Bilingual Does Not Equal Professional Translator

Companies are hiring more and more bilingual staff to better communicate with internal and external customers. It is true that being bilingual has many positive benefits; however, it is important to watch out for potential concerns related to the translation process.

Some bilingual staff take on the role of in-house translators while others send documents out for translation and serve as post-project client reviewers. Yet sometimes they will translate small projects in-house and outsource larger projects. The consistency and quality of the bilingual staff’s translations and feedback greatly influence how smoothly the translation process goes with an outside agency, not to mention the final document’s quality.

While bilingual employees have a high verbal fluency and cultural literacy, they may not have attained the native-level literacy that comes from formally studying the languages in an advanced educational setting. Heritage speakers who have lived in the U.S. for more than a couple of years could find that their second language has been influenced by the use of English terminology, punctuation, capitalization, etc. This sometimes results in customer feedback indicating that a professional translation contains errors when in reality the translation is correct. For example, some Spanish speakers will use capitalization where it is not grammatically correct in Spanish (days of the week, months, certain words in titles). When the client translator/reviewer makes these types of changes, they are not correcting translation errors – they are introducing errors!

Bilingual staff members also may not be aware of (or accepting of) the varying uses of language among the different countries in which it is used. It is not uncommon for a word to have multiple translation options. It is also possible that one translation is perfectly acceptable in certain countries, but it could sound unnatural or even offensive in others. Many times, the use of terminology is purely preferential.

In addition to requiring impeccable grammar, spelling, and vocabulary use, professional translators specialize in subject areas, often having completed advanced degrees and worked for a number of years in their fields. The key to creating an effective translation is for bilingual staff members to collaborate in the process with translation professionals and to be prudent when requesting changes to a translation. It is also advisable that only qualified staff have the final authority to change the translation, in order to avoid deviating from the source text and potentially introducing errors.

By working with agencies that use professional linguists who are well-rounded in their academic and occupational experience, not only will you be sure to receive a translation free of spelling and grammar errors but also terminology well-suited to the translation’s audience.


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