This subject has been discussed in many different forums, but deserves repeating, especially these days when machine translation is a very popular subject.
Machine translations can work for some projects, but most translations require a real linguist in order to get the sentence structure, subject matter, cultural aspects, and above all, grammar correct. Many linguists also refuse to proofread or edit a machine translation, simply because it is easier to just retranslate the whole thing.
But perhaps you have a bilingual working in your company and you think that you could use this person to translate your documents? Is bilingual enough? No, in most cases not.
In order to get your message across to your target audience you need to hire a professional translator. Here are the reasons why:
Being bilingual is not enough
Someone may speak two languages well enough to communicate with native speakers, but the skills demanded of translators go beyond effective communication.
It’s not only words
Translators must bridge linguistic and cultural gaps between two groups that cannot speak the same language. This means translating concepts, instead of providing a literal word-for-word version. If it is required to translate documents or to carry on negotiations with a foreign partner, then an incorrect translation (accidentally or due to lack of knowledge) can threaten the business venture with failure.
Language is a living being
Professional linguists must continuously study their working languages, because the body of spoken and written words used by native speakers is constantly evolving.
Computers can read it, but they just don’t get it
Regardless of advances in technology, computers cannot replace translators. Obviously, computers are capable of compiling extremely large databases and providing a translation for a given word or expression within a split second and that is a lot faster than a human brain. However, computers cannot read between the lines and interpret the shades of meaning.
It takes a lot of research
A single word may mean different things according to the context. Love may be many wonderful things in a romantic way, but it represents a score of zero in a tennis match. Knowledge comes with experience and being familiar with the given field is of utmost importance. Translators with a strong background in one or more areas, as either professionals or enthusiasts, can provide a better version for an original material dedicated to that specific segment.
Speaking to a real audience
Translators are not only committed to providing their clients with the best services they can provide. They must also have the target audience in mind, for readers will be the end users of their product.
Many of these points have been well described by Word Awareness (www.wordawareness.com). Do you have any other reasons that are not on this list? Please share! Next time I will discuss what constitutes a professional translator more in detail.