B y: Inger Larsen
I did a little poll recently. It showed that the failure rate for translators passing professional test translations is about 70%. These are qualified translators, many of them with quite a lot of experience. Why is the failure rate so high? What makes a good translator?
The poll was fairly informal, just a few phone calls to translation managers working with large translation companies. Some said 60%, others said it was as high as 80%. But I come across the same issue practically every day in my work and I think that the 70% rate is fairly accurate.
Although I started out as a translator about 25 years ago, for the last 12 years I have been running my own recruitment company for the translation industry. At one point we were recruiting for a project assistant position. One of the applicants had a degree in linguistics, an MA in translation and some relevant work experience as an in-house translator and project assistant. I asked for her references. The first I contacted was her linguistics course tutor. Glowing references – one of the best linguistic talents they had had for a long time. So far, so good. Then I contacted her most recent employer. Nice girl, but she hadn’t worked out as a translator. She just hadn’t grasped either the language part or the technical part of the job, her referee said. So it’s possible to be a brilliant linguist but a poor translator. Most of us probably know that already. But what does it take?
What makes a good translator?