Top Translation Myths

Myth 1 – A good translator is usually a good interpreter

writtenIn fact, translators and interpreters are two entirely different professionals, sharing an excellent knowledge of the working language. But the differences are significant. While the translators are quietly working at home or in the office with the computer, with access to specialized tools, resources, the Internet, and have a chance to review their work for several times, the interpreters are working in public, often without Internet or other resources, and without the opportunity to withdraw one word of what they said. The result of their work is different: while a good interpreter manages to convey the speaker’s message in full and in real time, with nuances, without mistakes, and without omissions or additions, the translator is required to come up with a translation that sounds as if it were written in the target language, a refined text that respects a series of grammar rules, terminology, style, and format. It has been shown that brain areas used during translation are different from those used during the interpretation process.

Myth 2 – Any individual who speaks at least two languages can translate

We often hear from our customers: “If I had time, I’d do the translation myself”. Most of such individuals have not ever started a translation before. Some people have probably figured out why the translator is a job listed among other occupations. Knowing two languages at an acceptable level is not enough. The translator has a lot of theoretical and practical experience, known methods, proper tools, and right skills (including terminology research skills) to address nuances and challenges during the translation process. The translator has a natural leaning towards language particularities in terms of grammar, spelling, terminology, stylistic, and context. The translator is a specialist, understanding the meaning of the text prior to translating. And not least, the translator has talent.

Myth 3 – A good translator knows many languages

If you tell someone you are a translator, the first question is: “How many languages do you know?”. It must be said that, although translators often understand multiple languages and use them as “passive languages” (for terminological purposes or just for conversation or reading) rarely will they be hyper-polyglots. Often, translators specialize in one language pair they work with, maximum two. Acquiring a sufficient level of knowledge and the mastery of a well-structured active vocabulary in a foreign language involves years of practice. It should be noted that ordinary people use about 5,000 words daily, while those “savvy” can reach 10,000 words. In most developed vocabulary professions, such as lawyers, a specialist uses about 23,000 words. A translator specialized in legal translations usually owns the 23,000 words in two, sometimes three languages.

Myth 4 – A translator works equally well in both directions of the working languages pair

If you are a native speaker of Spanish and you know English, translating from English to Spanish is not the same as translating from Spanish to English. A translation is a creative act, and the result is a text rewritten in the target language. In addition to knowledge of the language to produce a quality text, the translator must have knowledge of the cultural and linguistic landscape of the country for which the translation is made (the target language). Recommendations according to industry’s best practices require that the translation should always be in the language of the translator.

Myth 5 – A translator must be able to make good translations in any field

Translators’ proficiency mirrors in the quality of the translation and their theoretical knowledge of the language. To translate a text, the translator must understand the content in details, and this level of understanding is not always possible for specialized texts. In their career, the translators will probably specialize in two or three areas of interest, according to personal considerations, professional context, etc. Specialization, as in the case of lawyers, implies a permanent and a deep understanding of the problems of a particular area, knowing the specific jargon, permanent documentation and terminological research, and hard work. It is hard to believe that a person who has learned law-related concepts and terms in two or three languages for 15 years will be able to make a medical translation with the same ease. Indeed, it would probably be quite risky.

Myth 6 – Revision ensures high-quality translation

In fact, the key to translation quality is choosing the most suitable translator. And no, I’m not referring to the “lowest price”. The reviewer will not be able to turn a wrong text into a good one if you spend twice as much time than the original translator. The reviewer shall ensure that no grammatical, stylistic, or terminological omissions/additions were made to satisfy the requirements of the project and that the text has a unitary character. All of this is important to ensure the translation quality and such desideratum can be achieved if the original material – i.e. the translation made by a translator – has enough quality. Choosing the right review adviser is also essential – a reviewer, who is careless, poorly trained, or familiar with the client/project may even introduce errors into the original text or to invalidate right or fair statements made by the original translator.

Myth 7 – Several translators will ensure a better quality of translation

As mentioned above, to ensure the quality of a translation, choose the most suitable translator for each text in hand. Each person has a unique style. If time requirements and deadlines do not allow using the services of a single translator, the project team must have access to common resources (briefs, glossaries, reference materials, memoirs, etc.), to cooperate and be coordinated by one person throughout the ongoing translation process. It is advisable that the translation be “unified” by a single content reviewer to remove the most important asperities.

Myth 8 – Editing machine translations brings down the costs

Everyone has heard of and used Google Translate, Babelfish, or Bing Translator. Apart from these free translation tools which are widely available, there are many other professional tools for machine translation. Some clients believe that editing the machine translation obtained using these tools brings down the cost. It should be noted that the post-editing and the editing of artificial linguistic structures could often take more than starting with the translation from scratch. Also, the result will be poorer because editors are tempted to intervene as little as possible in the text, no longer dealing with the stylistic component of the translation.

Myth 9 – Machine translation will replace human translators

Many people fear that machine translation will kick translators out of the market, replace, and annihilate them. This futuristic scenario descended directly from Star Trek was also promoted due to the progress of machine translation in the recent years. No longer than 5 years ago, a simple sentence placed on Google Translate was returning funny results; nowadays, the translations offered by search engines are even useful for the reader who wants to roughly understand what’s all about in the written text in a language they don’t know at all. But the human speech emerges with infinite nuances, yet no machine translation could ever cover these language particularities, stylistic elements, etc., and is here where it comes into play the role of the professional translator. Star Trek is far away, and the threat of machine translations is nothing more than a soap bubble.

Myth 10 – Technology makes no sense for the professional translators

We cannot expect that in the Internet age, translators to work with the pen and paper, into the library, surrounded by kilos of bulky dictionaries. Technology has brought significant progress in translation, notably through computer assisted translation tools (CAT tools). Translation memories allow the storage of structures that associate each logical segment of the source language to the target language, in a database and to reuse these structures for further translations. This technology innovation also offers easy search management solutions and precise terminology, increasing the unitary character of translations, even in the case of translation teams. Technology brings significant savings in terms of in time and costs. Besides CAT tools, translators use many other software products, from increasingly complex text editors to graphics programs, or file conversion or storage devices. In 2015, the broad range of software tools that a translator can use is as important as the theoretical preparation and the ability to face challenges of the ever-changing world.

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