• Caroline Goby

A Translator is...or is not?

Updated: May 15, 2018

So what is a translator anyway? Here are ten common misconceptions about this profession if you've ever wondered. A translator is...


1. No longer needed because of technology. We translators love this one. Languages are living, breathing things (figuratively speaking) that are constantly changing. And it takes living, breathing beings to create, sustain, and understand them. Technology definitely helps in a major way, but it will never replace a human brain.

2. A dictionary or less of a translator should they use one (we do). Many people, upon learning my profession, ask me "what is (insert random word) in French?" Usually it's something simple but the reason behind their questioning is probably that they automatically assume translators know just about every word in the foreign language. This just isn't true, and we don't even know all the words in our own language! The living Oxford Dictionary tells us that there are at least a quarter of a million distinct English words, but we only actively use about 20,000 and 40,000 passively, according to Susie Dent, a linguistic specialist. If we only actively use that many of our own language's words, then how can a translator be expected to automatically know any given word in the foreign language?


Interesting side note: there are little more than 100,000 words in the French language - the Larousse online dictionary counts 135,000 . They as well use between 20,000 and 30,000 words actively. Which means that the French use roughly 20% of their dictionary and English speakers only 8%. (It should be mentioned that many of our English words are borrowed from other languages, notably French.)

3. Someone who has a lot of free time because they don't have a 'real' job. This really depends on how you look at "free time". Should a translator decide to watch Netflix all day (oops) or spend a significant amount of time on anything other than work-related tasks, that is basically money out of their pocket. For someone who has a 9-5 job with a monthly salary and decides to spend an hour on Facebook during work hours, their paycheck will not be affected by how much time they waste on social media at work. However, for a translator, that time could mean a significant difference in that month's salary because they didn't contact that one client who had a 20-page project which could have meant extra big bucks in their pocket.


4. Fine with a 2-day deadline for a document that took 10 people 3 weeks to put together. Seriously...if it took 3 weeks for a whole team to compile this document, I'll need a little more than 2 days to translate it! Especially if I have other projects I'm working on...

5. An interpreter able to step in at a moment's notice. A common misconception is that someone who translates on paper can also translate orally. One of my former translation professors once told the class that he became a translator because interpreters just snap one day and go nuts. He meant that the taxing influence of simultaneously juggling two languages and cultures can make people go a little crazy. How true is this? I don't know because I'm not an interpreter, but from the few times I have done it informally I can assure you that it is very tiring for the brain! You must listen to one person in their language, and at the same time convert that into a different language and then speak that translation to another person, all the while you are still listening to the speaker in the source language. It is much easier if they pause after each sentence or every other sentence, but that isn't always how it works.

6. Just bilingual and therefore they can translate without any kind of training. An exaggerated comparison that comes to mind is knowing how to treat patients and perform surgeries by watching Grey's Anatomy. You've seen and heard how it's done, but when you need to do it yourself, of course it's too difficult. Like most jobs, unless you have studied and practiced under the supervision of a teacher or mentor who is a professional, you won't understand what you are even trying to do. There is more to translating than just being able to speak the two languages.



7. Rich! Sure, depending on the demand for the language pair, the payout can be great. But there are many hidden costs for a translator, the biggest one being obtaining certification either through an educational institution or an association like the American Translators Association. Then you have costs such as paying for internet, buying a domain name for a professional website, buying an email for the website, purchasing translation software which has to be updated regularly, and the necessary equipment like a computer that can handle the workload and the translation software previously mentioned.

8. Someone who has an easy job, throwing around words. This isn't modern art where you can throw a medium around (or not) and it makes a perfect "masterpiece". Sometimes a translator can spend half an hour just researching a certain word or phrase and how to translate it into the target language. When phrases are deeply steeped in the culture, it can be difficult to find the equivalent in the target language. Otherwise, we rely upon our knowledge of the language as well as translation software to help us organize the document and translate redundant terms.

9. Charging too high a price for a good translation. My new favorite phrase when it comes to money is this: "You get what you pay for". If you want a truly professional translation, you will need to pay a decent price and it will be well worth it. Unless it is a promotional price, translators won't charge at extremely low rates if they are professionals. If you find someone who offers next to nothing for a translation, make sure to check their credentials or contact one or two of their previous clients before accepting.

10. A radio you can purchase at Best Buy. Hehe! https://www.bestbuy.com/site/directed-electronics-rf-to-data-translator-black/4609814.p?skuId=4609814


One more thing before you go about your business of the day - check out these 9 little translation mistakes that are great examples of the importance of finding the right word! Click on this link ->


http://mentalfloss.com/article/48795/9-little-translation-mistakes-caused-big-problems


Thanks for stopping by!

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