The absolute need to use only native speakers as translators
There are many translation agencies that use recently graduated language students with a proficiency in a foreign language in order to keep their operating costs to a minimum. Generally speaking, these students, with fluency in a second language, have something to offer in the translation business, but not necessarily working in a target language that is different from their native speech. The nuances and subtleties in all languages can create hurdles for anyone trying to learn a new form of speech. When someone tries to translate into a language that is not native to them, the result can be anything from humorous to devastating. It’s a common error to think that a word that sounds the same in two different languages means the same thing. However, “it’s not necessarily so”. I found out the hard way.
Shortly after graduating from college I joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to a public health program in La Paz, Bolivia. I had taken 4 years of Spanish in college and had additional language training before arriving in South America. I earned a Spanish language competency score of 4.5, which at the time was considered fluent, but not native. A week after arrival, our group of volunteers was invited to a local university to meet the students and tell them about our backgrounds and the programs we were involved with. The school auditorium was packed with over 500 students. One by one volunteers walked onto the stage, were handed a microphone and addressed the audience in Spanish. When it came my turn, I walked up the rickety wooden stairs, reached for the microphone and inadvertently dropped it on the floor. As I picked it up, red faced and all (I wanted to say, excuse me; I’m embarrassed), I said in my best Spanish possible, “Discúlpame, estoy embarazado.” The entire audience erupted in laughter. Now I was really embarrassed, not knowing what I had said to create such an uproar. The Peace Corps Director leaned over and whispered in my ear. “You just told them that you’re pregnant.”
Such are the perils of knowing a language, but not quite enough to avoid potentially embarrassing situations. There are many similar sound alike words called homophones in many languages. For example, ropa in Spanish means clothing and sopa means soup. In French pain means bread and pin means pine.
In my case, the error was harmless, but when translating a document or a website, a seemingly simple mistake can cause equipment to malfunction, personal injury if operating instructions are misunderstood or a company website to look amateurish casting a bad light on the company’s image. Avoid these potential problems by using a professional agency with a long history of successful translations. At TSI, we take pride in using native speakers as our translators. It helps avoid simple mistakes and saves money for our clients down the road.
Contact us if you’re in the market for document translation. We can help guide you through the process step-by-step and explain what makes our business model and team unique in the translation industry.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.