Challenging Six Popular Myths about Interpreters and Translators

  1. Anyone who speaks any two languages is capable of interpreting and translating.

It is risky to assume that any person fluent in two or more languages will unfailingly have the makings of a top-class interpreter or translator. By all means, fluency in a foreign language is part of the profession. However, in order to deliver high quality translations, one should also be knowledgeable of the text’s subject matter and have a college degree and experience in translation and interpreting.

 

  1. One is able to translate any document into the language one speaks fluently.

A multi-discipline professional may be able to translate documents dealing with a wide range of topics, provided that he or she is fluent in the target language and is a trained translator. However, in order to translate special-purpose documents, one should have a knowledge of professional terminology and a general understanding of the topic. This is of particular relevance when dealing with the translation of clinical research reports, legal documents, including contracts and agreements, and complex technical manuals and patents. Clients using our translation services want us to make sure that the translated version is as precise and conveys the same emotion as the original text.

 

  1. Who needs translation in a world where everyone speaks English anyway?

Indeed, English is the most popular language for learning, yet it is not the most widely used language in the world. A mere 27% of Internet users browse through English-language resources, while the remaining 73% prefer sites available in their native languages. In some cases translation services are not only a practical matter, but a required element. State-level meetings are an example, during which, according to protocol, each country representative should speak in his or her native language regardless of his or her command of their counterpart’s language. One is unlikely to go far with English whenever there is a need to interact with governmental authorities, be it with courts, licensing authorities, or industry-sector committees. In most cases all of the presented documents will not only need to be duly translated, but also apostilled.

 

  1. Machine translation has long since replaced humans.

Trainable neural networks and machine translation tools have become an important element of technical platforms used by professionals across industries; however, text editing remains a human prerogative. Machines have yet to be taught to adequately translate homonyms (words pronounced and spelled in the same way, but with different meanings), idioms, and terms depending on context. Although we rarely engage in projects involving the translation of fiction, we insist that no machine will be up for the challenge when it comes to the translation of humour and wordplay.

 

  1. Translation is replacing the original text with matching target-language words.

Neither translation, nor interpreting may be reduced to a simple search for matching words. For example, idioms and metaphors are hardly translatable word-for-word. One can make a text easier to read by adequately converting foreign units of measurement (i.e. feet to meters and centimeters, kilograms to pounds, etc.) – however, as a key objective, the translator seeks to grasp and find a way to accurately convey the meaning of a sentence or paragraph. The work is considered completed once the document has been translated, reviewed, edited, and formatted.

 

  1. A good translator will manage translation and interpreting tasks equally well.

This appears to be the most common misconception. Out of two professionals equally well  versed in specific fields of knowledge and having a comparable command of both languages, a successful interpreting career awaits the one who has no stage fright (as with theatre actors) and is good at speaking in public. A potentially successful interpreter will also be able to grasp the gist of a discussion quickly and make a flash-like decision on the choice of appropriate interpreting options. For consecutive interpreters it is also essential to have shorthand skills. By contrast, a potentially good translator is someone with a penchant for writing and working with term search and check tools, and is capable of regularly delivering large text translations of infallibly high quality. Drawing an analogy between translators/interpreters and runners, one can compare interpreters to sprinters and translators to marathon runners.