computer keyboard button that reads Translate

It’s not this easy!

Since the American Translators Association (ATA Chronicle) published published a top 10 list of misconceptions about translation by Caitlin Walsh back in 1994, there have been many attempts at compiling such lists. We thought we’d put together some of the misconceptions we run into frequently.

10. Everyone knows English now

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that this just isn’t so. English may be the most studied second language in the world, but the proportion of native English speakers in the world’s population is actually declining. On the web, the percentage of people using English has declined to around 25%. In any case, even if someone knows some English, it is still usually easier and more effective for them to read communications in their own language.

9. There’s no difference between translation and interpretation

Translators work with written materials while interpreters help with oral communications. The two activities actually require some different skills. Interpreters have to have good people skills, possess great powers of concentration, and think fast on their feet. Translators often work alone, need to be good writers, and can take more time to research and think about their projects. Although some linguists do translation and interpretation, many more focus on only one of these areas.

8. Translation is substituting one word for another

It is rare that even a short translation can be a simple word for word substitution. A translator must deal with many words that don’t have direct translations. Also differences in sentence structure and syntax mean that many sentences must be rearranged to sound natural in another language.

7. Translation should be fast and cheap

This misconception is related to number 9. If translation were just substituting words, then all a translator would have to do is a mechanical task (maybe using a dictionary occasionally) that shouldn’t take much time or effort, and, therefore, cost little. Instead, a translator generally has to put a good deal of thought into the best way to render your text in another language. A rule of thumb is that a translator can translate about 2,000 words per day. Review and proofreading add more time. So, you may be able to get fast and cheap somewhere, but it won’t be good.

6. There’s only one correct translation for any text

Because translation is more than word for word substitution, there may be several ways of translating a particular text, depending upon the translator’s preferred style, vocabulary, and background. All of them may be correct in that they get across the same information accurately and grammatically.

5. I can just use Google Translate

There are still many companies that just hook up their website to Google Translate assuming that this does the job for them. If you don’t care how inaccurate, funny, or just plain incomprehensible your translation is, then this is the solution for you. And, if you want your website to reach international markets, using Google Translate does nothing for your SEO.

4. My bilingual employees can handle my translations

Despite the fact that most business people wouldn’t assign just any employee to write marketing and technical copy, they persist in thinking that anyone who is bilingual can do their translations. Professional translators have to be good writers in their native language so that the translation is not just accurate but readable and grammatical. Even if you have a bilingual employee who is a good writer, that employee usually has other work to do, which means that they either have to 1) take time away from their other work or 2) take a really long time to finish the translation.

3. A translator can handle any type of material

Just as you don’t know the technical terms and special jargon used in other businesses, all translators are not qualified to handle any task. Translators need to have a background in the type of material being translated in order to be familiar with the terms used and be able to translate them into the appropriate words.

2. A good translator doesn’t need a proofreader

I always have these blog posts proofread. It’s easy to miss small mistakes, so even the best translator’s work needs to be proofread to ensure the best quality.

And the Number 1 misconception about translation is:

1. Translating marketing copy is no different than other translation

Or, as Caitlin Walsh put it in the ATA Chronicle: ““That marketing copy that took a team of 20 people two months to put together can be translated overnight by one person and still retain the same impact as the original.”

We’ve devoted a whole other blog post to knocking down this one: “And the #1 Misconception About Marketing Translation Is…” What more can we say?

Related Posts: