When your roommate, friend or next-door neighbor happens to speak another language, it can be tempting to “employ” their services rather than those of a qualified expert translator.
There are many reasons, however, why even short and seemingly simple translations should be trusted only to the pros.
Qualified Translators Have Superb Language Skills
Simply speaking another language doesn’t mean someone is going to be a good — or even a passably decent — translator. Translators are not simply bilingual (or sometimes multilingual); they are linguistic experts in both the source and target languages they work in. Even if you know somebody who is fully bilingual, they may lack the vocabulary and finesse with language that a professional translator has.
Think about it — just because you speak English (or Spanish, French or Arabic) it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a great writer or remember all the nuances of proper English grammar that you were taught in elementary school.
It’s important to keep in mind that translators make language their business. It’s something they know inside and out because they are passionate about it and literally make a living from it. It’s their job to stay on top of linguistic developments, like the 1996 overhaul of German orthography that even took many native German speakers years to adjust to.
Expert Translators Have Subject-Specific Knowledge
Even if your German roommate or Japanese boyfriend has amazing language skills, it’s unlikely that they will have the subject-specific linguistic knowledge required in many areas of translation. From advertising translation to medical translation to financial translation, many areas of translation demand an intimate knowledge of that field’s terminology.
As an example, consider trying to explain the jargon of an engineering document written in your own native tongue. Unless you’re an engineer yourself, odds are you wouldn’t have a clue regarding the meaning of many terms. A translator who specializes in engineering translation, however, will have experience with these terms.
Professional Translators Consider the Culture
Aside from the superior linguistic skills that make an expert translator, awareness of cultural variations is also essential.
Owing to their experience working with language, an English-Spanish translator will most likely be familiar with the Spanish differences between Mexico and Spain — but what about between Mexico and Guatemala? Honduras and Venezuela?
Each country uses the Spanish language differently, and when localizing to a specific region, it’s important to find a translator familiar with the particular variety of language used there. If you’re trying to get a friend from Spain to translate a document that uses Spanish vocabulary from Mexico, you may find that he or she will run into some trouble.
Amateur Translations Can Cause Embarrassment
The use of a qualified expert translator can help avoid the embarrassment that comes with amateurish translation mistakes. Translations can vary greatly in quality, but you’re much more likely to run into silly or nonsensical translation errors when the work is being done by a non-professional, whether it’s a person or an automatic translation machine doing the translating.
Turning to your bilingual roommate may seem like an easier solution to your translation needs than paying for the services of a qualified professional translator. However, the quality of the translation you get from an expert translator is likely to be far superior to what a non-professional linguist can produce, and is well worth the investment.