Being part of a core team of translators in my company, I was recently part of a debate. The topic was the need of domain expertise in translation or rather what is more important—multi-lingual skill or domain expertise?
Many of my team members seemed to favor the former over the latter, but I was not able to take any side. For me both were equally important. This is because I always believed that you need to be comfortable using one over the other to be able to effectively reach the target audience. Yes, multi-lingual skills will get you the job, but you have to be prepared to learn the subjects on the go. This will help you to know about end users and their requirements in a better way. So, apart from the primary competencies (multi-lingual skills and critical thinking) domain knowledge is very essential to succeed as a translator.
This is not it! There is one other skill that you need to master. It is the ability to understand the subject and translate it in a language that is understandable to the target audience. Imagine a situation when your team members are bouncing ideas off each other, but you are not able to grasp it due to your inability to understand the various concepts and lingos. Won’t it have a devastating effect on your career?
Always remember that you can be an effective translator only when you understand the things that you want to communicate, otherwise your translation will be a piece of joke. For instance, if you have to translate a document related to aviation, you need to understand all the nuts and bolts related to airplane or aviation industry in general. Otherwise, you will end up translating a document that makes little or no sense to the aviation industry.
So, I’m of the view that multi-lingual skills can help you get the job done, but to do justice to the domain, you can’t discount domain expertise. It needs to be given equal weightage along with adequate language skill.
To conclude I would like to say, that translation is not a single, disconnected job. It is a process that calls for continuous improvement; especially in understanding the related domain, so that you can do a more satisfactory job.