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6 min read

10 Translation Myths Explained

translation facts vs myths

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Let’s dispel some commonly held beliefs that people have about translation services. These are all things I’ve heard from more than one source. So today, I decided to address some of these beliefs and what the truth is when it comes to these translation myths.

MYTH #1 - All Translators Are the Same

No two people are the same, and that goes for translators as well. Professional translators distinguish themselves from other translators by:

  • Going through training and completing programs where they learn how to handle special situations
  • Being fully bilingual in both the source and the target language
  • Translating only into their native language so they communicate the message in a culturally appropriate way
  • Understanding when they need to research the meaning of something and paying attention to detail
  • Having (in many cases) a PhD or master’s degree in certain subjects they translate

translation fact or myth

MYTH #2 - Translators Are Interchangeable

If you have two translators that are both really good and share the same qualifications, you assume that you can interchange translation projects between the two.  This is not true. Translation is like writing. The more a translator works with you or your subject matter, the more knowledge the translator gains. If you start working with a translator, whose style you like, stick with that person for consistency and clarity. Even when translators are equally qualified, they are not easily interchangeable.

MYTH #3 – Translation Agencies Are All the Same

All translation companies are not the same. There are large and small agencies, and niche ones, and they each specialize in different areas. As the language service industry evolves, language service agencies are starting to really focus on what they're good at. For example:

  • Some use crowd sources to translate. If you've got something that's confidential, you won’t want to use crowd source translation services.
  • Some use machine translations with a human editor. This option may be good enough in certain situations, but if you need a high-quality marketing translation or the content could create a liability for you, you definitely want to go with an agency that provides higher quality human translation. 
  • Some specialize is certain industries. These will have deep knowledge of the subject matter, understand industry-specific terminology and they keep current as to what's happening in the market.
  • Some specialize in interpreting services. In this case, they may be more capable of providing in-person interpretations rather than written translations. Here’s an article explaining the difference between translation and interpreting.

So, when you're picking an agency, it’s important to ask how they are qualified and what they specialize in rather than simply shopping on price

(If you have not gathered yet, we provide high-quality human translations and specialize in marketing, life sciences, and legal translations.) Read more about us and who we work with.

How Much Does Translation Cost? FIND OUT!

MYTH #4 - You Can Save Costs Using Your Distributors for Translating

A lot of companies say they don't need a translator because their distributors do it for them. Keep in mind, though, distributors may know English well enough to do business with you, but they may not know it well enough to write in the language. When they translate the English into another language for you, they may take shortcuts.

Also, distributors are salespeople that may take your carefully crafted marketing message and switch it to more in a sales-focused message. If you spent time figuring out your target market and honing your marketing message, reconsider using this option. Why waste your distributors time on extra projects when you want them focused on getting your product out into the market!

Read more about the problems with having your distributor do your translations. 

translation questions

MYTH #5 - Bilingual Employees Can Do Your Translations

This one is a little tricky. Although your employees know your business well and may speak and write in another language, using them for translations may be problematic for several reasons.

  • Loss in productivity. When you ask your employees to do translation, you are taking their time and focus away from their main job.
  • Not fully qualified. Instead of being a formally trained bilingual translator, your employees may be bilingual because they took the course in high school, or they live with foreign-language-speaking family members.
  • Style discrepancies. You may have a bilingual engineer translating marketing material or a marketer translating engineering material. In these examples, the translator won’t have the knowledge, tone and style to do the job properly. You do not ask your engineers to write your English marketing material, do you?!
  • Quality control. Will your employees know how to judge the quality of the translation, or whether the style and grammar are being used appropriately (i.e., using the formal terms versus colloquial wording)? A professional translator has the qualifications to do this right.
  • Cost. You think you are saving costs having your employee translate, yet consider the hidden costs of the person not doing their job, the extra time that it may take the person to get it done, the not getting it done on time since it is not the employees responsibility and the long term risks by not having a professional do it. In the long run it can cost you more money.

Best practice is have a professional translator and editor, and then ask your bilingual employee to proofread and provide input on company and industry-specific terminology, references, company specifics, or anything else that might make the material more company specific.

Read more about the problems with having your employee do your translations

MYTH #6 - Google Translate Is Good Enough for Your Needs

Google Translate is perfectly fine to help you get the gist of an email you receive, or to narrow down content to find what you are looking for in a large piece of content. BUT there are so many errors that happen with Google translate. If you ask anyone who's bilingual, they'll tell you story after story about what they've read on Google Translate and laugh about how much of it just doesn’t make sense.

Learn more about why you should not use the Google Translate plugin to translate your website.

MYTH #7 - Marketing Translation Can Be Automated

No!  Absolutely do not automate your Marketing translation!   There are so many idiosyncrasies to good marketing. You may be using pithy words to capture a meeting, making cultural references that are inappropriate across different cultures, or using creative word choices that may not be translated correctly in automated systems. Plus, things like brand names and taglines should all be tested. Definitely hire a professional marketing translator for anything that can affect your top line sales.

Read how Rapport International helped a long-time client improve their product name to increase sales after a poor launch in a new market. 

translation facts

MYTH #8 - Good Translators Never Need Editors – It Depends

If you're doing a letter that is going out to parents in a school district, you want to have a qualified translator. Schools are tight on budgets and usually have very direct communications that a good translator can handle without an editor. Yet, for longer, highly technical or liability exposure documents, we recommend having an editor.  

This is not just an extra expense. When you have two equally qualified translators, they're going to read through the material to make sure the meaning is exactly on point.  Sometimes things can be read in two different ways. It is the same as having an editor when you write in English. An extra set of eyes makes sure your message is accurate.

Here is more information about editing and other quality assurance processes in translation

MYTH #9 - Marketing Material Cannot Be Translated, It Must Be Transcreated

Transcreation is defined as - Developing brand content that is culturally relevant while keeping the message consistent.  Standard translation may not communicate the emotional intent of the content for other cultures and languages. In transcreation the translator takes the idea of the original content and creates new content in the target language to communicate the message.

If you write in good “Global English,” you can hire an experienced marketing translator to capture the meaning, and to make sure cultural references, pictures and colors  portray accurately. This is particularly true for manufacturers of industrial products or B2B products/services. And, it is fine for B2C companies that are beginning their translation journey and  write content in global English.

Now, if you are Nike and selling soccer balls around the world, you may have different creative departments working with different sports figures, logos and colors to accurately represent that country. But, most the time, if you start with well-written English, in a global English style, you can do a straight marketing translation.

MYTH #10 - Every Word Has A Translation

All I needed to say here is “farfegnugen”, the Volkswagen tagline from 1990 which means “the pleasure of driving” in English. There are words in every language that don't have a direct, single word translation. For example, in Chinese there's many different characters for love depending on the type of love you are talking about; familial love, parental love, spouse love, etc. So, you need to know which is appropriate depending on the context and use. In Peru, there are many different types of potatoes that each have different names, and the Hawaiian language has 200 words for different types of rain.

When a professional translator comes across a word like this, they will provide a translation to retain the original meaning, so your message is accurate.

We’d love to hear from you about foreign words you know that have no direct translation into English. Or any other myths or question you have about translation. Please comment below.

Have questions? Contact Us 

Rapport International specializes in multilingual communications, providing language translation and interpretation services that are accurate and culturally appropriate.  We use the right voice, correct terminology to avoid liability, customize services to your needs, and deliver on time and within your budget. And with our 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can trust that it’s done right.  Contact us today if you would like more information or to get a free quote

Rapport International specializes in multilingual communications, providing language translation and interpretation services that are accurate and culturally appropriate. We use the right voice and the correct terminology to avoid liability, customize services to your needs, and deliver on time and within your budget. With our 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can trust that it’s done right. Contact us today if you would like more information or to get a free quote.

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