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Poll: Does being bilingual make you a translator/interpreter?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 13:01
SITE STAFF
May 22, 2009

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Does being bilingual make you a translator/interpreter?".

This poll was originally submitted by Roberto Casi

View the poll here

A forum topic will appear each time a new poll is run. For more information, see: http://proz.com/topic/33629


 

Jocelyne S  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:01
Member
French to English
+ ...
Does owning a paintbrush make you a painter? May 22, 2009

It will be quite frightening for our profession if anyone actually votes 'yes' to this question!

Being bilingual is of course necessary to being a translator or interpreter, but it is in no way sufficient or an end in and of itself. I really hope that all professionals share this point of view!

Best,
Jocelyne


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:01
Spanish to English
+ ...
Define "bilingual" May 22, 2009

This poll touches a nerve for me.
Very, very few people can truthfully claim to be fully bilingual, despite the plethora of people on proz and elsewhere who purport to have 2 "native" languages, especially those working in the Spanish-English pair, and particularly from Argentina, which has a long and respectable multilingual history. In my experience, Argentineans in Spain for example, tend on the whole to be more proficient in English than Spaniards. This is due to several reasons, not the least of which is the US influence on/in their country's media.
Linguistically speaking, the general norm is to have one mother tongue (MT1 or L1) followed by other, 2nd, 3rd, 4th languages etc...
The debate is too complex to go into here in great depth, but on a personal level I find it infuriating (I am not alone) that so many "translators" claim to have Spanish and English as their "native language", which to me is nothing more than hedging their bets to increase their chances of getting work in both directions (i. e. by having 2 working target languages).
To cut short my rant, my answer to this poll is a resounding "NO"!!
Even native speakers may be unable to write a coherent sentence or understand a relatively complex text in their own L1, and being a native speaker of any language does not necessarily mean that the person in question will be a good translator.
All of this without considering the differences between Castilian and other Spanish variants, Or US vs UK vs Australian English, for example...
There is more to translation than language proficiency.


 

Carla Catolino
Italy
Local time: 22:01
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
I am bilingual but I really am not bilingual!!! May 22, 2009

neilmac wrote:
This poll touches a nerve for me.
Even native speakers may be unable to write a coherent sentence or understand a relatively complex text in their own L1, and being a native speaker of any language does not necessarily mean that the person in question will be a good translator.


I agree with you!
I want to add this to the conversation:
I am what is considered to be bilingual. I come from Canada, I studied and got a degree from a Canadian University. My mom and dad are Italian and spoke to us in Italian. So, I was brought up with two languages.
I fully understand Italian and can speak it quite well...a lot of people are surprised when I start speaking Italian...because if it wasn't for my accent they would think that I was born in Italy.
I cannot for the life of me correctly write a sentence in Italian....I just don't feel comfortable with it.

I do not translate from English to Italian, but from Italian to English.


 

Mariam Osmann
Egypt
Local time: 22:01
English to Arabic
+ ...
Yes but not a professional one May 22, 2009

So you can get by while in a market or a store, help tourists and may be you can explain the content of a letter to a colleague.

 

Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:01
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
No May 22, 2009

I know too many "bilinguals" in the loose, real-life authentic sense (i.e., who grow up and live in bilingual societies, with equally bilingual family circles) who can't finish a sentence in the same language they started it in, or express themselves without grafting the vocabulary of one language into the grammer of another.

I've even seen monolinguals interact with them, and they go crazy.


 

Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:01
English to Arabic
+ ...
I voted "Yes" just for the sake of being controversial May 22, 2009

icon_smile.gif

Well, not just for the sake of being controversial, but because the question - as it stands - needs a lot of footnotes with term definitions to be perfectly clear.

If the question is:
Does being bilingual (*1) make (*2) you a translator/ interpreter (*3)?
where:

(*1) bilingual: someone who is perfectly native in two languages, is well educated in both of them and is able to communicate in writing in both of them equally well;

(*2) make: qualify you to be, put you a good step ahead of others, is an excellent prerequisite for...

(*3) translator/ interpreter: someone who can render a written work/ spoken word into another language.

then I suppose my answer would be closer to a yes than a no. Yes, being in such a position puts you in a much better position to be a good translator than others.


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:01
Italian to English
I'm bipedal... May 22, 2009

... but that doesn't mean I can play footballicon_frown.gif

Translation is like football, though, in that the more you practice, the better you geticon_wink.gif

Giles


 

Gianluca Marras  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:01
Member (2008)
English to Italian
just a help May 22, 2009

It can help, but id your writing style is not good, then any job involving writing should be avoided, even though you are bilingual.

So, other skills are required, and if you have them, then being bilingual is a great help.


 

polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
does being bilingual MAKE YOU a translator/interpreter ? May 22, 2009

If you read the question properly, then the answer can only be NO. A resounding "no"- whence the capitalisation.
If you also have other qualities and the desire to work in the profession, then it may help or make things easier but there is no automatic link between bilingualism and being a translator/interpreter.
In fact, I could quote examples of people I have encountered, who may fully deserve the label bilingual but who cannot and will not interpret. The ability to pass easily from one language to another and, especially in simultaneous, hear one language and reproduce the same thing in another at virtually the same time is something that not everybody can (or wants to) do - period !


 

Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:01
Dutch to English
+ ...
I said Yes May 22, 2009

I took the question as referring to me personally and then yes, it makes me a translator when added to all my other "fantastic" qualities. What is more, I am trilingual. Probably my best asset followed closely by my experience (25 years).
Whether it makes any other bilingual person a translator, is another question.


 

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 23:01
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
With polyglot May 22, 2009

Marijke Singer wrote:
I took the question as referring to me personally and then yes, it makes me a translator when added to all my other "fantastic" qualities. What is more, I am trilingual. Probably my best asset followed closely by my experience (25 years).
Whether it makes any other bilingual person a translator, is another question.


Not really. Your choice to become a translator/interpreter is what made you one. Not your skills, but your decision to apply them and pursue this profession.


 

Maksym Petrov
Ukraine
Local time: 23:01
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
Not necessarily May 22, 2009

I guess the question is not whether there can really exist true bilinguals.
The thing is if being a native speaker of two languages (or at least one foreign which is very good) is enough for making you a translator/interpreter. My answer is: no. Being a translator involves too much knoledge and skills to call just a bilinual person a translator. And being a belingual is not a must here.


 

Josée Desbiens
Canada
Local time: 16:01
English to French
In fact... May 22, 2009

I don't even consider myself to be fully and perfectly bilingual.

Of course, you have to understand your source language, but you mainly have to be a excellent detective to find the "right" word and to write down the translation in your target language by properly respect the spelling, the grammar, the syntax, the cultural meaning, the context and the target audience. And that is not necessarly given to bilingual people.


 

AWa (X)
Local time: 22:01
English to German
+ ...
No, being bilingual does not necessary mean that the two languages can be "connected" May 22, 2009

With myself I noticed there were 3 stages when I learned a new language.

1. I formed a sentence in my native language and then tried to translate it into the foreign one; or, when listening I "heard" the foreing language translated into German and then understood what had been said.

2. I was fluent in both languages, no need to translate back and forth anymore - but they were totally separate in my brain, no connection whatsoever. I was fully aware which language I was using at a time, sometimes struggeling to decide which was the correct word in a particular context. When dealing with one language I had problems, made mistakes for a while when I had to switch to the other one. Although this stage to me is "being bilingual" I would never recommend anybody in this stage to start professional translating.

3. still fluent in both languages but also able to switch between them without using wrong words/grammar for a transition period, unable to remember which language a particular conversation was held in. At this stage the foreign language is not foreign anymore, I'm just as comfortable using it as I am using my native language. I know "instinctively" which word fits in which context without thinking about it. To me this is the type of bilingual a translator should have achieved.


 
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