As we all know, practice makes perfect. I personally believe that you can’t be a good translator until you translate a few million of words. This creates certain habits, gives you the chance to stumble across “critical” situations and forces you to find a solution, or makes you go through a fair amount of different areas to know, where you feel comfortable enough, and where (sometimes unexpectedly) you failed. Nevertheless, apart from professional experience there are also certain skills that you can work on in your spare time as well.
Every translator needs as broad scope of vocabulary as possible. Oftentimes, you need to use a synonym in order to ensure stylistic appeal of your translation. Uncommon words are sometimes that added value, a kind of an “x-factor” that will make your translations more valued by your customer than texts prepared by one of their employees who “took a course in English at the university”. A great way to develop your vocabulary is by playing word games. Not only do they force you to find more and more words that you already have in the back of your head, but they expose you to words used by other players that you may not know. You can play word games in any language, but obviously your level in your mother tongue will be far higher than in any other language. However, that’s not a thing you should worry about. The goal is to come across as many words as possible – both those you already know and those you have never heard or seen before. What’s more, the many of such games are also available from your browser or as an app for your mobile device. If you don’t like digital technologies that much, you can always reach for traditional crosswords as an alternative. Learning and pleasure at the same time. Developing your vocabulary is always an added value.
When working as a translator, an absolutely crucial skill is to be able to type without looking. If you can’t do that, you will never be able to achieve satisfactory pace, and your co-workers or competitors will always beat you when it comes to speed. What’s more, while looking at what you type, you can correct any typos in real time, which otherwise could be missed and could slip through QA mechanisms like a spell-checker or a transcheck. There’s a wide offer of solutions that can help you learn touch typing: from older, more complex apps that teach you everything – from correct placement of your hands on the keyboard to sequences of pressing subsequent keys – to simpler solutions that you can access directly from your web browser. After logging in, you can usually see various ranks, which allow you to monitor your progress and compare your results with others.
It is estimated that an average person learning a foreign language at any level can produce or create only 25% of what they can understand (or receive). One of the reasons for that is the fact that while learning, we far more often play the role of a receiver (listener or reader) than producer (speaker or writer). Pushing this line towards the balance is particularly beneficial to translators who work both ways in their language pair(s). In order to change these proportions, you need to practice producing contents in the foreign language. This will not only develop your vocabulary (if you treat these exercises seriously and try to take as much as you can from them), but it will also reinforce your confidence, which in turn will make your contents sound more natural to native speakers. There’s also the “rust” effect – the less you use a certain skill, the more rusted (i.e. less skilful) you become. Thence, apart from the development, practicing is a must even if you only want to stay at more or less the same level. Translate anything – from news on English channels, to lyrics of your favourite tracks, movie subtitles, to texts from your areas of expertise. There’s no such thing like too much practice.
Punctuation is an interesting topic. On the one hand, it’s surprising how many people – including beginning translators – belittle it as something relatively unimportant. Whereas the reality is totally different, and a missing or misplaced comma can result in lawsuits, litigations, or huge fines. On the other hand, how many people simply don’t know the rules. This is most probably a result of a series of different reasons, the curriculum for teaching Polish language in public schools and the approach described above being a couple of crucial ones. However, if you think about a professional career in the translation industry, you have to produce error-free texts, including with correct punctuation. Each misplaced comma will be reported by an LQA reviewer as a minor error. A few such errors, and the agency will deduct your remuneration based on the low quality of your deliverables. And rightly so. That’s why you should learn and practice punctuation. Especially in Polish, as the rules here are often ambiguous or even contradictory.
Exceptions, false friends, oddities
Do you like curious details? If yes, you can find plenty in linguistics as well. Rare words, incorrect and yet commonly used loan words, interesting constructions… The list is really extensive. Start from browsing the Internet for the most common linguistic errors. If after reading through such a list you know the correct versions, it means that your level of proficiency is really high. If not, there’s yet another area for development. And this will bring benefits later on, when under the pressure of a tight deadline you won’t have to leaf through countless dictionaries or guides looking for answers to rare questions. Having problems remembering exceptions or oddities? No worries – use a notepad (or create a file on your computer) and add any useful, interesting or unclear facts and examples there, and keep it on hand.