How to Improve Yourself as a Translator in Ten Grueling Steps

There is no one better than oneself to see what needs to be improved and what deficiencies are present in a one’s translation.

In other words, sometimes it is not easy to spot the inadequacies in your translation due to your ignorance of a certain terminology or poor vocabulary for a specific subject field. Grammatical doubts are a pain in the a** too.

Sometimes all we need is another colleague’s comment on our translation. Just another pair of eyes looking at the words and sentence constructions in their own unique way to help us de-glue (it would be cool if this word existed) the words that we carelessly or ignorantly stuck together in what we dared to call a sentence.

Inspired by Marina Orellana (a Spanish author of glossaries and books about translation) and her presentation of some of the issues on the subject presented in this post, I decided to do a summary list of some of her conclusions concerning improvements that translators can make in their daily translation works. Let’s see some wise words from me and her.

Read a lot of good writers in your target language. Mastering your mother tongue or the language in which you translate is essential for a text to sound natural and flawless in terms of grammar, spelling, etc. So, one of the tips Orellana makes is to read a lot and to try notice the style of the best writers. Knowing how to distinguish between types of narrative and how to write is a good ingredient to translate later.

Read about different disciplines and subjects. Whether agriculture, economics or technology, and no matter if the subject fields are not of your interest or specialty, it is useful to acquire vocabulary. You never know when you will need it.

I can quote Orellana on this point: “Like a good swimmer, the translator must be prepared to swim in all waters, that is, translate texts on subjects that he does not know, or knows little of, and do it in a satisfactory way with all the resources at disposal (libraries, dictionaries, reference material, etc.)

Read different types of printed material. Novels, reports, resolutions, laws … You will find useful terms in many types of text and all this material will help you enrich your vocabulary and familiarize yourself with different modalities of expression. Even shampoo product labels or chicken broth instructions can provide information that may be relevant at some point of your professional life. You never know.

Use the dictionary to perfect your usage of words. A dictionary is not only used to check the definition of a word. It also teaches us to use the same word in many different contexts by linking it to other words or expressions that we may not know of or seemed unusual at first.

Accumulate synonyms. A translator must carry a suitcase full of words and phrases that cannot only get him out of trouble, but also prevent it from repeating itself. Orellana says that a translator should be able to invoke at least three equivalents of any word. I do agree with her that it is important for us to have a good vocabulary base and to know how to introduce variety into a text because, word repetition is usually a stylistic defect in many languages, unlike in English, where it’s better tolerated.

Here are some synonyms dictionaries:

Use sources of information, especially the most reliable ones. Fortunately, there is a large body of terminology in all branches of activity for many languages: economy, finance, taxation … The United Nations, as well as its specialized agencies, national and international entities, etc., provide specialized vocabulary at the reach of your fingertips.

And, something that Orellana suggests that I have always defended with colleagues: Read the document to be translated first and mark all the technicalities that may be a problem (if the size of the material to be translated permits that). If we anticipate the obstacles, for example, by looking for the key terms and have them cleared up before their translation, the process of translation will be more fluid and you won’t be floundering about with every paragraph.

Compare same published texts in two different languages. Such comparisons allow us to see how others have translated a term, expression or, simply, how they worked with the subject in question. It is a good exercise because it always allows us to learn.

Exercise your writing skills. Encouraging creativity and writing for practice can only benefit a translator. In the end it can bring more quality to the texts. Knowing how to write and learn writing strategies helps us gain fluency and confidence to get away from the structure of the source texts, while remaining faithful to their meaning.

Reread and carefully review what you have translated. Another way of analyzing and seeing our mistakes is to reread our translations with a pair of critical eyes. After you’ve finished your translation, let it rest, so that you can rest too. After all that resting, go through it and try to read it like it’s not yours; like you are on a mission to expose a bad translator by finding his mistakes.

Be curious about your surroundings and continue to gain knowledge. A renowned translator once said: “Curiosity killed the cat … and fattened the translator’s intellect”. To improve yourself, you have to be proactive and there is nothing better than to be attentive to what surrounds you, to have thirst for learning and to be willing to continue on your path to evolution.

Hope you found this article useful 🙂 Don’t forget to leave your comment with your opinion or suggestions to the subject.

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