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The 7 Most Important Skills that Translators Need

Thanks to globalisation and the inter-connected world we live in, finding a translator for your project has never been easier. You can search for them on translator portals, on LinkedIn, or simply ask around.

In theory, all you have to do is give your translator the source text and any additional files, as well as payment, and they will provide you with a perfect-quality translation in no time. In practice, however, there are some other factors involved.

If buying translation services feels to you like sending your car away for repairs without having any idea what is going on inside the garage, then this article may be just for you. We will show you which skills your translator should possess, regardless of whether they work in-house or as a freelancer.

In this post:

1. Software skills

The translation process does not rely solely upon translators’ linguistic competencies: there’s an array of other paramount skills that translators need to develop to ensure top-quality work each time.

To begin with, among the skills translators need, we can name advanced knowledge of word processing software. It may appear trivial, but it is an important skill that translators require, as it enables them to deal with most types of documents and formats they might receive.

A few years ago, it was enough to have some knowledge of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. However, nowadays, any translator must acquit themselves with software for desktop publishing, conversion of speech to text, quality assurance, and terminology management.

To ensure that you get the best translations for your project, look for translators who show as deep a knowledge of software as possible.

Read also: Top 5 Tools that Freelancers Can’t Do Without

2. Knowledge of CAT tools

Another job requirement you should demand from your translator is a good command of computer-assisted translation tools. These play a critical role in the translation workflow, as they facilitate translation by providing a number of functions such as text segmentation, terminology management, quality assurance, among others.

Most of them also have in-built translation memories, which enable translators to reuse their previous translations, adjusting them to match the style of a new project.

As a result of all these functions, computer-assisted translation tools reduce the time translators need to spend on tasks such as checking translations against dictionaries and previous projects, which helps them increase their daily output, as well as consistency and quality.

CAT tools are not the same as machine translation, though. While machine translation works with AI to translate words without human intervention, translations aided by CAT tools are performed by humans with the help of software.

3. Typing skills

In the third place, the ability to touch-type and type fast saves translators a lot of time and increases their productivity. Of course, neither extensive typing skills nor speed are enough to fully cover the multitude of functions that CAT tools offer. Nevertheless, they do play an important role in the translation process by helping translators work much faster.

Considering that translators have to translate hundreds (if not thousands) of words every day, it is essential to learn to type as fast as possible and with few or no mistakes.

Translators usually have to juggle several actions: view glossaries, consult reference materials, check previous translations, research internet sources, write comments or post-edits on their work, and more. Optimal typing skills provide translators with the ability to navigate between different windows and documents in a quicker way than by using a mouse.

Moreover, touch-typing helps translators keep their eyes on the screen without taking their fingers off the keyboard and losing time. As some of you may know, looking away from the screen to find symbols on your keyboard can cost you valuable seconds. For instance, if a translator types fluently and with few mistakes, they can produce up to 500-600 words per hour (depending on the translation field, of course!).

4. Information processing skills and basic programming knowledge

A successful career in translation nowadays requires a few special information processing skills and a few IT skills. In other words, and quoting Susanne J. Jetak and Gary Massey:

“This is apparent from the very first stages of the translation process, when communication between the translator and the client, and the processing of the source text, will in most cases be effected electronically.”

Moreover, certain knowledge of programming is essential for translators, especially for those who specialise in SEO Translation, IT, gaming, and other areas involving coding.

In the case of translators who provide website translation services, being able to work with WordPress can come in handy, as many clients want their translations done directly on their websites. Did you know that 64.1% of websites built on a Content Management System (CMS) are WordPress sites, and that WordPress is used in over 178 countries?

5. Project management knowledge

As part of the translation process, translators need to work within a project management framework, so they can collaborate with colleagues and clients.

Their roles vary depending on their professional orientation, i.e., whether they are inside or outside the organisation.

While freelancers usually take care of marketing their services, administrative tasks such as invoicing, keeping time sheets and time management, and generally managing their workload, in-house translators need to know how to work within a project team and to communicate with colleagues.

In the words of PhD Celia Rico Perez:

“Project management is about coordination, teamwork, planning, and control techniques; (…) it has lately gained a name in the translation profession due, mainly, to market growth and virtual teams. When translation is subcontracted to teams communicating through the Internet, (…) project management offers essential tools for translation providers.”

A successful freelance career requires a clear understanding of the project lifecycle and interdisciplinary working practices. For example, it is essential to be aware of how to plan an accurate schedule for every translation project, when to start translating, when to deliver the final product to the client (and follow-ups), what communication tools are best suited for such purposes, how to improve productivity, and so on.

6. Research: One of the key skills translators need to master

There is so much variation in the texts that translators work with that many of them end up having to pick up specialised vocabulary quickly. In this sense, figuring out how to find out what they do not know becomes essential.

The ability to identify the right sources, choose between them, and effectively use what they find out is crucial if translators want to successfully complete their projects. So much so, that translators who don’t have a university degree can carve out a successful career in translation if their hands-on experience is coupled with a strong research-driven approach.

To illustrate just how indispensable research skills are, take the case of SEO Translation. Information about search engine optimisation must always in line with the latest best practices. Moreover, Google changes its search algorithm every few months, so translators must keep themselves up-to-date about the latest changes. In other words, they need to stay on top of their game by reading blog posts and articles about SEO; a continuous process that never ends!

7. Soft skills

At the end of the day, it’s people skills that make the difference. Being able to establish rapport with clients, work as part of a team, and communicate in a constructive way is essential for any translator to stand out from the pack, regardless of the professional orientation they adopt.

Other soft skills that localisation project managers and end clients alike look for in their vendors include flexibility, willingness to reply quickly, and humility to accept and implement feedback.

Nataly Kelly expressed it beautifully in this article:

Most buyers will remember the experience they had, not just what they bought. And if they had a bad experience, they will remember the delay waiting at the cash register, or the snippy comment, even more than they will remember what was in the bag. This is even more true in the case of translation, where it’s hard to even quantify the value of what you are buying. What you are buying often appears to be “just words,” which are hard to put a value on when anyone can generate them for free.”

Nataly Kelly, VP of Localisation at Hubspot


A successful, truly professional translator is one who combines hard and soft skills to be able to provide outstanding linguistic work and second-to-none customer service.

If you are looking for someone with these traits to take charge of your localisation projects into Spanish, contact us today.

Relacionado: Review of Freelanly – The Job Board for Translators that Aggregates Data from Hundreds of Websites

Maria Scheibengraf Crisol Translation Services SaaS Translation Services

Author: Maria Scheibengraf

Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.

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