Professional translation is a skilled art. Being able to speak two languages doesn’t automatically qualify you as a translator, though it is of course one of the fundamental requirements of the job. So why isn’t translation something that every bilingual person can do?
Firstly, we need to consider the difference between speaking a language and writing it. A person may be bilingual in that they can speak two languages, but that does not mean that their grammar and punctuation will be perfect when it comes to the written form of either language.
In the world of professional translators, there is no room for grammatical errors. Translated copy needs to be accurate and precise in terms of its grammar, spelling and punctuation – not just the translation of the individual words.
Professional translators also need to have a methodical mind-set and an eye for detail. Human translation is a lengthy task that requires focus and accuracy, often for hours at a time. Not every bilingual person is capable of such focus and many would not enjoy the work nor excel at it as a result of this. However, it is an essential part of producing accurate translations. The result is translated texts of a quality that even the leading machine translation programs are as yet incapable of matching.
The uncertainties of life as a professional translator also need to be factored in. Translation tends to be a freelance career, without the stability of regular pay-checks at the end of each month or of set working hours. Workloads can ebb and flow. While this is an exciting and appealing prospect for many translators, the lack of stability can put some bilingual people off translating for a living, even if they have the skills required for the role.
Finally, some potential translators, despite being bilingual and having excellent linguistic abilities, may be deterred by the marketing element that many freelance translation careers now entail. In a competitive environment, translators need to market themselves in order to reach out to new clients and secure the choicest translation jobs at the best rates. For some individuals, this prospect is simply too daunting or, combined with the lack of structure and regular hours to the role, is enough to put them off considering a career in translation.
What other barriers do you perceive as being in place that prevent bilingual people from becoming professional translators? Feel free to share your ideas with us via the comments box.