8 tips for a quality translation

In our ever-globalizing world, companies need quality translations and reliable translators. It takes a variety of translators who specialize in various major languages to ensure an idea can be communicated around the world.

The field of translation is growing every day. Quality translators pay attention to detail, work patiently and have a firm grasp of both the target language and the source language.

Here are eight tips that any translator can use to ensure a quality translation.

1. Translate one text at a time

When translating a text, try to dedicate your time to that text only. Good translators tend to fixate on a text, devoting all of their attention to it until they produce a quality translation.

This method allows the translator to dive into the writing of the source text and become familiar with the voice of the author. This tip is particularly useful when translating literature or dialogue.

A character, setting or action is often presented to us through language. An author uses this carefully chosen language to give us clues about a character’s nuances and defining qualities. Immersing yourself in the source text is particularly helpful when trying to replicate those nuances in another language.

2. Clear up any ambiguities

Ambiguities in the text make it particularly hard to make a quality translation. If you come across a sentence that can be understood in more ways than one, the translation may need to be interpreted. Sometimes the translator has to make their best educated guess as to the author’s intended meaning.

via GIPHY

Any ambiguities could lead to a misunderstanding and consequently a mistranslation. So be extra careful to make sure your interpretation is not contradicted in any other parts of the text and best fits the context.

If the source author is not available to clear up these ambiguities, it is the translator’s job to professionally analyze the text and choose the meaning they think best fits the context of the writing.

3. Choose your register

The register of a piece of writing has to do with how the author uses language to achieve a certain level of formality. A Buzzfeed article has a very different register than an article from the Wall Street Journal. Vocabulary, tone and grammar help determine a text’s register.

Switching between registers is very important for a translator. When translating a text the final product should have the same register as the original. If the text reads very formal in the source language and the translated text is full of abbreviations and slang, chances are the translator did not write with the same register.

The small details are usually what determines a text’s register. Simply adding a “y’all” to a text adds a level of informality and gives off a conversational tone. It is important to include some indicator of that tone in the translation, even if there is no direct translation for an abbreviated “you all.”

4. Use your tools wisely

Translators are only as good as their tools. While there are many great online translators and quality dictionaries, a quality translation should not solely rely on one source.

Google Translate

Online tools are a great help for translators, but they still haven’t replaced the human touch

Quality unabridged dictionaries are a necessity in translation. However, not all dictionaries are created equal. Make sure you know the best dictionaries for your target language, such as Collins or Oxford Dictionary for English, or the DRAE for Spanish.

Online tools like WordReference.com or Linguee.com provide great platforms to discuss usages and grammar in your target language. Combining these tools, and finding the tool that best solves your particular translation problem, will help you end up with a quality translation.

5. Know your character set

Translators should have a good grasp of the target language’s punctuation. Not all languages use the same rules for punctuation.

A quality translation includes correct punctuation, not just well-translated ideas. Common punctuation mistakes include making mistakes in quoting in various languages, using inverted commas or question marks, or including the correct accent marks.

Paying attention to punctuation shows that a translator doesn’t overlook the details.

6. Cultural adaptation

A problem arises when you try to translate an idea that will only be understood by a specific audience. The Harry Potter series has been translated into over sixty different languages from the original British English version.

The translation of these books was met with a variety of obstacles, as they are full of non-existent words, names with more than one meaning and alliteration. For example, how would you translate “muggle” or “Severus Snape”?

However, the cultural references posed an even bigger challenge for translators. When J.K. Rowling mentions “figgy pudding” in the book, a translator has a few options to choose from.

Assuming the target language does not know what “figgy pudding” is, the author can omit the idea altogether, make the idea applicable to the target audience, or make it general so anyone will be able to understand. The translator can also leave “figgy pudding” untranslated to show that while it has a place in British English it is not common in other countries.

Cultural adaptation allows the translator some creative license to modify, add or delete ideas so the text can be understood by the target audience.

7. Be faithful to the text

One of the most important aspects of translation is staying true to the text. A quality translation replicates the ideas presented into the target language. Things are not added unnecessarily or omitted when the thought is hard to translate.

A good translator stays true to the text by picking the correct register and clearly understanding the idea the source text is trying to express.

8. Always keep your ears open!

Last, but certainly not least, good translators constantly listen to the language around them. Translators asks themselves, “does this sound natural?”

One of the best ways to sound natural when translating into a target language is immersing yourself in the language and listening to the natives.

If your dictionary presents you with two options for a word, go with the one you hear used most. It is awkward reading something you would never say yourself, so keep those ears open and absorb the language around you. Not only will this help your language skills, but it will help you create a quality translation as well.


VeraContent uses a range of tools and a dedicated team of language experts to offer our clients the best possible translation service.

Anna Castellanos

Anna Castellanos is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She has a degree in the Spanish language and International Studies and an appetite for great works of literature. Find her skeptically reading ingredients of various packaged goods at a supermarket near you.


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