April 2016

The Cost of Conflating Bilingualism with Native Translation


You’ve got mail.

Awesome, another job offer!

Oh, what’s that, another shoddy translation to edit?


This happened again today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very glad to help my clients out with correcting any translations they bought elsewhere.

Particularly as I know the client will finally be satisfied and have a text that will provide the value they need.

What does bother me, however, is the fact that there are woefully unqualified translators out there. Scores of them in fact.

So I can hardly blame the client.

The 7-page translation I received today didn’t contain a single sentence that I could spare from my corrections.

Spelling mistakes, awkward grammar and mistranslations littered the whole text.

I knew straight away that no native English-speaker had translated text.

I sure had my work cut out.


But what also grinds my gears is that there are people out there that market themselves as translators and produce such tripe. It’s so frustrating to see.

I’m not talking about my experienced and qualified colleagues, but the krill in the chain of ‘industry’ bottom feeding.

It’s no wonder that the translation profession is perched precariously on a precipice right now.

More than ever, it’s so important for us professionals to distinguish ourselves from the amateurs and hobbyists. I refer particularly, of course, to those of us who derive a portion of our income from agency work.


I’m quite confident that the author of this text – I daren’t say translator – is able to impress their friends with their English skills.

They may even consider themselves as bilingual.

But that does not qualify them as translators any more than jogging to the shops qualifies me as a professional athlete, or drinking tea makes me the mad hatter of Alice’s Wonderland.


How, then, do we save the good name of translation?

Indeed, freelancing seems to be such a dirty word.

Perhaps, as others have suggested, it is time we referred to ourselves as ‘translation professionals’ rather than ‘freelance translators’.

I’m not so sure, but I believe one major thing we can all do is market ourselves authentically.

By also writing articles in our target languages, reaching out to clients and developing a dependable reputation for our personal brands – our names – we may make it easier for clients to find the people who are best equipped to help them. Us.

Marketing allows us to keep afloat and rise above the tide of unskilled labour.

Depending on our fields of specialisation, clients may perceive our authenticity online, our accountability, and see the added value we bring.

It is our responsibility to educate our clients that bilingualism is not enough and is ultimately harmful to their bottom line.

Translation is an art.

Dare I say it:

[Tweet “Let’s make translation great again! #xl8 #translation”]


I would therefore like to ask what you think we can do to address this problem.

Is it even an issue in your industry?

Is having an accountable, reputable image online enough, or am I missing something?