1 - Passion for languages
First of all, a good translator has a perfect mastery of their working languages. In fact, being perfectly fluent in a language is not enough: understanding all its intricacies is essential.
Sometimes translators work on humorous texts or specific idioms. These are not always easy to understand, and can be complicated to translate, especially as they are not usually expressed the same way from one language to another. For example, if you lose consciousness in Great Britain, you "pass out", but in France, you "fall into the apples".
It takes a lot of time and work to become fluent in a language, but being passionate about it is the first step towards reaching that goal.
2 - Curiosity
Should curiosity be considered a big flaw, or a huge asset? For translators, the answer is clear! Curiosity is essential for any self-respecting linguist! Having good general knowledge is just one aspect of the profession. Translators must be interested in many fields and want to continuously improve their general knowledge, because they may need to translate a wide variety of documents.
From books written by great authors, to scientific papers, translators read a lot. Furthermore, they have to keep abreast of current events. Since translators speak several languages, they have to be interested in other cultures and be familiar with the habits and customs of the countries in which their working languages are spoken. So if you see a tourist taking notes during a guided tour, they are most likely a translator... ;) !
3 - Rigour
Translators are rigorous. Their job is not about translating word for word, but about extracting the meaning of the text and expressing it in a way that sounds natural in the target language. In other words, translators should not cling to the source text.
Furthermore, translators must meticulously seek and select the right word according to the translation domain. For example, a specific word cannot be translated in the same way in a legal text as in a financial report. It all depends on the context.
Translators must also take the target audience into account. They cannot translate a children’s story in the same way as they would translate a meeting report for experts. Translators must also be able to juggle with different writing styles.
4 - Punctuality
Punctuality, together with precision and flexibility, is another essential quality for any translator.
Submitting the translation within the timeframe (along with quality, of course) is considered a sign of professionalism and reliability, and will help to ensure that the client comes back.
Therefore, it is not unusual for a translator to work into the night because they need to deliver the translation for the next morning.
5 - Patience
Good things come to those who wait. Patience is an essential quality for anyone who aspires to have a career in translation. As some texts are poorly written or complex, the author's intention is not always easy to understand. Therefore, translators must be patient.
In most cases, they need to take the time to do extensive research. In other cases, they will have to ask the client for more information.
Translators are patient, but they must remain active. Clients don't just fall out of the sky; every effort must therefore be made to attract them.
6 - Flexibility
Flexibility is a vital quality for a translator.
Requests come in at all times. Future translators should not expect regular working hours. Freelance translators do not usually work set times. They need to meet their deadlines, so they usually work late in the evenings.
While translating is their main task, the translation process consists of many steps, such as negotiating the price, identifying the context and the target audience, searching for the right terminology, translating the text, proofreading the translation, editing the document (the layout), and sending the final translation to the client.
In other words, translators are versatile.
7 - Concentration
Concentration is another quality which is essential in a good translator. As mentioned previously, this profession requires precision. Someone who is easily distracted may experience difficulty working within the translation sector.
From early in the morning to late at night, translators must always double-check the terminology and the coherence of the document. They must have good concentration skills. However, breaks are essential, because it is not possible to stay focused all day long.
8 - Communication
Translators enable communication. Consequently, they have to ensure good communication with clients, partners and associates. They have to make every business interaction enjoyable, whichever method of communication they use. If they get the tone of their email wrong, it can lead to misunderstandings.
Therefore, it is essential to pay attention when communicating with clients by e-mail or letter.
Being unpleasant to a client may not only increase the risk of losing them to competitors, but may actually damage the translator’s reputation.
9 - Integrity
Translators must remain honest. This quality concerns (among other things) their pricing practices. At first, setting low prices to attract more clients might seem like a good strategy, but in the long run, it means shooting yourself in the foot. In fact, other translators will lower their prices in order to compete with you, which will force you to lower your prices even more!
Furthermore, setting low prices indicates that you believe your services are not worth a good rate. In other words, it means that you underestimate the value of your work. On the contrary, very high prices imply high quality services. Therefore, it is essential to provide a service quality that meets the expectations set by tour price. Prices must depend on the translator's level of education and experience, as well as on the difficulty of the text and the language pair.
10 - Humility
Translators have to be self-confident but also humble. Humans are not perfect. Therefore, if a translator does not understand a sentence in a text, it does not mean he or she is incompetent. Asking clients for additional information is a guarantee of reliability and professionalism. However, translators first need to undertake thorough research about the problematic words or sentences before asking the client for more information.
Sometimes, translators are confronted with poorly written texts, ambiguous sentences, or insufficient content to understand a passage. Clients are usually willing to help, as long as they are treated with due respect!