All Linguists Are Not Translators
One of our most frequently asked questions is, “Can’t any bilingual person do my translation?” or “Do all bilingualists translate?” Our answer is, “Usually not!”
It might be helpful to ask yourself: “Do all speakers of my native language possess the same skill level when it comes to writing and communicating complex ideas?” Most of us would come to the conclusion, “Of course not! People have different educational levels, areas of expertise, etc.”
Therefore, why would anyone assume that all bilingual people are able to translate professional content such as legal, medical or business documents? Unfortunately, it is a common misconception and often regretted mistake.
This article provides clarification on the differences between bilingualism, translation and the additional skill sets required to be an effective professional translator.
Bilingualism: The ability to speak fluently or the habitual use of two languages
Translation: The rendering of something into another language
In most languages, there are significant differences between the spoken word for understanding and grammatical accuracies used in writing. Verbal fluency aids communication between individuals, but written translation requires a deeper understanding of both languages and an advanced skill set.
Bilingual fluency does not guarantee translation abilities
For example, bilingual speakers are able to fluently communicate verbally in two languages. This does not mean they are also good at converting information accurately between languages, especially in writing. Therefore, bilingualism is a necessary prerequisite, but not sufficient in and of itself, for translation proficiency and efficiency.
Levels of Translations
As with any skill, there are levels through which one progresses from beginner to intermediate and ultimately to the advanced level.
- Word-for-word Translation: This is really a pre-translation stage that is now done mostly by machine technology. Each individual word is matched to a close definition in the target language and the single words are strung together in the same manner as the original language.
It is rare that a word-for-word translation is grammatically correct in the destination language. It is also nearly impossible to capture the original intended meaning, tone and be culturally appropriate for the new audience using a word-for-word translation process.
- Interpersonal Translation: This is when the translator converts the source’s original words in phrases, sentences or complete ideas into the target language. As long as the initial content is culturally appropriate and does not use idiomatic expressions or slang, this can be effective, in some cases.
- Transduction/Transcreation: This is when the translator digests the information and acts as an intermediary to convey the original intended message, as accurately as possible. The content is delivered in a way the recipient can best understand, taking into consideration tone and cultural nuances.
The development of the translator’s skill depends on their level of interlingualism. In other words, it depends on their ability to establish and understand the relationship between languages and the respective cultures.
All translators are bilingual, but not all bilinguals are translators
The most basic required translation skill is to be fluent in both the original content language and the output language. Therefore, in order to create a professional-level content translation, the translator must be bilingual. In addition to bilingualism, there are several other qualifications needed to be an effective translator.
Translators need to be highly skilled and knowledgeable in:
- Writing: Beyond spelling, grammar and a large vocabulary, translators must also be excellent writers. Superb writing skills qualify professional translators to not only communicate and preserve accurate renderings but also create clear and coherent content for the reader.
- Cultural Differences: Knowing the common expressions, historical references and even slang in both languages are vital to precisely transform content for a new audience.
- Subject Matter Expertise: Every industry has unique jargon, abbreviations and current trends that need to be deeply understood by the translator to produce a quality professional deliverable.
- Native Speaking Level: Professional translators are native speakers of the target language and have strong fluency in the source language, not the other way around. This ensures the translation conveys the source’s content intended meaning most appropriately to the ultimate recipient.
- Translation Best Practices: The industry is evolving quickly with new technologies, protocols, quality control standards, regulations and professional association certifications. Only professional, experienced translators are motivated to keep their skills sharp and credentials current.
Bilingual people may be able to produce a grammatically accurate translation, but few have invested the time in additional training to become professional translators. Leveraging these advanced skills is what mitigates costly risks associated with poor, or even offensive, communications.
It is risky to use bilingual employees or friends to translate professional content
It is tempting to save money by asking a current bilingual employee to do a translation. Unfortunately, in-house staff members are often amateurs, lacking the professional translation skills mentioned hereinabove.
Employees and friends can become resentful being asked to provide services not within their official scope of responsibilities, especially if they are not compensated. Once compensated, you have entered into a service contract with the individual, which could have future legal implications. In addition, when utilising an uninsured freelancer, there is little or no protections for mistakes and any resulting damages.
Although it may be acceptable to ask for help interpreting an inbound communication, such as an email from a vendor, outbound communications put your reputation on the line. Your content was professionally written and designed in your original language. Wouldn’t you want to produce an equally professional piece for your foreign audiences?
Don’t risk damaging your brand reputation or sabotaging your business operations with a miscommunication.
Always contract a professional language service provider (LSP)
At Renaissance Translations, we only employ professional translators who are bilingual native speakers of the target language. Our recruitment policy requires our translators, proofreaders and project managers to have translation degrees, 5+ years of proven professional translation experience and professional certifications. These requirements ensure the strongest skills of every team member involved in your project.
We look forward to discussing your project with you.