Popular Misconceptions about Translators & Interpreters

1. If you are bilingual or polyglot, it automatically qualifies you as a ‘translator & interpreter’.

Note how the term ‘translator & interpreter’ is used here with inverted commas. Being bilingual or polyglot unquestionably helps to a certain extent but not in the way most people believe; it simply provides training translators and interpreters with additional working languages, which in the glocalised world today means a competitive edge. Unfortunately, that is about as far as it goes. Being a translator and interpreter requires an in-depth understanding of – both the source and target – language functions and features, cultures and linguistic conventions among other things, which demands extensive and on-going learning and training.


2. ‘I have studied or spent a long time overseas, so I can also be a ‘translator & interpreter’.

Similar to point 1, simply being bilingual or polyglot does not equate to being a translator and interpreter, and having spent time overseas does not necessarily mean being aware of and perceptive to cultural differences and similarities, which is an essential quality and skill required of translators and interpreters. Both linguistic conventions and cultural awareness must be consciously acquired and accumulated over time.


3. Translating and interpreting are easy. All you have to do is substitute the source language with its target counterpart.

If only it is so simple, then major translating software such as Google Translate would have already taken over our jobs! It is critical to understand that language does not exist in a vacuum. In other words, it is affected and shaped by factors such as culture and customs and, most importantly, context. Depending on the context, an utterance may have very different meanings. For example, hey* could be used to greet, to attract someone’s attention, to express objection, to seek agreement and more. Its intended meaning is determined by the context, which is a mighty obstacle for translating software to overcome.


To greet – Hey! How’re you doing?

To attract someone’s attention – Hey! Over here!

To express objection – Hey! I got here first!

To seek agreement – That’s rather silly, hey?


4. Clients know better.

More often than not, clients like to critique the translations and/or refuse to listen to the professional advice of a translator thinking they know better. It is true they might be well versed in the industry jargon and have many years’ field experience under their belt. However, as a translator & interpreter, we acquire and accumulate a wide range of knowledge throughout our working years, and many of us also specialise in specific industries. Given that and our professional training and experience, we are in a good and sound position to determine the most appropriate way to render the texts. Having said that, constructive criticism and input from clients are certainly helpful and welcomed, as they help us to grow as well! Open communication with the translator & interpreter prior to each assignment is essential in ensuring its success.

The 'Golden Triangle'

The ‘Golden Triangle’


5. Fast, Cheap and Good!

In the ideal world of a translator & interpreter, work can be done quickly and cheaply with great quality. Unfortunately, reality often is far from ideal. Take a look at the Euler-diagram representation of the ‘golden triangle’ of translation and interpreting to the right. The three key factors: speed, quality and cost are interrelated and only two of them may be optimised at any given time – always at the expense of the third!

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