You have a technical document that needs translation and believe one of your bilingual employees can double as your native-speaking translator. But is being bilingual enough to ensure that sentence structure, subject matter, cultural sensitivities, and grammar are properly reflected in your translated document?

The short answer is no. Just because someone speaks two languages doesn’t mean that the person has the necessary language skills, toolset, and discipline to ensure timely, effective, and accurate translation.

In order to successfully convey your message to your target audience, it’s important to hire a professional translator who understands your source document, your product, and speaks the language of your intended market.

Here are three reasons why a bilingual employee isn’t the right person to provide your professional translations.

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Being a Native-speaking Translator Isn’t Part of the Employee’s Job Description

When you hire an employee, you generally do so for a specific reason—having him or her fulfill a certain role within your team. Assigning a bilingual employee the extra task of translating your document can have two negative effects.

First, an added assignment may distract him or her from completing normal job responsibilities in a timely and high-quality manner. Second, your translation project will very likely end up at the bottom of the person’s to-do list. As a result, deadlines are missed as the employee cannot guarantee a quick turnaround time.

Additionally, the department where this person works may experience diminished productivity, as time is split between the employee’s original job and the translation project.

Finally, because this employee isn’t a professional translator or an expert in language and does not have the appropriate tools, your translated document may include inaccuracies, grammatical or formatting issues, or other flaws that detract from your message—or worse, require retranslation.

Bilingual Employees Don’t Have the Language Proficiency of Native-speaking Translators

Language, like writing and math, contains simple and fundamental rules that may give some individuals a false impression that understanding the basics translates to mastering the discipline.

Just because someone is bilingual doesn’t mean he or she is qualified for professional translation. In most non-professional settings, someone who simply understands two languages will usually be stronger in one language over another, which can lead to serious challenges during the translation process.

Accurate, high-quality translation takes messages in one language and communicates them in a way that resonates fully with the target audience. A bilingual person may simply translate content to the best of his or her ability, providing basic, functional translation while ignoring regional nuances and cultural differences.

The result can be confusion or even offense. In the worst cases, mistranslation in technical documentation can lead to product misuse, causing serious injury or even death to the end user, damage to your brand and reputation, or unnecessary costs in litigation for your company.

A professional translator fully comprehends both the language and subject matter of your source file as well as the linguistic nuances required to properly localize it for your target audience.

Only Native-speaking Translators Understand Cultural Nuances and Context

To ensure complete accuracy, a translator must understand cultural traditions, context, and regional sensitivities. Someone who simply knows two languages may not take this into consideration, and may misinterpret how he or she is supposed to translate.

This can result in inaccurate or insensitive translation that can confuse, misdirect, or offend the targeted audience.

For example, a message directed at audiences in Iraq or Afghanistan showing the “thumbs up” of approval will, in fact, elicit the opposite effect, since this gesture is extremely offensive in these countries. A bilingual employee who speaks Farsi but is unaware of this cultural difference may not know to replace this reference with a more appropriate yet equivalent message.

Only professional, native-speaking translators can produce accurate translated content that can be easily understood and readily accepted by your target audience. These translators are subject matter experts as well as language experts—and they can effectively convey your intended message with appropriate style and terminology in the desired target language.


The Manufacturers Guide to Technical Translation

Learn all you need to know about technical document translation, key questions to ask, and critical pitfalls to avoid.