Do 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.
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’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.
Here you will see the notes of the professional translator regarding the translations of the bilingual employee.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
Bilingualism on its own is not a guarantee of written fluency or skill in translation.