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4 things aspiring professional translators in India must avoid

Ask anyone and they will tell you that if you want to become a professional translator, you need to be an expert in the source language and be very good with the target language. If that someone also happens to be an experienced translator, they might add a few other soft and hard skills to the mix, such as domain knowledge, formatting, CAT Tools, etc.

Having spent over 25 years in the translation industry in India and having contributed, in my own little way, to the skilling of upcoming talent, I thought it was about time I said what no one is. So here are 4 things that aspiring professional translators in India must surely avoid:

  1. Opting for the Arts and Humanities stream

There was a time when one could pull this off. Communication channels were few, social media did not exist and customers were forced to work with the few translators they found. They thereby showed a lot of patience with average or poor quality translators and sometimes even took the pains to informally train translators as far as the knowledge of their domain was concerned.

Today, with the tons of options available at the click of a button and time being of the essence, customers expect a high quality output. Having had no connection with technology and at times having even run away from it, language students from the Arts and Humanities stream could find it way more challenging to understand and translate documents that need a deep understanding of domains ranging from technical, medical and IT to finance, law and what not.

Their education does not require them to get even a bird’s eye view of these domains and no matter how much of the language they pick up, their understanding of these domains remains compromised. Some are even found lacking on analytical skills, something that is integral when it comes to producing high quality translations.

Aspiring professional translators would thereby do well to get a primary qualification in any one of the domains that are going to be the source of work for them and then learn a language very well, but on the side and from a credible language institute.

  1. Ignoring Indian languages

For as long as the translation industry has existed in India, people have equated the word translations primarily with foreign languages. They might have been reasonably right, viewed from a very market demand point of view, but not any more.

The market is fast changing. More and more companies are waking up to the reality that India is not a market of a billion plus people if they continue to sell only in English, a language that is at best understood by no more than 13% Indians even if were to consider English as a first, second or third language.

That 13% of the market too has probably begun to stagnate. Real growth will come from elsewhere. To be able to tap the rest of the 87% of India’s population, English will not always work. Businesses will have to localise their content into all major Indian languages before they can start acquiring customers from newer pockets of this existing market.

Aspiring professional translators in India must therefore have extremely good command over their own mother tongue and possibly at least one more official Indian language. This should also include the ability to read, write, type and speak these languages.

  1. Not being linguistically ‘tech-updated’

Twenty years ago or even ten years ago, you could be a proud luddite. You could learn a language, stay away from technology and still be respected, purely for your language skills. Today, that is the quickest way to be irrelevant as far as the world of professional translating is concerned.

So what changed between then and now? Well, the biggest change is that, in the past, looking for a translator used to be a knee-jerk reaction to receiving content in a language one did not understand. Today, translation and localisation projects are planned strategies that are backed by serious budgets and have a direct or indirect impact on the success of a product or service. They also involve the use of technology in the way products and services are delivered to end-users.

Aspiring professional translators cannot therefore afford to know only the language and have some understanding of the domain. They also need to understand language technology very well because often, language technology is a small yet significant part of the complete solution.

Aspiring professional translators must therefore understand their own profession, but from a technical point of view. APIs, MTPE, NLP, AI, block chain and many more should not merely remain words you have heard, but be concepts that you understand and are able to work with when it comes to offering technology-enabled language solutions.

  1. Thinking of themselves as translators

Professional translators have always thought of themselves as just that, professional translators. Nothing wrong there really if people are approaching you with documents that need to be translated from any one of the source languages that you might have mastered.

However, thinking of yourself as someone who translates is tantamount to shutting the door on all the opportunities that await language professionals.

While translators merely translate because they know no better, a language professional understands that translation in a very small part of the problem that their customers are facing. They also know what the larger problem is and they offer solutions that go a step in that direction.

The simplest example that I can think of is professional translators restricting themselves to only translating a technical manual, when they can actually offer to layout the translated content in a high-end design software or help the customer publish it to the web.

If you get the drift you will see how you can skill yourself to become a language professional and offer services that go well beyond merely translating documents. By solving bigger problems for your customers, not only will you reap more financial and professional benefits but also cater to the need of the hour.

The way ahead…

If you love working with languages and would like to become a language professional, contact us to know more about how we can help. You could write to us at or simply call us on 83800 31438 to start a conversation.

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Sandeep Nulkar Founder, Chairman & Managing Director, BITS Private Limited Sandeep Nulkar heads one of India’s largest translation and localisation companies. He is a linguist by passion, businessman by choice and author by circumstances. Over the past decade, he has been working closely with the corporate world and with students and the academia to bring credibility and recognition to the Indian translator within and outside India.