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Why You Should Not Have Your Bilingual Employee Translate

View More: you have a bilingual employee you think you can use to translate documents? Is bilingual enough to get sentence structure, subject matter, cultural aspects, and above all grammar correct?  No, in most cases. In order to get your message across to your target audience you need to hire a professional translator.  Here are the reasons why you should not have your bilingual employee translate.

Being Bilingual Does Not Make You Qualified to Translate Professionally

Just because you can speak two languages proficiently and communicate with native speakers, does not mean you have the skills necessary to professionally translate.  Speaking is not writing and oral fluency does not guarantee smooth, stylish writing.  Even if you regularly speak a language let’s say in Russian, French, German or Spanish, and spend lots of time in the countries where those languages are spoken, 99 times out of 100 your written command of a foreign language will be immediately recognizable as “foreign.”

Just last week at the Language Exchange Inc, a client requested a Russian translation project to be updated.  The client had a bilingual employee work on the translations first.  To give you an idea of the difference between the bilingual employee’s background and the translator’s background we had work on this project:

  • The translator has a PhD and taught in both Russia and Ukraine (also translates Ukrainian), a Masters in Journalism in the United States with years of work experience in Washington DC and currently teaches in Toronto.
  • The bilingual employee speaks Russian with no formal background in linguistics.

The translator’s first comment on the bilingual employee’s translations: “In short, I can make only one conclusion from these changes. The client is not a native speaker of Russian and all this looks incorrect.”  The translator went on to say that the changes were made by somebody who took Basic Russian and has nothing to do with a native speaker.  These are not comments of a native speaker or somebody who knows Russian.

Example of what a Bilingual Employee Who is NOT a Professional Translator can do to Your Translation

Here you will see the notes of the professional translator regarding the translations of the bilingual employee.

  1. “In the third bullet свое дерево should be свою дрову (see the first correction).” The highlighted part is not in Russian. Maybe this person knows some other Slavic language and used to speak Russian 20 years ago. I do not know. All these comments do not make sense to me. Maybe he studied in Russia 20 years ago and hasn’t used the language since then.
  2. “Cтoрониться” – You cannot use this word in Russian in this context. Probably, s/he was looking some words up in the dictionary. In addition, you cannot without any reasons capitalize some verb in the middle of the sentence.
  3.  “который” – This is a wrong case with the wrong ending, no matter how many changes I can make in this sentence. All nouns and adjectives in Russian have 12 different cases (forms). You cannot just take the Nominative Case from the dictionary.
  4. The title is idiomatic, there are different options but I do not see any sense to invent new options when this editor does not know what she or he is writing about.
  5.  “Помощь еще доступна” – It is a dialect of immigrants, because this is how Russian speakers say under the strong influence of English. It is a translation word by word.
  6.  “Вы знаете, сколько дыма ваш огонь испускается?” – There is no Russian native speaker in the world who can invent this.

The interpreter concludes, “Sorry, I do not know what else to say here, because in this form this post-card cannot be printed, mailed, etc.”

Employees OR Friends who are Bilingual are Not Professional Translators and can do Terrible Things to Translations!

The example we showed you of our latest translation hack by a bilingual employee we see all too often and show the pitfalls of “in-house” or “amateur friends and relatives” proofing  (or even translation!) of documents.  Besides Russian, one of our targets are Spanish language hackers.  For example, we did a professional translation of an industry manual at a local school district.  The school district had a bilingual employee (not a professional translator or linguist) say the translation had incorrect translations.  The manual was professional translated and was 100% correct.  Just because the employee is bilingual does NOT mean they are qualified to critique a translation in regards to sentence structure, subject matter, cultural aspects, and grammar.

Have a Bilingual Employee Translate at Your Own Risk

For many companies faced with foreign-language texts, the first stop is the language department of a local school or university. While this may—sometimes —work
for inbound translation (i.e., when you want to find out what the other guys are up to), it is
extremely risky for promotional texts. Teaching a foreign language is a demanding activity
that requires a special set of skills. These are rarely the same as those needed to produce a smooth, stylish translation. The risks are even greater if you opt for student translators, which may seem like a nice, inexpensive option.

  • Would you approve of medical students performing minor operations to pay their way through medical school? (Would you describe your brochure/letter/annual report/speech as “minor”?)
  • Would you have your company’s financial statements prepared by business students to save money?

Translators and Bilinguals: Look Closer

Professional translators are writers, producing texts that read well in the target language.
They are usually fluent in their source language(s) as well. But they are above all effective bridges between the languages they work in; they can render the message of the original text, with appropriate style and terminology, in their native language.

Bilingualism is something else. Bilinguals speak two languages fluently, but are not necessarily good at moving information between the two, especially in writing. And many people described as bilinguals overestimate their communication skills altogether.

The American Translators Association (ATA) gives this example of a marketing translation by a bilingual employee:

  • Lina’s, a pricey French sandwich chain, advertised for franchisees abroad with a text concocted by a self-proclaimed bilingual employee.
  • Slogan: “Tomorrow, we will expect on your dynamism.”
  • Response: Zero.

Bilingualism on its own is not a guarantee of written fluency or skill in translation.