6 Necessary Skills for Any Translators

Posted 26 August 2016

Anyone doing any job must possess a particular set of skills. Identifying what are essential skills in work is a decisive factor in the development of the workers themselves. Gathering and mastering those necessary skills will help workers feel easier at work, achieve higher performance as well as better quality. Workers will not find themselves struggling to find a way to perform their tasks, but instead, they will find it smooth and quick. Let’s go over the top 6 basic skills below for translators.

1. Computer skills

To turn computer into a powerful tool to support at work, translators need to be proficient at 2 computer skills: typing skill and word processing skill.


It can be said that, typing is one of the most decisive factors to the work speed of a translator. For instance, with the same material on a familiar topic, the translator whose typing speed is 100 words per minute (wpm) will surely translate 1.5 times faster than his colleague whose typing speed is about 65 wpm only. This means the volume of work done by that translator in the same working session will be more.

Word processing

Currently, there are three types of common document formats, namely Microsoft Word (.doc/.docx), Microsoft Excel (.xls/.xlsx) and PDF (Portable Document Format). Each format requires translators to have a separate way of processing. Refer to the list of items to be processed below:

Word – Format Table
– Align page size, margin, and spacing
– Create header, footer, and footnote
– Create Table of Content
– Insert text box
– Set Page border
– Insert special characters
– Process graphs/images to be translated
Excel – Insert/delete/hide columns/rows
– Set appropriate data format
– Wrap text
– Use basic functions
PDF – Convert PDF into copyable word format
– Add/extract/delete pages
– Split/merge documents
– Insert text box

These are not sublime skills, but if not being proficient, translators may lose pointless time struggling to find a solution.

2. Lookup skills

Not every translator can become a “living dictionary” to be able to know all exact meanings of the words as well as terms to be translated. Also, translators are not trained to be experts, while the translation works include various professional fields, ranging from laws, medicine, construction, to fashion and travel. Therefore, the accurate and effective search of new concepts and technical words is an indispensable skill for translators.

Look up for common words

Since the amount of information available online is enormous, translators easily fall into the choice of translation among several different alternatives. For many translators, this will be a selection of ‘bad luck nature’.

Look up for difficult words

In some cases, there are some words or terms cannot be looked up for the respective translations. Translators must understand the exact connotations of them in the source language and can apply interpretative translation method (using long phrases to describe the meaning rather than using short terms). Yet, it is best to consult an expert in that field if available.

Look up for acronyms and abbreviations

Especially when there are acronyms and abbreviations which can not be found on the Internet, such as the handwriting of experts or engineers, it is necessary for translators to ask for direct interpretation from customers. Do not forget, customers are also a channel to lookup.

3. Language skills

Language skills here do not merely mean the proficiency in the the foreign language (e.g. English proficiency, Russian proficiency, etc.) but also in the native language, including vocabulary, ability to use words and apply a suitable style to each specialty.


Many novice translators or people outside of the industry think that, just having good foreign language skills is enough to translate well. These are not equivalent to each other. Since translation is to render from one language into another language, to achieve a good translation, the translator must necessarily be qualified in both languages. Meanwhile, native language proficiency is determined largely by having a broad vocabulary. One sign of lacking vocabulary is that a source term/sentence can be understood, even really well, but cannot be expressed into the target language. This is the so-called circumstance of being ‘stuck-for-word’.


Different fields have separate styles of wording, requiring the translator to understand and apply correctly in the translation. For example, words in legal documents is often clear, univocal and rigid. Conversely, words to promote tourism is soft, rich in images and appealing to reader. Without knowing or being unnoticed, translators easily fall into the circumstance of “taking wrong sow by the ear” in translation, which is the application of inappropriate style.

4. Approaching skills

With the three skills of language, computer and lookup, you can be confident to translate all kinds of documents. However, to make it fastest and most effective, you need to have the mindset of work approaching.


Each type of documents has its own processing methods. For documents with multiple figure tables interspersed with the text content (such as financial statements), the text need to be separated first for translating, the tables are to be formatted later. For documents with illustrations, graphs, charts, maps, etc., it is necessary to balance the time for translating the main content and the time for processing the images. Or with specialized materials including plain text only, translators can start by reading through the entire documents to establish the glossary list, and then proceed to translate.

Grouping and task assignment

For a translation group, after having identified the methods of implementation, further steps need to taken are grouping and task assignment. As in the example above, for a document with both texts and illustrations, if the whole team focus on translating the text first, and let only one or two capable members process the illustrations in the next step, then the others will lose additional time as to wait for illustrations processing, while the team can be split up right from the beginning to carry out the work items simultaneously so that the “right work” can be picked up for the “right people”. Only by doing so does work performance reach its maximum.

5. Strategic planning skill

Along with approaching skill is strategic planning skill in work. In this skill, translators should clearly identified for themselves the sequence of deployment and estimated time of completion for each work item.

Sequence of deployment

Once the methods are fixed, the translator needs to define the steps and the order of execution. In a common standard translation process, there are 5 steps: formatting, reading through and listing glossaries, translating, proofreading and post-editing. Depending on the nature of the material, those steps can be performed one by one or simultaneously.

Estimated time of completion

Based on the difficulty of the material, the degree of overlap texts within the document or in the translation memory (TM) and the self-estimated translation speed, the translator needs to estimate the time to complete the translation. There will be three cases. First, the customer’s deadline is equal or greater than the estimated time of completion, then the translator just simply need to focus on proceeding the work. Second, the deadline is less than the estimated time of completion. This time, the translator must consider whether to cut off any steps, or to work overtime or to call for more people to support. Third, the customer does not assign the deadline. In this case, despite being more pleasant, the translator still has to impose a self-deadline. That would avoid creating significant delays which might affect other work in the future. Each translator should remember, no work is indefinite.

6. Teamwork skill

Any project needs a translation team, except for those carried out by freelancers, who work independently. Each translator has their own tendency of using words. This can easily lead to a translation with many different translation tones, or the same terminology with three to four translations. To achieve a professional translation, as well as reduce the work for post-editors and quality controllers, each translator must have the necessary teamwork skill.

Optimize working time

By enhancing the exchange of information and effective communication while implementing the project, each team member can avoid the chance of doing duplicated work. For example, two members look up for the same technical word, or worst of all, translate the same paragraph.

Increase personal performance
Knowing how to work in a team means the translator can put his ego under the common goals of the group. In many cases, when a translation is detected with an inappropriate term, there will be members begin to look up and try to justify their translation as being correct. What followed can be an emotional upset as they may think that other members never listen to them. With such negative sentiment and time-consuming lookup, the performance of those members will be certainly declined. The story would be completely different if those members could apply teamwork skill well, by listening to the consultation of other people.

– Truong Nguyen

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