What It Takes To Be A Good Translator

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As the ability to speak many languages in today’s competitive world pays dividends both career wise and financially, many people are learning many languages and joining the business of translations. But what does it take to become a good translator? I interviewed Ms Feresian Amutuhe who is a professional translator with ten years’ experience, and this is what she said:

Success Tips for Translators

“It takes real hard work to be a good translator. Firstly, it’s important to remember that being fluent in both the source language and receptor/target language doesn’t necessarily mean that one can do a good job of translating any given text. Translation goes beyond simply changing a text from one language to another. It is about being able to carefully transcribe a message; maintaining its purpose and the target audience while putting into account the cultural and social context. From my own experience, it takes much energy and time.

“To become a good translator, you must be willing to do a lot of research and consultation, for example, a translator needs to have two dictionaries: one for the language from which you are translating and another for the language into which you are translating. When translating religious texts, you definitely have to have different versions of the Bible that you will continuously consult, on top of consulting other native speakers. This, coupled with advanced skills in the receptor language, good at vocabulary and an acute awareness of linguistic dynamics will make one a good translator.

“One must as well strive to maintain the highest level of accuracy, which basically means exact transfer of information. This accuracy is guaranteed with a possession of excellent skills in orthography of the receptor language otherwise wrong spellings may end up distorting the intended message.

“The translator must be self-motivated because translating tends to be very boring and tedious.

“Even more, one must be able to analyze the internal structure of the language – the grammar part of it. I specialize in Runyankore/Rukiga, and just like other Bantu languages, it is not easy to translate because you find that what appears as one word is actually a whole sentence. For example, ‘Bakamungambiraho’ translates to “They told me about him/her” or ‘Tukabashangayo’ translates to “We found them there”. This means to do a good job, you must be able to take into account those small but important details without fearing that one word cannot result into a whole sentence when translated.

“Relatedly, with Bantu languages you cannot do word-by-word kind of translation and maintain the meaning of the text. You have to first thoroughly understand the meaning in the source language, then find a way of putting it in the receptor language. We actually translate the meaning not the words. Some words do not have equivalents so you just have to explain them to get proper meaning. Words also die and new ones come in the language. Also the target audience sometimes determine the choice of words to use.”

Challenges Faced by Translators

“One of the challenges found in the industry is that clients do not appreciate the fact that a good translator puts in a lot of energy and resources. They think anyone who is fluent in a language can be a translator. They therefore always want to offer very little in terms of compensation compared to the job and the time frame to do the job.

“Also, freelance translators are not acknowledged for work done. You find you are like a third party if not the fourth in the chain. You do the job, get paid less and the person who got the job from the client on top gets a lot more money than the translator.

“The other challenge has something to do with different dialects in the same language.  For example, in Runyankore /Rukiga, there are several dialects and sometimes the clients refuse the translated work if they happen to speak another dialect.

“It is also frustrating that some clients once they receive their work, they do not want to pay yet they claim they want to first see the work before paying. Once you give them the work, they forget about you.

“Last but not least, majority of the clients do not understand that translation, editing and proofreading are different phases in addition to updating when the source text changes. You negotiate translating and then they want all the others to come in at no cost.” However, here are some of the language translations done by professional translators;

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