Is there a ‘translator character set?’


Do certain industries attract certain people? We’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that in the case of translation, this might be the case, and in the rest of the article we’ll attempt to explain why and what this is. 


Translators, by definition, come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, but there are some things that many members of our profession have in common. Most obviously, we’d argue that translators tend to be creative people. In order to be a good translator, it’s necessary to be a good writer, but over and above having a natural gift for words, you need to have a certain degree of imagination in order to successfully convey a concept from one culture in the words of another culture, particularly in the case of nuances or foreign concepts and expressions. 


And in addition to being writers, we’d also say translators are readers. Translation involves doing a lot of research, and often working with source materials that cover topics that we weren’t previously all that familiar with, from footwear to conference tourism. If you’re the kind of person who idly reads cereal packets while eating breakfast, you’d probably be great at anything translation-related - or maybe you already are. 


At the same time as being creative, translators need to be quite analytical and focused, whether this is in order to comply with client instructions, such as adherence to style guides or word or character limits. And as clichéd as it might sound, a natural attention to detail is also extremely important, given the obvious ramifications of getting something wrong that is then published.


At the risk of being controversial, we’d argue that translators are probably more likely to be introverts than extroverts, although they also tend to be loyal people and to see fellow members of their profession as colleagues rather than competitors. And while we’re making wild generalizations, we’d probably also argue that translators tend to be dreamers rather than pragmatists, and to at times over-focus on details rather than eyeing up the wider picture. If you, or somebody close to you, translates, you’ll probably know that most people drawn to this activity tend to be perfectionists that set high standards for themselves, which can sometimes be exacerbated by the solitary nature of our profession. 


Yet on the flip side, translation also demands empathy and a willingness to embrace other cultures and find ways of making the foreign seem local, which is why translators tend to have quite an adventurous mindset. We’d also speculate that translators are probably more likely to travel than members of the general population, either for language acquisition purposes or out of a sense of curiosity. 


Lastly, and at the risk of being silly, we’d say that translators as a whole seem like coffee rather than tea drinkers, and cat people rather than dog people. 


Do you think we paint an accurate picture of the translator character set - or do you even believe that there is such a character set? Whether you agree or disagree with us (or want to elaborate more on what we’ve already said), we’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Until the next time!