United Language Services

6 Myths About Translating Debunked

How much do you know about the translation profession? Here are 6 myths that you though were true

It’s frustrating for translators to realize their translating profession is being misunderstood and under-recognized few times too often, but unfortunately, this is the reality most of the time. The time we live in allows us to be connected to the rest of the world more than ever. A simple click of a button gives you access to videos and articles from the other side of the planet. And with the next two clicks of another button you copy and paste the foreign text into an automated translation engine (e.g. Google Translate) which gives you the core meaning of those words.

But so much more goes into Translating than one realizes. Hence, the world of languages and translation can be a hectic place. After all, how can you be sure of the quality of translation if you don’t speak the language into which you are getting a text translated? This is why there have been some misconceptions arising about the accuracy of language translation that do more harm than good for everyone.

Automated Translating Machines Can Replace Human Translators


In addition to what I mentioned in the intro – translating machines providing you with the basic understanding of a text you are reading – let me debunk further. In a study done by BMJ, Google translate and similar engines failed the test of accurate translations. Namely, the researchers translated ten medical phrases into 26 European, Asian and African languages, after which the statements were translated back into English by native speakers of those 26 languages to compare the accuracy. I will just leave you with few examples of the results and you can be the judge.

  • “Your child will be born prematurely” wrongly translated into “Your child is sleeping early”
  • “Did he have high fever at home?“ wrongly translated into “Your home temperature was high”
  • “Your child’s condition is life-threatening” wrongly translated into “Your child’s state is not life stopping”
  • “Your husband had a heart attack” wrongly translated into “Your husband’s heart was attacked”
  • “Your husband had a cardiac arrest” wrongly translated into “Your husband’s heart was imprisoned”

Convincing enough?

This doesn’t mean you should stop using translating machines for good, but simply that you shoul rely on those for simpler sentences and word-to-word translations only.

Translators don’t use technology as help

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As opposed to the first myth, translators do use technology, but just not in the way the rest of the world does. People outside the world of translations think of “translation technology” as computer-generated translation, such as Google Translate, while in reality, it represents something completely different. You can refer to it as “translation memory,” a database of previous translations. This serves to speed up the translation process and saves money to the buyer when they do not have to pay to translate the same sentence or phrase over and over again.

The Need For Translation Will Decrease

Another common misconception is that as technology is progressing, just like many other professions, translating will disappear. It is thought that engines will decrease the need for translators when in reality it’s the opposite. With globalization advancing so fast, the demand is now higher than ever.

Anyone Speaking Two Languages Can Do Translations

No way.

Although it is possible for everyday translations and general understanding of the meaning, the translators possess certain skills that make them unique. A diploma isn’t enough to qualify a person either. Translators need to have an expert knowledge of both their mother tongue and the foreign language. They need to have the ability to put phrases and sentences together in an order that flows naturally in another language.

Good Translators Are Fast

Translation is not a quick process of just replacing words from one language into the other. It is a process of comprehending the whole idea of the text and rewriting it in another language while preserving the same context. Translators usually translate 2500 to 3300 words per day.

Translation Should Be Cheaper Because It’s Easy

Just like any other profession, translation requires skills and expertise and it isn’t simple and easy at all. Translators need to understand what they are translating, meaning they need to have knowledge of the field the translated document is in. I mean, would you ask a mechanic to explain a legal document to you? Therefore, when you hire a translator, you are paying for the development of the expertise as well.

The takeaway is that only a human can understand the complex phrasing, idioms and all subtleties within one language. While computers seem great at translating simple sentences and individual words, they will never have the ability to fully understand context. And this is when translators come to the rescue.

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