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Let’s be Frank

Lifting the lid on all things marketing, language, copy & transcreation.

What makes the perfect translator?

The Perfect Translator

What makes the perfect translator?

At franklyfluent, we work with all sorts of translators, from every corner of the world. They are like snowflakes: each one special, unique and slowly melting (what?). They may all be different, but they all have a few things in common. A few shining qualities that give them the near superhuman power to take words from one language, and transpose their meaning, emotion, and rhythm into a new one. What are those qualities? Because we are generous, we will tell you just what makes the perfect translator …

1. Be a writer 

Being an English-language writer takes more than the ability to read and write English. The same goes for being a translator: fluency in two languages is just the beginning. You need to be able to craft words, manipulate them, play with them, give them a personality and a character, woo them, maybe take them out to dinner once in a while …

2. Be a native speaker of the target language

It’s a sad truth known to many unhappy British schoolchildren still vainly trying to locate la piscine after years of French lessons, that however many hours, days, weeks or decades of study you put in, it’s a rare person who can acquire the same in-your-bones depth, texture, and instinct as someone who’s grown up speaking a language. This is most essential for the language that’s being translated into, because that’s where you need to not just comprehend, but create.

la piscine – The Perfect Translator

3. Love puzzles

I think it was Confucius who said: Translation is like a Rubik’s Cube*. By which I think he meant that to be top-class translator takes a good dose of problem-solving ability. Sometimes that means unravelling and remaking a pun. Or finding a way to mirror rhyme in a language that doesn’t have rhyme. Or turning fifteen words into ten. Whatever the challenge, you’ll need to be able to think in unusual directions to tackle it.

*Citation required.

4. Don’t be a diva

There’s no room for big egos in translation. That’s because, unlike some forms of writing, it’s not about exerting your own voice. It’s about taking the original words and skilfully finding the right equivalents in your native tongue to ensure that meaning, tone and feeling are conveyed as truthfully as possible. It takes a special kind of humility to write what’s there, and not what you think should be there.

beyonce – The Perfect Translator

5. Be polite. Be punctual.

That is all I have to say about this.

There you have it. If you’re looking at this list and thinking ‘B-b-but that’s me!’ then: I love you. Please be my translator.

Or, if you’re looking at this list and thinking ‘I agree. I would like you to translate everything for me.’ then: I love you too. Here is my phone number.

This article is about: creative translation, creative translators, transcreation, transcreators