I was recently talking to a young woman who speaks English and some Spanish and who works in childcare services. She was distraught because her boss, who only speaks English, had asked her to translate a PowerPoint presentation into Spanish. She was trying, but she found it incredibly difficult and she was afraid to tell her boss that she didn’t feel qualified to do it.

This line of thinking follows the common fallacy that if you speak two languages, you are automatically a translator. Every once in a while a client will ask us for a quote, then they will decide they don’t want to spend the money. The response is usually something like thanks, but my secretary (or paralegal or partner or associate) is bilingual and he/she can do the translation.

The general assumption is that if someone speaks two languages, it automatically qualifies them to be a professional translator. Like Google Translate, the bilingual individual can give you a pretty good idea of what’s being said in the source language, but chances are that the output will be a long way from being correct or usable in a business setting … or worse, for legal purposes. In a legal or business setting, inaccurate translation or interpreting can affect the outcome of a case. In a medical setting, inaccurate translation or interpreting can affect health and even result in death.

But just like owning an electric guitar doesn’t qualify you to perform on stage, or knowing how to read and write doesn’t qualify you to author a book, simply speaking another language does not automatically make you a translator. Translation requires an ear for language, superior writing and editing skills, knowledge of usage and cultural nuances, and if that weren’t enough, it also requires strong subject matter expertise. This last point is critical because professional translators are usually skilled in one or several subject matters depending on their education and experience, and they will have a natural affinity for certain topics. A top-notch legal translator, for example, might not be the best person to translate a literary novel or to transcreate marketing materials. An experienced medical translator will not be the best choice for a real estate contract or an arbitration award.

The best way to ensure the most accurate, faithful translation is to match the translator to the project based on skill and experience, which is what we do at TransForma. The ideal linguist for any project is the one that has the educational background and/or experiences in the particular subject matter that the client requires. The best translators have a combination of both.

As for the young woman, I was able to explain these concepts to her boss and we ended up doing the translation, which was a relief for both of them. But translating your marketing materials, your presentations, your contracts, tax returns or any other documents from or into any language need not be a source of stress. Contact us for a free quote at request@transformaonline.com or call us at 305/722-3827.