Monday, 16 February 2015

Being Bilingual and Being a Translator

Communication is the most important skill in any area of work, so whether you are a polyglot or a bilingual, you are half way to honing your skills. However, you walk a thin line here, knowing a language and perfecting grammar and diction are two different things. Just because you are bilingual does not automatically mean you are a great translator. Let us address each one by one, first by clearly defining the bilingual and the translator and then assessing how they are different.

Being Bilingual and Being a Translator
Being Bilingual and Being a Translator

Who is a bilingual?

A bilingual person can communicate in two languages but not necessarily to a degree of professional competency. Do note that language has four expressions: speaking, reading, writing or listening; of these four modalities a bilingual may have one or more skills. Hence the extent of competency may not be as much as that of a professional translator.

Did you ever translate a song or a piece of literature from one language to another? How good was your translation, if you are a native speaker it would have been easy, if not you would have had an uphill task. Sometimes communication has been known to get lost in translation and we mean literally. A small goof and the whole sentence can mean something different. Every language has its quirks, typical of the country of origin. Hence culture, colloquial trajectory, the interplay of words, vernacular jargon, euphemisms and many other factors comes into play when speaking a language. A native speaker or a language expert may be able to translate best what a bilingual cannot.

Who is a Translator?

A translator is a professional with a thorough grasp of the source language that they must translate in. A translator must possess certain key skills, chief among them the ability to understand the language in its totality. A translator must have thoroughly grasped the fundamentals in the four modalities: speaking, reading, writing or listening. Of course, when a professional translates the other factors to be taken into account would be the culture of its origin, and translating from a plethora of dictionaries and reference materials to consistently provide perfected material in a language that is accurate and precise in its translation. Therefore the most critical quality required of a professional translator would be the ability to read and write in the source language.

The skills could be clearly defined as:

  • Meticulous knowledge of the source language to be translated
  • Familiarity with its culture
  • Extensive vocabulary
  • Clear and concise expression in translation in the four modalities

The subtle difference between bilinguals and translators! 

The difference between being a bilingual and a translator can be vastly depending on the person concerned. But in most cases it is as simple as the difference between a professional and an amateur. A translator has the knowledge and expertise alongside the experience to deliver communication that is clear and concise in written or spoken form. A bilingual may or may not be able to translate like an expert for a very simple reason; the grasp of the language may not always be up to the mark and there may be a lack of ability to write in the source language. That is the very distinct difference between understanding a language and perfecting it. Factors to be considered would be analyzing the language, spelling, grammar, diction; every language has its rules. The key is to understand and implement them without the source language ever losing its essence.

A bilingual can translate a message to a different language, but may not be able to faithfully do so with justice, whereas a translator would interpret the source language as is and translate the message without ever losing the truth of the words they are translating. Thus we can distinguish between a translator who is a professional and a bilingual. 

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