What does a translator do? (and what don’t they do?)

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What does a translator do? (and what don’t they do?)

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What does a translator do? (and what don’t they do?)

We’re going to shine a light on the translator role, looking at what a translator does (and doesn’t do), and share our top tips for working with and making the most of a translation service.

If you’ve worked regularly with a translator, you might think this is pretty obvious, but we sometimes find that people are confused about a translator’s role. Unrealistic expectations can lead to misunderstandings when you use a translation service, so read on to find out what you need to know.

What is the job of a translator?

The role of a translator is to translate written words from the source language (the original language the text is written in) to the target language (or several target languages), for example from English to French, or from Bosnian into English.

That’s different from an interpreter, whose job is to work with the spoken word, listening to what someone is saying in one language and then repeating what they’ve said but in a different language. Or a transcriber, who provides a written record of what has been said. Interpreting is usually used in a live setting, say, in an interview, meeting, or conference where different languages need to be used, while transcribers often work from a recording.

It’s important to remember that a translator can only work with what they’ve been given. They won’t re-write the original text, so it’s vital to be certain that the text you provide has been fully proofread, and approved as correct.

What won’t a translator do?

Although a good translator will query something in the source language which they don’t understand, or which they think might be wrong, they won’t rewrite, edit, proofread, or correct the original text.

That’s why it’s crucial to be certain that the text you provide for translation is the final, correct version.

Problems can happen if a version is updated after it has been translated, and the translation isn’t updated to match. A recent and infamous example of this is the Dutch translation of the book Endgame about the British Royal Family – which caused a scandal and had to be withdrawn from sale after it appeared to include information which wasn’t included in the original language version. The error was blamed on the translator – though it’s hard to see how since they can’t have translated something that wasn’t there.

What is the difference between a translator and a transcreator?

The role of a transcreator is slightly different. If you are translating text with a lot of colloquial language or specific cultural references – that is sayings or references specific to the language or country in which it was written – you might need someone who can not only translate into the language you need but who also has an in-depth understanding of the culture of the country. This can also be generational – we’ve probably all experienced times when we listened to younger people talking and had no idea what they’re on about!

How to brief a translator

When you’re briefing a translator, consider whether they need some context for the source text. It may help them to know about the target audience, the country or region where the text will be used, and its purpose.

This is more important for some countries than others. There may be languages or dialects more common in one part of the country than in others. So you need to be specific about which is required.

It’s also helpful to give your translator some context if you’re asking for very short translations – like product names. We recently had an example where some lovely, poetic product names needed to be translated. But, in isolation, the words provided didn’t mean anything, so we had a call from a rather puzzled translator!

If you use an experienced translation service and aren’t sure what information your translator might need, they will talk you through how to make sure you provide all the relevant information to make sure everything goes smoothly.

How long does translation work take?

That’s a tricky question, as it often depends on how complex the project is. But as a general rule of thumb, the maximum number of words that can safely be translated in a day (by a person, not by AI, which is a whole different topic) is between 2,000 and 3,000.

That’s not to say that anything less than that can automatically be turned around in a day or less. As with any skilled role, a translator needs time to make sure they get it right, especially with specialist subjects.

How do I find the right translator?

That’s simple. Contact a reputable, experienced translation agency, like Language Link UK.

With 35 years’ experience in the industry, over 5,000 translators native in over 200 languages and dialects, and industry-specific expertise across numerous sectors including finance, insurance, law, technology, and medicine, we’re your go-to service for translation, interpreting, and transcription

Contact us to discuss your next project.