What is a Professional Translator?

What is a Professional Translator?

-Guest Blog written by Emma Collins-

There used to be only one description but IT progress has introduced changes that we will mention.

Traditionally, a professional translator is a person who, besides having mastered a native language has acquired fluency in a second, or more languages through a variety of experiences.

Such a translator must have acquired professional knowledge both in his/her native language (target language) and in the language he/she translates from (source language). Additionally, he/she must have acquired a vast general background knowledge over a number of years to be able to relate his/her specialty with topics covering vast information domains. For example, when one translates a contract covering a scientific topic, legal knowledge is a basic requirement but scientific knowledge in the subject of the contract is also necessary. Thus the boundless knowledge requirements. 

To be “professional” means having acquired not only technical/scientific/legal knowledge of a discipline but also the “jargon” which specialists of that discipline communicate with. For example, to translate a clinical study informed consent, one must know basic medical knowledge, special medical/technical knowledge about the subject of the study, and the required standard terminology adopted by regulatory authorities which will assess the study. 

Now, mastering languages, terminology, context, etc. is far from enough. Professionalism must impregnate the translation process in a variety of manners: ethics, syntax, grammar, etc.

Ethics: A translation must be true, accurate and correct:

True means that one may not take the liberty of substituting an approximate word for the exact and correct word which should translate a given source word. When a source word has synonyms in the target language, the correct synonym must be chosen. An approximation would be the sign of sloppiness, or ignorance, and would render the entire work unreliable. Also, the style in which the source is written must be rendered in the target language, but not at the expense of accuracy. This may require a great deal of mental gymnastics in translations of literary work, business transactions, personal correspondence, for example.

Syntax, grammar, etc. are domains which must be mastered to deliver an excellent translation. Beware of bad habits acquired in texting, use of colloquialisms, and inaccurate grammar. For example, to describe an action which occurred in the past and is completely over, French has a “simple past” tense (similar to the “perfect” tense in English) which should be used. More and more, people forget that good tool in favor of the “composed past” tense which is easier to remember but not as accurate, and which introduces heaviness in style.

Translators using machine translation and results:

Well, it used to be that people who cared to pay for a professional translation expected results incorporating the above principles. Now, both cultures as it evolved recently and the use of cheaper computerized translations result in people not caring anymore for true, accurate and correct translations. We may find machine translations of very specialized medical articles which are grammatically incorrect and/or do not use required  professional jargon. When that type of translations were published in the recent past, they could be relied upon professionally but now they must be considered with a grain of salt. They may be used as drafts for specialists who know what it’s all about but no longer as references about their topics. 


1 Response to "What is a Professional Translator?"

  1. The best guidance on professional translation! Thanks a lot for this!

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