We’ve picked out 50 essential tips for translators from the thousands of tweets we’ve posted since 2009.
1. Our tweets are just a starting point. You must always add context + your professional judgment, which is why people call on your services.
2. Good translators believe in their language skills and in their own professional judgment. Work on that and the rest should follow.
Being a Professional
3. Everything you do that enhances the perception of how professional you are will enhance your value in the eyes of clients.
4. A poorly written source text is no excuse for producing a plodding translation. Improve what you can, and your reputation will improve too.
5. By the sheer volume of words we produce as translators, we shape language and consecrate usage. Bet you didn’t know you were so powerful!
6. A big mistake: misspelling a word. A very, very, very big mistake: misspelling a word in a cover letter to apply for a job as a translator.
7. Your professional judgment is your biggest asset. Use it on every text and on all the advice you glean here.
8. Repeat after me: I am an expert and people pay me for my expert advice. My opinion is valuable.
The Translation Process
9. Be the reader’s advocate—make the effort to understand the content and purpose of your text, then translate it as simply as possible.
10. If you have a choice between a short translation solution and a long one, it’s almost always best to pick the short one.
11. Hesitating between two possible translation solutions? Google them to see which one native speakers use most often (who and in which context).
12. Translators should never have an automatic, default translation for any given word. Context is king. Consider it every time!
13. If you find a good context for a rare or literary word in your translation, use it only once. Twice in the same text is overdoing it.
14. Don’t add information that is not in the source text unless it is absolutely essential to understanding. You are the translator, not the writer.
15. It is not the translator’s job to coin new words or forge new conventions; this is for writers to do and translators to emulate.
16. Translators should not be early adopters. Wait until a new word/meaning/point of grammar is widely accepted before using it yourself.
17. The more technical and specialized your field of work, the better machines will get at doing exactly what you do, only faster. To earn and keep your place in translation, you must be able to do what computers cannot do—think.
18. Doing a final proofread on a text? Correct only what’s wrong. This is no time to impose your personal preferences.
The Editing Process
19. Revising a translation? Every edit should make the text easier to understand, more enjoyable to read, or more faithful to the original.
20. Revising a translation? Take a mentoring approach if you can, pointing out flaws but also praising what is praiseworthy.
21. Revising a translation? Do not impose personal preferences unless they benefit the reader.
22. Your translation’s been heavily edited? Take a second, critical look at your text to see why someone felt compelled to change it. Were parts too wordy? In the wrong tone? Awkward sounding? Ungrammatical? Unfaithful to the original?
23. Remain open to the reviser’s changes while also being alert to any mistranslations the reviser may have introduced.
Being a Good Writer
24. Identify words or stylistic devices you tend to overuse, then work diligently to use them less.
25. “It’s a good idea to reexamine any rule you were taught that includes the word ‘never’ or ‘always.’” (Chicago Manual of Style)
26. Not every rule is ironclad in English, which means translators must make conscious style decisions and stick to them. Study style guides!
27. Spotted in the NY Times: “He is a master of short-windedness.” A great thing for all translators and writers to be!
28. Good writers define usage, set trends, and innovate with words. Good translators respect usage, follow trends, and are careful with words.
29. If a piece of writing cannot comfortably be read aloud, then it is flawed.
30. If people reread your sentence, make sure it is to admire its beauty, not to understand its meaning. – adapted from Dominique Bouhours
31. Reading the business pages of a good English newspaper will make you a better translator even if you don’t translate economic texts.
Once Your First Draft Is Finished
32. Once your sentence is translated, ask yourself whether anybody can misconstrue what it says. If so, reword for clarity.
33. If your translated sentence sounds like something you would never have written yourself, try rewording for clarity and flow.
34. Does your translated sentence sound odd/seem illogical/not mean anything? Check the source text again—you may have misread something.
35. Ask yourself “Does my sentence make sense?” Grammar and style are not enough—the sentence must be logical and the meaning must be clear.
36. Not enough translators ask themselves whether their sentence makes sense. If they did, it would sound alarm bells for mistranslations.
37. Once you have finished a translation, go back over it and ruthlessly cross off any words that don’t need to be there.
Before Delivering Work to a Client
38. There is no excuse for spelling mistakes in a translation, particularly ones that a spell checker can find.
39. Spelling mistakes are the easiest errors to fix in a translation, but the ones that get noticed most by clients. So fix them!
40. Always check company names. Some translate, some do not. Clients do not take kindly to their names being wrong in your text.
41. If people have a choice between two translators, they will probably pick the one they know—so make sure people know you!
42. Recipe for losing clients: Take poor research, add sloppy punctuation and inconsistency, then mix with plodding style and literal translations.
Interacting with Clients
43. Even when you don’t feel like it, it pays to be cheerful and solicitous with clients. Acting professionally reflects well on you.
44. Clients must sense that they are dealing with people who are serious about their work, and who actually do a good job each and every time.
45. When asked to justify your translation decisions, you’re off to a bad start if you reply “Well, I assumed the text meant…” Ask, don’t guess.
46. Give and take between translator and client is an integral part of the translation process. Become the partner your client can’t do without.
47. Give your clear, concise advice as a language specialist when talking to clients. No convoluted explanations unless asked.
48. A client doesn’t like your perfectly good translation? Defend it if you wish, but remember there are multiple ways to translate everything.
49. As clients come to trust and appreciate your expertise, they will view you more as a language consultant than as a mere word substitutor.
50. As a translator you are being paid to use your best judgment, so don’t blindly follow rules—or advice from Twitter feeds!