How can translators keep their skills up to date?

translation skills

The worst mistake a professional translator can make is to stop learning, particularly in a digital age where machine translation tools are ever more evident, changes to the way of doing translations are constant and where the global market means you are competing with other translators around the world. Maintaining quality is not enough to stay competitive: you need to improve your skills and acquire new technical abilities.

In other words, translators need to keep themselves up to date! Here we offer seven suggestions that will improve your performance as a translator.

1 Volunteer
Offer your services free to charities, cultural groups, social action associations and NGOs. In addition to lending a positive hand, you will get a chance to test your language skills and improve your performance and, you never know, you might even win new customers!

2 Change your relationship with the media
Expand your cultural horizons and diversify your media consumption. Subscribe to blogs, social network forums, podcasts and YouTube channels in the target languages in which you usually work. Watch films and TV series in your working language. Force yourself to read books written in that language and read them simultaneously with their translation (where they exist). This way, you will discover new solutions and approaches (or detect errors or inefficient ways to resolve language problems).

3 Do back-translations.
Whenever you can, you should translate from your native language into the languages in which you normally work, challenging yourself to do it on your own as a form of exercise. Back-translating will help you learn more about both languages and discover new translation solutions and techniques.

4 Write.
Whenever the inspiration grabs you, write. A good translator is, by necessity, a competent and creative writer with a profound knowledge of their language. Keep a regular diary or blog, write articles for publications, try fiction of creative writing. The skills you will develop in this way will directly enhance your translation performance.

5 Go back to school!
Never stop studying. Learning how to use CAT tools to keep up to date with digital technology is increasingly important for professional translators. Learn a new language to increase your job opportunities. Specialise in a new area of technical translation by doing a postgraduate or master’s degree to improve your skills and perhaps open doors to a teaching position – any teacher will tell you that teaching classes is one of the best ways to learn (as well as being a good complement to your professional activities).

6 Accept critiques as a tool.
Be self-critical, and honestly examine the quality of your work after receiving feedback from your customers. Ask trusted and respected professional colleagues their opinion of your work. This internal and external analysis will help correct techniques and prevent less efficient solutions in future jobs.

7 Travel!
Nothing helps develop language “muscle” more than travelling to the countries in which your working languages are spoken, particularly in the role of a guide to a group of friends or colleagues. The everyday situations you will encounter, deciphering signs, speaking with locals, or interpreting will help you develop your ability to improvise, fluency, and vocabulary.
This also applies to “international” languages like English, Spanish, and French, often used as a common language between people of different nationalities. The effort involved in communicating clearly with non-native speakers often involves decoding what is being said – which is also excellent training!