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With the huge number of translators out there on the market, how can you be sure that the one you choose is up to the job? What does it take to be a good translator?
First, it’s not a job everyone can do. Even being bilingual doesn’t necessarily make you a good translator. Translation is not simply a matter of looking up words in a dictionary, one by one – if it were that simple, we could all do it. The reason why it’s complex is that languages express ideas in different ways – with different grammatical structures, different word orders and different nuances of meaning.
A good translator is one who can understand the *ideas* being conveyed by the source text, and then reformulate them in the target language so that they sound as if they had originally been written by a native speaker of the target language. To do this, the translator needs to have a mastery of both languages and great flexibility of thought.
Another essential factor is experience. Translators get better at their job with experience – not just experience of translating, but also real-life experience. A translator needs to have excellent general knowledge and research skills, as well as a very keen eye for detail.
Finally, a good translator should know his or her limits. The knowledge required to translate a complex medical, legal or engineering text takes years to acquire – it’s not something you can learn overnight. Good translators know that in order to do a text full justice, they need to have a knowledge of the relevant field and terminology. They won’t take risks with a text they don’t feel fully comfortable with.