5 Reasons Why Bilingual Staff Shouldn’t Do Translations

For most companies, bilingual executives are great assets as they are able to conduct business in more than one language. However, there is one task you should never ask your bilingual staff to perform and it is to do your translations for business purposes such as translating your company information, business contracts, marketing pieces, sales letters, newsletters, website or even advertisements.

Here are 5 reasons why your top bilingual executives shouldn’t be doing translations:

1 – They have better things to do than performing translation tasks. 

Your employees are certainly highly qualified professionals otherwise they wouldn’t be part of your team. However if they are bilingual, too often they
are asked to perform translation tasks for their own department and even worse to other departments.

Without a doubt, the fact that they are bilingual is one of their assets and you should make the most of it but their expertise lies in another field, be it sales, marketing, accounting, project management, advertising, HR, researching or any other functions assigned.

Let me ask you a question: “Would you ask your Finance Director to do your HR recruitment just because they are good with people?” Well, this is the same with bilingual staff unless they are actually experienced, trained or qualified as translators; let them shine in their area of expertise while using their language skills to your advantage in other circumstances, such as making negotiations, presentations, leading overseas projects and so forth.

2 – They are not professional translators

It may sound obvious but I am going to repeat it: They are not professional translators. There is a reason why it takes a minimum of 3 years of studies and a couple of years of experience to be qualified to translate accurately. It takes even more time to become an expert in a specific field, such medical, IT or legal translations.

Professional translators also use specific tools and a translation memory (similar to a glossary or dictionary but with your own input) to guarantee uniformity in the use of your company’s jargon and to ensure that all your material shows a consistent style of writing. Translators are up-to-date with the latest language changes, such as new additions to official dictionaries or grammatical changes published by language authorities.

Often professional translators are also able to format your documents after translation (also called DTP – or desktop publishing) so that they are ready for final use whether it is for printing, for your PowerPoint presentation or for having it uploaded to your website.

3 – It’s not because you are fluent in a foreign language that you can accurately translate into that language.

You may be fluent or even reach a near-native level in a language that is not your mother tongue but it doesn’t mean that you will know how to accurately translate words and expressions in that language, even if you perfectly understand their meanings and usage. Your employee may have become fluent in a couple of languages but in an informal way and without constantly referring to their own language.

For instance, they may have learnt the meaning in that language, by looking at definitions and meanings of words rather than their translations. And this doesn’t make them capable of translating these languages into their mother tongue to the level of a professional translator that has been trained and is continually dissecting and reviewing the meaning and the various translations possible of any word.

4 – Native speakers are able to convey subtleties of a language.

Translating is also conveying subtleties of words and thoughts, adapting the text to perfectly match the source document and most importantly to adapt it to its cultural and technical environment. Professional translators always translate into their native language and in a way are the guardians of their language; they spend their time studying, researching and keeping up with its evolution.

As you know, there are many variations in the English language depending whether you are from the US, the UK or any other English-speaking country, and the same goes for Spanish (US, Spain and Latin American countries), French (France, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, etc.), Portuguese (Brazil, Portugal). Professional translators are able to partner with other linguists around the world such as reviewers to ensure that the translations get the right feel and sound for the desired country or region.

5 – Your bilingual staff for economy of time will certainly be tempted to use free online translation tools. 

Let me ask you another question: “Would you use a free online recruitment tool instead of your dedicated HR team to select and employ new staff without interviewing them?”

Machine translation and free translation tools have their purposes but they have to be used wisely otherwise you are bound to create some translation blunders. Such as this one:

Russian prisoners at Lincoln Prison in England received a pamphlet informing them about prison facilities, including an “execution yard.” They were almost certainly relieved to learn that “execution yard” was actually an English-to-Russian mistranslation of “exercise yard.”

A human translator would have picked it up straight away!

You wouldn’t want your company to be mentioned in the news for mistranslation, would you? Mistranslations could result in a loss of a contract with an overseas supplier or even worse, the loss of a client!

These 5 points are highlighting some of the reasons why you shouldn’t ask your bilingual staff to translate your communication pieces or any other official documents. But most importantly, it is looking at the risks you are incurring for asking your bilingual staff to perform a task they are not necessarily qualified for instead of using professional translators. You can appreciate that in the end this is counterproductive and is putting at risk your company’s reputation and growth for the sake of pseudo cost-savings. So make sure to always hire professional translators to cater for your language needs and make the most of your bilingual staff in your company’s operations.


Article written by Sabine Panneau – Business Development Manager for Ocean Translations, https://oceantranslations.com/


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