Tell someone you are a translator and you sometimes get curious questions or blanket statements about your profession. These statements are usually just one of those seemingly unshakable myths that follow translators around like a shroud of mystery. We are going to unveil nine of the most common myths and shake them once and for all! Here we go…
Myth #1: Translators = Interpreters.
Translators deal with the written word and interpreters deal with the spoken word. While these terms are often used synonymously, they should not be. The skill sets required of each profession are widely different.
Now that we have that myth out of the way…
Myth #2: Anyone who knows two languages can be a translator.
This maybe the most prolific myth of all. Translation requires more than language fluency.
While it does take a lot of time and hard work to learn an essential skill such as a second language, the fact that you’re bilingual does not automatically make you a translator. Translators have accomplished a level of bilingual fluency far beyond what the average bilingual individual would ever need. Plus, translation requires extra discipline, study, and continual practice. Not only do they learn to speak and understand the language with perfect fluency, at an educated native speaker level, they also delve deep beyond the basics. In order to convey a complete and accurate translation, they need to know the culture behind the language. That is the only way they can get the exact meaning, with all the flavor, nuance and emotion of the original work.
Myth #3: Translators can easily translate from language 1 to language 2 and vis versa.
Sure, there are a few translators who can translate to and from their native language to their second language and also from their second language to their first, but they are few and far between. All translators have dominant language areas. To ensure the highest quality, it is always best to be sure they translate into their dominant (native) language.
Myth #4: Translators can translate anything.
The best translators will never proclaim they can translate any subject matter always. Often, they choose a few areas and have specialized training in specific fields such as medical, pharmaceutical or legal, which all have their own complexity and jargon. By narrowing their focus, they keep current with trends and developments in their field(s). When good translators are not comfortable with a subject, they will let you know.
Myth #5: Translators who are not members of a professional translation organization cannot translate well.
There are a few professional organizations with measures in place to evaluate a translator’s skills level. While being a member of these organizations is great, it is not necessary. They do not measure everything about a translator. A much more reliable indicator of a translator’s competency is word-of-mouth and previous client satisfaction.
Myth #6: Translators should be good enough to translate documents quickly.
Translation is not a simple task with quick turn-around times. Good translators will have good time management skills and can inform clients about their workload and how much time they need to produce a quality translation. They will give accurate deadlines and fair pricing as well.
Myth #7: Translators love working for free.
Translations is a profession, not a hobby for most translators. While they may take on occasional pro bono work, translators need to make a living and should be paid for their services.
Myth #8: You can pay translators whatever you want.
Translators have set prices for translation and/or editing and proofreading. They sometimes charge rush fees or minimum payments as well and they do not deviate from their prices. Some clients may try to find the cheapest translator, but when a client ends up with a translator willing to work for very little, they will get what they paid for.
Myth #9: Translators love late changes.
After painstakingly editing, revising, and perfecting a translation, the last thing a translator wants to hear is a client needs changes to the finished product. Occasionally, a client will suggest that something was incorrectly translated. Usually the client is incorrect. When this happens, a translator runs the risk of a tarnished reputation all because of a client’s well intentioned, but erroneous, claim.
Hopefully this list helped demystify the translation industry, answer a few questions and divert the myths that follow around the people of this noble profession.
By Ilona Knudson