What it takes to become an EnglishSpanish translator or interpreter
By M. Eta Trabing –
Berkana Language Center
September, 2008
Translator or interpreter?
 Translators work with the written
language, and usually only into their
dominant language.
 Interpreters work with the spoken
language and must go in both directions, so
have to speak both equally well.
Requirements for the Profession
 To be a translator you must:
know the target language perfectly
be very detail-oriented
be prepared to do a lot of research
know some subject matter in depth, if not,
study it first
• be familiar with general business and
computer terminology
Requirements ...
 To be a translator you must:
• understand the source language very well
• have access to appropriate technical
• be prepared to study grammar again
• read copiously in both your languages
• be a good proofreader or get someone else
• study something new every day
Requirements ...
 To be a translator you must:
• know who your audience will be
• know the culture(s) of the countries/regions
that use your languages
• not fall into “translatorese” -- your translation
must stand on its own
• must make total sense in the target language
Requirements ...
 To be an interpreter you must:
• know both the source and target languages
equally well
• you must use the tone, register and words of
the original speaker
• you must convey the speakers’ exact
messages -- their meanings and nuances
• a speaker could be very erudite or have little
formal education
Requirements ...
 To be an interpreter you must:
• have a great store of knowledge in your shortor long-term memory
• like people!
• study constantly
• learn consecutive and simultaneous
interpretation techniques
• learn to sight-translate
Requirements ...
 To be an interpreter you must:
• learn as many dialects and regional jargon as
possible within your languages
• learn “Spanglish” -- but as a separate
language, NOT to replace English or Spanish
• accept pressure and tension and still keep
your cool
• establish trust with those you work for
Requirements ...
 Now that you know what to expect from
translating and interpreting, think of which
one you would be most comfortable with,
which one you might enjoy more, which one
your temperament and personality are best
suited for. You must/should enjoy what you
do, every day!
A few more things ...
 Self-study continues for the rest of your
 Get a few specialties and every few years,
add a couple of new subjects
 Keep up with the modern use of your
 Learn geography and history of your area
 For translators:
 ATA certification – check language pairs
 Check website:
 For interpreters:
• Court certification -- both federal and state
• Check National Center for State Courts
• NO community or medical interpreter
certification at this time
Necessary Investments
 If you want to interpret or translate, you
• have a computer, modem, Internet access, email address, software in both your languages
• know how to use them efficiently
• have office space or space in a home office
• have a telephone, fax/copier/printer
• have business cards, résumé or brochure
Necessary Investments
• buy office supplies
• learn to use Terminology Management
software (Trados, SDLX, Déjà vu, etc.)
• learn to use PowerPoint and Excel, as well as
• learn how to scan graphs and pictures
Necessary Investments
• invest in specialized and general mono- and bilingual dictionaries
• learn to find dictionaries on the Internet
• learn to research subjects on the Internet or
• Have simultaneous interpreting equipment
• become members of one or more professional
Necessary Investments
• stay up-to-date with what goes on in your
profession, your community, your specialty,
your world - new subjects, new technologies,
new terminology, new everything and anything
for EVER! At some point you will have to
interpret or translate it!
Ethics and practices - ATA
 As a Translator or Interpreter, a bridge for
ideas from one language to another and
one culture to another, I commit myself to
the highest standards of performance,
ethical behavior, and business practices.
Ethics and practices
A. I will endeavor to translate or interpret the original
message faithfully, to satisfy the needs of the end user(s).
I acknowledge that this level of excellence requires:
• 1. mastery of the target language equivalent to that of an
educated native speaker,
• 2. up-to-date knowledge of the subject material and its
terminology in both languages,
• 3. access to information resources and reference materials, and
knowledge of the tools of my profession,
• 4. continuing efforts to improve, broaden, and deepen my skills
and knowledge.
Ethics and practices
B. I will be truthful about my qualifications and
will not accept any assignments for which I am
not fully qualified.
 C. I will safeguard the interests of my clients as
my own and divulge no confidential information.
 D. I will notify my clients of any unresolved
difficulties. If we cannot resolve a dispute, we will
seek arbitration.
Ethics and practices
 E. I will use a client as a reference only if I
am prepared to name a person to attest to
the quality of my work.
 F. I will respect and refrain from interfering
with or supplanting any business
relationship between my client and my
client's client.
As amended by the ATA Board of Directors in March, 2002.
Ethics codes for judiciary/court
• the National Center for State Courts
• The Administrative Office of the Courts in
Washington, DC (federal)
• NAJIT – National Assoc. of Judiciary
Interpreters and Translators
• Local/state judiciary interpreter associations
Ethics codes for medical
 See:
• National Council on Interpreting in Health Care
Professionalism means ...
 Being totally accountable for our work
 Doing the absolute, best
job each and
every time
 Making sense and asking the right
questions and providing cultural
comments, when appropriate
Some Rewards are...
 We get to transmit vital and important
information -- sometimes, inane things!
 We act as cultural and language bridges
 We help people
 We learn new things all the time
 We make friends all over the world
 Our minds are constantly stimulated and
forced to expand
Some Interpretation Specialties
 Community
 Court/Judiciary
 Medical
 Conference (small or large -- many
subjects, international business)
 Escort or seminar (State Dept.)
 Diplomatic/Consular (State Dept.)
Some Translation specialties
 Literary
 Journalistic
 Technical (many, many fields)
 Legal
 Scientific (many fields)
 General business
 Computers / localization
Other Specialties for Bilinguals
UN précis writers
 Terminologists
 Typesetters (foreign languages)
 Desk-top publishing - DTP
 Proof-readers
 Editors (foreign language books)
 Any and all jobs can be made bilingual for the
benefit of the employer!
A student’s comment ...
 Being bilingual, I had just always assumed
that I had all the skills necessary to
translate. However, as I began receiving
feedback on my translations, I realized that
I had never truly appreciated what it takes
to produce an accurate translation.
Nicole Behrendt
Traps and pitfalls
 Neophyte translators approach their task
from a word-for-word perspective
 Experienced translators concentrate first
on the meaning, then on the words.
 The expert has a variety of strategies to
solve complex problems, which the
inexperienced do not know yet.
Decimal separator
 Comma
• Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Spain, Uruguay,
 Period
• Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru,
Puerto Rico, United States
Other number differences
 Conversions to and from the metric system
 Billion in English
• un mil millones o un millardo
 Billón in Spanish (
• one trillion or one million millions
Know your subject
 … all of my rights and duties with respect to
the minor will be extinguished and all
aspects of the legal relationship between
the minor child and the parent will be
 Wheat, corn and pork bellies are traded on
the commodities exchange.
Know your subject
 Echo cancellation is a technique that
allows isolation and filtering of unwanted
signals caused by echoes from the main
transmitted signal.
 Blow-fly infestation of the breech can be
effectively controlled for 6-8 weeks by
tagging or crutching.
Know your subject
 The echocardiogram showed left
ventricular dilatation with normal left
atrium, shortening fraction of 23% and
ejection fraction of 30% with moderate
mitral failure, normal pulmonary artery
pressure and global diffused hypokinesis,
with paradoxical septum.
Conozca su tema
 En Paraguay, un 45% de la población es
monolingüe en guaraní, y un 7% es monolingüe en español. El 48% restante es
bilingüe en español y guaraní.
 El empeoramiento de las condiciones económicas y monetarias provoca oscilaciones cada vez más violentas de las cotizaciones en los mercados monetarios y de
Conozca su tema
 Una mujer alta y escuálida con un pañuelo
enrollado en la cabeza le saca brillo a un
pomo redondo de bronce de la puerta de
hierro y madera del portal.
 Los enterovirus se encuentran en todas las
poblaciones porcinas del mundo; muchas
de las cepas no son patógenas y existen 11
serogrupos enterovirales porcinos.
Conozca su tema
 Al administrar ecoestrés-dobutamina hay
mejoría de la contractilidad ventricular, sin
claro incremento del sinergismo
 Durante su internación se efectúa
cintigrama miocárdico de esfuerzo que no
documenta evidencia de isquemia.
Other E-S traps and pitfalls
 The many meanings of “su”
• Dijo que sus primos eran profesores.
• Sus finanzas andaban mal.
 Prepositions
• 65 in English vs 20 in Spanish
Other E-S traps and pitfalls
 Passive voice - reflexive form
 English present participles vs. Spanish
 Multiple uses of “for”
Other E-S traps and pitfalls
 False cognates
• Check exact meanings in monolingual
• Look up Hamel’s Comprehensive Bilingual
Dictionary of Spanish False Cognates, 1998.
ISBN 1-886835-06-3
Other E-S traps and pitfalls
 Actual vs. actual
 Actually vs. actualmente
 Consistent vs. consistente
 Sensitive vs. sensitivo
 Ignore vs. ignorar
 Assume vs. asumir
Other E-S traps and pitfalls
Elaborate vs. elaborar
 Figure vs. figura
 Regular vs. regular
 Relevant vs. relevante
 Suppose vs. suponer
 Editor vs. editor
 Eventual vs. eventual
 Etc.
Professional organizations
American Translators Association (ATA)
 Local chapters or associate groups of ATA
 The National Assoc. of Judiciary Interpreters and
Translators – NAJIT
 Local judiciary/court interpreter associations
 National Council on Interpreting in Health Care
 Local medical interpreter associations
Subscribe to:
• Academia norteamericana de la lengua
• GPO Box 349, New York, NY 10116
• $24/año (4 números)
Subscribe to:
 Intercambios
• Quarterly newsletter of Spanish Language
Division of the ATA
 Publications of other ATA Divisions of
interest to you (medical, interpreters,
literary, scientific, etc.)

BEYOND BILINGUALISM: - American Translators Association