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5 Common Misconceptions about Translation

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

Here are the top 5 common misconceptions that we often come across when it comes to translating. 


1. If you know a foreign language, you can be a translator

This is perhaps the most common translation misconception and can be the most costly!

Asking Pete in the office, who knows a bit of Spanish, to translate an important marketing brochure is likely to end up with disastrous results!  Although this may be useful if you only require the ‘gist’ translation of your text, if you need the translation to be accurate and professional then an experienced translator is crucial for three main reasons:

1. A translator must have an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the foreign language they are working in.  Spoken language is very different from written language.  Just because you speak a foreign language, even if fluently, doesn’t mean you would be a good translator.

2. They must be aware of cultural differences – how would they translate ‘cream tea’ or ‘Bonfire Night' for example, something which is very well known in Britain but completely foreign to somebody who is not familiar with our culture.

3. They must have specialised knowledge in the subject area of the source text, being able to understand the context of the text in order to find the best fitting equivalent in their target language.


2. It's only a couple of pages, around 2000 words and I need it back in the next 2 hours

Every translation is different and the time required to translate texts can vary greatly depending on the technical subject matter of the document and formatting etc.

As a general rule, each translator can translate approximately 2000 words per day (so 2000 words in 2 hours would not be possible).

Short translations i.e. less than 500 words, can normally be returned the same day.


3. A translator can translate both ways e.g. English into Spanish and Spanish into English

There are some translators who translate into both languages or who claim to have two mother tongues however, we believe that the highest quality translations are those carried out by native speakers of the target language.  This is because the translator who translates into his or her native language has more knowledge of the various linguistic elements of their own language such as syntax and they are able to understand cultural elements e.g. proverbs, idioms, swear words etc.


4. We don’t need to translate our website, all our customers can read English

Research shows that even people who speak English confidently still prefer to buy services and products from websites which are in their own language.  In fact, 73% of users access the Internet in a language other than English.

Having your website translated will give a great first impression of your company as well as helping you to reach new customers.


5. I can just put it through Google, it’s free!

Although computer translation tools are extremely advanced nowadays, no translation program will ever be able to take the place of human translators. This is because although computers may be able to translate word for word sentences, they will never be able to tackle the complexities of a language, e.g. understanding the various meanings of the same word in a given context, idioms and phrases.  If you tell somebody in France it is ‘raining cats and dogs’, you will get some very strange looks as in France ‘il pleut des cordes’ (it rains ropes).  However, most machine translation tools will give you a literal translation of this phrase, not the cultural equivalent in your required language.

You should bear in mind that machine translations are at the very most 75% accurate — meaning one in four words will be incorrectly translated (a fun example is to take your favourite song lyrics, translate them in Google then copy and paste and translate back into English).  Although they are useful when you want the gist of what something says in a foreign language, we advise not to use automatic translation services if you require an accurate translation.

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