A good translator needs to be knowledgeable and experienced in their profession. But, more than that, the qualities of a good translator include great attention to detail, research skills, and a good emotional and technical understanding of language. Good translators often work independently, so they should have no trouble doing this, and possess a good deal of common sense.

The Key to Good Translation

A qualified and experienced translator is the key to good translation. Without a good translator, there’s no guarantee that your content is conveying the same tone or intent as it originally did. In extreme cases, there is also no guarantee that it even has the same meaning as it did in its original form! And when your business services depend on accurate translations, this isn’t a risk you can take. So knowing what qualities to look for in a good translator is important.

Are qualifications a quality of a good translator?

Do Qualifications Matter?

One of the easiest ways of finding a good translator is to look at what qualifications, programs, or certifications they have. But, qualifications don’t necessarily always tell you everything about a person, including what personal and professional skills and qualities they possess. Additionally, not all countries offer programs to prove your worth as a translator.

For instance, translators in some countries can earn the status of ‘certified translator’ or ‘sworn translator’. Certified translators are often needed to translate identity documents for government bodies. But, unfortunately, unlike these countries, the UK does not have an official system of certified translators. So businesses have to rely on other methods to find out whether an individual is a good translator.

Does Personality Matter?

There is no one type of personality that suits being a good translator. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means that there are lots of people who have the abilities and skills necessary to be a great translator. But, it can be hard to narrow down your search when you have so many options.

The Most Important Qualities of a Good Translator?

A good translator should have good research skills, and the ability to write creatively in their target language. They should also have a good attention to detail. Without a good attention to detail, there’s more room for mistakes in their translations. Tiny changes to content can completely change its meaning, including moving and changing punctuation. It’s less likely that a translator will miss any small details like this if they have good attention to detail.

Good translation isn’t just about accurately interpreting words. It is also about interpreting and conveying the correct tone and intent of your original content.The ability to write creatively will mean that your translator is able to accurately recreate the tone and spirit of your content, especially if this requires slight changes. If your translator has a flair for creativity, they will be able to do this with no problem.

Other Qualities of a Good Translator

Most translators work independently when translating work. So, a good translator will have to be able to easily work and motivate themselves when working alone. Research skills tie into this. When someone works independently, they won’t necessarily be able to rely on others to find information and answers. This also requires a level of initiative. If a translator struggles to motivate themselves when working alone, they may struggle to accurately translate content.

Paired with these qualities, it’s important for good translators to have common sense. If something has been translated but doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t have the same spirit and intention as the original content, it’s important that they pick up on this. It goes hand in hand with attention to detail. But rather than translating something word for word, they must have the common sense to make adjustments for the flow and benefit of the content as a whole.

Is Experience Important?

The more experience translators have, the more opportunities they get to develop these qualities. Experience will also naturally help any translator to develop their understanding of the languages they speak. Plenty of experience in translating services will demonstrate that someone has the theory and the knowledge of the languages necessary for accurate translation. It also means they are likely to be aware that translation is more than just a word for word rendering. They’ll be capable of recreating the spirit, tone, and intention of the original piece as though it was originally written in the target language.

So, although there’s no particular personality that makes a good translator, there are a few key qualities that will help. A good translator needs the ability to research terminology and concepts in depth. But they also need a great attention to detail, and a flair for creativity. The best translators will often have the right qualifications and experience. But they will also be able to work independently, with great attention to detail and emotional intelligence.

In simple terms, translation is the process of rendering written content from one language to another language. But, not every translation will be as good, or as accurate as another. Good translation relies on having a qualified and experienced translator who is capable of achieving the following.

The translated content must be accurate, with the same meaning and intent as the original, with no errors or omissions.

But, it must also replicate the correct tone and spirit as the original content.

The Most Important Aspect of Translation 

Perhaps the most important part of a good translation is to have the same meaning and effect as the original content.

In any language, small changes can completely alter the meaning of content. In a business setting this can be detrimental, especially if you are translating important information or statistics.

So, before anything else, a good translation must have the same meaning as the original content.

Without this, you could unconsciously be saying something completely different once your work has been translated.

Technical accuracies are inevitably linked to the accurate meaning of a text. These are another key part of a good translation.

This applies to even the smallest detail in your content.

Not only do each of the words need to have the correct, accurate meaning, but all of the grammar needs to be correct and in the right places. Missing out small things like this can completely change the meaning of your content.

So, a good translation requires attention to detail as well as a complete and in-depth knowledge of both languages.

Hand in hand, technical accuracies and an accurate meaning will result in a good translation. But, there’s even more that goes into the process.

Tone of Voice

A good translation will capture the same tone and spirit as the original content.

This is especially true in content that is being translated to be published. Tone is just as important as meaning in many ways.

A translation that has the same tone as the original content will ensure that your words have the exact same effect on any of your readers. You don’t want original content to be inspiring and moving but translated content to be dull and unmotivating.

Plus, a translator is almost never the author of the original content. So, a good translation will replicate the tone and voice of the author that is being translated.

This can take a degree of skill. So, you’ll need to invest in a good translator.

The Translator

To achieve a good translation, you need a good translator.

The best translators will be able to do everything we have mentioned here.

Choosing a translator with plenty of experience and qualifications means that you are more likely to get a good translation. Some businesses may consider using just anyone that can speak the target language. But, doing this can result in inaccurate translations. Or worse, ones that are technically accurate but that don’t reflect the original intent and tone of your content.

A professional translator will have the experience and ability to replicate your content exactly as it should be.

In some situations, it could be hard for a translator to get a technically accurate translation whilst keeping the exact same tone and meaning. But, a good translator will know just how to strike the right balance.

Good translation, if all of these factors are achieved, does not seem like a translation at all. In fact, it will seem as if the content was originally written in your target language.

A good translation could be read by a native speaker with no indication to them that the content has been translated. Communication with readers in the target language should feel natural and easy with a good translation.

A good translation doesn't feel like a translation at all

Why you Need Good Translation

Good translation matters. Especially when global interconnectivity is an important part of your business.

As different parts of the world become more interconnected, it’s important that communication is as easy as possible. And the most successful businesses will be the ones that have the best translations.

So, in summary, achieving a good translation requires a number of layers.

It needs to convey the same meaning, tone, and spirit as the original content. This is important both to preserve the mark of the author. It is also important to serve the same purpose as was originally intended.

Your reader, ideally, will not be able to tell that they are reading a translation. A good translation is imperceptible to its audience. And a good translator can guarantee that.

Most people use idioms in their daily conversations without thinking. But these expressions can seem like utter nonsense if you aren’t a native speaker of that language, so translating idioms can be tricky.

A lot of idioms don’t translate easily across languages. And trying to translate them can have some hilarious results.

You usually need to know the meaning behind the idiom before you can truly understand what it means. But this can pose some interesting problems for people who are working in a different language.

What is an idiom?

Idioms are sayings or expressions with a meaning that differs from the literal meaning of the individual words [definition].

For instance, the English idiom ‘speak of the Devil’ means ‘the person we were talking about just showed up’, rather than to literally speak of the Devil.

You can see why this would be confusing for someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase.

This is because you can’t get the meaning of an idiom from the expression alone – you need to know the context surrounding it.

Generally idioms offer advice or reflections that can be applied to the situations they’re used in. So, not only are they interesting linguistically, but they offer some great insights to the culture and societies in which they are used.

English idioms

These expressions can be applied to pretty much every area of life. But the best way to see that is to look at some of the best idioms from our own language.

Here are some common English idioms and their real meanings.

  • ‘Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it’ – we will deal with that problem when it happens
  • ‘The ball is in your court’ – it’s up to you to decide
  • ‘To bite off more than you can chew’ – to take on more than you can handle
  • ‘Hit the sack/hay’ – to go to bed or to sleep
  • ‘The cat’s out of the bag’ – to reveal or find out a secret.

It’s pretty likely you’ve heard someone use these idioms if you’re a native English speaker. But, when you stop to take the phrases literally, it’s easy to see why non-natives could get confused.

Are idioms universal?

Just because people speak different languages doesn’t mean their experiences are entirely unique.

Idioms can describe universal experiences. So, are there any universal idioms that are used in every language?

The answer is yes and no.

Some idioms can be applied globally, and have versions of one another. But they don’t use the exact same words.

Others will only make sense in their own culture, and will sound like complete nonsense to any non-native.

Let’s take a look at a few of those ‘universal’ idioms that can be applied to the same situations.

Idioms in different languages

One universal situation that is described by idioms in most languages is a job that is easily done.

In English, you might hear someone say “that’s child’s play”, “that’s a piece of cake”, or “as easy as ABC”. So, even within one language there are multiple idioms to describe this situation.

A French version of this idiom is: ‘c’est un jeu d’enfant’. Literally, this means ‘it is a child’s game’, so is really similar to the first English idiom above.

In Chinese, we have 举手之劳 or jŭs hŏu zhī láo. This can be translated to mean ‘the effort of raising a hand’.

The Germans also use hands in their idiom – ‘das schaffe ich mit links’, meaning ‘I can do that with my left hand’.

The words are not that important when translating idioms such as these. It is the meaning that matters. One can often be substituted with another.

Let’s take another example

Another situation that has idioms in a lot of different languages is bad weather.

In English, we might say ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ if we see a storm outside. This means it’s horrible weather, or raining heavily.

French has a similar saying: ‘il fait un temps de chien’. This roughly translates to ‘it’s dog weather’, but means the same as the English idiom above – the weather is foul. However the French are as likely to say ‘il pleut de cordes’, literally, it’s raining ropes.

The Welsh also have an idiom for this situation, but they move away from dogs and cats. ‘Bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn’ translates to mean ‘raining old ladies and walking sticks’ and is commonly used to describe heavy rain.

Even though these idioms are all different, it’s easy to understand the situation they refer to. Most countries have their own versions of similar idioms.

But, translating idioms is harder if you don’t know the surrounding context. Let’s take a closer look at some idioms that don’t translate across linguistic borders quite as easily.

Translating Idioms - Raining Ropes?

French idioms

One great French idiom is perfect for describing anger or losing your temper is ‘avoir la moutarde qui monte au nez’. This literally translates to ‘to have mustard up your nose’. It’s easy to see how this could be confusing to a non-native.

Another pretty strange sounding French idiom is: ‘avoir un poil dans la main’. This literally means ‘to have a hair in one’s hand’, but is used to mean someone is being lazy.

A more romantic choice is ‘un coup de foudre’. This literally translates to mean ‘a lightning bolt’, but is actually used to mean love at first sight.

German idioms

Another language that has some great idioms to consider is German. ‘Eine Extrawurst bekommen’ roughly translates to mean ‘get an extra sausage’. But this idiom means that someone is asking for or getting special treatment.

A fun German idiom is: ‘da steppt der Bär’, which translates to ‘the bear dances there’. This is used if you want to say a party will be great fun.

And ‘Tomaten auf den Augen haben’, literally means to have tomatoes on your eyes. But this is used to describe someone who is being blind to their surroundings.

Chinese idioms

China is well known for its idioms and wise sayings. They are known as ‘chengyu’ in Mandarin. Translating idioms, or chengyu into other languages is particularly tricky.

‘马马虎虎’ (mǎ mǎ hū hū) literally translates to ‘horse horse tiger tiger’. But this phrase as a whole is used to describe something that is average, or in English “run of the mill”.

Another great Chinese idiom is ‘骑虎难下’ (qí hŭ nán xià) which translates to mean ‘riding a tiger is difficult’. This idiom is used to describe hard situations that cannot be stopped halfway through.

‘民以食为天’ (mín yǐ shí wéi tiān) is another Chinese idiom that can be used in many situations. This literally means ‘people regard food as heaven’, and is used to emphasize the importance of food.

Welsh Idioms

Although Wales is just next door to England, they still have plenty of idioms that don’t translate well to non-natives.

For instance, ‘Rhoi’r ffidil yn y tô’ literally means ‘putting the violin in the roof’, but is an idiom used to describe giving up.

Fel cynffon buwch’ translates to mean ‘like a cow’s tail’. This idiom is used when someone is later than everyone else.

And ‘A’i wynt yn ei ddwrn’ translates to mean ‘with the wind in his fist’. You can use this saying to describe someone who is out of breath.

Russian Idioms

Russian is another great language for fascinating idioms. Let’s start with ‘Остаться с носом’ (astat’sya s nosam). This translates to mean ‘stay/be left with the nose’, but is used to describe someone who was tricked or duped into something.

‘Когда рак на горе свистнет’ (kagda rak na gare svisnit) can be translated to mean ‘when the crawfish on the mountain whistles’. This essentially means something is never going to happen.

Another great one is ‘Дать зуб’ (dat zub) translates to ‘give a tooth’. This idiom means that you are 100% certain about something. You are so sure that you would give your tooth.

Spanish Idioms

Finally, let’s look at some Spanish idioms that sound pretty strange when translated into English.

One great Spanish idiom is ‘Estar en la edad del pavo’, which means ‘being in the turkey age’. This sounds like complete nonsense if you don’t know what it means. But it actually refers to being in your awkward teenage years.

Another Spanish idiom related to age is ‘ser del año de la pera’. This translates to mean ‘being from the year of the pear’, and means to be very old.

Estar sin blanca’ literally translates to ‘to be without white’, but this common phrase actually means to be broke or poor.

Translating idioms

The trick to translating idioms, of course, is knowing when there is one in front of you. Translate an unknown idiom literally and there’s a good chance you’ll be barking up the wrong tree. But any translator worth his salt will not only be able to recognise these neat little expressions but seamlessly work their meaning into the target language too.

To be able to accurately convey the sense of the idiom is one thing; finding an equivalent phrase in the target language which also reflects the original tone and sentiment presents more of a challenge.

At STAR, our teams work into their native language so that each and every translation benefits from the translator’s inherent understanding of their language and its idiomatic nature. We pride ourselves on finding linguistically elegant solutions to these types of issues

and, as a result, providing translations which hit the nail on the head, every single time.