In today’s connected world, it is important to remember that we rely on skilled translators and interpreters to keep the cogs turning. The spheres of politics, commerce and culture all depend on language professionals to make the global community a reality.
Unfortunately, many myths and misconceptions still surround the acts of translation and interpreting. Some are trifling and even amusing, but others can have a catastrophic effect on an organisation’s efforts to build bridges with other cultures.
Last month, we discussed some common myths about interpreting. In this guide, we’ll be exposing five of the most pervasive and pernicious misconceptions held by members of the public on the subject of translation, something that many erroneously think is the same thing!
Could your understanding of translation be clouded by false assumptions and misinformation? Read on to find out.
Translation and interpreting are identical
Translation and interpreting are not the same thing, but as members of either profession will tell you, many people still make the mistake of assuming that they are synonymous. A translator works with the written word, whereas interpreting involves acting as an intermediary between two or more parties communicating verbally, in real-time.
This means that if an individual or company needs someone to convert speech from one language to another, it would be a mistake for them to look for business translation services. However, the rule also applies the other way around: a talented interpreter is not necessarily a decent translator, because the two professions require very different skillsets.
Any bilingual person can translate
The notion that any bilingual or multilingual person is also capable of translation is another common misconception. While a translator needs to know two or more languages, there is much more besides that makes a skilled member of the profession. They need an excellent command of both languages, including understanding of regional dialects, superb written skills and an in-depth knowledge of the subject on which they are translating.
Unfortunately, the myth persists, leading many companies to attempt to cut costs by putting translation in the hands of a non-professional. A bilingual friend or colleague might be well-intentioned and willing, but that should not be taken as a guarantee of his or her professional scruples.
Any translator can translate text on any subject
Along the same lines, some people make the mistake of assuming that one translator can turn his or her hand to any number of different subjects with equal aptitude. It should be obvious that this is a dangerous misconception. It takes skill to produce legal paperwork, technical documentation and marketing copy, so why should the translation of this content require a less rigorous approach?
In order for a translator to render text in another language, he or she has to understand the original copy, both in terms of the words on the page and the subject under scrutiny. If this aptitude is not there, the core message could be eroded or even lost.
A machine translation is good enough for the job
By now, everyone is aware of machine translation. It no longer requires specialist software that costs an arm and a leg to procure – anyone can type a few words into Google and sit back as the search engine translates the phrase into a foreign language.
Most members of the public are also aware that machine translation is not always accurate. Some will even have dismissed the technology as outright useless, which is hardly fair – many of today’s engines are highly advanced and considered invaluable companions by top translators. It is unlikely, however, that machine translations will ever come close to replacing human ones. There is simply too much nuance and ambiguity, even in formal and technical documents, for a computer to fully consider how best the linguistic gap should be bridged.
It might be tempting for a company to use Google Translate as a substitute for a human translator under the assumption that the end result will be “good enough”. However, this could make the business come across as unprofessional, or even obscure its message.
Only a translator is needed, not a proofreader
Finally, many individuals and companies who require translation services assume that a translator can work in isolation. However, publishing customer-facing materials without having first had them proofread is a terrible idea, regardless of language.
For internal documents, a few mistakes might be acceptable. But for a business preparing text for public consumption, relying on a single translator is a recipe for disaster. Any number of errors could slip through the cracks, making the company look unprofessional and clouding the point that it intended to communicate.
This makes a good case for a business to outsource translation to a trusted service provider rather than a single person, who might not be able to guarantee that a third party proofreads his or her writing.