Improving your translating skills

There are many good translators out there and there are even more amateur translators. Although it’s not a highly paid job, many choose this field because of their passion for languages, or just because it’s a job you can do in your pajamas. I do it for both of those reasons and more, but I’ve found that love for languages and comfort isn’t at all a guarantee for a successful career. Especially now that machine translations have become the norm in many translation practices, and with the growing competition thanks to online hiring, those pajamas don’t feel comfortable anymore!

Nowadays it’s not enough to be a good translator. You have to excel if you want to be first choice for your clients. There are different habits you can incorporate and add into your routine that will immensely improve the quality of your work and increase your satisfaction in the process.

1- Read books

Usually, translators are avid readers. But with life’s increasing speed and prices, there are few who can afford the luxury of time spent reading a good book.

If you don’t see it as a luxury, but as e job requirement instead, I guarantee you will find at least half an hour a day to read a few pages full of new vocabulary, new concepts, and cultural context that will enrich your translation big time. Be it in your native language or in the language you translate from, books are the greatest source for acquiring word mastery and cultural background.

2- Watch movies with subtitles

I am a movie translator, so movies are a given for me, but translators in other fields shouldn’t dismiss this great source of understanding subtleties of language and social contexts. Everybody watches movies, sure. But watching movies as a means of improving your language skills requires a certain amount of attentiveness to all the elements of dialogue in visual and written form in order to understand the nuances and the instances certain words and expressions are used. Subtitles in the original language are a huge help.

3- Don’t shy away from unknown material

On the contrary. You should ask for it! Take the initiative to translate materials outside of your field of expertise and call it a crash course in whatever new terminology you encounter. It may take longer and it may be harder for you to use your old tricks on new territory, but that’s the point. You get to learn new tricks, new words, new topics, and guess what? You get paid for doing it!

4- Work on your own deadlines

We The Translator People live and breathe on deadlines. They are our worst nightmare, and our salvation at the same time. Because without them, we wouldn’t get any job done. A good translator respects deadlines to the best of his/her ability. But…and it’s a big “But”…being an excellent translator doesn’t always mean being excellent at meeting deadlines. What it means is that an excellent translation requires its own sweet time, and your client will thank you for it (verbally or not), even if you go past the deadline. Don’t get me wrong. This is not to be done with every translation, otherwise you would go from good translator to a very bad one. But there are certain materials that require precision, finesse, or some other degree of skill that can’t be properly used within a standard deadline. You will know which is which.

5- Find your niche

Although it’s a good thing being able to diversify your translating skills, one should always have a specialty, a mastery that allows you to stand out from all other translators in the field. My suggestion is to choose the kind of translation you envision yourself doing for the rest of your life and practice, practice, practice. Even if you’re busy earning a living, you should always find the time and the ways to become an expert in your favorite field. It’s good for business and even greater for morale.

Success can only be attained by constant improvement and being in constant learning, but if you keep up the good work you’re already doing, and apply yourself daily to updating your skills, the changes are impressive. Your pajamas will feel like a custom made suit, and the more you learn, the bigger your passion for languages will grow. Your wallet too.