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5 min read


10 Myths About Translation

The world of translation is not always clearly understood by the average Joe who doesn’t request translations on a regular basis. In fact there are a lot of myths about translation out there. Most of my friends don’t even know what I mean when I say I work in the translation industry. “Ah so you’re a translator!” is the usual response. I say “I’m not” and then they run out of ideas. What else would you do if you are working in the translation business?

The world of translation is filled with much more than translators (although they make up the vast bulk of it) and there are a lot of misconceptions. Let’s take a look at Pangeanic’s list of some of the most common myths about translation we hear from time to time in our production center.

Myth #1: That only requesting translations from the world’s biggest translation companies is the only way to guarantee a good translation.

So the idea here is that only a very large multinational LSP (Language Service Provider) can produce the goods. Nope, afraid not, that’s a huge misconception. If you are seeking translation for just one language or in a specialized industry, you might even be better off working with a small agency or a professional freelance translator who understands the intricate nuances of a region or language. Large agencies have their role of course–usually in supporting large customers that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars/euro or yen on translations. Just as a Ferrari might not be the best option for doing the weekly groceries, and IBM servers to run your desktop applications, large providers and their intricate compartmentalization are definitely not the best solution for every single type of project.

Myth #2: More translators will result in better quality. 

Over time, translators become thoroughly familiar with the writing styles, tone, and preferences of their clients. Think of them as chefs who become more and more familiar with a cake recipe, and so can bake that cake without much mess or fuss and probably with their eyes closed.  Generally, if the same translator–or the same small group of translators–is not used repeatedly for projects, standards and consistency will naturally begin to slip and the translations will actually sound like they have different voices and styles. If you have recurring projects, you’ll want to make sure to work with a dedicated team of people who become highly familiar with your source content.

Myth #3: Getting a “back translation” will ensure quality.

So there are two ways to look at this: 1) Translate into the target language and then have that translated back into the source language by the same LSP.  2) Get one LSP to translate one way then get another LSP to translate it back again. The theory is that you can spot errors by comparing the different versions. In reality, this process is destined to fail. Why? Because a good translation has already been localized with expressions that are adequate for the language. Try it yourself using any online automatic translation tool like Microsoft’s Bing or Google Translate: misunderstandings can occur at any point during the process. If the LSP producing the “back translation” makes a mistake, there will indeed be a difference between the source and the back-translated version, but the customer will have no means of ascertaining the source of the error. This is an unnecessary expense and time-consuming practice that is best avoided. Talk about proper quality control procedures and discuss reports on checks with your translation company. Any reputable company will provide check logs and review logs from the editor or proofreader for your peace of mind. The relationship will become more transparent and, from a standards point of view, you will be able to verify that quality checks are followed.

Myth #4: Bilingual employees will be able to translate that for us…

Bilingual employees are a great addition to the team, but if they haven’t been hired as an internal translator, asking them to translate or review text might not be the best idea, as it is not technically what they are qualified to do. A serious misconception associated with this approach is that just because someone speaks additional languages, they have the expertise and knowledge to translate, and that’s just not the case and could lead to quite disastrous consequences. By the same token, anybody who can read and write should, in theory, be able to write a book, but in reality that is not the case. To be able to provide a professional translation, which many consider to be a work of art, you’ll need years of practice, a degree in translation or a similar qualification, in-depth knowledge of CAT tools (what are CAT tools?) and much more.

Myth #5: My source content has no impact on quality.

Although we train our translation teams to question the source content, many “translation errors” are actually due to source text being unclear, or at least ambiguous. Translators rely on their professional experience and the tools at hand to try to figure out the intended meaning. This is not always the best approach and can obviously lead to a translation that does not meet expectations. A professional translator will always spot these and highlight them, or send a query to clarify the meaning. Oftentimes, run-of-the-mill daily expressions have no equivalent in another language and being literal is no option. Pangeanic’s linguists do not just try their best to translate what’s in front of them, they send a query or feedback to our project managers to alert our clients. Not doing so can sometimes have an undesired effect–not necessarily due to any fault on the translator’s part. Communication is a two-way street. If the source message isn’t clear, the translation often won’t be either.


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Myth #6: Translation and interpreting are the same thing

Translation and interpreting are not the same thing and the titles are often misused. Members of either profession will confirm that many people still make the mistake of assuming that they are synonymous. Translators work with the written word and often work from the comfort of their own homes, whereas interpreting involves acting as an intermediary between two or more parties communicating verbally, in real-time and usually onsite…when it’s not over-the-phone interpreting. However, the rule also applies the other way around: a talented interpreter is not necessarily a good translator, because the two professions require very different sets of skills. Not all translators interpret and not all interpreters translate.

Myth #7: Any translator can translate text on any subject

As you read in myth #4 about translation, you need a set of physical and mental attributes to be a top translator. Also worth mentioning: just because a translator is good at translating texts of a specific domain (a translator is usually specialized in specific fields or related fields), this doesn’t mean they can translate texts for a different one. It should be obvious that this is a dangerous misconception. It takes skill to produce legal paperwork, technical documentation and marketing copy. A marketing translator might not be the best choice to translate documents pertaining to the science of rocket propulsion.

Myth #8: Machine translation is good enough for the job

Now as some of our fans will know, Pangeanic is kind of a big deal in the machine translation (MT) sphere, so we know what we are talking about here… not to brag of course. We firmly believe that MT is the future with the advances we are seeing, especially in neural networks with NMT and Artificial Intelligence. Check out some of our tech news and especially our PangeaMT website. However, to get the human results we are seeing and commercializing for some clients, we need to have an excellent training corpus, and also the infrastructure to host the engines, among other requirements. Get in touch with the team to discuss further. The output we can produce really is incredible. Now, this is not the case with all MT solutions out there. If you need to understand an email from a foreign client or colleague then Google or Bing could do a decent enough job for you. Remember free online systems are there as a means to understand, not to publish. If, however, you would like to use that translation to represent yourself in the global marketplace, you may find yourself lost in translation and quite possibly out of business not long after.

Myth #9: A good translator will instantly get the hang of your company's preferred terminology and style

All translators have their own style and capabilities, no matter how well they sell themselves. There is no substitute for context, style guides, glossaries and a good clean translation memory. All companies have their own terminology, and it’s vital to share that with the translation team. Open communication is paramount!

Myth #10: Higher prices always mean higher quality

Sadly you can’t fix a problem by throwing money at it. It’s true that some language combinations will always be more expensive than others; this comes down to supply and demand.  You need good structure, standards and selection processes. Buying translation is not easy, because usually you can't evaluate the quality and have to trust the service provider. Don’t worry; we have you covered here too. Check out our 5 Useful Tips for Translation Buyers.

We hope we have uncovered some of the myths and you have a clearer vision of what these very talented people do.


Get in touch with a member of our team if you have any questions.