5 Business Translation Myths – And Why They Are Wrong

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Like all industries, there are myths about translation. Its easy to misunderstand many professions. This article describes 5 common translation myths – and why they are wrong.

Myth 1: translation is instant

Okay, it is and it isn’t. If you want to understand the gist of a text, then Google is pretty instant. However, professional translation takes time. Most translators can do around 2500 words per day, depending on the nature of the text. Some types of text take longer. This does not allow time for independent checks, nor for any special formatting.

Myth 2: I speak a bit of German so I can translate

Hmmm. We hear this one a lot. It goes along with the anecdote about the person in the office who speaks 20 languages. Professional translators are always native of the target language. They are also highly qualified and skilled. Does using a wrench a couple of times make you a plumber? The problem here is that it is easy to underestimate the skill and time translation needs.

Myth 3: technology will make translators obsolete

Never heard this one before either! The US Government has reportedly spent billions of dollars on machine translation since the Second World War. Yet who is the biggest spender on human translation worldwide? Yep, the US Government.

Why? Language is very complex. Machines use algorithms, but humans don’t just apply logic, they also use commonsense. Translation is a bit like creative writing. In effect when you employ a translator, you are employing a technical author. Would you trust a computer to write a novel, or draft a piece of legislation?

Myth 4: Bi or tri.

We often get CVs which claim native proficiency in 2 or 3 languages. Actually, why stop at 3? Some people claim native proficiency in 8 languages. Why doesn’t this work? Quite simply, one language always dominates.

Take my children as an example. They have both Spanish and English parents. Raised with both languages. Educated in the UK and in Spain. Both are excellent Spanish speakers. But, as a second language. Do they have native level Spanish? No. They do very well, but always have a smaller vocabulary, a worse understanding of grammar,  lack of sharpness of expression. Here’s the crucial bit….when compared with a native speaker.

Why does this affect translation? Well you should need and expect the sharpness of native expression within a translation. You can’t achieve this in a second language.

Myth 5: translators are always objective

This is one clients often don’t think about. But its important. Did you notice above, that I compared a translator to a creative writer? Do you ever spot bias in creative writing? What about journalism, or political speeches? The opinions and beliefs of the writer normally come across in what they express. This can also be true of translators.

Is this important for business? Absolutely. Imagine you are negotiating a big legal contract. The “other side” supplies you with a translation. How do you know that it is objective and accurate? Professional translators are normally aware of their own bias. If they don’t like the subject, then they will usually refuse the job. For example many translators do not translate gambling or betting material.

How does a translation company avoid bias? Firstly, we select the best translators. Our starting point is a professional approach. But secondly, we do independent checks on the text.

5 Common Translation Myths

So there you have it. 5 common translation myths. In summary, translation is complex. Companies often underestimate its importance. You may be a bit of an amateur plumber, but if you do it yourself, you risk leaky taps. In the UK you will also invalidate your insurance. Only a professional translator will do a professional job. If you value quality, you also need the expertise of a good translation company to manage your projects.