Translation myths debunked – A linguist’s perspective

Commit_translators_workspace_by Eleftheria Tigka, Vendor Manager at Commit  

“What do you do?” I am asked. “I am a translator”, I reply. “Wow, you must know many foreign languages!”. I get that a lot. And I understand that this must be one of the most common misconceptions concerning a professional translator: The number of the languages known: Two (one source language and one target language) are enough. Of course the more the merrier, nevertheless a translator is not a multilingual dictionary, ready to provide the equivalent of the source language in, let’s say, ten target languages. Two languages are enough, provided that they are known in depth and that they are handled with responsibility.

“Was your grandmother French?” I am also frequently asked. When I reply no, she wasn’t, the question that usually follows is “Then how did you learn to speak French?” Well, I studied. And then I studied some more. And this brings us to the second myth: It is not about cultural heritage, it is all about hard work. A professional translator has to study hard in order to gain his/her credentials, to gain the trust of his/her clients, of his/her peers. A university degree, often a master’s degree are today’s prerequisites to becoming a translator.

“It must be easy to do the translation, if you know the language”. You must have heard that as well. Well, it is not. A translator takes the responsibility of his/her words, which can define other people’s lives when used in a court of law or in the case of medical translation. A professional translator does not provide the general context of the original text to the client, but the exact words that may change the client’s life forever. So let’s break the third myth: Translation is serious work. It requires dedication, scrupulousness, attention to detail and endless patience.

“But what is taking you so long?” clients often ask and who can blame them? After all, it is only translation. But let’s be clear. We are not transcribing, we are translating and that makes all the difference in the world. An English word can have five to seven different meanings in Greek and choosing the right one can require time, research and many queries. This leads us to breaking the fourth myth: Translation can take time. And as all serious businesses, it costs money, but it pays off and if it is done right it never goes unnoticed.

Translation is no more or no less than any other profession. It is not suitable for amateurs, for the faint of heart, as it requires in-depth knowledge and much time. But it can also be rewarding, fun, interesting and life-changing, as any journey that is worth taking.

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