12 Things a Translator Is NOT

12 Things a Translator Is NOT

There seem to be some common misconceptions about translators and their profession. Using a list of 12 points, I will clarify what a translator is not. This way, people placing translation jobs, such as entrepreneurs, marketers, and government officials, know what to expect when requesting translation services.

‘12 Things a Translator Is NOT’ There seem to be some common misconceptions about translators and their profession. Using a list of 12 points, I clarify what translators are not, so that people placing translation jobs know what to expect when requesting translation services. Read the blog at https://budgetvertalingonline.nl/translations/12-things-a-translator-is-not/

1.     A translator is not just anyone who speaks two languages, who has two years of high school language experience or who has a foreign-tongued grandmother

Just because a person speaks two languages does not mean that person can call oneself a translator. Translation requires a range of skills and techniques that translators can acquire with thorough theoretical and practical training and experience.

2.     A translator is not an interpreter

This is a common misconception. Yes, translating and interpreting have something to do with conveying the meaning of one language to another. However, translators translate written texts, while interpreters translate people speaking, whether simultaneously or consecutively.

Both professions require a completely different set of skills and thus training. Yes, some translators also work as interpreters and vice versa. In that case, though, they have been trained in both professions. Working in both professions is certainly not a given.

3.     A translator is not always certified or sworn

A sworn translator is trained to produce sworn translations, usually necessary for official or legal documents that require certification to prove that an officially recognized translator has correctly translated them.

However, there are many other ways of working as a professional translator: translating web pages, business brochures, management books for instance. These do not require certification, so professional translators without certification can do these translations.

4.     Not afraid of using a dictionary

A translator is not a walking dictionary. Also, a translator does not know the meaning of every word in the other language. In fact, a word can have several meanings! Do not expect a translator to work on translation jobs without dictionaries. Just be happy that a translator double-checks oneself. It means he or she has increased the quality of your translation!

5.     Not always comfortable translating into one’s second language as well as into one’s native language.

According to Culturesconnection.com, the vast majority of translators only translate from their second language into their mother tongue, because the level of knowledge required in the target language is such that only a highly trained native is capable of achieving it.

Nataly Kelly also says that many translators work in only one direction — from one language into another, but not in the reverse. For translators, it is better to have in-depth knowledge of just two languages than to have surface-level knowledge of several.

She explains that of approximately one million words in English, the average person uses only 4,000 to 5,000 words on a regular basis. “Educated” people know between 8,000 and 10,000 words. The professions with the widest vocabulary, such as doctors and lawyers, use about 23,000 words. Translators who work for these specialized professions often use this kind of advanced technical vocabulary in two languages.

Some translators and interpreters do work in more than one language combination; for example, conference interpreters often have several “passive” languages that they can understand. However, translators and interpreters are not usually hyperpolyglots (someone who is both a gifted and massive language accumulator, speaking/writing/understanding six or more languages).

6.     A translator is not a superhero who can get translations done quickly

As Culturesconnection.com says: “Some people think that the translation of a text takes pretty much the same time it took to write it in the first place. Wrong: on average, a professional translator can translate between 250 and 350 words per hour.”

Sarah Dillon mentions a common misconception: “That marketing copy that took a team of 20 people two months to put together can be translated overnight by one person and still retain the same impact as the original.” Translations take time, people!

7.     A translator is not just trained by taking long vocabulary courses

Translating is not about putting one word after the other in another language. If that were the case, computer translations would be much better. Translating is about sentences, stories, ideas, images, and cultures. Knowing a word or two (hundred) in the other language helps, but it is not everything.

Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler also wants you to note that a translation, in theory, is never complete. “It may seem perfect after checking it 10 times, but you will still change at least one thing when you check it the 11th time. In addition, no translation is exactly like another: give a text to 20 different translators, and you will get back exactly 20 different translations.”

8.     A translator is not easily replaced with automatic translation tools

Culturesconnection.com explains that automatic translation software available today only offers a verbatim translation. It does not take into account the context. It is unable to distinguish between the different meanings of the same word (polysemy). Automatic translation tools can help to understand what a text says at a basic level, but not much more. If you want a good translation, you need a human translator.

Kelly even claims that machine translation is actually expanding the demand for human translation and fueling the market at large.

“Machine translation — especially the free online kind — serves as an awareness campaign. It puts translation squarely in front of the average person. Translating large volumes of information is never free — it comes at a cost, even with machine translation.

Machine translation technology and related services make up a tiny percentage of the total translation market. Of course, machine translation can achieve some feats that humans cannot. Examples include quickly scanning large bodies of text and provide summaries of the information contained within them.

However, as with most technologies, humans are needed to use machine translation intelligently. Technologies typically do not replace whole fields. Rather, they help fields to evolve.”

9.     A translator is not unnecessary just because your website is already in English

Yes, much of the world population understands English, but English is not the only language in the world. There are about 6500 spoken languages in the world today! Several studies show that visitors to websites tend to distrust those they cannot read in their mother tongue.

Commonsenseadvisory.com said in 2011 that 24.2% of all internet users come from Europe. That accumulates to 475 million people in total. That is a nice customer base to have if you are in e-commerce, for instance. Unfortunately, many end-users feel frustrated that so little information is available in their own language. Only 18% of the interviewees indicate to buy a product or service online if it is not available in their own language. It is thus a missed opportunity not to have your website in another language.

10.     Not always prepared to work nights and weekends, not even at an extra charge

I talked about this in my blog “Recipe for the Perfect Translator [14 Ingredients!]” It happens to me every week that, on Thursday evening or Friday morning, a person asks me whether I can get a translation done on Sunday or Monday morning.

If I were to accept every one of them, I would never be able to enjoy a weekend. Translators do need sleep and do need breaks, just like everyone else. Moreover, translating can be a very lonely job. Seeing friends and family is definitely something we need in order to stay sane and to continue to love our job.

11.     Not threatened by crowdsourcing

The crowdsourced translation is a phenomenon that typically emerges when online community members get excited about a product. They want to use it in their native languages. Sometimes, these customers and fans even begin creating their own translations and posting them in user forums. Kelly claims that, instead of leaving their customers to pontificate on the best translations amongst themselves, smart companies are giving these communities the ability to suggest their translations easily.

Companies are not harnessing the work of these volunteers to obtain free labor, because, as research by Commonsenseadvisory.com in 2011  shows, saving money is not a primary motivation. Setting up these kinds of platforms can cost companies more time and money than just paying for traditional human translation. Usually, they even pay human translators and translation companies to edit the group translated content anyway. These companies believe the collective approach gives power directly to customers and users, enabling them to have a say in which translations they like best.

12.     A translator is not only working for “language people”

The need for translation is not for “language people” only as it crosses both the public and private sectors. Executives at companies of all sizes are beginning to recognize that translation is a pathway to enabling more revenue and entering new markets (see point 9). A recent study by Commonsenseadvisory.com found that Fortune 500 companies that augmented their translation budget were 1.5 times more likely than their Fortune 500 peers to report an increase in total revenue.

Government bodies are increasingly taking an interest in translation too, even those involved in the development and non-profit work. A 2012 report by Commonsenseadvisory.com on translation in Africa conducted for Translators without Borders showed that greater access to translated information would improve political inclusion, health care, human rights, and even save lives of citizens of African countries.

What can I do for you if you need a translation?

I am the founder of BudgetVertalingOnline, which offers affordable translations into English and Dutch. If you need my help, please feel free to contact me!