Lost in Translation - Busting Common Myths While Saving Your Organization's Reputation and Money

“Translator” seems to be used by the general public to mean “interpreter,” but be sure that you know the difference, so that you get what you need. A translator is a person who conveys written messages from one language into another. An interpreter is someone who conveys spoken or signed messages from one language into another.

Myth: If someone is bilingual, they can translate my document.

False: While a translator must be bilingual, a bilingual person does not necessarily have the skills to be a translator (or an interpreter, for that matter). Professional translators do this for a living. They have knowledge of specialized vocabulary for the type of documents they work with.

Some translators work mainly with vocabulary in the medical field, while others may work with legal matters or words related to automobile manufacturing. By choosing to work with a professional, you are choosing an expert who will accurately convey your message. Most of us have seen examples of bad translations. The best translations are the ones that don’t seem like translations at all.

Myth: I can just use Google Translate.

False: While Google Translate might help you get the gist of what someone is writing on the Internet, it is not good for complete paragraphs. It is much more efficient and cost-effective to proofread and edit a translation that has been done by a human than it is to completely rewrite jumbled words from Google Translate. When you or your organization’s reputation is on the line, always use human translators.

What about machine translations?

CAT tools are computer-assisted translation tools that parse text into separate sentences. These are useful for large translation projects that have rigorous need for consistency and style. They include translation memories and are useful for legal, financial, technical, and scientific translations.

We have someone in the office who can speak that language. We’ll just have him/her do the written translation.

Proceed with caution. Not everyone who can speak English can read or write English well. The same holds true for speakers of other languages. Linguists often specialize in either translation or interpreting. Also, consider whether or not this is the best use of the employee’s time. Isn’t the person’s time better spent on what they were mainly hired to do?

To reduce the risk of translation errors and save money on proofreading and editing, be sure to have someone translate the document, website, etc. into the person’s native language. For example, if you have a document that needs to be translated from English into Japanese, choose a translator whose first language is Japanese. If you have a document that needs to be translated from Japanese into English, then choose a translator whose first language is English.

Three tips to remember to make money and save money:

  • People tend to read websites in their own language. Translate your website to draw in new customers.

  • Use infographics when possible.

  • Hire human translation experts.