Common misconceptions about the translation industry

Translation Industry

Common misconceptions about the translation industry

Translation is one of those fields which is becoming increasingly important in an ever more global world.  It is surprising then that there are still many widely held beliefs about the translation industry which are not correct.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions:

 

  1. Professional translations are too expensive.

This is quite an odd misconception, and one which many working linguists find frustrating.  The fact is that translation is a very competitive business, and prices are constantly being driven downwards by market pressure.  So why does this idea that translations are generally over-priced still seem to persist?

 

Well, primarily it stems from a lack of understanding of the complexities of the translation process.  When you place an order with an agency to prepare a translation, there are lots of different processes going on that you may not be aware of, including selection of the correct specialist linguist, proofreading, formatting, project management, and of course the actual carrying out of the translation itself.  Professional translators have to be highly qualified and experienced, and taking all of these factors into account, you actually get a lot for your money.  After all, you wouldn’t think twice about engaging a top lawyer to deal with an important legal issue, as you know you will receive a high quality service from an experienced specialist.  Why should translations be any different?

 

  1. Translation and Interpreting are interchangeable.

It can be easy to presume that a professional interpreter will also be able to produce written translations, and vice versa, and this is a trap that many people fall into.

 

The reality is that translation and interpreting are 2 very different skill sets, and whilst there are some linguists that can excel at both, they are few and far between.  Translating a written document involves research, attention to detail, and a very highly developed understanding of the grammatical complexities of both the source and target languages.  Interpreting requires confidence, listening skills, fast reactions and the ability to think on your feet.  Just because both skill sets are founded on linguistic ability, does not mean that they aren’t as different as apples and oranges.

 

  1. Translation is as simple as replacing one word with another word in a different language.

Anyone who thinks that this surprisingly common misconception is true only needs to look at the usually garbled results of machine translations to understand why this doesn’t work.  The fact is, words mean different things in different contexts, and complex sentence structures will need to be rearranged in the target language to avoid loss of the intended meaning.  Furthermore, look at the range of idiomatic sayings and expressions that are used regularly in both speech and writing.  Translating these on a word for word basis will always result in something unintelligible, and such phrases need to be replaced by equivalent phrases, which say something different but convey the same idea.

 

  1. A good translation agency should be able to produce a quality translation without my input.

Many people think that once their document is in the hands of a translator or a translation agency, they just need to sit back and wait for the translation to come back to them.  Sadly, the process is not that simple.

 

To get the best results from your translation, you should see your relationship with the translation agency as a partnership, rather than a one-way street.  You have engaged their services for their language expertise, however even the most specialised translator in the world is not going to know as much about your document as you do.  This is particularly true when translating marketing materials or when carrying out transcreation.  To get back a document that sounds how you want it to sound, you need to provide the translator with as much material as you can, including glossaries, background information, even previous translations if you have them, so that they can get an idea for the tone and message you are trying to convey.  The more you put in, the more you will get out.

 

  1. Anyone who is bilingual can translate.

This is simply not true.  Around 56% of people in the world now speak more than one language – a huge number, but only very few of them have the aptitude to become translators or interpreters.  Translation is a skill, and like any other skill it requires not only natural inclination, but also a great deal of practice.  Being able to speak a second language does not mean that you have the in-depth knowledge of grammar that is required to be able to convert a sentence in one language into something which reads well in another.

 

  1. There is only one correct translation for each word.

This could not be further from the truth.  Almost any word or phrase can be interpreted in a myriad of different ways.  This is one of the reasons why machine translation has not completely taken over the industry.

 

It all depends on context.  A large part of a translator’s job is making a decision about how to interpret a particular word or phrase based on their understanding of the document as a whole and the background to it.  Therefore, if you receive a translation that doesn’t use exactly the words you were expecting, then this probably means that the translator was not briefed as well as they might have been, not that the translation is wrong.

 

So there we have it.  These are some of the main ways in which people have the wrong idea of what translators and translation agencies actually do.  Now you know better!

Jack Norgate
1 Comment
  • Posted at 2:23 am, March 18, 2017

    Great post Emma. I enjoy reading how you broke it all down to help people understand the complexities of multi language communication. I would add one misconception: 7) Culture and Language are separate entities. I feel your company would not argue that too many people and organizations think that cultural studies are reserved for anthropologists or sociologists. Translation and Interpretation (especially transcreation) involve a high degree of cultural competence and understanding of the appropriateness of language sensibilities.