Is being bilingual enough?

Is being bilingual enough to be a translator? I asked my Facebook followers to tell me what matters most in a translator, being bilingual or having a translation course. The participants answered they consider a translation course is more important and being bilingual is not enough.

Why isn’t it enough?

There is a widespread belief that translators only need to be fluent in the languages they work with. This leads to another widespread belief that our job is very easy and therefore even a son or nephew who has great grades at school can do it. The result is a massive devaluation of our profession because people perceive us as unqualified workers.

A bilingual person may be able to keep a fluent conversation in two languages, may be able to produce a text in both languages, but may not be able to be a translator. Unlike some may think, we are highly qualified professionals, our job is quite complex, we don’t simply “convert words”, we connect cultures. We must respect these cultures and when we “convert the message” we have to ensure this message is “converted” properly so that connection and adequately made. For that, just knowing two languages is not enough. That’s why we need training, and that comes in the form of a translation course.

A translation course is not a language learning course. We don’t learn languages there, in fact, language proficiency is a requirement of enrollment for the course. I remember I had to go for a written and oral English test with the British Council in Lisbon, as a prerequisite of enrollment in the course.  In the course, we learn translation techniques, we learn cultural accents and we are trained to be able to translate from a language to another. This is what makes us translators.

We are currently living in a time where a good translation is more important than ever. We are facing a global pandemic and it is important that the world population gets the best and more accurate information about it, so they can better protect themselves against it. It is therefore crucial that all medical information and otherwise is translated by a professional translator, specialised in the field. This will ensure that we get the right information, accurately delivered, so we know what to do. A son or nephew that has good grades won’t be able to do it, and it has to be a professional translator.