What Does a Book Translator Do?

Both new and classic books can be translated.
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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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A book translator, also known as a literary translator, transforms the original language in which a book is written into another language. The types of books she translates normally include fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She may work as an independent contractor, freelancer or as an employee of a literary translation service.

The purpose of literary translation is to enable the sharing of literature, ideas, views and concepts between assorted languages and cultures. There are no limits or restrictions on which languages need translators. Almost every culture and country in the world has literary works by authors whose books are in high demand by those who do not read or speak the language in which they are written.

A book translator is commonly perceived of having one of the most difficult jobs in the publishing world. An interpreter, who translates verbal communications, has the advantage of having the person she is translating for present and able to confer on the validity of her interpretations. Conversely, a literary translator often works in a remote location nowhere near the author. In the case of classic works, the author is often deceased.


It is normally considered a much more difficult task to translate written words than spoken ones because the tone of the work can easily be lost or misconstrued by one or just a few misinterpreted words or phrases. A precise word-for-word interpretation of the original work by a book translator is rarely an accurate replication of the author’s initial book. Many literally translated words or phrases completely miss the intended message of the author.

A successful book translator is ordinarily required to have an in-depth understanding of the literary work’s source and target languages. The source language refers to the tongue in which the original work was written. Target language is the term for the language into which the book is to be translated. Understanding the intended literary tone of the original book is as important to the translation as the interpretation of the words.

Before a literary translator applies her language expertise to book translation, she commonly hones her skills on smaller projects. Import and export companies frequently require competent translators fluent in a variety of languages to help them conduct business. Government agencies are also a popular venue in which literary translators can increase their proficiency. Copy editing foreign language text is also commonly considered a good job for aspiring book translators.

The educational requirements for a book translator vary depending upon the assignment. She is generally required to be fluent in at least two languages. A degree in literature is often preferred as it provides an educational base in literary interpretation. Creative writing skills are generally considered an advantage for applicants for this position.


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