Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Becoming a better translator

Language skills are one thing, but translation skills are another kettle of fish entirely. Excellent translation skills are what distinguish a bilingual from a professional translator.

Ryan Ginstrom summed it up very well when he spoke about how he goes about becoming a better translator:
I look for good translations, and study them. When I read English, I’m on alert for pithy turns of phrase that can work for tough-to-translate Japanese terms.

I also have the translator’s curse: always thinking about how I would translate a particular Japanese phrase, and critiquing translations I see. It makes it very hard to enjoy subtitled movies, but it does put me in the mindset of thinking about translation…
A book which has had a big impact on my translation skills has been The Translator's Handbook: with special reference to conference translation from French and Spanish, by Frederick Fuller.

I inherited this book from another translator by chance. It doesn't look like much at first glance, but what it does very well is provide suggested translations of those everyday expressions that often fall victim to translationese. These relatively run-of-the-mill phrases aren't difficult to understand in terms of their meaning, but they are difficult to render in a way that conveys the same effect but in a perfectly polished way. This book has given me some great ideas for tricky turns of phrase, and in doing so, made me a better translator.

What tips, tricks or references do you have for becoming a better translator? How do you keep working on your translation skills, to make sure you continue to produce the very best translations you can?


  1. My old-time favourite is "La traducción del inglés al castellano! by Marina Orellana. It's packed with excellent translation and writing tips including lists of false friends, specialised vocabulary and suggestions on how to lighten up text eliminating superfluous turns of phrase, etc. I highly recommend it to translators of English into Spanish. Francesc Xavier Canals, MITI

  2. Hi

    How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, C Mckay

    It helped me a lot to guide me to start.
    However, it is target to the US market.

    But you can adapt to your country what you learn in the book

    Thank you


  3. Great suggestions and tips - thank you both.