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Creative TranslationWorks

What makes a good translator? #1

I am often asked this question when I meet people who are enthusiastic about speaking foreign languages. The answer cannot be summarised well in just a couple of words. However, in this series of blog posts I will attempt to comment on a few aspects of the job and skills involved.

The first and most obvious skill required is a good understanding of the foreign language you wish to translate. In the translation industry this is known as the ‘source language’ or SL. Anyone who has tried to learn more than one foreign language will appreciate that languages have minds of their own! Many are related and belong to ‘family trees’, such as the West Germanic family which includes German, Dutch, Flemish, Danish and English. But like members of human families, these languages do not all behave in the same way. They have some common characteristics, such as the word for ‘bread’. In Flemish and Dutch it is ‘brood’, in German it is ‘Brot’ and in Danish it is ‘brød’.  When we start to look at grammar and syntax, we find that these languages assert their independence and go their own way. German, for example, famously puts verbs at the end of the sentence, but not always! (It’s complicated…)

From studying the language, the translator knows therefore that texts cannot be translated literally. I have been asked on occasion not to translate ‘word for word’. Those that make such a request apparently know nothing of English or German! When translated literally, or word for word, the translation of ‘Wenn es heute regnet, gehe ich nicht in die Stadt’ would be ‘If it today rains, go I not into the town’.

Good translators would, of course, understand the grammar behind the German sentence and render it in idiomatic English. So, not only do translators understand the source language, they also master the target language (TL), that is, the language into which the text is being translated and appreciate the problems that can arise when dealing with two languages.

A series of blog posts cannot tackle all the issues involved in translation, but if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating subject, Creative TranslationWorks is running a series of workshops translating from German into English from 8 June 2022 for six weeks.

Are you

•             post A-level/B2 (or equivalent) or higher?

•             feeling your German to English translation skills could do with a polish?

•             about to start a German language or literature course at university?

•             thinking about a career as a translator?

•             a translator of other languages and thinking about adding German to your portfolio?

•             a German native speaker required to translate into English for a course?

•             an enthusiastic learner of German wanting to translate for personal enjoyment?

Then these are the workshops for you!

We will look at a variety of texts over six weeks, discuss your prepared translations and translate ‘at sight’ in an open, supportive and fun atmosphere. Discussions of the texts will be in English.

In the event of high demand, more dates will be offered.

Can’t make those dates? Contact me anyway to have your name put on the waiting list for the next series!

For more information and a 10% discount (if you sign up and pay by midnight on 1 June), write to Lisa Davey here at Creative TranslationWorks via the contact page on this website.


  • May 28, 2022

    Brilliant idea! A good way to get a “taste” of working as a translator before committing to a more formal training programme – and sounds fun!


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