Top 10 Qualities & Skills of an Excellent Translator

Are you looking for an exciting and rewarding career as a translator? The job is demanding, and requires a great deal of drive, a love of languages as well as natural talent. Not everybody can do it. If you’re passionate about translation and want to make it your career, you will need the following essential qualities and skills:

1. Advanced Language Proficiency

You can’t translate anything unless you fully understand it. Otherwise, you risk misinterpreting the content, altering the intended meaning and delivering an inaccurate translation. Therefore, you need to be fluent in both the source and the target languages. To boost your language proficiency:

  • Read in the source language as much as possible.
  • Watch and listen to TV and radio programs in the source language.
  • Study your source language extensively. Consider taking a degree course.
  • Improve your cultural knowledge. If you don’t live in countries that use the source language, visit those that do frequently to immerse yourself in the culture.
  • Stay up to date. Language evolves, and new words are added continually. So keep up with what’s happening in the languages you translate.

2. Extensive Cultural Knowledge

Language and culture go hand in hand. Language only has a meaning when placed in a cultural context. Translators need to know both source and target languages well, as well as the relationships between them. On top of that, excellent translators should possess intimate and profound knowledge of both cultures. 

A sentence that appears easy to translate may have cultural nuances that could have the opposite meaning from what was intended, unless they’re accounted for. For example, “good morning, you old dog” seems a friendly and straightforward greeting. But to some people of Middle Eastern origin, this could be quite offensive. To improve your cultural awareness, you can:

  • Spend time in countries that use the source and target languages.
  • Attend cultural events.
  • Read materials and watch documentaries about the different cultures.
  • Listen to radio stations in your source and target languages.

3. Avid Learner and Researcher

No one knows everything so you must be curious, willing to learn and develop first-class research skills. Translators are always trying to find and understand new knowledge, such as background information of the text they are translating as well as the precise words to express terms, concepts and ideas in the target language. To hone these essential qualities, you can:

  • Learn how to find things quickly through search engines.
  • Bookmark useful resources.
  • Ask for tips and tricks on translator forums.

4. Specialized Subject Matter Expertise

Translation straddles a broad range of industries such as legal, science, medicine, business and more. Understanding two languages is a good start, but many translators become subject matter experts. While this is by no means essential, it will give you access to more clients and help you command higher fees or salary. To be a specialist, you need to obtain in-depth knowledge of your chosen field. This involves:

  • Reading voraciously in both languages to learn the jargon and current trends of your specific sector.
  • If you don’t have a qualification in your field, consider taking a part-time or distance learning course.

5. Skilled Writer

Behind every excellent translation is a great writer. Translators use their writing skills to pull meaning and ideas from the source text, especially when literal word-for-word translation makes little sense, or the original tone may be lost. Translators not only need a vast vocabulary, excellent grammar, impeccable spelling and perfect punctuation, but also a way with words. To sharpen your writing skills, you can:

  • Read widely in both source and target languages.
  • Attend writing courses.
  • Read your work out loud. If you trip over phrases, there could be something in the text that’s spoiling the flow. 
  • Read translations by your peers to see how they use language. Ask yourself why some passages are more engaging than others.
  • Practice, practice and practice.

6. Superb Reading and Comprehension

Translators must be fluent or, at the very least, almost fluent in their source language. If not, you won’t be able to fully understand the source texts and comprehend what you’re translating. To improve reading and comprehension skills:

  • Spend time in a country that uses the source language.
  • Watch, listen and read materials in the source language.
  • Keep up to date with how the source language evolves.

7. Excellent Communicator

To enjoy a successful career as a freelance translator, you must effectively communicate with customers, clients and others. No matter the size and scope of the project, there has to be crystal clear clarity between all parties involved. Good communication avoids confusion and ensures client expectations are met. To give your communication skills a boost, you can:

  • Practice active listening.
  • Practice public speaking.
  • Improve nonverbal communications, such as by paying attention to the body language and facial expressions of people you are communicating with.

8. Competency in Computing and CAT

Knowledge of CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools and excellent proficiency of popular office programs such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel are also important to a translator’s career.

CAT tools are not the same as machine translation. They help translators do their work more effectively and improve the quality of their translations. CAT tools make it easier to get projects done, and most have in-built quality assurance features. To improve essential computing and CAT skills, you can:

  • Watch online tutorials and courses.
  • Familiarize yourself with Microsoft’s training videos.
  • If you hit a problem with an app or program, search for solutions online.

9. Great Time Management

Good time management is essential for meeting deadlines, satisfying clients’ demands, having work-life balance, and ensuring a steady stream of income. Waste your precious working hours, and you’re throwing money away; miss deadlines, and you could lose clients. To ensure your days are productive, these time management tips can help:

  • Make a daily schedule.
  • Write to-do lists.
  • Prioritize tasks.
  • Schedule time for breaks.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” to work if you’re too busy.

10. Good Marketing Skills

No matter how good a translator you are, the world is not going to beat a path to your door. Sure, you’ll get referrals and repeat clients, but if you’re a freelance translator, you need top-notching marketing skills. You have to put yourself out there, find the right clients/customers and meet their needs. 

Marketing can be done through social media, emails, or your website. Without marketing, potential clients will not be able to find you. To up your game, the following marketing tips may come in handy:

  • Go to networking events.
  • Build your personal brand online through your website, LinkedIn profile, or by contributing to forums and discussion groups.
  • Learn to be resilient.
  • Build your confidence, such as by going on a public speaking course.


Translators draw on several skills to convert words from one language to another. The above list is not exhaustive, but if you possess or can develop these skills and qualities, you will be well on your way to becoming an excellent translator.

If you’re interested in working for EC Innovations as a translator, we’d love to hear from you. Contact our friendly team today.

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