What is a Translator and What are Its Responsibilities?

Becoming a translator is not as simple as knowing two or more languages. Translators are experts in both communication and language who can read, comprehend, and convert written or spoken messages from one language into another clearly. Translators may provide their services for businesses, ex-pats, tourists, and many more people. Learning about what translators actually do and how to become a professional translator can help you better understand if it is a career path you could consider. In this post, we explain what is necessary to become a translator and how to break into a specific area like that of a Christian translation.

What a Translator Does

A translator, by definition, assists someone with communication by converting written words from one language into another to preserve meaning. Those who translate spoken words are technically interpreters when it is in person or over video or phone. This is typically done in real-time where the translation is usually after the fact. A translator usually specializes in two languages, but some may translate in more.

A successful translator makes sure the message, facts, and ideas remain accurate and maintain the author’s voice throughout the entirety of the project. Translators can work in many different industries like business, government, medicine, education, and more.

Translators, no matter which area they happen to work in, are usually responsible for a few core and common responsibilities. These include translating written communications and content, speaking, writing, and reading fluently in two or more languages, and maintaining the tone and style of the original language piece. In addition, translators must do research to understand cultural references, context, slang, expressions, and even jargon.

A translator needs to be able to manage time efficiently to meet deadlines and build terminology banks that can be used in future translations. Though the differences in a translator and interpreter have already been shared, the words are often interchangeably used and many offer the same services. These will be explained a bit further below.

Written Communications and Content

Translators are fluent in two or more languages, but this must go beyond speaking to writing in the right way. This is actually more difficult as a translator because they are not translating their own words, but those of someone else. What this means is that the translator must maintain the author’s voice in an authentic manner throughout. When it comes to books this becomes a true challenge, but it is also difficult for smaller texts or even conversations. Choosing a word that does not match the original language can change the tone of a whole page or conversation. A translator is trained to maintain consistency, but it is still a difficult task.

A translator must also be able to communicate with the original writer if questions arise. Sometimes, messages or passages are unclear and the translator must contact the author for clarification before the actual translation occurs. It is important that the clarification is understood.

Cultural Understanding

                Many people overlook the fact that translators must be immersed in the culture of translation as well. This is for both languages. It is important to understand the cultures of both languages so the translation is appropriate for the intended audience. Some references in one culture may be inappropriate in another which is why a trained translator is so important. Along with cultural understanding is the need to understand jargon, slang, and references that are culture-specific. Each language has different forms of slang that must be translated, but in a way that it still makes sense in the new language with a similar meaning and in the same voice. In some cases, slang may have to be avoided altogether to maintain the message without being offensive.

Time Management

                It is clear that a translator has a tough job simply translating from one language to another, but time management may be the most difficult aspect of the job. Translators often get paid by the word or page, not the amount of time spent doing the actual translation. This means a translator must manage their time well to finish full texts and other forms of translation in a timely manner and earn a reasonable living. Time management can be tough for anyone, but for the translator it is imperative. Time management can be the difference between making a living through translation and just using it for a bit of extra cash.

Specialized Translation

                If you choose to go into a specific area of translation, like medical, legal, or as a Christian translation service then further training is necessary. Those translating medical or legal documents must know the medical and legal terminology respectively. This goes beyond a surface knowledge into areas that the translators need to have worked in those areas or have been trained in the areas. Christian translato must also have immense knowledge of the Gospel, the Bible, and theology before working in this niche area. Some Christian translators may have been trained in religious history or as ministers or clergy. It is important to have this specialized knowledge in order to translate accurately.

Average Translator Salary

                Translators often work online or travel to work in person. On average a translator earns a bit over $20 an hour, but this can range between minimum wage and over $50 an hour depending on the actual project. Most translators are self-employed, but some work through agencies dedicated to translation services, often in a particular market. Translators who are self-employed can have varied schedules, but most tend to work full time with regularly set hours. Pay is dependent on many factors like the translation language of choice, skill level, specialty area, education, and experience in translation. Some languages are tougher to translate and it may be more difficult to find an available translator. This includes languages that are not spoken often or have a limited range. Salary may also be dependent on the language of origin and whether it is well known. Keep in mind the translator may be well versed in both languages so your original language and target language are both important factors.

Becoming a Translator

                Becoming a translator is not necessarily simple. There are several steps that must be taken and the first is to become fluent in a second language. This goes beyond conversational fluency and into being equal to that of a native speaker. Once this is accomplished, specialized training as a translation expert is necessary. If a niche market is a goal, that training must also be completed. Then, a translator can become certified in their country through the certification of that area.

Once again, if a specific industry is targeted, then all the terminology must be learned and understood. This is actually a career-long process as terminology often changes or is added to overtime. Finally, a translator can start gaining work experience. This may start with freelance work in which small texts are translated and then grow into a thriving business or a job with a translation agency. The pathway to becoming a translator is not necessarily easy, but those with a love of languages who can accurately translate may want to consider this career that is still growing and expanding into new markets.