Translators often face an uphill battle from misinformed clients who have misconceptions about translators and the translation profession. Many times translators have to educate the clients about the industry in order to debunk the myths that seem to keep on circulating year after year.
I’ve put together a list of 10 of the various myths I’ve encountered in my work as a translator. I hope you enjoy them. Maybe you can use them as educational tools for helping your clients understand what you do as a translator.
1. Translators are just people who can speak two or more languages.
This is one of the most prolific myths circulating outside the translation industry. Merely knowing two languages does not mean that a person can translate with those languages. Translation is so much more and non-translators are often perplexed by this fact.
2. Translators can translate any subject matter as long as the material is in a language they know.
Good translators will specialize in only a few different (but oftentimes) but related areas. This allows them to keep up-to-date on changes in their industry and keeps them abreast of current trends. Inexperienced (or bad translators) will often say they can translate anything thrown at them.
3. Translating from one language to another (i.e. Spanish to English) is the same as translating in the reverse direction (i.e. English to Spanish).
There are translators that can do a good job translating in both directions; however, the number of translators that can do this is not very high. Clients often think that translating is the same no matter which direction the translator is going. Translators have dominant languages and it is usually in the best interest of the translator and client for the translator to translate into his/her dominant language.
4. Translators can produce any translation with little or no turn-around time.
Once again, clients often believe that translation is a simple task that can be accomplished quickly. A good translator will educate the client and let them know that translators need sufficient time to produce a quality product.
5. A native speaker is always a better translator than a non-native one.
This is a myth equal in error to that of #1. Merely being a native speaker of a language does not ensure or guarantee that that person will be able to translate adequately. Translation requires discipline, study, and continual practice. A native speaker of a language does not inherently possess all (or even any) of these qualities. Clients for some reason don’t seem to understand this.
6. Translators like it when the client changes their translation after it has been delivered.
After a translator has edited, revised, retranslated, and perfected a translation, do you think he/she wants it to be changed after it’s delivered it to the client? Many times, a well-meaning person on the client end will think that the translator has incorrectly translated something in the translation. Nearly 99% of the time, however, their good intentions are ill founded. Not only does the translation quality decrease, but the translator’s reputation can also be called into questioned.
7. Only translators who are members of a professional translation organization can translate well.
There are many translators that do an excellent job without ever being members of any organization. These so-called professional organizations are not governing bodies over the worldwide translation industry. They might have a single measure for evaluating translators, but it is what it is: a single evaluation metric. I’d say that a list of satisfied clients from a translator is a far better indication of a translator’s competency.
8. Translators can also interpret.
Translation is not interpretation and interpretation is not the translation. They are not synonymous. Translation is written material; interpretation is speaking. These are two very different skill sets.
9. Translators like to do free translation work.
Most translators are willing to do pro bono work every once in a while. However, translators are professionals who need to make a living doing their profession. Translation is not a hobby for most translators and it is not right for people to ask translators to freely translate something for them.
10. A good translator will take whatever payment the client is willing to give.
Good translators will have a set price and will not very often deviate from this price. Clients will often try to have translators bid against each other for the lowest price; however, when the price gets too low, a good translator will choose not to take the translation because it will not be worth his/her time. An inexperienced translator (and one that might not be that good) will take whatever the client is willing to pay. In that case, clients get what they pay for.