When you work in the translation industry, you come across a lot of people with funny ideas about what we do, and how we do it. Unfortunately, translation isn’t given the value that it deserves as a people often look upon it as a commodity; a commodity with little value at that.

Many “smart” people I have met in the 10 years of working in translation do not understand the value, complexity and worth of translation. This applies to translation work itself, the efforts of translators and the solutions offered by agencies.

Translation is a serious business. Without it the world would stop – not literally, but think about business, politics, transport, sports, media, etc. that would all be affected if we no longer had translation.

Here are 5 shocking statements I hear all too often that point to ignorance about translation and translators.

#1: “If you speak another language, you can be a translator”

This is perhaps one of the most common statements I hear from businesses who do not wish to invest in professional translation services. It is possibly the most serious of the lot.

Let’s get this clear – speaking another language does not and will never qualify anybody to become a “translator”. It may help you understand the meaning of something, say in French, but could you properly then translate that into your own language? Some people may be able to accurately translate texts but the vast majority will not. Why?

  • A translator must have an in-depth and academic understanding and knowledge of at least two languages (a foreign language and a native language). Their reading/writing skills must be superb in both.
  • Translating is a proper skill. You don’t just become a translator; you study for it, you practice and you develop your skills to ensure you understand the ins and outs of translation. It’s not just about turning one set of words into another – it’s way more complex than that.
  • Language is not just words – it’s a country, a people, a psyche and a culture. It’s full of subtleties only a well versed, experienced translator can grasp and work with in terms of producing high quality translations.

Let me put it this way. If you wanted your website translated into Spanish, would you really give the translation to your Aunt Paula’s neighbour’s son who worked in Benidorm for a summer? Believe me…many do.

#2: “Translation is easy peasy”

In the real world, translators and agencies don’t press buttons to produce magically accurate translations. In the real world, translators research their subjects, produce draft translations, agonise over vocabulary choices and struggle with complex layouts. Translation is not easy; it can be, but on the whole translation takes time and it takes effort.

In fact, translation is so difficult I gave it up! Yes, I did Turkish to English translations for 6 months before I decided the headaches were a bad sign. Having to simultaneously concentrate on two different texts is mentally exhausting; you are continuously flipping between two languages and two mind frames. Sometimes getting one sentence pitch-perfect can take up to an hour.

Translation is not easy – it’s hard, technical work that needs time and needs respect.

#3: “You can use Google to translate”

For many people when you mention ‘translation’ they start to think or talk about machine translations or software. Google Translate for example is seen by some as their answer to all translation needs. It’s free. It’s cheap. It’s accurate.

No it isn’t accurate. If you believe this then you don’t understand machine translation. No translation software can and ever will be able to completely take the place of a human translators. This is because computers do not understand what language is, how it is used, the subtleties within it and the ever changing use of it. Computers may be able to translate simple one-dimensional sentences but they will never be able to tackle the complexities within literature or technical texts.

Machine translations are getting better and better but they are by no means complete. If you want to understand the gist of something in another language, then fine, but anything else, don’t trust it.

#4: “Professional translation isn’t necessary”

OK, it is true that you don’t always need a “professional translator”. There are many good people out there who can translate superbly but do not have professional qualifications or accreditations. However, there are also many good people out there who could fix your car but does that mean you bypass the mechanic?

If you want your translations to be accurate and professionally prepared then an experienced translator is crucial. They understand the language, the sector or specific topics, the terminology, working to deadlines, formatting, translation protocols and how best to interpret and present your translations.

So next time you need a translation, think how important it is for you to get it right. If it’s important – use a professional.

#5: “Everyone speaks English now. I don’t need a translation.”

In short, if you think this, you haven’t done much travelling abroad. Yes, a lot more people speak English than they did 20 years ago but to think that absolves anyone of having to translate materials, presentations, websites, marketing copy, advertisements, contracts, etc is nonsense. Everyone doesn’t speak English.

If you are serious about going out into the world and doing business of any kind, you will need translations. Speaking to people in their language builds trust, betters relationships, opens doors for your business or brand. If you want to sell to Turkey, Brazil or Russia – go do it in English and let’s see how far you get.