The Professional Translator Profile

by Sandra Lara, Production Manager at Nóvalo.

Even if this subject is not new at all, we were really interested in uploading a post where we can provide you with a general overview, according to our wide experience in the industry, on how we believe the professional translator profile must be. Of course, this is not only a professional development issue, but it is also related to specific requirements and attitudes which are not usually learned in the university.

In this sense, we decided to divide these requirements into several areas or key aspects that constitute the global profile, apart from the language background itself of every professional.

These are:

1) The computer.

The relationship many of us have maintained with computers has been, from the very beginning, unfriendly. Those diabolic machines. When translation started developing as the strong and mainly IT-centered market it is today, computers came to the translators’ world as a thunderbolt and prevailed quickly as THE tool. Then, CAT tools and all kind of applications emerged as a support for the translator work. However, it seems like the professional translator still offered resistance and, even today, many of them keep on doing it, according to our experience. They work with computers, but without going far into it. A big mistake, from our point of view. As if a construction worker did not make the proper maintenance of his tools: he would not be able to build a wall. The professional translator depends on the computer. Learning to use it in depth, knowing how to fix the problems as far as reasonably possible and controlling from top to bottom the installation, handle and use processes of every kind of tools and apps related to the industry is absolutely vital. Furthermore, this is a never ending process. The translator must keep working on it forever, especially if we take into account the exponential growing of every issue related to information and communication technologies. That is why the translator must be, in large part, an IT guy.

2) The time profitability.

This aspect of the translator profile seems very obvious, but we must be aware of what we specifically mean. As we know, time is the main variable in our world. Deliveries, terms, production times of a task, etc. Everything depends on the spent time and the terms we have to complete the tasks within. A customers does not wait unless there is a good reason. In this sense, we recommend to become agile when calculating the times in the diverse stages of a work in progress. In case you have to accomplish iterative tasks like, for example, checking the spelling of a 2,000 files batch, it is better to “spend” time in researching a way to accelerate the process. In the example above, we could make a macro to check the spelling automatically in file batches. Learning to create the macro and make it could take 30 min. Checking the spelling of 2,000 files manually could take hours. Also, the macro would still be useful for future jobs. A 30-min time investment has become an exponential work time saving for the future. This approach is applicable virtually to any situation. When you are facing a task which implies a large quantity of time, firstly think if it is possible to make your time profitable by analyzing the improvement of the processes.

3) Work systems, organization and schedules.

The organization and working method of the professional translator are crucial. We do not only mean the use of schedules and administrative tools (which become essential if you have several customers in your portfolio) but also to the task distribution during the working day and the working method itself. For example, many translators make the translation first and, later on, they review their own translations after a short period of time. It is not that we find this system improper, but we realized, after our wide experience in the translation industry, that (what we call) reviewing on-the-go is equally effective. To do that, you have to look at the screen and read what you write at the same time. That is, even if obvious. Learning to type quickly and accurately is the first step. Then, you have to get used to read what has been written on the go. In this way, you will be able to detect many issues that, later in a more general reading of the text, would not be detected. We mean, for example, typos which are not detectable by any speller, like grammar or concordance issues. The time spent in writing is the same if you do not look at the screen, but in this way we can accomplish two tasks at once. Such an easy recommendation eventually becomes a large time saving.

It is also essential to have a calendar application and, as the mail is a vital part in the gears that makes up our work, we do recommend to unify as much as possible in the same application, like MS Outlook, for example. MS Outlook allows to manage the mail, add notes, link calendar dates with mails, add notices, organize meetings and appointments through mail notices, etc. In this way, we can receive the work through mail, link it to deadlines or notes, make the application let us know two hours before the delivery and deliver the translated job back to customer, all without leaving the same application.

In this sense, we also recommend the use of some administrative application that allows to control the tax, economic and invoicing issues, a very important aspect of our work that many translators seem to forget.

4) Marketing: the commercial work.

Our work requires a relationship with customers which is not so direct (as most of times we do not even meet them in person). However, this does not mean there is no relationship at all. Many professionals just do their job, when they receive it, but they do not make commercial actions in order to promote their work or their profiles in other areas o with other customers. It is important for the translator to learn dealing with the issues their customers are interested in, like offering the opportunity to take part in the process (by sending references, queries o requesting legacy material) or asking them for recommendations for other customers. The translator commercial work is mainly based on promoting his/her work and get in touch with potential prospects, as anyone can have translation needs. Also, it is advisable to count on additional awareness media, like professional websites, registering in known industry databases (like ProZ, for instance) or blogs and posts for diverse publications.


We hope these little advises and recommendations, even if rough, be useful or work as a clue if you are starting your path in the funny translation market. Later on this same blog, we will be going in depth in these and other issues which will outline, in a more accurate way, all the aspects that influence our wonderful and special profession.