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Translate English to Spanish Without a Dictionary?

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Do you ever wonder as a translator whether you can one day be good enough to translate English to Spanish without a dictionary?

Well, let me tell a short little story. When I was in college starting my training to become a Spanish translator, I always wondered if my language ability would ever be good enough so that I wouldn’t have to use a dictionary and I would be able to translate English to Spanish off the top of my head.

However, the more I studied, the more I realized how much is out there to learn about a language and that I would never reach that point of not having to use a dictionary. At first I was disheartened because I thought that having to use a dictionary would reflect on my knowledge of the language; however, I soon came to the realization that having to use a dictionary to translate English to Spanish is not necessarily a sign of weakness in a language, nor is it a crutch.

Dictionaries are an aid. Translators shouldn’t try to be “master translators” and think they are so good that they don’t need dictionaries. Even native speakers of a language often go to dictionaries to get more precise meanings of words, as well as synonyms and antonyms of specific words. Without dictionaries and other reference materials, translators put themselves at a disadvantage in their work.

It’s like a doctor working without medical reference materials. There always comes a time when they have to consult other resources and not rely on their own knowledge. They owe it to their clients to consult every resource at their disposal. In the same way, translators owe it to their clients to use every means they can to translate English to Spanish or any other language combination in order to provide the best product they can deliver.

So don’t fall into the trap that I did and think that your translation skills will only be top-notch if you never have to use a dictionary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Professionals realize that by relying on outside resources and materials, their skills will only improve. So will yours.

Clint Tustison is a Spanish <--> English translator interested in helping businesses and translators better understand the translation industry. If you’re interested in how to improve your translation business or your relationship with translation companies, check out his website at

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  • Posted On December 31, 2006
  • Published articles 283513

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