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3 Reasons Why Foreign Language Departments Are Not the Place to Look for Translators


It may be tempting to email the chair of your university’s foreign language department to translate texts that you need in another language. However, it is important to note that unless those you are approaching have a background as professional translators in the particular field you need (let’s say, a text for marketing), then more often than not, foreign language professors and students are not those best skilled to handle this task. Why’s that? Well, they didn’t study marketing. And they probably didn’t all get a degree in translation.

Instead, it is better to place these jobs in the hands of professional translators to ensure the the message of your text is translated correctly and without error. Not convinced? Here are just a few reasons why seeking a professional is a better choice than relying on your foreign language department.

Specialized terminology is a learned skill, not native intuition

We don’t all have the same language background. Consider your own native language. No matter what language you call your first, surely you are not familiar with advanced terminology in all categories of texts one might ask you to write about, let alone translate. If you studied medicine, you are probably not familiar with terminology related to automobiles (unless of course you work on cars as a hobby, for example). If you are an accountant by trade, you probably cannot spout off terms related to construction. Although we are all native speakers of a given language, this doesn’t make us experts or qualified to translate texts in any field from our second language to our native.

Your foreign language department faculty and students are the same. While many will have diverse backgrounds—which is why you chose them to teach the topics they do—they do not necessarily have the skillset to translate texts.

Competency in a specific field is not the same as translation experience

Your university has vetted the professors in your foreign language department vigorously to ensure that it hired the right people to teach various subject areas within the foreign language field. However, having a background studying a specific topic of interest is not the same as being qualified to translate a text on the same topic. Translation is its own special skillset. Just as you would not offer to build someone’s home simply because you had previously studied concepts about construction, a professor whose field of expertise lies in media consumption may not be the best person to translate the university’s captions for marketing videos. Even though he or she is qualified to teach concepts about consuming media in another language, the two skillsets are very different.

Tip! There is already a lot of red tape when it comes to university budgets and spending. Seek a professional translation team or agency to handle your texts the first time around. There are many linguists who are equipped with the knowledge to make sure your translation project is handled correctly from start to finish. This could make the difference between having it done correctly the first time, or having to get it translated professionally a second time (thus paying twice) in order to have a more accurate and professional product.