I Can Speak Multiple Languages

Does it make me a good translator?

I was talking to my friend the other day. She asked me: since I can speak fluently in two different languages; does that make me a good translator?

good translatorWell, you might have an added advantage because you know two different languages, but no, it does not follow that you have the makings of a good translator. She was offended by my remark, but she kept her composure. I have been her friend my whole life and I would not lie to her just to make her feel better.

She was asking my opinion since I have been working professionally as a translator for many years. I am speaking from experience and she knows I have worked hard to get where I am at right now.

She began researching the qualities of a good translator and how she can become one. As I have said, she already has an edge since she knows two languages.

Here are a few things she found out during her research.

I’m bilingual. Am I a good translator?

This is the most common misinterpretation of people who can speak several languages. Translation is an art and requires a great deal of skill. Being bilingual or speaking in multiple languages does not make a person a good translator. Just like being a doctor. Not because you can memorize the parts of the human body and know all the generic names of medicines, you are already a doctor. No, it does not work that way. As with all the other professions, careers or occupations, becoming a good translator requires having the right attitude, proper education, talent or skill, and lots of practice.

I’m a Native Speaker. Am I a good translator?

This is similar in nature to the one above. Speaking the language does not necessarily mean you know all the words that are available, nor that you are able to answer all the questions about that language well. Not all native speakers are good resources for word meanings and other linguistic issues. I agree that native speakers are good resources if you are not native to the language you are translating from, but as I have pointed out earlier, you have to know who to approach and ask – ask intelligently and wisely. Be very careful of your manners as well. Be respectful and kind when asking. Remember, no one is perfect. Anyone can make mistakes. Even native speakers do not know all the words there are in their native language and some may have different ideas about certain things.

My suggestion is:

Ask Yourself these Questions

  • Do I respect other people’s work?

You are not translating your own work. You are translating another person’s book, document, or work. You are not credited for that work. You are invisible where readers of the author are concerned. You have no right to change anything in the document or the work of someone else. You need to consider this aspect seriously. If you cannot do this, then, re-think your desire to become a translator.

  • Am I articulate enough?

Speaking fluently in two different languages, I must admit, does not mean I have perfect knowledge of these languages. It goes beyond fluency. I must possess cultural understanding of these languages I know. I should be able to express myself clearly and easily. Being articulate helps me understand the nuances of the language I am translating from.

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Posted in GL TRANSLATIONS, Translation