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The 7 Most Important Skills that Translators Need

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, on Google.

However, how do you ensure you have found a knowledgeable professional? In this article, we explore the main skills that translators need to master to call themselves true professionals.

1. Basic 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 need and use every day while working.

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.

2. Knowledge of CAT Tools

Secondly, computer-assisted translation tools play an important part in the translation process. They are applications that 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 increase their productivity. 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, “[t]his 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 62% 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

In the words of PhD Celia Rico Perez, “[p]roject 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.

It is important to consider that developing good research skills takes practice because it involves learning how to find useful, relevant, and trustworthy information online.

Take the case of SEO Translation, for example. 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 translators stand out from the pack. Flexibility, willingness to reply quickly, and humility to accept and implement feedback are some of the traits that localisation project managers and end clients alike look for in their vendors.

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.

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