A competent translator possesses the following abilities:
- an excellent knowledge of the language, written and spoken, from which he is translating (the source language);
- an excellent command of the language into which he is translating (the target language);
- familiarity with the subject matter of the text being translated;
- a profound understanding of the etymological and idiomatic correlates between the two languages; and
- a finely tuned sense of when to metaphrase ("translate literally") and when to paraphrase, so as to assure true rather than spurious equivalents between the source- and target-language texts
A competent translator is not only bilingual but bicultural. A language is not merely a collection of words and of rules of grammar and syntax for generating sentences, but also a vast interconnecting system of connotations and cultural references whose mastery, writes linguist Mario Pei, "comes close to being a lifetime job."
The complexity of the translator's task cannot be overstated; becoming an accomplished translator after having already acquired a good basic knowledge of both languages and cultures may require years of' experience. Viewed in this light, it is a serious misconception to assume that a person who has fair fluency in two languages will, by virtue of that fact alone, be consistently competent to translate between them.
The translator's role in relation to a text has been compared to that of an artist, a musician or actor, who interprets a work of art. Translation, like other arts, inescapably involves choice, and choice implies interpretation.