As experienced globalization professionals, we have all acquired “tribal knowledge” around our industry through shared anecdotes and personal experiences. Yet, how much of what you know about translation is really true?
Translators and language service providers often face an uphill battle with clients who have misconceptions about translators and the translation profession. After nearly 15 years in the industry, I have collected eight widely held misconceptions about translation and want to set the record straight.
- Translation is just the exchange of words. Many clients just starting to consider global markets think that the translation process is only about the linguistic activity described above. Not so! A translation project will include file pre and post-processing, desktop publishing, engineering, and many other steps.
- Translators are bookish, language nerd, liberal-arts types. Not the ones I’ve met! While a linguist might start out with interests in culture and linguistics, most translators are well-versed in the technology of translation, commonly using Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools such as Translation Memory during their work.
- Any bilingual can translate. If this were true, then I would be qualified to do it, having studied and lived in South America years ago. A qualified linguist must not only be bilingual, but also ought to live in-country, and have a bachelor’s degree or certificate in translation. This means he/she is well versed in the business, technology and processes involved in translation. Also, a professional linguist may have a specialization or certification in a vertical such as life sciences, legal, or financial translations, as these industries have jargon that must be translated precisely.
- Translators make a ton of money. The logic goes this like this: if they charge 15 cents/word and do 2,000 words/day my math shows they make $300/day. While the throughput is represented in hours, 8 hours might not mean 1 day’s work and one day’s earnings. Maybe they space their work over a couple days. Certainly an 8 hour work day involves breaks, especially in a task as intense and detail-oriented as translation. Also, keep in mind they are buying software, hardware, and internet connection. Think of them like any freelancer who has to show up with their own computer in order to work.
- One dialect is good enough. There are 26 varieties of Spanish in the world. Many think (hope?) it’s true that one version of generic Spanish can be “good” for all these countries. While one version may be understandable to all those target locales, the regional dialect of Spanish — full of that locale’s slang and cultural references — is required to really grab that target audience.
- You don’t need a translator and an editor. Once our clients find out that our pricing and our schedules include 2 linguists for all content, they often share that they thought only 1 resource did the work. Just like when writing an article or book in English, a review is always required. A translator converts the text from language A into language B, and an editor reviews it to make sure it is correct. Even more linguists may be involved if you need an in-context review for a web page or software UI.
- Doesn’t everyone speak English now? This goes all the way back to the “why translate” question. Many people incorrectly assume that most people in the world now speak English, which would render translation services obsolete. But if you have traveled internationally at all, you know this is a myth! Localization veterans know that people who “can’t read, won’t buy.”
- You can get accurate translations online for free. There is a lot of buzz about Google and Microsoft’s powerful and compelling online free translation tools — and a lot of misconceptions. They have their uses: getting the gist of some content in your language, such as you would need for a blog or a product review or a love letter. The technology is not advanced enough to handle any high-profile content without human intervention. That’s because online translation websites are powered by algorithms, not humans who understand context, subtle nuances and regional terminology. And also, don’t forget that a complete translation project is not just about changing the words from A to B.
What other common misconceptions about translation or translators have you encountered, and how do you set the record straight?