Professional Skills and Abilities
of Language Translators

Professional language translators must have certain skills to provide a reliable translation. Why? Because translation is a complex process. It implies not only written renditions of written texts from one language (source language) into another language (target language) but also the accurate conveying of the explicit and implicit meaning of the original into the target language. So it is obvious that competence in source and target languages is a must. But it is not sufficient. What else is necessary?

  1. Ability to use translation strategies and methods (e.g. for handling idioms, metaphors, figurative language, adverbial phrases, neologisms, etc.) to choose the equivalent expression in the target language. For example, to get an idea of what it takes to translate neologisms, please read the article “How to Translate Neologisms”. Ability to replace source language structures alien to the target language in order to avoid awkward and sloppy target language expressions that obscure or distort the true meaning of the source text.
  2. Cultural awareness and familiarity not only with the culture, in which the translator has been born, brought up and educated, but also with the socio-cultural context of the source language (a language from which the translator translates).

    The way in which people use language reflects their beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, morals, and customs. They differ from culture to culture. People are usually unaware of this mechanism as it works at an unconscious level.

    Customary, commonly accepted ways of presenting reality and naming phenomena in one culture sometimes are in contradiction with the actual state of things in the other culture. The language translator, as a professional sensitive to language, should be aware of these differences and contradictions so as not to project values of one culture to the other culture and thus not to misinterpret the original meaning.

  3. Oh, Those Cultural Differences face smile

    The judge in a German court addresses an American soldier (from Chicago). Do you admit that you’ve shot the barkeeper, the cashier, two customers and looted the cash box?”
    “Yes, I admit it,” says the soldier, “but I’m not guilty.”
    “And who is guilty?”
    “The barkeeper – he told me to be at home.”


    A tramp ship with a heterogeneous passenger list stranded on an idyllic Polynesian islet. Soon the little spot was a beehive of activity. The Germans were drilling the natives into an army. The Americans opened a general store and auto agency. The Australians started a race track; the French a restaurant. Two Scots were financing the whole show, and a couple of Englishmen were still standing around waiting to be introduced.

  4. Knowledge of terminology in specialized fields in which the translator works. This condition takes on special significance in the work on technical texts. The more technical, specialized and niche the subject, the more important it is that the translator knows it inside out. The translator, who is not thoroughly acquainted with respective industries or branches of knowledge, will inevitably plunge into errors and distort the author’s ideas.

  5. Ability to work with multilingual and monolingual dictionaries, research and analytical skills (including a talent for gisting and summarizing a text), ability to effectively use translation tools and resources (CAT tools, glossaries, on-line aids).

  6. Ability to finalize the translation by the specified deadline and according to translation specifications.

The translator's performance depends on the degree to which his/her competence in all the above linguistic and nonlinguistic skills combines in the translation process.

Quality that should be expected from the professional language translator:

Minimum: Reasonably reliable and accurate translation. On the whole, word choice and expression adhere to norms of the target language.

Maximum: Full conveying of the content and register of the source text. Best matches are used for nuances of the meaning intended in the source language. Flawless expression. Absolute subject matter accuracy.

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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