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Translators are... traitors

Posted 14/6/2014

Translators do not always have an easy life, not at all. Among all other problems, such as the need to be flexible, the need to get familiar with different topics and subject matters, the challenges of technology and those coming from changing regulations for invoicing and accounting, a translator will also always be haunted by some popular misconceptions about his/her work.

Although it is hard to explain why this happens, such ideas, which are completely or at least partially wrong, never cease to chase those working in the field of translation and can even make their lives miserable at times!

Does (at least) one of the following statements about translation sound familiar to you?


a)      So you are a translator!?! Wow, I have always dreamt of working in the field of translation. Hey, tell me, into how many languages can you translate?

(In such cases, everyone should be grateful that the person never really tried to make their dream come true, or it could have turned into someone else’s nightmare. It can be shocking for many people, but translators are supposed only to translate into their native language)

b)      What? So you don’t actually translate into a foreign language but use the foreign language as a source and translate into your own language? Ah, but that is easy then, I could do that too.

(This is a very sensitive point: not every native speaker of a language is fit to translate into his/her own language. Just imagine that a small ambiguity in an “easy” product description could cost a company some big amount of money and the company could blame the damage on you)

c)       What does this word mean? You are a translator, you should know!

(A translator is not a human dictionary. He/she is a person who, considering the context and given some specific knowledge of the topic, can interpret what the most authentic meaning of a sentence or word is and transfer that exact meaning into another language and culture, making sure that as little as possible gets lost in this process. The word “translator” originally derives from “traitor”, exactly for this reason: it is very hard to transfer meanings, feelings and ideas from one language to another and among cultures without anything to be lost in this process)

d)      You are a translator, so you work at meetings and fairs?

(Well, this could even be possible in some rare occasions, but not if you are thinking that a translator is an interpreter. Translations are written material; translators do not dress up and talk at meetings)

e)      What does it mean that this topic does not belong to your area of specialization?

(It is indeed very important to specialize in some fields, while still being familiar with several topics. If you like, you can have a look at this post:


Those mentioned above are some examples of misconceptions about our work. You may have experienced more and different ones. You can share them for some fun, but always remember to make people aware of what we actually do. After all, it’s a very serious and at the same time cool job we do!