Sensitivity is key factor to demanding profession

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2008, 12:00am

Speaking a foreign language fluently doesn't necessarily mean you are qualified to be a translator. In fact, it's soft skills, such as cultural awareness and an ability to interpret the meaning in the message, that shows you have what it takes.

'A good translator needs talent not just experience,' said Haison Yue Qiang, translation department manager at Yuanpei Translation Services in Beijing. 'If someone is not sensitive to language, how many years of work experience they have is not that relevant - they won't be good at it.'

Dealing well with clients was a big part of the job, Mr Yue added. 'It requires education and experience and an ability to justify and explain your translation style. Clients tend to focus on wording, sequence and sentence organisation. Maybe a single word will cause disagreement. But mostly it is stylistic.'

A lot of work in the industry is translating business documents or publicity material. The localisation of websites, software programs and multimedia CDs is also a big segment. Despite the abundance of advanced machine translation software now available, human translation services are still much in demand. Yuanpei is pushing for clients to focus on quality not cost.

'Billions of words are being translated in China, but a high percentage of those translations make little sense,' said Yue, who gained a masters degree in translation studies from the University of East Anglia in Britain last year. 'On many websites, the English translation quality is very low. Many companies offer low prices and so the industry is caught in a cycle.

'Often it is a matter of highlighting where we have done a good job. We discuss the style of the translation. Nothing is absolutely correct or wrong. It's case by case and understanding the client relationship is important. They need to know that we are conscientious.'

Most translators study a language at degree level. Some go on to do translation studies as post-graduates. Starting salaries for language graduates are around 2,000 yuan a month, and junior translators can make 4,000. With four years experience, translators can make up to 10,000 a month.