IS EVERY BILINGUAL A TRANSLATOR?

In order to answer that question, let’s first review what some online dictionaries define:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com:

Fluency in or use of two languages

www.thefreedictionary.com:

Using or able to use two languages, especially with equal or nearly equal fluency.

www.dictionary.com:

The ability to speak two languages fluently

 

There are so many languages spoken around the world. Every person knows at least one language which he or she learns since childhood and which its continued use leads to proficiency. The term bilingualism derives from ‘bi’ and  ‘lingua’, which means two languages.  Complete mastery of two languages is designated as bilingualism.

 

Going back to the question “Is every bilingual a translator”? The answer is NO. Bilingualism is necessary, but not sufficient for translation proficiency and efficiency. Being a translator is much more than a being bilingual person.

 

An effective translator translates concepts, ideas, thoughts that require specific skills and it is much harder than just translating words. Many people have the wrong idea thinking that this is an easy task. It is also frequently supposed that every bilingual individual is able is ready to translate any kind of document in an acceptable or satisfactory way since they possess a special competence for translating. However, there is a considerable difference between bilinguals and translators and the different skills that each of them possesses.

 

When we refer to bilingualism and bilinguals we must always keep in mind the following characteristics. The age at which the two languages were acquired, whether it was at home or at school, which of the languages was acquired first, the social status of each language and, very important, the level of knowledge accomplished in each of the skills: oral and written reception, oral and written production. Marisa Presas suggests that bilingualism is a preliminary stage to the development of translation competence: “the translator must achieve sufficient mastery of his or her working languages.”1

 

Translators are required to be exceptional readers in a source language and exceptional writers in a target language. That is, translators possess skills which are the product of expert training in linguistics or translation studies. These are academic interdisciplines dealing with the systematic study of the theory, description and application of translation, interpreting, and localization. As an interdiscipline, translation studies include comparative literature, computer science, history, linguistics, philology, philosophy, semiotics, and terminology. 2

 

Translation is a field of various methods/ procedures using different techniques:

  • Transliteration
  • Borrowing
  • Calque
  • Transposition
  • Modulation
  • Reduction and expansion
  • Adaptation
  • Additions, notes, and glosses

 

All with the aim to provide an outstanding result which exceeds the client’s expectations. Therefore, producing accurate translations.

 

Just because somebody speaks two languages, he/she is not a professional translator. He or she is bilingual. Even when they are native speakers, they do not necessarily have the written skills in order to translate from one language to another.  Sometimes people say, “I’ll help you translate,” and then once they start, they realize how difficult it is and that they actually do not have the skills to translate. If translations are assigned to inexperienced bilinguals, they will not be able to convey the precise meaning and nuances of the original texts and documents and there will be misunderstood parts in their translations.

 

 

References

 1 Presas, M., (2000) Bilingual Competence and Translation Competence, page 21 in Developing Translation Competence edited by Schäffner, Ch. & Adab, B, Amsterdam, and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation_studies

Claudia Ramirez
Claudia Ramirez
Born in El Salvador, Claudia Ramírez is a Lawyer, proofreader, and translator with over twelve years of experience including translation of literary texts. Member of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI), European Association of Translation Studies (EST), and Asociación Latinoamericana de Estudios de Traducción e Interpretación (ALAETI). Claudia translates from and into Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese (Brazilian) and French.

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