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Why bilinguals cannot replace professional translators

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by Eleftheria Tigka, Vendor Manager at Commit Global

The common misconception

When it comes to translation, there is this common misconception that people who speak a foreign language can translate any text of any level, and provide results comparable to the ones produced by professional translators. It is true that to the uninitiated, there should be no difficulty in transposing thoughts, ideas, and facts into other languages.

However, this is not the case. Translation is not about replacing source language text with target language text, thus devaluating and neglecting the source text. After all, translation becomes all the more prerequisite in the modern world, and the concept of leaving translation to amateurs is more and more of a challenge.

The role of the professional translator

A translator is a professional, a mediator between cultures, not just an interlinguistic service provider.

The role of the professional translator, as such, puts him or her in the rare and privileged position of not only translating but also localizing the message conveyed and communicated. After all, and despite the equivalence suggested by bilingual dictionaries, it is known that people do not say precisely the same things in different languages.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance that a translator undergoes translation studies, that define and strengthen his or her linguistic capacities and provide intercultural awareness, making translation an academic discipline and a professional field. No modern translation studies curriculum can deny the importance of cultural translation and cultural studies. And it should become clear that the activity of translation has been widely practiced throughout history, nevertheless, it is lately that its scientific boundaries have been set.

Furthermore, a professional translator should be fully aware of his or her role as a mediator. A translator does more than conveying the message of the source text. He or she is a scientist, providing localization in a global world. He or she is at the same time an artist, weaving the text, helping the different cultures to approach one another, avoiding word-for-word translation, and preserving all the information provided, taking into consideration its context.

Are you convinced yet?

So, even though you might have a friend who knows English, you should not have him do the translation, because he is no professional translator. And although the translation is a technical act, an acquired skill, it is also something far and beyond than rewriting. As societies develop, languages also develop over time. Words change their significance and it is the job of a translator to capture and to render that, bringing significance into every context.

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