Common Misconceptions about Translation

You may have heard the phrase, “Translation is an art.” It may have even crossed your mind to wonder just how in the world translation could be an art. Isn’t it just replacing words in one language with words in another? Simple, right? And hardly an art form. The fact is, translation is serious art, and can have definite ramifications if done poorly. When considering translation, bear in mind the following misconceptions:

Being bilingual makes you a good translator

The idea that someone who speaks two languages would make a good translator makes sense at first blush. However, being able to communicate in a second language does not necessarily imply that you have the skillset to translate into or from that language. A skilled translator possesses a great command of both his/her native tongue and the foreign language, picking up on subtle nuances and cultural subtleties throughout. He or she should also be a skilled writer, having a strong grasp of the rules of both languages.

Translation is just replacing text word for word in another language

Translation is almost never so literal as to replace text in a word-for-word fashion. Every language has different grammatical rules and sentence structures. If we try and translate something word for word, it will likely lose its intended meaning, and often results in something quite comical! A translator will have a good grasp of these rules in both languages to ensure that it is well-written and not overly literal. He or she will also recognize local idioms and their equivalents. While “Break a leg” is well-known to mean “Good luck” in English, a literal translation into another language could imply that you wish someone harm! A skilled translator will be able to take the local idiom and convey the same meaning in the target language.

Machine translation can replace human translators

While many computer programs are able to translate on a basic level, no program is without error. A human translator is able to distinguish between words and phrases with multiple possible meanings, to take on the complexities of languages that are ever changing, and to ultimately ensure that the meaning of a text is conveyed in its proper context. While a good machine translation can provide a rough idea of what the text is about, it cannot replace a human translator when it comes to needing a quality translation.

Translation is quick and easy, so turnaround times should be short

Depending on the nature of the text and the language into which it is being translated, an average translator is able to handle about 2,500 words per day. For a quality translation, you should also factor in time for proofreading and/or revision. If your document is 5,000 words, for example, it is not realistic to expect a quality translation to be returned the next morning, unless you agree to have a team of translators work on your project. However, extra steps should be taken to ensure consistency and quality.  

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