Freelance Translator Skills Needed to Translate Fiction Successfully

What makes a successful freelance translator? It’s a lot more than knowing two or more languages very well. Translating a work of fiction into a different language requires way more skill than just a technical grasp of both languages. There’s as much art in the translation of fiction as there is technical skill, which makes being a freelance translator a rich and rewarding career.

Let’s take a look at some essential skills for translators:

Writing Well is Imperative for Translators

Translation isn’t merely a matter of switching out one word for its counterpart in another language.

There’s often no word that perfectly matches a word in English. A great translator knows how to choose the words that convey the original meaning. They apply creativity to represent the author’s ideas in the target language in the best way possible.

To do this, you need to understand the culture and context of the original language and the target language.

A freelance translator should be skilled enough in the target language to be able to write with perfect spelling and grammar. They also need to have a knack for expressing emotions, setting, conflict and more.

Freelance translator jobs

Freelance Translators Should Read Regularly in Both Languages

You’ll need to understand the author’s style, their tone of voice, and have a feel for the cadence of their work. Then, you’ll need to be able to replicate these in your target language. To do this well, it’s vital that you read regularly.

Regular reading in your target language allows you to study how authors in that language express certain moods, tones, emotions, and more. If you’re familiar with how these are expressed in your target language, you’ll be able to apply those to your translations and bring the book to life.

You need to have a good feel for how a story works and be able to identify the overarching themes and mood of the story that you’re translating. Often a mood, tone, or some foreshadowing occurs with the precise use of language in a story. A great translator picks up on that mood and replicates it in the translated version.

Communication between the Author and Translator is Essential

Someone who knows two or more languages very well is likely to be an excellent communicator naturally, but don’t underestimate the importance of this. Not only do you need to communicate a message to readers via your skilled translation, but you also need to be communicating well with the author of the original work.

When an author writes a book, they put a lot of work into crafting it to be exactly what they want it to be. Several drafts, rounds of edits, late nights and a lot of toil goes into the average book. Sometimes, handing over their precious manuscript to a translator, with no idea if they have the skill to bring the same story to life in another language is daunting.

If you’re working on a freelance book translation job, communicate regularly with the author. Explain what changes you will and won’t make to keep the essence of the book intact. They’re trusting you to understand their work, so demonstrate that you do.

If they trust you, they’ll be more likely to seek you out for further book translation jobs in the future and to recommend you to others.

Don’t be Afraid to Make the Right Changes

There are so many phrases, idioms, and cultural contexts that don’t carry across well into a target language. As a master of both languages, you need to be adept at spotting these, and removing them or replacing them with something better.

It’s important to be sensitive about this, and it’s why you absolutely must understand the essence of the original manuscript before you begin a book translation project.

When you do make changes, collaborate with the author so that they understand what you’re doing, and why. Don’t be afraid to make necessary changes that keep the story flowing well without sacrificing key themes.

Practice Makes Perfect

Just like writing a book, it’s doing freelance translation jobs regularly that makes you a master at it. Babelcube connects freelance translators with self-published authors, and there are book translation jobs across all genres available.

You can choose the books that appeal to you to translate, and you can even collaborate with another translator. Collaboration is great if you feel you need some help crafting a perfect translation, or just someone to proofread your work.

Book translation is a rich and rewarding career, so why not visit Babelcube now and get started?

Freelance translator jobs

Babelcube offers freelance translators the opportunity to pick books to translate, define their project timeline, and share in the royalties of book sales.

Babelcube is the easiest way to translate and sell a book in multiple languages. Book publishers and self-published authors team up with translators. The translated books are sold through 100s of retailers.

Check it out at Babelcube.


  1. Aliou niokane

    Good morning
    I am an English teacher. I have been translating English and French for five years now. My aim is to join your community so as to better practice and perfect my job.

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