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Can Anyone Who's Bilingual Translate? The Short Answer: No!

Posted 5 years 122 days ago ago by Annette Labbé     0 Comments

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Sometimes people ask me what it takes to become a translator. Can anyone who’s bilingual translate? The short answer is no. Just because someone is bilingual and has the ability to understand and interact in both languages doesn’t mean he or she has the skills necessary to translate something correctly from one language to another.
I find that with the bilingual person, there’s almost always one language they’re more familiar with than the other. What that means is that in the less dominant language, the level of vocabulary wouldn’t be the same and there wouldn’t be the same ease of expression. It makes a difference.
There are also certain qualities a translator must have in order to be effective: 
  • Strong writing skills in order to communicate ideas effectively
  • Reading comprehension skills are also essential
  • Translators have to be willing to do a lot of research
  • Translators must edit their work several times and sometimes re-write things completely 
  • They must stay flexible in terms of the time they spend working, the types of documents they translate, the subject matter they take on, etc.
  • Translators also have to be exceptionally well-organized in the way they think and in the way they translate
In my time as a translator, I’ve seen bilingual people who are not in the translation field do their own translations. The most common mistake they make is that they try to simplify the process as much as possible. For example, they will write in a conversational, informal manner. The will avoid research, opting instead for a more personal feel. The translation process is not about simplification, it’s about conveying everything, even the little things, clearly. And that’s very complex.

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