Translator not a dictionary

Translator, not a dictionary. As translators, we often have to tell people that we are not dictionaries and we don’t know all the words in the vocabulary of the languages we work with. For some reason, people assume translators do know every word and their correct translation as well. It would be very convenient if we did, as we wouldn’t have to research for words or ask clients about very specific terms. But, the reality is that we don’t, we are translators, not dictionaries.

Our job

So, let’s clarify things a bit. What is the job of a translator and what to expect from one?

Translators are highly qualified linguistics that “convert” a text in a certain language into another. This does not mean a simple conversion, like converting miles into meters and vice versa. This is not an exact science, so the conversion of words is much complex than that. To start, a word in a certain language usually have more than a translation, so, it is easy to see it can’t never be a “direct conversion”. Then, you have variants of languages, and that means that even if a word is correct for one country, it may be even offensive in another, even though both speak the same language. So, for the translator, and this is what dictates our skill, means knowing the languages they work with, the countries where those languages are spoken and the variants there may be. This way, the translator knows the best vocabulary to use, in a certain text. Because in the end, the translated text must have the same message and cause the same impact. But knowing the languages and their variants, does not mean knowing all the words in their vocabulary, because that would be impossible.

You should expect the translator to ask you questions. That does not mean, we don’t know how to do our job, instead, it means we want to do it properly and for that, we need all information we can get about it. That includes the country where the text is to be used, the type of audience it targets and of course, any words the translator may not be familiar with. This because, some words may be part of a company or industry jargon, and the client may be the best person to clarify their meaning. Some companies even got their glossaries they can provide. All of this helps us do our job.  And that will help clients do theirs.