields what I am interested in, if I ask same question I get same answers. That there is no specific guideline and everything depends and everything is unique. I just can not believe it. In what ever field or what ever subject is possible to draw a very specific lines and give a guidelines how do start up. Why some professionals have not done some schema, plan or guide line for newcomers?

I am also interested in this question. What are translator qualifications,skills what is like common sense what they have to have.


[Edited at 2009-08-31 00:54 GMT]


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:00
Italian to English
+ ...
The absolute basics Aug 31, 2009

andu wrote:

It is interesting. all fields what I am interested in, if I ask same question I get same answers. That there is no specific guideline and everything depends and everything is unique. I just can not believe it. In what ever field or what ever subject is possible to draw a very specific lines and give a guidelines how do start up. Why some professionals have not done some schema, plan or guide line for newcomers?

I am also interested in this question. What are translator qualifications,skills what is like common sense what they have to have.


The absolute basics for being a good translator are
1) excellent understanding of and writing skills in the target language and
2) excellent understanding of the source language.

The reason that thereafter (and even "therebefore") everything depends is because translation is a job unlike any other (at least that I can think of).
For example, degrees in languages / translation will give people a thorough grounding in their future source languages and/or translation techniques, but will be necessarily unable to provide anything more than the sketchiest training and limited experience in any given field. However, there are relatively few jobs that don't require some specialist knowledge of a given area, which can give people who come to translation later in life - following training and extensive work experience in a specialist field in their native language - an advantage over those without such experience, as Giles points out.

There have been many threads on this topic and many heated debates on whether translators need (or should be required) to have formally studied translation.
Personally, I'd say the best plan for newcomers would probably be:
1) Study languages + translation + a specialist area (chemistry, accounting, marketing, law, whatever takes your fancy)
2) Go and work in your specialist area for 10 or 20 years, making sure that you're using your native (future target) language - if you can use your source languages too, that's a bonus
3) Start work as a translator.

Not very practical, is it? Which is why most people either study languages/translation and then become translators, or study and work in something else altogether and come to translation later in life, through a myriad of routes.

My own opinion is that both of these are valid routes but neither is sufficient in itself to guarantee quality: I've seen dreadful translations produced by translation graduates and so-called specialists as well as excellent translations from both categories. The ability to write well and appropriately is (I believe) an innate talent as much as a learnable skill - and it is also highly context-dependent, which is why the most frequently recurring advice you'll find in these forums is to specialise. It's my opinion that (when not due simply to inexperience) an over-literal, unidiomatic translation is generally an indication that the translator is out of his/her depth in the source text. So another key skill of being a good translator is to know your own limits - and stick within them.

[Edited at 2009-08-31 09:43 GMT]


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