Speaking a language does not make you a translator

Most of us have learnt a foreign language at school and continued learning it during our years at university. We travel abroad and we communicate with the local people in the local language, or at least in a common language (mainly English). We like it, we feel powerful and we are proud of the time spent on compositions and fill in the gaps exercises while our friends were having fun.
So, we help our friends translating their websites, product documentation or letters to clients. We can do it fast, and as we worked as a waiter in London during our summer holidays, we can also translate into English as well. But then someone comes saying ‘I do not understand it’. How come? If I can speak English!
Because speaking a language has nothing to do with being a translator.
Indeed, you need to have knowledge of the foreign language, but most of all you need to know your mother tongue (and this explains why you should not translate into a foreign language). If there is anything you do not understand in the foreign language, you can look it up in the dictionary, but you should make sure you know how to express the message in your mother tongue and how to make it in a way so that the translation looks like an original and not like a version in another language.
Compared to what can be seen on documents done by ‘translators’, a real and professional translator does not make spelling mistakes. A translator knows how to play with words, which type of quotation marks need to be used (not all languages use double or simple quotation marks), how to translate idioms and how to express a sentence so that it does not sound offending to the target culture.
Also, a translator has knowledge of the subject matter, especially technical translators and localizers. When localizing a website, translators know html language and know what to do with the tags and codes that surround the text. When localizing software strings, translators know how to shorten them and still provide a grammatically correct translation that keeps the meaning of the source text.
The Translation and Interpreting degree is in many countries a 4 year degree. In countries where there is not a specific degree, there are courses on translation and linguistics that also help to acquire the skills that will be mastered as translators acquire experience and specialize in a given field (literary, legal, localization, etc.). So, translators deserve to have this space in the business that is often occupied by people who have not the required training and skills. If you call an architect to design your house, why don’t you call a translator to translate your documents?
Jensen Localization has teams of both in-house and freelance professional translators who are experienced in many different fields, from software localization to medical translation or sworn translation. If you would like to learn more about our services, do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website.
Brian Jensen and me, reviewing translations,


Languages, Localization, Translation

Leave a Reply