Just like no two people are alike, neither are any two languages. One does not directly correlate with the other. Just because a person might be bilingual doesn’t mean they can translate the two fluently. There are several myths about translators. That it’s easy, anyone who speaks a foreign language is automatically a translator, or computer-basedtools can replace human translators.

With translation, nothing is clear-cut and people carry a variety of notions about what the profession entails – and if in fact, there is any need for one, given the leaps forward in technology and our ever increasing multi-cultural lives, where more often than not people are extending their vocabulary into bilingualism. The following are some common myths about translators and what they do.

• Speaking a language is the same as writing it

Even if you are fluent in a language, or have even been raised bilingually, it doesn’t make you a translator. Just because you can carry a decent conversation in a language, doesn’t mean you can write in it. If you are converting one language into another, it should read like original text, which isn’t as straight forward as it sounds as every language has a different grammatical structure.

• It’s easy; I can just use a dictionary and phrase book

Whilst dictionaries are useful for translators, they are not enough to create a verbatim translation. Translators need to have an excellent understanding of translation, language and superior writing skills in order to produce a correct and legible translation. Since sentences and ideas can be interpreted several different ways, it’s important to have a translator who is familiar with translating entire concepts rather than just generic words. Remember, even a misplaced comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence, turning something that was once innocent into something more sinister.

• A computer translation programme is just as good as a human translator

While current computer based translation tools are useful, they can only translate language word for word. They don’t get context, order or the tone of the sentence. You can often tell when people have opted for do-it-yourself options when you read the clumsy, garbled and often hilarious sentences.

• Translating is easy

It’s not just a matter of reading the words and writing them out in another language. There are several tools at play. How easy it is depends on the subject matter at hand, the languages involved and whether the piece contains jargon. Timeframe is also important. Some words or phrases that are common in one language do not exist in another, which makes the task of translating them difficult and time consuming.

• If they know the language, one professional translator can translate any subject

Just because you fluently speak a language doesn’t mean you know every word, term or meaning. Professional translators generally have specialised areas. Just as those who have background knowledge of medical terminology would have a better grasp of translating a medical journal, others with an interest, qualification and knowledge of music would be better suited to translating an industry guide.

As with most things, translation isn’t an exact science. There are a lot of variables involved. You may have five different translators look at one sentence and they may all come up with a different version. It doesn’t mean four of them are wrong, just like with languages, they are distinct.