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Language Translation Misconceptions  

A little knowledge is dangerous. This saying easily applies to the translation industry,
which is prone to more than its fair share of fallacies. Many of us have taken classes in
another language that involved constantly translating phrases and sentences. As a result,
the idea of doing this professionally may seem overblown. Isn’t a translator just doing the
same thing we did, only with full documents instead of textbook exercises?

This could not be further from the truth. Translators are dedicated professionals and their
work is not so easily duplicated. To achieve a quality result, the translation process
should be approached with a mind free from these mistaken notions.

1. Translators Translate Words

Translators do not simply translate a document word-for-word. After all, there are
dictionaries and “machine” translations for that. Machine translations, like those done by
free online translation programs, are performed on a word-for-word basis. On the other
hand, a translator strives to understand the meaning of the original text and express that
meaning in the new language.

A quality word-to-word translation, like those created by translation programs, is


impossible. A concept that may be expressed with a word in one language may best
expressed with a phrase in another or an idiomatic expression in a third. For example, a
translator may have to decide how to best render a word like German’s schadenfreude
(enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others) or a phrase like French’s esprit
d'escalier (stairway wit, or thinking of a clever comeback after the moment is gone) into
English.

Another reason is that words have different meanings when placed in different contexts.
A translator needs to understand the context of each word in order to identify the
appropriate equivalent in the target language. For example, what should a translator make
of the English word “lead”? Depending on the context, it can refer to taking charge or to
a dense metal.

2. Translators can Translate from Language A to Language B, and from Language B


to Language A

While a talented few can pull this off, most translators can only produce high quality
results when translating a document into their native language. Translators are expected
to produce documents that read like a native speaker wrote them. Naturally, very few
people achieve this level of familiarity with any second language.

According to the American Translators Association, translating into a foreign or acquired


language is the height of unprofessional behavior. Before entrusting your translation job
to an individual, make sure to vet their qualifications. Besides being a native speaker of
the target language, a good translator should also be certified in their language pair and
familiar with the subject material.

3. Translation and Interpretation are the same

While they share similar goals, these are two separate trades. A good translator isn’t
necessarily a good interpreter or vice versa. Translation is written while interpretation is
oral. Translators take a written document and converting it into a new language.
Interpreters listen to speech and quickly render it orally in the target language. While
translation takes reading and writing skills, interpretation uses listening and speaking
skills. Translators should have a deeper understanding of the language being converted,
education in grammatical nuances and experience in the subject matter. Interpreters need
stronger powers of short-term memory recall and pronunciation.

4. Translation is Not Necessary in My Industry

Does your industry exist in any other country? People throughout the world have the
same wants and needs. Someone is going to profit from meeting those needs, and there is
no reason why that someone can’t be you. Globalization is a fact of life. Technology has
lowered borders, giving every company the opportunity to expand into new markets. Will
yours be the one to discover new customers and suppliers overseas?

Even if your company chooses to remain domestic, translation is a growing necessity.


Over 50 million Americans speak a language other than English at home, including more
than 30 million Spanish-speakers. Furthermore, research has found that most people
prefer to do business in their native tongue. With increased globalization, your industry
may have to compete with foreign firms to supply the needs of this large potential
market.

To conclude, translation can be your key into a wider, more lucrative market. Dispelling
these myths will only help you approach translation with a clear mind and help you make
the right choices for your business.

Michael Bargar is a freelance writer for Foreign Translations, Inc. Foreign Translations,
Inc., is a foreign language translation, interpreting and website localization firm
headquartered in Greenville, SC, that offers professional and accurate translation services
in all major languages.