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Top 10 Translation Tips for Beginners

Translation plays a crucial role in most sectors as most translations will be needed for official purposes, whether to get a driving license translated or a company contract. That’s why, as a translator, you need to be accurate with your translations if you want to provide high-quality translation services.

If you are a beginner who is starting their career as a translator, here are a few tips that you can follow to reach your goal of being an expert translator:

1) Create a Glossary List

The activity of translation can be quite hectic, especially for anyone just starting. One of the most efficient habits to follow is that of data organising. Whether it is just a single word you picked up or a two-hour session spent in class, all information, when stored neatly and labelled perfectly, will be of use throughout your journey as a translator.

If your preference of notation is online, some handy software applications are MS Excel or Multiterm.

2) Learn in the Second Language

This is an important step in becoming an expert translator. When you spend time reading and writing in your second language, you start to understand the essence of the language. Consistent work will help you pick up on little intricate details that might’ve missed your attention otherwise. The more you spend time with your second language, the faster you pick up your language skills.

You must also put special emphasis on the process of reading itself. Reading regularly in your second language helps you gain a new perspective on how people communicate and why people choose specific words to communicate. The practical knowledge gained from this exercise boosts your skills instantly.

3) Understand the Different Translations

A common exercise adopted by many translators, even the professional ones, is comparing different translations. This process can be done with a non-fiction book, a literary novel, or any other kind of book. The impact of this exercise is immense. While the meaning of the sentence may be the same, the distinction in words used by the two authors will help you understand the different ways in which a similar sentiment can be expressed. This will also help you polish your own method.

4) Try to Gain Work Experience

On a practical note, being able to work as soon as possible would be extremely beneficial. Experience in your field is always a bonus, both in terms of a resume and in terms of personal growth and development.

If you are unable to receive any work, there are still ways to utilise your skills practically. For example, you could volunteer to translate at events for free, such as in NGOs or any organisation that invites volunteers. If you’re still a college student, your university could provide you with a job. At the end of the day, any task that brings you more experience in the real, practical world of your translation skills is the most useful.

5) But Do Not Settle for Any Random Job

While there is a certain level of discomfort when anyone embarks upon something new, you must be aware enough to know what will help you in the long run. The worst thing you can do is rush the job process by taking on a job that is not right for you. Finding the wrong job may not only hamper your personal growth, but may also turn you away from your occupation for a while. Knowing exactly what position you’d like to be working in helps narrow down the search.

6) Understand and Appreciate the Culture

Translation is not limited to the words themselves, but what they represent. Behind every word there is a meaning filled with years of history and events. It is important to acknowledge the culture behind the language and to respect it. Finding the right balance between the two languages involved without disrupting either one is the main challenge.

7) Work Hard

It goes without saying, but it is important to remember these two words when things get tricky. It is the only tried and tested way of getting better at your work.

8) Ask the Right Questions

Make a habit of asking genuinely insightful questions and keep these questions sharp. This is a skill that will help you on and off the job. One way to ensure your questions are never vague is to acquire decent knowledge on the topic before questioning the deeper ideas. Asking the right questions not only gives you the most efficient answer, but also saves you the time and energy of spiralling away.

9) Take Regular Breaks

While this isn’t the informative advice in the column, it is still important. Language is a very taxing subject, and lack of rest not only means a dull headspace and low retention, but an inability to learn anything new. In case it is too difficult for you to “turn off”, a common suggestion is to read lower-level stories and essays in the language you’re learning. This is so that you are in touch with the language, but don’t have to stress out much.

10) Always Read

To ensure that the translations are updated, meaningful, and accurate, have a habit of reading. Have a dictionary with you and make it your best friend. As much as possible, always read foreign languages to improve your vocabulary skills. Reading and learning can be a way of upskilling the language knowledge you already have. It can broaden your horizons in different aspects of translations.

11) Practice your Language

They say, “practice makes perfect”. Before learning other languages, practice and make your native language perfect. It is always good to become an expert in your own language. It is a good start to make it perfect before learning other languages. For you to translate other languages, you need to have your own expertise before moving forward.

12) Dealing With Feedback and Criticism

The job of a translator can be tricky, in that multiple people can interpret the same set of words differently. This may especially happen if you’re just starting out, your work will be negated or be intensely scrutinized by those of senior positions. Very often, your translation may be deemed as incorrect, while you might’ve been sure about your work’s accuracy. It is vital to dish out what’s unnecessary and stay focused on your development. This also means you must learn to accept constructive criticism of your work and keep getting better.

Sonia Sanchez Moreno is an experienced translator and interpreter who founded Sylaba Translations, Australia’s leading translation agency. With 7 years of experience in translation and interpretation studies, she is a NAATI-certified translator, committee member for ASIC Victoria, and former treasurer to the Australasian Association of Language Companies.

Published in November 2021.

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