Ten Qualities of a good translator

Ten Qualities of a good translator

Translators play a pivotal role in global, intercultural communication and exchange. For this to happen though, they must possess qualities of a good translator and have them at play in order to provide what can be described as a good translation, idiomatic translation. In this article, I shall be discussing the ten pertinent qualities that a good translator ought to possess.

  1. Very good knowledge of the source language. I have deliberately used the words “very good” to imply almost excellent. A good translator should possess very good knowledge of the source language in both written and spoken. The degree of proficiency in both written and spoken forms should be pari passu.

  2. Excellent command of the target language. The target language is the language that is being translated into. It can be either the translator’s first or second language.

  3. The third important quality is familiarity with the subject matter of the text being translated. As rightly expressed in the latin maxim” Nemo dat quod non habet” meaning you cannot give that which you do not have, a good translator must have excellent understanding of the subject matter in question. Translation involves interpretation of the source text before translating the same. To do this, one must be familiar with the subject matter in all its minute details.

  4. Fourthly, a good translator ought to have profound understanding of the etymological and idiomatic correlates between the source and target languages and this includes socio-linguistics register (if applicable). This is the reason why content localization is important during the translation process.

  5. Knowing when to metaphrase and paraphrase is another quality of a good translator. It is important to state that having a finely tuned sense of when you should metaphrase (also known as translating literary) and when to paraphrase so as to assure true rather than false equivalents between the source and target languages. A good translator knows when to use a given option.

  6. Timely delivery of the project. As a translator, you will always work with both end clients as well as translation agencies. Time is always of essence as clients usually have defined deadlines. A good translator sticks to the agreed deadline and works within it. There should be no excuse whatsoever for later delivery of the client’s work or delivery of a poor translation. It is always a good thing to work within realistic and achievable deadlines.

  7. Charging reasonable and competitive fees. The translation industry is reasonably organized with almost well-defined fees or rates for freelancers as well as translation agencies. Usually, though not always, freelancers charge half the price charged by translation agencies. As a good translator, your fees should neither be too small nor exorbitant. It is professional to charge your clients within the industry rates while bearing in mind that you ought to remain relevant in a competitive world. To reiterate this, it is important to note that a good translator should avoid charging too little to the extent that you lose morale in doing the client’s work or too much.

  8. Good project Management. As a translator, you are also a project manager in one way or the other. Good project management in any translation project is as good as the translation itself. A good translator should always have a good work plan for each project before them so as to efficiently manage his/ her projects. Remember, if the project is poorly managed it could lead to poor results in terms of your efficiency as a translator.

  9. Be a good researcher. As a translator, you will always research on virtually everything. Translation and research are concomitants. This means one cannot be without the other. A good translator should always conduct research to understand all the minute details of both the source and target language as well as the subject matter in question.

  10. Be a good interpreter. The word interpreter here has been used in the loose sense. According to Emily Wilson’s definition of translation, “translation always involves interpretation and requires every translator to think as deeply as it is humanly possible about each verbal, poetic and interpretative choice”. As such, a good translator should be able first to interpret what they are yet to translate.


About the author

Mr Tukei Francis Xavier is  Ateso Language translator as well a Project Manager at Igloos Consultancy Services Limited, a Uganda based translations agency that provides translation for Ugandan languages, other African language translation, as well as other languages.


Word senses vis-a-vis Figures of Speech and how they ought to be accurately translated

Word senses vis-a-vis Figures of Speech and how they ought to be accurately translated

As a good translator, it is absolutely paramount to know word senses and figures of speech and the role they play in language so as to provide an idiomatic translation, also known as meaning- based- translation (Mildred L. Larson, 1998). In addition to primary and secondary senses of language, words may also have figurative senses. Figurative senses are based on associative relations with the primary sense. Some of the types of figures of speech will be elucidated below;

  1. This is the use of words in figurative sense involving association. A good example is in “The Kettle is boiling”. Here, the noun Kettle is being used in a figurative sense to mean “water”. As a good translator, you do not have to translate the figurative senses with a literal form of the word as this would lead to an incorrect translation because the figurative expression may not be directly transferred into the target language as this would mean a different thing altogether. The correct translation would be “the water in the Kettle is boiling “ or simply “the water is boiling”.

Some figurative senses are based on a logical contiguity rather than the spatial or temporal. For instance one may say” Moses is read every day in the Jewish Synagogues” not “read Moses”. Here, Moses is used in a figurative manner to stand for what Moses wrote- the law. There is a clear logical connection or relationship since Moses is the writer of the law that is read in the Jewish Synagogues.  A good translator could translate this as “The laws written by Moses are read at the Synagogues everyday”

It’s important to note that an attribute may be used for the object which has the attribute. For instance in the phrase “Don’t substitute the good for the best”, good means good work and best means best work. As such, this means do not substitute the good work for the best work. Alternatively, an object may be used for the attribute it symbolizes such as “The arm of the law reached out to all corners of the country, where the arm symbolizes authority. In this case, a literal translation of “arm” would give a wrong meaning in some languages.

  1. These are figurative senses based on part-whole relationship. This figurative sense is common in greek languages as seen in the new testament translation of the Lord’s prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer it says “Give us this day our daily bread”. One specific member “bread” of the class food is substituted for food.

Metonymy and Synecdoche can therefore be accurately translated in three major ways;

First, the sense of the word may be translated non-figuratively i.e. the intended meaning may be made plain so that there is no longer a figurative sense in the receptor language translation. The Kettle is boiling may therefore be translated as “Water is boiling”

Secondly, the word may be retained in the original language but sense is added to the word. This should be used more so when there is an emotional component as it is the case in poetry. For instance “Moses is read in the Synagogues might be translated as “The law written by Moses is read in the Synagogue”

Thirdly, the figurative expression of the receptor language can be substituted for the figurative expression of the source language. For instance the word “mouth” may be substituted for “speech”

  1. Use of Idioms. Idioms are expressions of at least two words which cannot be understood literary and function as a unit semantically. Examples include; “You are fighting a losing battle, “I don’t have my eye on you”, etc. Literal translation of idioms in the receptor/target language can be nonsensical. As such, idioms in the receptor language ought to be used naturally to make the translation lively and maintain the style of the source language.

Also important to note is that some words in the source language may not be idioms but can best be translated using idioms in the target language. A good and common example is when the word “peace” is often translated with idiom “to sit down in the heart of Africa”.

  1. Use of Euphemisms. Euphemism is a figurative expression which is in some ways like a metonymy. Here, there is substitution of one word for another. The purpose of the usage is to avoid an offensive expression or expression that is unpleasant. It is usually used in areas of sex, death and supernatural. The Iteso people of Eastern Uganda for instance use the word “ ne ikiliok” to substitute “edino” which means “penis” because the usage of the word “edino” is seen as obscene and “edino” is sacred since it is used for reproduction and therefore unpleasant to use. In English on the other hand, “pass way” is used as a substitute for “dyeing”.

Euphemisms will always need to be translated by a comparable Euphemism in the receptor language in order to have a meaningful translation.

  1. Use of Hyperbole. This is the use of exaggeration deliberately for effect, and is not to be understood as if it were a literal description. For instance the use of “I am starving” to mean “I am hungry”, etc. If translated literary, hyperboles may be understood as untruths in the source language since the meaning may be absolutely different.

It is therefore important for every professional translator to have an adequate understanding of how the figurative language ought to be translated from one source language to another target or receptor language. A translator who is truly bilingual should be able to understand the corresponding figurative language in both the source and target languages in order to be able to provide meaningful and natural translation


About the Author

The Author is an Ateso Translator and Project Manager at Igloos Consultancy Services Ltd, a Uganda based Translations agency. The company provides professional translation services for African languages as well as other International languages.



One may wonder how Language Translation can be a great tool to fight covid-19. The Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented harvoc to the world over. Never had it happened before that the entire world was brought to its knees by a pandemic. Businesses have either collapsed or dwindled , jobs lost and lives lost across the world.

When the Covid-19 pandemic was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, it looked too far to the rest of the world and was news far away. However  it was later declared a pandemic by the world health organization  following its massive spread across the world. In a few months, the virus had exponentially spread across the world with many lives lost especially in countries such as Italy, France, Spain, United States of America, China, United Kingdom and many more. What was unknown at first was the fact that the virus was highly contagious and had the capacity to kill thousands in a single day. It was soon afterwards that the world witnessed similar daily deaths as it was during the Spanish flue that occurred between  1918-1920 that resulted to the death of about 50,000,000 people

The entire world was put in panic  and on its knees . Governments across the world with assistance of World health organizations put up stringent measures to contain the spread of the deadly pandemic. The standard operating procedures we put in place and partial or total lockdowns imposed across the world except in a few countries. In some countries, the Covid-19 induced lockdown in itself had far reaching consequences on the economies  and citizens across the world.

In countries such as Australia, the standard operating procedures were massively translated into several languages in view of easy comprehension by different target audience. The standard operating procedures were translated into languages such as Nuer, Dinka, Juba Arabic to cater for the immigrant communities of South Sudan origin  in Australia.  Translation was used as a tool to disseminate information about how contagious the virus is and how it could be contained. In fact, the information could be viewed in the government run websites in different languages to cater for non-English speakers in the country. This shows how important translation is in fighting a pandemic such as Covid-19


Why French Language Matters for Africa

French is one of the vibrant languages of the world and one of the current official six languages of the United Nations with Arabic, Chinese, English, Russian and Spanish. French, other than English language is the only language spoken in all five continents and it represents the 2nd  most spoken language native and foreign language in Europe

The language is spoken by over 300 million people worldwide with an estimated 200 million speakers in Africa alone in the 27 francophone countries. As a result, French ranks as the fifth most spoken language globally behind Chinese, English, Spanish, and Arabic. Besides, French is an official language in several francophone African countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Rwanda, among others

Despite the global reach of English, French is undoubtedly a growing language in the continent with at least two hundred million speakers. With this estimated numbers, the rising birthrates and literacy indicate that there could be 700 million French speakers in the world

Due to the increasing number of French speakers on the continent and the growing literacy in the francophone countries, fluency in French language comes with opportunities. The existence of Alliance Franca’s has undeniably contributed to the persistent increase and advancement of the French language on the African continent

Since the language is spoken in about 27 African countries, the number have explicitly rendered the language relevant and important in global and continental business. What is evident is the fact that every continental business forum necessarily involves the attendance of French speakers besides their English, Arabic and at times Spanish counterparts.

France is a leading tourist destination in the world and as such the French language becomes a necessity in tourism and global business

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Key Benefits of renting a tour guide interpretation Equipment

Key Benefits of  renting a tour guide interpretation Equipment

Tour guide interpretation equipment, also known as Bidule equipment provides much needed audio reinforcement solutions in situations when the speaker’s voice must overcome distance and any back ground interference such as noise as may be the case in the factory, church and or school tour.

The system consists of wireless transmitter with a microphone that broadcasts the voice of the tour leader or the interpreter to the specific individual receivers with plugged-in headphones or earbuds . In this case, the receivers are distributed to the group to enable each person to hear the speaker at a personal level. For instance, with the help of the interpreter, one is able to listen to the interpretation in the language they understand best.

The system helps the speakers to save their voices, save time, keep listener’s attention and better comprehension of the relayed message. Additionally, the system enhances better hearing among the hearing impaired at the public meetings

The multichannel tour guide system/ equipment enables effective interpretation in a multilingual setting hence enabling a two-way communication between tour guides and groups

Why should you rent a tour guide system anyway?

There are several reasons as to why you should rent the tour guide system. Below are some of the benefits of renting a tour guide system for your upcoming event

  • Helps to avoid the cost of buying

Although acquiring one for yourself may be another option, one needs to keep in the mind the cost implication including the purchase cost, storage and maintenance. A good quality tour guide interpretation system is quite expensive to buy yet if not well stored and maintained could put one into a financial loss. To purchase implies that you need to have a sound engineer to operate and maintain besides securing good storage for it. Short of which you risk a break down. Other costs involved include purchasing additional components and or upgrading the obsolete systems. This is quite significant in the contemporary world of innovations. Hiring a competent sound engineer to maintain the equipment is quite costly as well yet you may use the system irregularly. As a result, it becomes more cost effective  and reasonable to simply rent whenever you require since you can be sure of ordering a state of art system any time

  • Easy customization for each event

Renting the tour guide system saves you from continually augmenting the number of receivers and transmitters. Renting allows you to get the system that exactly suits your numbers and needs. You are able to order a system for specific number of participants and interpreters at a reasonable cost hence no risk of under or overestimation

Additionally, it allows flexibility in scheduling your event. You do not for instance have to restrict the location of your event to one location or region for fear of carrying bulky equipment. With renting, you simply have to order for a sound system in  a specific country or region of your choice

Word of Caution!

If you ever decide to rent tour guide interpretation  equipment/ system, choose a company that has expertise, reputable and has great customer service. One great way of ascertaining this fact is by checking the company’s previous customers. A company that has served reputable organizations before and is able to share the contact information of the previous customers is the one you ought to consider. With this , you can be sure of  a quality service and no risk of  being defrauded

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The below qualities must be exhibited in a professional language service provider for quality services. Clients therefore ought to see that a service provider possesses the below qualities before hiring their services.

  • Only undertakes assignments that they are competent to fulfill

  • Does not accept any work that in their opinion, is intended for unlawful or dishonest purposes or is contrary to the public interest

  • Is fair in all the dealings with clients , subcontractors, employees, other language professionals, fellow members and the public in order to establish and maintain good working relationships

  • Does not make any unsupported or misleading claims in any publication, marketing or promotional material, documentation or elsewhere

  • Treats all material and or information received from clients in the course of business as highly confidential and not to use any such materials for personal or financial gain

  • Ensures that each of its employees and subcontractors signs and upholds a non-disclosure agreement

  • Adheres to all the terms of any service agreements with clients, including service to be provided , special instructions , cost and deadlines ; should it become impossible to observe such an agreement for any reason whatsoever, the client shall be consulted at the earliest opportunity concerning a solution or alternative course of action

  • Guided in negotiating remuneration by the principle of equitability and in particular refrains from charging excessive rates

  • Enters into and observes service agreements with their freelance teams and states their expectations clearly prior to contracting such freelancers for any work

  • Uses on competent, experienced language workers qualified to carry out an assignment successfully

  • Bound by an arbitration process established by a professional language body that it is a member

  • Always upholds the highest ethical and moral standards in their dealings with clients, employees, and subcontractors and in the exercise of the language practice occupation

  • Takes part in all the activities of the professional body in which it is a member and always conducts themselves in such a way that their conduct and the quality of service will be to the credit of the client and professional body.

For Professional Translation Services including Document Translation, Conference Interpretation, Audio/Video Transcription, Proofreading and Editing, one ought to clearly know if the service provider possesses the above qualities.

The Difference between Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation simply explained

To every language practitioner especially in translation industry, the words consecutive and simultaneous interpretation are almost in the finger tips. The two words however are sometimes used inappropriately when it comes to professional practice. One for instance may be in need of Simultaneous interpretation but ends us requesting for Consecutive interpretation which at times causes confusion and embarrassment if proper guidance is not given. It is therefore up to the service provider to provide appropriate guidance to the prospective client.

In this short article, I shall be looking at the underlying difference between the two interpretation types respectively.

Simultaneous interpretation is a type of interpretation where the interpreter translates what is being said in real time. Here, the interpretation occurs at the same time as the speaker relays his message. It is the case that while the speaker conveys his/her message, the interpreter is also doing their job at the same time. Just as the word states, the interpretation is done as the speaker relays his message. This type of interpretation requires a specialized skill, agility on the part of the interpreter and keen attention to whatever is being said by the speaker. It also requires the interpreter to have strong comprehension skills and he/she must be familiar with the industry terminology. Simultaneous interpretation usually occurs in meetings or conferences where more than one language is used and in most cases occurs in meetings with a large number of participants. This type of interpretation also requires use of special interpretation equipment to aid the interpretation process. The equipment includes Sound proof booths, receivers, headsets, mikes, among others.

Consecutive Interpretation on the other hand is a form of interpretation where the interpreter translates soon as the speaker has conveyed his message. Interpretation here occurs in a sequence where the speaker is expected to pause and allow room for interpretation to be done. This type of interpretation usually happens in smaller conferences such as dinner parties, introduction parties, and small business meetings, Churches, among others. This form of interpretation does not require use of any special interpretation equipment but rather having good sitting arrangement to allow the interpreter better access to the team they are interpreting to. Besides, it requires keen attention on the part of the interpreter. Just like Simultaneous interpretation, it requires that the interpreter be familiar with the industry terminology for better interpretation to be done.

It is therefore indicative that both Simultaneous and Consecutive interpretation requires a certain form of skill, experience, and familiarity with the respective industry terminology. In any of the forms, there is no room for mistakes as any form pf mistake makes the entire activity faulty and inappropriate hence the need for Professional Interpreters.

Understanding Africa’s most popular and Spoken Languages

Africa is indeed a huge continent!  As a result, Africa has more languages and dialects than any other continent. It is estimated that there are more than 3000 languages spoken in Africa alone hence making it a sea of languages.

Besides, Africa is the second largest and most populous continent in the earth after Asia with over 1 billion people and over 52 countries and a home to the highest cultural diversities in the world

The major languages in the African continent include; Swahili, Arabic, French and English. Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world with over 240 million speakers worldwide (ethnologue) and one of the most spoken languages in Africa, mostly in North Africa. In Africa alone, there are over 100 million Arabic speakers with the majority in Egypt. Besides, it is also the most widespread official language in Africa , spoken in countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan , Morocco, among others with the majority in North Africa and the Sahel region.

Besides Arabic, English is also widely spoken on the continent and used as the official language in most of the continent. It is spoken in South Africa with majority of native speakers, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Nigeria, Rwanda, Gambia, Namibia, Mauritius , Liberia, Lesotho, Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, Botswana, among others.

As a result of the above, seeking professional translation services in Africa becomes a matter of necessity for all organizations working on the continent. The Translation services may include Document translation, interpretation services (Simultaneous interpretation, Consecutive interpretation and Whispered interpretation), audio and video transcription services among other related services. This however is also possible with the availability of professional language practitioners in the continent with vast experience offering the aforementioned translation services.

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Did you know about the Kebu Language, Uganda’s most endangered Language?

Uganda, a country in  East Africa has a total population of about 40 million people according to 2010 population census. The country has numerous dialects totaling to about 45 spoken across the four regions of Northern, South, East and West. However, some of the dialects are at the verge of extinction.

Over the years, there have been reports of a number of endangered Ugandan tribes and dialects in some parts of the country. Such as Kebu, IK, Talinga- Bwisi and Kenyi

Kebu, Kebutu, or Ndo Oke’bu is a community living in West Nile sub region of Uganda and it is said to be the most endangered community in Uganda.

In April 2018 in Zombo district, Mr Ephraim Waringu, the Thebiz  of Kebu Rigangi ( Kebu cultural institution) urged the Kebu people (his subjects) to value their culture and speak their language. He said in so doing, it will help to preserve the culture of already endangered language. Though a recognized language in the Ugandan Constitution, it is said to be endangered with most of its speakers getting diffused in other languages such as Alur, Lugbara and Madi.

The Kebu are a minority tribe occupying parts of Kango, Zeu, Alangi, and Akaa sub counties in West Nile sub region at the border with the DR Congo.

Despite the above, a few conceited efforts are being made in order to save the Kebu language. The most common event being the Annual cultural convention that usually attracts the Kebu from Democratic Republic of Congo, Bunyoro Sub region, Arua and the surrounding areas. In fact, in 2018 annual cultural festival, the theme was “Kebu londa uru” which literary translated means “Kebu do not be afraid, wakeup” This shows the urgency required to save the language from extinction.

Other efforts that are being made to save the Kebu language include; Seeking recognition with government as a fully-fledged cultural institution, and Seeking inclusion in media broadcasting. Unlike major languages in the country such as Luganda, Ateso, Runyakitara, Lusoga, Adhola, Acholi, Lango, Lugbara and Lumasaba, the Kebu language has very few incentives that could help to save it from extinction.

It is not  even clear if the Kebu people have a Kebu Bible Translation, although this is something that can be done professionally.

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What Interpreters ought to know about time Management

One of the renowned Kenyan Academics the late Professor J. M Nyasani whom the author of this article happens to have been his student once said “if you have appointment, make sure you arrive there latest 5 minutes to the designated time” He boasted of how he learnt time management while studying his PhD at the University of Cologne in Germany. In his book titled “ Philosophy of Development” published in 2012 , he argues that time management is an indication of development in an individual.

Professor Nyasani emphasized that time management is absolutely important and an essential aspect in judging one’s maturity. He always kept his word and ensured that he would be in a lecture hall or within the premises at least 5 minutes earlier.

When hiring the services of an interpreter, clients often pay for two things i.e Quality services and time. For the years I have been in the industry, this fact is undoubtedly true. Most clients inquire for professional services within a given period of time. The implication is that they require professional interpretation services within a given period of time and are willing to pay for a quality service within on time.

I recently got an inquiry from one of our clients, a reputable organization in the United Kingdom requesting us to supply a French Interpreter during their meeting in Entebbe. Upon agreeing on the payment terms, they sent a contract for the services. One of the clauses in the contract indicated as follows “ …. Reserves the right to make a deduction from the agreed amount if the interpreter fails to perform his duties within the given time or if he fails to turn up on time without prior information… and Igloos Consultancy Services, the supplier agrees to provide professional services at the said venue and time while pledging that the interpreter shall be available at the venue within the agreed time…” This implies that the client would only pay the agreed amount after the services have been offered within the agreed time and dates.

Imagine hiring the services of an interpreter who is a poor time manager. The outcome of such engagement is discouragement, inconvenience and NEVER to come back. The retainer effect is lost and this obviously puts the business in disrepute. Time management in an interpretation assignment is synonymous to professional work. One cannot boast of being a professional interpreter without being a good time manager. In fact, even if one attained training as an interpreter but failed to be a good time manager while executing their duties, their professional training becomes a matter of discussion and doubt because one would argue that time management should be an aspect during the training.

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