What Translators Do

Translators speak, read, and write in at least two languages fluently.

Translators convert written information from one language to another.

Document Translations ​

Unlike Interpretation, Translation is the transference of meaning from “text to text” (written or recorded), with the translator having time and access to resources (dictionaries, glossaries, etc.) to produce an accurate document or verbal artifact.

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Translators typically have the following duties:

  • Convert concepts in the source language to equivalent concepts in the target language
  • Speak, read, and write fluently in at least two languages, including English in the US and one or more others
  • Relay style and tone
  • Manage work schedules to meet deadlines
  • Render written ideas accurately, quickly, and clearly

Translators aid communication by converting information from one language into another with written words.

The goal of a translator is to have people read the translation as if it were the original. To do that, the translator must be able to write sentences that flow as well as the original did while keeping the ideas and facts of the original accurate. Translators must consider any cultural references, including slang, and other expressions that do not translate literally. Translators must read the original language fluently. They usually translate only into their native language. Nearly all translation work is done on a computer, and translators receive and submit most assignments electronically. Translations often go through several revisions before becoming final. Interpreters’ and translators’ services are needed in a number of subject areas. Although these workers often do not specialize in any particular field or industry, many focus on one area of expertise.

The following are examples of occupational specialties for translators:

Health or medical translators typically work in healthcare settings. Translators must have a strong grasp of medical terminology and the common words for those medical terms in both languages.  Health or medical translators don’t usually have the same level of personal interaction with patients and providers that interpreters do. They primarily convert information brochures, materials that patients must read and sign, and website information from one language to another.

Legal or judiciary translators typically work in courts and other legal settings. They must understand legal terminology. Many court interpreters must sometimes read documents aloud in a language other than that in which they were written, a task known as sight translation.

Literary translators rewrite journal articles, books, poetry, and short stories from one language into another language. They strive to keep the author’s tone and style as well as meaning. Whenever possible, literary translators work closely with authors to capture their intended meaning and literary characteristics.

Localization translators adapt text for a product or service from one language into another. Localization specialists strive to make it appear as though the product originated in the country where it will be sold. They must know not only both languages, but they must also understand the technical information they are working with and must understand the culture of the people who will be using the product or service. Localization may include adapting Internet sites, marketing materials, instruction manuals, and other publications. Usually, these are related to products and services in manufacturing and other business sectors. Localization may be helped by computer-assisted translation, where a computer program develops an early draft of a translation for the localization translator to work with. Also, translators may use computers to compare previous translations with current assignments.

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*Some information on this page is courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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