5 misconceptions over the translation industry

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5 Misconceptions About the Translation Industry

Is it true that all translators do is type in a foreign language? Can anyone translate if they know a second language? Are you paying too much for a good translation? Is Google Translate enough to translate your website, an email or a couple of documents?

We will take a look at 5 common misconceptions that could ultimately cost you time, money or even the brand you’ve spent years building.

  1. All translators do is type in a foreign language

This is like saying all doctors do is run blood tests. It’s a very narrow and inaccurate view of what translation really involves.

When a translator is translating, culture, context, sentence structure, word choice, grammar, style, meaning and nuance are all at play, along with the translator’s skills and experience, to convey your message accurately while keeping its original meaning and intended impact.

If you want a glimpse at how your target audience would react if translators decided to just “type” in a foreign language, disregarding some of the key elements mentioned above, try simply translating an idiom using Google Translate and watch their faces as they read it.

  1. Anyone can translate if they know a second language

In the medieval period, barbers offered more than just haircuts. Procedures like bloodletting, teeth pulling and even amputation were among the barbers’ extensive list of services.

Why not? After all, they happened to have the tools for the task – sharp knives – and knew how to use them. Yes, if you are wondering, many of the “patients” didn’t survive the more dramatic “surgeries”.

Eventually, someone realised that perhaps the concept of specialised professions would be much safer and effective than the local barber’s one-stop-shop.

Today, it would be unthinkable to go to a barber for a haircut and, while you are at it, get your leg chopped off, but the same thought process still lingers today, with a different spin on things:

“Oh, you need a programmer? My neighbour is good with computers, I bet he can help you with that.”, “I know you are a professional graphic designer, but my nephew is pretty good with photoshop”, “Edward got a new camera yesterday. I guess we won’t need that professional wedding photographer after all”.

It happens in almost every industry and, of course, it happens in translation too.

I know, I know, your friend’s neighbour just came back from his three-week vacation to Italy, but just because he says “grazie” and “buona sera” while fervently moving his hands, it doesn’t mean he can translate your website or marriage certificate.

Now that we’ve established that translation is more than simply typing in a foreign language, you probably realised that there is a huge gap between your friend’s neighbour’s skills and the skills and experience of a professional Language Service Provider.

Understanding that distinction could be the difference between an accurate translation of “devolve aos fios sedosidade e brilho” (referring to the shampoo’s ability to make hair strands look shiny and silky) or proudly advertising the inaccurate translation “returns to the wires shine and softness”. Not the most appealing advertising copy.

  1. A good translation is expensive

Have you ever received a translation quote and immediately thought or shouted “What?! That’s too expensive!”.

Let’s take a step back for a minute.

You don’t really want that translation, because you thought a couple of Cyrillic characters would look cute on your website? Whether it’s to communicate something important, build trust, inform or encourage a specific action, translation serves a purpose.

If your major decision driver is price, chances are you are going for the lowest bidder and will probably get a subpar product that fails to achieve the original purpose of the translation.

Yes, you paid less, but at what cost? Wasted time (which can get expensive depending on how you value it) and, in some cases, a time bomb waiting to destroy your business. You have no idea how much the damage repair will cost you or when the bill will come knocking at your door.

Take banks like HSBC and companies like Nike, for example. They have spent millions of dollars fixing the damage of bad translations. They’ve learnt the hard way that a bad translation can get really expensive and that there are more decision drivers beyond price when selecting a translator, language service provider or translation agency.

  1. It’s justtranslation

This misconception is the root of all evil.

It’s why some clients think good translations are expensive. It’s why translation is often the final part of any project. It’s why some people think that a Google-translated website “is enough”.

Why spend months and thousands of dollars carefully planning, designing and marketing a product, only to disregard the translation?

Why invest in a beautifully designed website and massive advertising only to confuse your target audience with a bad translation?

Most people think of translation as an individual process when, in reality, it is (or should be) part of your brand and overall communication. Unfortunately, most people don’t realise that until they witness the impact of a bad translation first-hand, when it’s often too late.

  1. Translation Software and Google Translate are the Same Thing

Put simply, the role of translation software is to act as a memory extension. It doesn’t do the work for the translator. It simply uses technology to overcome human limitations (memory and attention span) and make the translator’s work easier and faster while offering other tools that help create a better product. Just like your accountant uses a calculator or Excel.

On the other hand, Google Translate operates in a completely different way and serves a different purpose. The Algorithm analyses the source text and tries to translate it as best as it can. It aims to do the work for the translator – in fact, it wants to replace them –, although it’s still considerably bad at it.

If you have ever used Google Translate beyond translating “hello”, “how are you” or “you should subscribe to The Translation Guy”, you probably realised that more than a promising machine translator, it can in fact be a specialist in stirring up confusion.

Despite all the hype, the future looks more like the first approach (convergence of translators and technology) than the latter (Google Translate and AI replacing translators). But that’s a topic for a different day.


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