Even if you primarily translate technical materials, legal contracts, resumes, and so on, keep reading and writing. Why? Good translation is an art based on good reading and writing skills. Read as often as you can in all your languages. This will help keep your non-native language skills up to par. For example, consistent practice reading and writing in your second or third language will increase your ability to understand idioms and the latest terminology. Read and write in your native language, too, because these are skills that are necessary no matter which language you are dealing with.
If you are looking for some tips to get better at translation, here are a few to get you started:
Stay Up to Date on Trends in Both Languages
Keep up with current trends in your source and target languages, both globally and locally. If you’re regularly reading in your source and target languages, you’re more likely to know what is going on in the world and will provide clients with better quality translations. The reason for this is simple: languages tend to change regularly and staying up to date on current events will help you understand the latest lingo.
Prepare Yourself for the Translation Process
Before you start to translate your document, it is crucial that you read through it and know the gist of what you are about to translate. Don’t just scan the document – read every word from top to bottom. Take the necessary time to immerse yourself in the topic at hand in the document and do not start your translation process immediately after you have scanned the source document. Give yourself an hour, at minimum, to internalize the topic. Often, it is best to begin the actual translation the next day after giving yourself some time to digest everything.
Explore the Translation Topic Online
It is unbelievable that with just a couple minutes of online research about your topic will help you accomplish. The more time you devote to understanding the document and its meaning, the more accurate the translation will be.
Reading & Proofreading Your Translation
Make sure your translation is a good text in its own right. Read the entire document when you’re finished. Does it sound like Spanglish instead of Spanish? Do the level, style, tone, and diction match those of the original? Make sure that they do.
Obviously, you should proofread the translation, using your best proofreading skills. Look for spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, formatting, or anything else that might be wrong. When you are finished proofreading, proofread it again or ask another person to proofread it.
Don’t Rush Your Translation Assignment
Leave extra time to do proofreading and to make changes. Don’t wait until the last minute to finish up an assignment, because rushing is never helpful. Especially for literary translations, put the document away for at least a day and then re-read it with fresh eyes and ears after you “sleep on it”. Even the most rush-rush job needs to be proofread, so keep this in mind when promising a deadline.
Translator, Know Thyself
If, no matter how hard you try, you’re a crummy proofreader at best, protect yourself and your client. Two possible options are: 1.) Team up with another translator whose proofreading skills are better, 2.) Pay another translator to proofread your work for you. Never simply run your spell and grammar check from your word processor and hope it catches everything. It can’t and it won’t.
These three basic ways of proofreading – comparing the original and the translation, back (or re-) translation, and reading/proofreading the translation – will help you turn in translation projects that are true to the original and that truly shine.