Being bilingual does not mean you are a good translator
A lot of people do not appear to understand that there is more to being a professional translator than being bilingual. The Oxford English Dictionary defines translation as “the process of translating words or text from one language into another”. But how many people actually know what translation involves? When I tell people I am a translator many ask “can’t you just use a dictionary or the Internet to do that?” Or say “so you must speak a bit of Spanish then”. This shows a lack of understanding of the level of linguistic skills required. It also suggests that a lot of people think that translation is simply the transfer of words from one language to another without thinking about the possible cultural implications. Cultural knowledge is every bit as important as linguistic skill when it comes to translation because different cultures view the world in different ways. To take a very basic example the Spanish term’mañana’ is often translated in dictionaries by ‘morning’ and ‘tomorrow’. However, if a Spaniard is asked when something will be done and they reply “mañana”, this is taken to be the ultimate sign of procrastination and cannot easily be translated by a concise term in English. This simple example is a basic illustration of the cultural dilemmas translators often face. It reveals the importance of their having an in-depth understanding of the cultures behind both their foreign language and their mother tongue.