5 things a translator should know

The title of this article could actually be 5 things a translator must know. However, for a professional translator, it would perhaps be more appropriate to talk about 5 thinks a translator usually does automatically, since with experience they will have come to follow, intuitively or as a result of feedback, certain procedures to ensure they do a good job. These are steps that might seem obvious at first sight, but if they are not followed they can jump out at whoever reads the translation, particularly when the reader is familiar with the topic in question.

  1. Read the text to understand the topic before starting – When the translator is not a specialist or when they are not familiar with the topic of the text, it is first necessary to identify the “gaps” in their knowledge to properly prepare (searches, consulting the reference material accompanying the text, etc.).

  2. Research the topic and context of the text to be translated – This is the next step the translator takes, after they have identified the “gaps” in their knowledge. This does not just involve reading the documents in general, it also includes researching suitable terminology for the specific context of the text. Depending on the degree of specialisation and the people for whom the text is destined, the translator may choose one particular term over another.

  3. Use several sources to confirm the terminology – With the Internet being the ultimate search source, there is a very high likelihood of finding different terminologies in a range of documents and webpages. While official institutions and organisations are always far safer sources, it is not uncommon for there to be differences in terminology among the documents and webpages consulted. It is better to identify sources closest to or related with the text being translated. For example, with a text about a European Commission programme, European Commission sources will always be better than those of the UN or WTO, which may use more “international” terms or Brazilian Portuguese in the case of translations into Portuguese.

  4. Adapt the language to the context and to the target audience – There are texts that are more or less technical, which use more colloquial or formal language, and which are intended for informational or other purposes. The translator must identify the language used in and the purpose of the original text and adapt it for their language.

  5. Take a break then read the final translation – Even when translations are subsequently revised by others, there is always a risk the translator misses some mistakes, be they omissions or errors of grammar. By putting the translation aside for a while (when time permits), the translator puts distance between them and the work, making it easier to then spot any mistakes.


Naturally, there are many lists of “5 things a translator should know”, depending on how we approach the topic. However, this is the five we believe are essential.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *