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Are translators born or made?

The question

If you were ever lucky enough to have visited a foreign country for your vacation, chances are you had to hire a translator from a local translator agency to help you get along with the locals. And all the while you might have thought to yourself “How is this guy able to switch between two languages so easily and speak both of them fluently when all I can muster is a squeamish ‘Yes’ or ‘Thank you’ in broken syllables. Translating must be a God-given talent!”.

Well, is it? Are translators born with the gift of understanding multiple languages, or is it an ability anyone can acquire after a certain period of training?


The role of talent in measuring a translator’s worth

While it may encourage aspiring translators who’re currently finding trouble in their chosen profession, it would be nothing more than wishful thinking to assume that talent plays no role in making a good translator. A retentive memory, smooth tongue, observant eyes, and a sharp mind are all things we are born unequally with and are all traits that would help anyone become an effective translator. For a translator is not a mere dictionary on two legs that can correlate one word from one language to another in some other language. No, a translator is one who listens, understands and interprets, three highly underrated communication skills not everyone can possess.


But is a talent the end-all-be-all of the game?

The short answer? No, and therein lies the biggest strength we have as humans: our ability to learn and improve. As proved time and time again by countless individuals all pulling themselves to the top of their industries starting with from scratch, hard work truly does pay off. Sure, you may not be as talented as your colleague who looks like he was born to do translating jobs, but with hard work, diligence and perseverance you could in time catch up to him. You could improve your memory and IQ, you could learn to be a better listener, you could go out and gain more experience about the language you want to translate for the others; the training activities you could do to improve yourself as a translator are endless and can be repeated infinite times without them losing their effectiveness. Simply put, if you want something bad enough and are willing to put in the work, there’s a high chance you’ll get within spitting distance of your target.


What’s the correct answer then?

In the case of translators, the ideal candidate would be one who is sufficiently talented for the position but one who is also willing to work hard to improve himself in his field. So you see, the best translators aren’t born or made, they’re prepared; they have the necessary skills to become the best and put in the work to polish these skills. But as to the question whether or not talent is more important than hard work to become a proficient translator (one that any translator agency would fight to have on their team), the following quote should suffice as an answer:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”


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