What Is a Translator? Common Tasks, Types, & Skills

What Is a Translator? Common Tasks, Types, & Skills

More and more companies are looking to go global and need translation professionals to help them communicate with customers across languages and cultures—including translating product descriptions, marketing materials, and website content.

Are you interested in hiring a translator for your business but not quite sure what they do? This article will cover various aspects of translation work, including what a translator is, what they do, and the skills they need to help your business succeed.

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What is a translator?

Translators are responsible for translating written text from one language to another (usually a native language). They rely on advanced writing and translation skills to ensure the translated text resembles the original in terms of context and flow.

Professional translators understand the need to maintain linguistic accuracy and cultural relevance by considering key references like slang and other expressions.

What does a translator do?

Translators often handle a wide range of responsibilities involving written text. These tasks may include:

Rewriting original material in the target language

Translation typically involves rewriting the source language in a different language. As a client, you would provide specific translation guidelines to match a particular purpose. The translator would then need to maintain the original text’s accuracy, with the rewriting process complying with cultural norms.

For this reason, the language translator’s word choices make a difference in conveying ideas and facts contained in the original text. When handled correctly, the rewriting process should produce content that mimics the cultural contexts of the source and target language.

In this way, translation plays a critical role in adapting written text for a different audience. It influences how the target audience reads and perceives the content.

Proofreading and making final editions to translated versions

Editing and proofreading are two key functions of translation that ensure quality results based on the client’s requested style. The project brief or guidelines determine how the translator will approach the rewriting and proofreading process.

Some translators may even specialize in editing and proofreading translated documents, reviewing the document for word usage, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. They may also check the target language for key linguistic issues, such as terminology, semantics, syntax, consistency, and jargon based on the requested style. They will then make revisions if they identify significant quality issues.

Fact-checking is another critical step performed by translators. The process involves double-checking specific terms in industry terminology glossaries, institutional websites, dictionaries, reference books, and other relevant resources. Depending on the project brief or style requirements, the translator may also modify the document’s style in tandem with the brief.

Finding correct translation of legal, technical, and phraseology terms

Correctly adapting technical, legal, and phraseology terms is a critical aspect of professional translation work. Terminology glossaries, dictionaries, and other resources help the professional translate these terms accurately to ensure the original text’s fidelity. Failing to research relevant terms thoroughly can make it difficult to retain the source language’s meaning and context.

A translator should follow your terminology preferences to suit the content’s purpose, so it’s important that they have access to comprehensive terminology databases focusing on the relevant field or industry. These resources provide access to standardized word lists to ensure consistency in term usage. Most translation software and apps come with integrated terminology databases for added convenience.

Finding the equivalent for words used with specialist dictionaries, thesauruses, and reference books

Specialist dictionaries and thesauruses act as reference resources for translators. They make it easier to cover a wider semantic range of different words. Referencing terms using dictionaries allows the translator to assess multiple interpretive options for a particular word in a foreign language and the target language.

A dictionary builds a deeper understanding of the original word’s semantic range. As a result, the translator selects the best word option for the target language, allowing them to make the translation as culturally relevant as possible.

Researching words thoroughly helps distinguish human translation from machine translation. An in-depth understanding of specific words and the content’s wider context enhances accuracy. If a language translator doesn’t reference words from a dictionary or another resource, they may limit their translation options and the overall quality of the final document. This aspect is critical because effective translation involves converting a word’s meaning instead of simply replacing it with its equivalent (or synonyms) in a target language.

Monolingual dictionaries provide a more effective way to translate specific words accurately without undermining the contextual meaning of a sentence. Many online platforms provide access to monolingual dictionaries with an extensive collection of word lists.

Types of translators

There are different types of translators, and the right translation services will depend on your business needs. They include:

Literary translation

This type of translation involves converting creative prose, poetry, and dramatic languages from one language to another. Translators also work on historical literature to expand accessibility. Literary translators play an important role in helping people understand history, literature, and cultures. They can also help widen people’s vocabularies.

Literary translators often work for major publishing companies and literary magazines or websites.

Professional translation

Professional translators tend to work on texts focusing on medical (health care), administrative, legal, and other fields. Some texts typically appear in reference books as they come with technical jargon understood by professionals in specific fields. Examples of the texts include medical documents, product user guides, and marketing materials.

Advantages of professional translation include converting user guides into languages understood by a specific target audience and enabling professionals from different countries to share technical information. For instance, a law firm can translate legal documents to help prepare paperwork for cases involving texts in multiple languages.

Technical translation

Technical translators convert documents covering technical and scientific topics. These documents may include technical journals, whitepapers, and research papers. Technical translators have the necessary experience in a specific field to ensure accuracy thanks to familiarity with the terminology used in the source and target languages.

According to the American Translators Association (ATA), translating technical manuals requires high levels of objectivity, top-level writing skills, and specialized knowledge in the subject area. This type of translation enables organizations to expand their market reach, meet compliance requirements, enhance collaboration globally, and improve customer interaction with services or products.

Skills to consider when hiring a translator

Experienced translators compose highly accurate translations thanks to their attention to detail and excellent grammar. In addition, they demonstrate near-native-level fluency in two or more languages. Hiring a translator with these and other skills, including a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, makes it easier to create high-quality content that achieves a particular purpose.

Here’s a closer look at the skills you should consider when choosing the right translator for your business needs.

1. Fluency of two or more languages

Translators with high-level translation skills and fluency in two or more languages can help you achieve your desired results. For this reason, it’s a good idea to pick a translator with proven expertise in a particular source and target language to match your project requirements. Top-rated translators usually come with a combination of advanced linguistic abilities and a detailed understanding of cultural nuances associated with specific languages.

Examples of popular source and target languages translated include:

  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • English
  • Arabic
  • German
  • Mandarin
  • Italian
  • Vietnamese

2. Ability to write in foreign languages with excellent command of grammar

Professional translators have a superior grasp of vocabulary and grammar rules for specific language pairs. You can count on their detailed understanding of foreign languages to produce accurate translations that flow seamlessly. The translators also bolster their understanding of target languages by relying on terminology databases and reference books to deliver the right results.

3. Accuracy and attention to detail

Rewriting text from one language to another is an art form that demands attention to detail. By selecting an experienced translator, it becomes easier to create error-free translations compared to the results produced by Google Translate. Meticulous proofreading also helps eliminate linguistic or style issues. Fact-checking is another critical aspect when it comes to professional translation projects.

4. Country-specific culture knowledge

The ideal translator is familiar with the cultural nuances of the source and target languages. This knowledge plays a vital role in creating relevant content that’s accurate and high-quality. Cultural value systems are an important aspect of communication, necessitating the need to express ideas and facts that appeal to the target audience. Understanding a particular culture allows the translator to recognize literal and implied meanings.

5. Organized and able to meet deadlines

A good translator handling translation projects understands the importance of staying well-organized to maximize efficiency and productivity. This approach enables a translator to manage their workflow better, minimizing the turnaround time without undermining the quality of translations.

Hire an independent translator

Whether you want to translate marketing materials or your website, you can count on self-employed translators to get the job done correctly.

Upwork provides access to a global pool of experienced translators capable of handling a wide range of translator jobs. Our platform makes it easier to find the right talent and manage your translation projects more efficiently. After identifying the right independent professional for your project, you can provide a brief outlining project requirements and expectations, allowing the person to understand your specific business needs.

Find the right talent with the translation skills and experience you need today.


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What Is a Translator? Common Tasks, Types, & Skills
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