Tolnai Translations

Five Essential Skills of a Freelance Translator

This is a series of LinkedIn posts published in the course of several weeks.

The skillset of a good translator is much wider than some people might think. In order to thrive professionally, a freelance translator must develop a number of essential skills. This blog post highlights five such skills.

Skill #1: Writing

A translator is primarily a WRITER. You simply cannot translate if you’re not a skilled writer. Your target recipients should never suspect that what they’re reading is actually a translation. Their reading experience must be smooth as silk ;-).

Skill #2: Cultural Competency

Languages never operate in a vacuum. They are spoken by people inhabiting different CULTURES. It is crucial to understand how language is used in, and shaped by culture. In fact, when you reach a certain level of depth in the study of human language, you will realise that there’s a high degree of equivalence between language and culture.

A translator needs to understand how readers react to specific words, phrases, texts and situations, and should always notify the client when a certain text would do more harm than good to their reputation.

Famous linguist Anna Wierzbicka wrote a very interesting book about the relationship between Englishes (sic!) and culture, named English Meaning and Culture. You should check it out, It’s an interesting read:

Skill #3: Technological Literacy

These days it is virtually impossible to be a translator/localizer and not be proficient in several CAT (computer aided translation) tools, CMS platforms, QA engines, client-proprietary project management systems, text corpus tools and even automation and DTP tools (the more tech savvy among us can even code and use deep learning software). Long gone are the days when all you needed was a word processor and maybe a spreadsheet software in order to translate and localize content.

Skill #4: Researching

There is no such thing as a ‘general’ text or translation. All texts are in fact specialized, which means that they contain terminology and field-specific phraseology. In order to equate these accurately, a translator must constantly research for the right correspondents, and they must do it fast! 

Skill #5: Marketing

The translation business model is almost exclusively freelance-based. This means that in order to find clients, a translator needs to market their services. There are plenty of marketing channels nowadays, and translators populate all of them. While some prefer social media and SEO, others are more into direct marketing & sales. And since translators have a way with words, they can also handle most of clients’ marketing content ;).

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