What makes a good translation? You probably heard this question in your introductory translation class or read it in the first few pages of the book you decided to buy to help you acclimate to the industry. A classic (yet still the most popular) answer is having a native/near-native command of the source and target languages. Well, if you decide to become a translator, you should already be confident in your language skills, so this answer is kind of self-evident. What many do not realize until they enter the market and are ready to show the world what they have to offer is half of the job is doing research.

Searching for correct terms and expressions should become second nature to you if you wish to build a standout translation career. Today CAT tools help us build terminology banks or translation memories that make it easier to be accurate and consistent in future jobs. But depending on CAT tools alone may sometimes prove insufficient and even misleading, especially if you are using community TMs which include hundreds of different customers’ information. So you should support your translation with an internet search to ensure you are using the correct word, term, or expression.

Here are some tips for you to improve your translation skills by surfing the web:

  • Search your customer

Whether you are a freelancer or working full-time for a company, you should always try differentiating yourself by knowing your customer. Show that you speak their language not only literally but also culturally. Be familiar with their corporate culture, namely their jargon, tone, target audience, preferred words/expressions, product/service names, etc. And we are fortunate that we live in an era where companies share all of this information on their websites. So when translating an annual report, sustainability report, or marketing material, check out your customer’s website and see if they already have it localized in your target language. This may help you find the correct terms, expressions, and equivalents, making your job a lot easier. Even if they did not localize every page on their site, the overall content would still give you an idea for your word choices.

  • Search your audience

By audience, we mean the industry or market featured in your text. Rummage as many websites as possible to get yourself acquainted with your target market and its general jargon. In time you will acquire enough knowledge about the industries on which you frequently translate, so you will not have to do extensive research for each project. Yet, remember that things change quickly, so keep yourself up-to-date with market trends and follow the news.

  • Search for words/expressions that will help you sound natural in the target language

If you are not bilingual, you may not prefer to translate a text in your mother tongue to your second language, and that’s perfectly okay. But some may feel comfortable translating into their second language. It usually requires native copyeditors to help you along the way, years of practice, and yes, you guessed it right — research. So, if you are translating into your second language and want to sound natural, you should prepare yourself with short- and long-term goals in mind.

Your short-term goal is usually delivering the job at hand and impressing your customer. You can do that by reading pieces of native authors, writers, or journalists on the topic. This way, you can get yourself familiar with the content and examine how they cast and link their sentences. Non-native translators may be inclined to copy their native language’s syntax to the target language, which may result in awkward, stilted, or non-standard expressions. However, searching with stylistic concerns may help you avoid doing just that.

Your long-term goals should be about improving your language skills. At Dragoman, we support that you should avoid literal, word-for-word translations to sound natural, yet we know it is easier said than done. To feel comfortable enough to re-cast source sentences to achieve greater fluency in the target language, you should read A LOT. Search for magazines, newspapers, books, social media posts, fan fiction, anything in your second language so that you will have an idea of what sounds natural and what does not.

And when translating, search the word combinations you come up with in Google to see if native speakers use those expressions. You can insert double quotes around the phrase you are looking for to refine your search. If the number of search results turns out to be not satisfactory, consider changing your phrasing. Similarly, you should always use collocation and monolingual dictionaries to learn subtle distinctions between words.

All in all, we should reap the benefits of living in a digital age to improve ourselves in translation and copyediting.