Translator Job Description - Definition, Training, Tasks, Skills and Duties

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Translator Job Description

Translator job description

A translator is a person who translates written texts from one language into another. In a certain sense, translators can be seen as “intermediaries” between people, companies, public bodies and organizations that use different languages, alphabets and writing systems.

But what exactly does the job of a translator involve?

Translators work with all kinds of texts, including fiction and non-fiction books, newspaper and magazine articles, press releases, commercial and marketing literature (e.g. presentations, brochures and leaflets), legal documents, such as contracts and deeds, websites, scientific reports and papers, technical manuals and corporate documentation.

Since - unlike an interpreter, who works with the spoken word - translators work with written texts, they may also be required to ensure that translated documents satisfy any relevant editorial requirements, e.g. regarding the layout, style or font.

A translator’s first task is to read and understand the text to be translated. They then proceed with the translation of the text, aiming to faithfully transfer the concepts contained in the original text into the target language. Translators require an excellent command of both written language and specialist terminology and should accurately apply the rules of spelling and grammar. Their overall aim is to preserve the structure, tone and style of the original source text in their target rendering. Where a text contains specific cultural references or idiomatic or colloquial expressions that may not have a direct equivalent in the target language, the translator’s job is to render them as accurately as possible. A translator’s goal is to produce a translated text that can be used as if it were an original source text. To achieve this, a natural, flowing style of writing should be adopted.

For the best results, translators generally translate from a foreign source language into their own native tongue. For this reasons, most job advertisements for translators are aimed at bilingual candidates and at candidates whose mother tongue is the target language.

A case apart are Braille translators, who transcribe written texts into Braille - a system for writing and reading in relief for blind and visually impaired people.

Translator skills and competencies

Translation is a complex task for which translators use a wide range of language resources and tools, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, lexicons, vocabulary lists, glossaries, CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools and translation memories. Many translators compile their own glossaries and lists of terms for use in future translations.

A knowledge of terminology alone is not sufficient, however. In order to adapt the content of a source text for use by readers who speak a different language and belong to a different culture, translators also require a comprehensive and far-reaching knowledge and understanding of the language, culture and society of the countries in which the source and target languages are spoken.

Many translators choose to focus on translating for a specific industry or field, such as economics, medicine, law, psychology, chemistry, engineering or literature. To do so requires an in-depth knowledge of the sector and its specialist terminology.

In truth, a translator never really stops learning. Languages are, by their very nature, fluid, dynamic phenomena, subject to constant and inevitable change: globalization brings with it a steady influx of foreign terms, new digital communication technologies generate all manner of neologisms, while spoken language continues to have an influence on the syntax of the written word. As a result, in order to stay competitive, translators need to work constantly on their language skills, keeping them fresh and up-to-date, and remaining alive and alert to developments in their source and target languages.

As far as employment opportunities are concerned, most translators are self-employed and work on a freelance basis, finding clients by themselves or with the help of a translation agency. Other potential employers include government institutions and international organizations with an in-house team of translators and interpreters.

Technical translators in particular are highly sought-after. They are often employed in the sales and marketing departments of medium to large sized companies, especially those operating in the manufacturing and engineering sector. Typical tasks of technical translators include translating and proofreading technical documentation, product catalogues, technical specifications, and proposal documents, as well as handling correspondence with international clients and providing support and assistance to technical departments and sales and shipping offices.

Depending on the circumstances, translators may work either in a traditional office setting or remotely, receiving and delivering documents in an electronic format. The working hours of a translator tend to be very flexible in order to meet deadlines and client requirements.

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Translator: Responsibilities and Tasks

Translator tasks and responsibilities

The main tasks of a translator typically include:

  • Translating written texts from one language into another, maintaining the concepts, tone, cultural references and nuances of the original source text
  • Proofreading translations and ensuring that they are free from errors
  • Ensuring that translated texts meet all relevant editorial requirements, i.e. in terms of layout, style, font etc.
  • Delivering translated texts in accordance with the agreed deadline

How to Become a Translator - Education, Training and Requirements

How to become Translator - Training

To become a translator requires a perfect command and understanding of both the source and target languages (ideally to native speaker level), so being bilingual is a strong advantage.

There are no specific educational requirements, although a degree in languages or a diploma from a school for translators and interpreters is likely to be beneficial.

In order to preserve all of the information and nuances present in a source text, translators require an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the language, culture and society of the country in which the source language is spoken, including an up-to-date knowledge of slang, jargon and colloquialisms. This knowledge can be acquired and developed through travel, study and work abroad, as well as by reading in both languages.

Professional translators also need to be able to use a wide range of translation tools and resources, including glossaries, databases and CAT tools. Another key competence in the professional translator’s repertoire are the IT skills needed to use a PC in a remote work situation (e.g. word processors, common office applications, email etc.).

Translator - Skills and Qualifications

Job advertisements for translators typically ask for the following skills:

  • Perfect command of target and source languages
  • Extensive knowledge of the culture and society of the country in which the source language is spoken
  • Good general knowledge
  • Knowledge of translation techniques
  • Knowledge of translation tools, e.g. CAT tools, dictionaries, terminology databases and glossaries
  • Ability to use common computer software applications
  • Communication skills
  • Precision and reliability
  • Flexibility

Translator Career Path

Translator career path

A career as a translator offers a variety of career development paths and opportunities to specialize. A translator may choose for example to translate from one or more source languages (e.g. English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi etc.), to focus on a specific type of text (e.g. literature, newspaper and magazine articles, academic texts or technical manuals) or to concentrate on a specific sector or field (e.g. law, medicine or science and technology).

Some types of specialist translator are:

  • Literary translator - works for one or more publishers, translating novels, non-fiction, magazine articles, tourist guidebooks, etc.
  • Technical translator - translates technical documentation for companies
  • Web translator - provides translation and localization services for websites and online content
  • Sworn translators - translator specializing in sworn or certified translations, i.e. legally valid translations of official documents (certificates, diplomas, licenses, contracts, trial deeds etc.)
  • Audiovisual translator or subtitler - translator of scripts for videos, documentaries, films, TV series etc.

Another possibility open to translators is to improve their spoken word skills and pursue a career as an interpreter. Further options include going into cultural and linguistic mediation or teaching foreign languages.

Finally, language skills can be used in a wide range of other fields, for example, in sales, import/export, marketing, communication (for example as a copywriter or a web content manager), international relations, or in a customer service role, assisting international clients in the tourist industry.

Top Reasons to Work as a Translator

A passion for foreign languages and cultures is the main reason people choose to embark on a career as a translator.

The role is a very interesting and rewarding one that offers the opportunity to come into contact with people of a wide range of different languages and cultures.

Translation as a profession is both stimulating and engaging and offers a great degree of variety. In addition to translating a wide range of source texts, the job of a translator also involves a number of other related activities, such as proofreading, reviewing and editing.

Another attraction of the role is the high degree of flexibility that professional translators enjoy. A majority of translators work on a freelance basis, meaning they are (potentially at least) able to work remotely from anywhere in the world (e.g. from home or at a co-working space) and are free to organize their working day around the delivery deadlines agreed with their clients.