Pages in topic:   [1 2 3] >
Poll: Should a translator only work into his/her native language(s)?
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 13:22
Nov 20, 2010

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Should a translator only work into his/her native language(s)?".

This poll was originally submitted by Estelle Demontrond-Box. View the poll results »


Gianluca Marras  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:22
Member (2008)
English to Italian
conditional Nov 20, 2010

But after a long time abroad I think also translations in another language would have a good quality.


Melanie Wittwer  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 09:22
English to German
+ ...
I concur. Nov 20, 2010

Gianluca Marras wrote:

But after a long time abroad I think also translations in another language would have a good quality.


Fahd Hassanein  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:22
Member (2009)
English to Arabic
+ ...
Only if...... Nov 20, 2010

I said No since some translations into a language other than the mother tongue prove excellent but still the only controlling factor is how competent the translator is on the target language be it his mother tongue or not. I proofread some translations for native Arabic (my mother tongue) speakers and they prove disastrous at some instances although the language is still supposed to be their mother tongue.


Alexander Kondorsky  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 23:22
English to Russian
+ ...
No Nov 20, 2010

There are many cases where translating from native into foreign language is preferred. For example if souce text is vaguely worded, heavily polluted with slang and local realities, etc. Of course, one should not translate fiction into foreign language.


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:22
Flemish to English
+ ...
I am against this" fundamentalist belief". Nov 20, 2010

For the following reasons:

1. If you participate in open competitions at international organizations, you will have to prove your worth by passing their selection-tests i.e. the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

2. A person, who is native but has a B1-level on the Council of Europe's language level scale
( can translate into his or her native tongue, but a non-native, who has attained level C2, should refrain from translating into English?

3. In the same vein, taken from sociolinguistic theory: A native-speaker using the "restricted"-language-code is able to translate into his native tongue, but a non-native, who uses the "elaborated" code, should refrain from doing so.

4. The code a speaker uses depends upon the educational level of his mother/family and his environment.

5. Native only puts translators of small languages in a disadvantageous position. Where is the demand for translation into say Estonian?

6. Native only requires only an excellent knowledge of that language, but not of the source-language. According to some opportunists if you have an excellent passive knowledge of your source-language or a language from the same language family it is sufficient to translate. I have my doubts about this opportunism. I prefer an active written and spoken knowledge of both source and target-language.

7.If a translator translates into his/her native tongue only during his/her entire career, there is no learning curve with regard to the source-language. A person, who started translating both ways had more difficulties in the beginning with the source-language, but had to make an effort and assimilates more and more of the non-native language until reaching level C1 or C2.

8. Define native: The first language of many speakers of a language is not the Standard Language, but a regional variant or a dialect.

9. It does not suit my personal (interpreting) goals.
Outside the institutions of the E.U., there is no freelance-market for interpreting (one or two assignments a year) into Dutch.

10. At national institutions of certain multilingual countries such as Belgium and Switzerland, you have to be able to translate in both directions to pass exams for in-house positions. Of course, you could write on your exam-sheet: "I translate into my native tongue only", but I'll doubt you will get any marks for that.

11. In this globalized world, it is not too difficult to find a (specialized) native speaker of the target language. The "dream-team" is a linguist+a specialist in the subject and the target-language+ a native linguist, who together with the specialist reviews the translation.

[Edited at 2010-11-20 13:23 GMT]


Mariam Osmann
Local time: 22:22
English to Arabic
+ ...
Make sure that a native review my translation Nov 20, 2010

This is what I ask the client to do when I have to accept a translation assignment with my non-native language as target.

My English is a mix of British and American. My French is a mix of French, Canadian and some Arabic thoughts translated into French ( What they call North African French)

When I spent some time in US my English started to tend to be more US English but it's not as a US English native. It might be accepted in a scientific article for example but I would never be 100% confident that I can translate a document addressed for public in my non native language.

[Modifié le 2010-11-20 14:13 GMT]


Karen Sughyan  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:22
Member (2006)
English to Armenian
+ ...
No Nov 20, 2010

The point is not whether you translate into native or foreign language but how you master that particular language. Nativeness of a target language does not guarantee high quality of translation.


Alison Sabedoria  Identity Verified
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
Native understanding Nov 20, 2010

In most circumstances, I would agree.

However, there are some source texts where a native speaker can read between the lines and pick up nuances and layers of meaning that most non-native translators would miss. This has little to do with language skills or level of education; it's more a matter of inbuilt memory and instinct for cultural loading absorbed from the womb onwards. I think this is true of poetry in all languages, but especially in an idiomatic language like English.

However good my French, I cannot always understand things the way my French boyfriend does, because I do not have the same "hard-wired" cultural context to slot them into. I'm very grateful for his explanations, and he's much better looking than any dictionary!

Some very specialist and highly-technical texts can be handled as well if not better by a translator native in the source language who has worked in the domain, though editing and proofreading by someone native in the target language is a must.

Of course the "dream team" would be 2 translators working together, one native in the source language, the other in the target language.

[Edited at 2010-11-20 10:21 GMT]


Patricia Charnet
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:22
English to French
yes Nov 20, 2010

Actually I was thrown into doing translations from French into English by my own English clients who did not take "Non" for an answer. Incidentally, I found English clients nicer than French clients. English clients do not criticise for no reason but to avoid payments like some French clients do.

However, I limit myself in doing French into English translations in Law which is a subject I know fairly well. It does give an edge when you can translate both ways, as you know the terminology fairly well, and can build up confidence.

I only do Medical translation from English into French although I can easily do the interpreting in the booth from French into English. But I don't feel as confident yet in doing the assignment from French into English (although I've been in the UK for over 23 years)

I usually translate Medical and Legal texts, I would not venture very happily in other subjects with great confidence either into French or into English.

It does require a very good level of grammar on a par with the Native speakers. Having worked in the booth with assignments when everything was interpreted from French into English, I fared well, but I'm not a fool. There can be some English notions that I may not pick up as quickly as an English native speaker. I remain humble to that respect even though I've got a very good knowledge of British culture.

But most of the times, I can pick up some notions from French that some English native speakers do not pick up. I can also pick up some notions from English that most French speakers do not pick up. If you wish to practice it, start with a subject that you know extremely well and stick to it. Then, you'll be able to see what you can and should not do.

It requires a very good level of understanding of both languages, and an excellent grammar and elocution. And a very good knowledge of both cultures. Outside both French and British cultures, I would be very careful in venturing for any translation or interpreting assignment.

However, when you achieve that level of expertise, both cultures become part of you, and you are part of them ... for life!

I would advise to do it only in a field which you know very well.


Michaël Temmerman  Identity Verified
Costa Rica
Local time: 14:22
English to Dutch
+ ...
yes Nov 20, 2010

Your native language is your strongest language. A customer comes to me if he wants a translation into Dutch and he will go to someone else if he needs a translation into French, English, etc.

On very rare occasions, people can translate as good into one of their foreign languages as native speakers, but I'd say that's only 1% of the cases or even less. Unfortunately, people tend to largely overestimate their language skills, even professionals translators. These days, many translators don't even seem to master their mother tongue anymore, so why would they even bother translating into a language they even know less well?

In my experience, it's easier for interpreters to deliver acceptable quality into a foreign language than for translators though, as experienced interpreters can usually "talk their way out of it", while a translation has to be spot-on, or the customer/reader will probably be able to tell.


neilmac  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes, definitely Nov 20, 2010

... although translators with a high level of competence, both in language and cultural terms, can get away with translating into their L2/3... as long as a competent native speaker revises their draft. I myself often ask US colleagues for advice on texts I have to translate into US English (which isn't all that often). I remember being stunned to hear that "fortnight" isn't used in The US and wondering how they manage to go on vacation...

An inept translation can be spotted a mile away, and in my experience even good non-native ones are usually marred by at the very least a discernible awkwardness. A sort of hobby of mine is guessing the nationality of translators from their mistakes, many of which are culturally bound.

As our colleague noted earlier, the "dream team" would be 2 translators working together, one native in the source language, the other in the target language, which is the lucky situation I am currently in.

Being native might not make you a translator, but it certainly helps!


Amy Duncan (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:22
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Yes, in most cases Nov 20, 2010

There are exceptions, of course, for instance when a document is a list of terms, etc. Or if a person is genuinely bi-lingual or speaks and writes like a native (which I believe is quite unusual). In texts involving the expression of ideas, etc., it's safer to go native.


Laureana Pavon  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:22
Member (2007)
English to Spanish
+ ...

Highly technical translations vs. literary/marketing translations Nov 20, 2010

In the case of highly technical translations I think it's much more important that the translator be an expert on the subject matter. And I don't mean simply having acquired a specialization over the years.

I'm an engineer, and I have plenty of customers who have come to me for translations into English after having used the services of native translators who produced perfectly fluent English but complete gibberish from a technical point of view.

Companies that request technical translations, at least the ones I work for, want to know exactly what kind of work they're bidding for, a precise description of the works, an exact rendition of quantities (I've seen true horror stories of metric conversions)... accuracy is much more important than native-level fluency.

Of course, literary, marketing and other types of texts require a completely different treatment.

My two cents on the whole native vs. non-native translators discussion, two cents with which all of my clients agree.


José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
It's a personal decision based on ethics Nov 20, 2010

I could translate from IT and FR into my native PT, however I'd need to study them more to do it in the opposite direction. So I chose not to do it in either direction.

After I got government-certified/sworn for both ways between EN and PT, this was the additional reassurance I needed. Until then, I felt that praise from those who saw my work into my second language (to the point of some thinking it was my first) was not enough.

Nevertheless I see many people with a lesser command of EN in comparison to mine of IT/FR apparently earn a living from that.

I'm proud to mention that my only exception so far was years ago, translating a series of videos for dubbing from FR to PT in my main specialty area. Nevertheless, I had double expert editing afterwards, plus a chance to fix the outcome for metrics.

So I think it's a very personal decision, just as important as the initial one, i.e. Do I have what it takes to translate into my native language? Considering the results I see now and then, many people evaded this initial question, so it's likely that they also failed to consider whether they had the competence required to translate from their native language as well.

Pages in topic:   [1 2 3] >

To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

Moderator(s) of this forum
Jared Tabor[Call to this topic]

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Poll: Should a translator only work into his/her native language(s)?

Advanced search

WordFinder Unlimited
For clarity and excellence

WordFinder is the leading dictionary service that gives you the words you want anywhere, anytime. Access 260+ dictionaries from the world's leading dictionary publishers in virtually any device. Find the right word anywhere, anytime - online or offline.

More info »
Déjà Vu X3
Try it, Love it

Find out why Déjà Vu is today the most flexible, customizable and user-friendly tool on the market. See the brand new features in action: *Completely redesigned user interface *Live Preview *Inline spell checking *Inline

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search