Translation Misconceptions

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Translation can be undervalued by some. Viewed as a commodity, some common misconceptions about translation, the work of translators and agencies, lead to a misunderstanding of the importance of their work, the complexity of their challenges and the value they can add to your business.


Translation is in fact a serious business that should be approached sensibly in order to avoid poor results. Such poor results can be devastating in some cases, increasing hidden costs in others.


Before starting a project that involves translation bear in mind the following misconceptions regarding translation.


#1: If you know a foreign language, you can be a translator


This is perhaps the most common translation misconception and the most damaging one.


Being able to read, speak and write a foreign language does not give anyone licence to undertake translation work.

  • Firstly, a translator must have an in-depth understanding and knowledge of at least two languages: a foreign language and a mother tongue.
  • Secondly, translating is a skill. You must be able to write well and have an excellent command of the nuances in language use.
  • Thirdly, language is not free of cultural influences. If the culture behind the language which is being translated is not appreciated, an accurate translation is extremely difficult.

Don’t just a give a translation to Aunty Rosie because she lived in France for a bit, or the person in the office who “speaks a bit of Spanish”.


#2: Translating is easy


Translation is far from easy. It can be very intricate, complex and arduous work.


Having to simultaneously concentrate on two different texts is mentally exhausting. This is because a translator is continuously moving between two languages and mind frames. A translator must first read and register source information then manage to digest it and present it accurately in the target language. This means having an excellent vocabulary and appreciating the subtleties in language such as phrases, metaphors, tone and intention.


Providing a quality translation means experience and time served learning a craft.


#3: Computers can now do translations


No translation program can and ever will be able to 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.


Do not ever rely on them if you need an accurate translation. However, use them when you want the gist of what something says in a foreign language.


#4: Having a professional translation is not crucial


It may be true that professional translators are not always necessary, however if the translation is to be accurate and professionally prepared and presented then an experienced translator is crucial.


Bad translations lead to many problems including people misunderstanding texts which ultimately reflect poorly on a company or organisation.


If you want your car fixed you take it to a mechanic, not a car salesman. He may know a bit about cars but not enough to address your problems properly.


So, next time you think about your translation, think how important it is. If it really doesn’t matter then use Aunty Rosie or Google Translate; if it does, use a professional translator or an agency.

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