The Cost of Conflating Bilingualism with Native Translation

  • Greater than 2 minutes, my friend!


    You’ve got mail.

    Awesome, another job offer!

    Oh, what’s that, another shoddy translation to edit?

    This happened again today.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very glad to help my clients out with correcting any translations they bought elsewhere.

    Particularly as I know the client will finally be satisfied and have a text that will provide the value they need.

    What does bother me, however, is the fact that there are woefully unqualified translators out there. Scores of them in fact.

    So I can hardly blame the client.

    The 7-page translation I received today didn’t contain a single sentence that I could spare from my corrections.

    Spelling mistakes, awkward grammar and mistranslations littered the whole text.

    I knew straight away that no native English-speaker had translated text.

    I sure had my work cut out.


    But what also grinds my gears is that there are people out there that market themselves as translators and produce such tripe. It’s so frustrating to see.

    I’m not talking about my experienced and qualified colleagues, but the krill in the chain of ‘industry’ bottom feeding.

    It’s no wonder that the translation profession is perched precariously on a precipice right now.

    More than ever, it’s so important for us professionals to distinguish ourselves from the amateurs and hobbyists. I refer particularly, of course, to those of us who derive a portion of our income from agency work.


    I’m quite confident that the author of this text – I daren’t say translator – is able to impress their friends with their English skills.

    They may even consider themselves as bilingual.

    But that does not qualify them as translators any more than jogging to the shops qualifies me as a professional athlete, or drinking tea makes me the mad hatter of Alice’s Wonderland.


    How, then, do we save the good name of translation?

    Indeed, freelancing seems to be such a dirty word.

    Perhaps, as others have suggested, it is time we referred to ourselves as ‘translation professionals’ rather than ‘freelance translators’.

    I’m not so sure, but I believe one major thing we can all do is market ourselves authentically.

    By also writing articles in our target languages, reaching out to clients and developing a dependable reputation for our personal brands – our names – we may make it easier for clients to find the people who are best equipped to help them. Us.

    Marketing allows us to keep afloat and rise above the tide of unskilled labour.

    Depending on our fields of specialisation, clients may perceive our authenticity online, our accountability, and see the added value we bring.

    It is our responsibility to educate our clients that bilingualism is not enough and is ultimately harmful to their bottom line.

    Translation is an art.

    Dare I say it:

    [clickToTweet tweet=”Let’s make translation great again! #xl8 #translation” quote=”Let’s make translation great again! #xl8 #translation”] 

    I would therefore like to ask what you think we can do to address this problem.

    Is it even an issue in your industry?

    Is having an accountable, reputable image online enough, or am I missing something?

    Lewis Dale

    About Lewis Dale

    Freelance German to English translator specialising in blockchain, finance, gaming, online content and business localisation.

    11 thoughts on “The Cost of Conflating Bilingualism with Native Translation

    1. Lewis, spot on! I think this is more of a problem for English, as we all write some kind of English. Some of my friends call mine Flenglish, and I know they are right when I hear my own voice recording. My written English can’t be any better. I cannot ask a native speaker to correct all the texts I write, but I’m sending my blogs and the texts I know will be translated to an English reviewer. Out of respect for the reader and the translator.

      I think we should insist on getting good source data. No matter if that source data is source text or translated text 😉

      We are often too kind for our customers.

      1. Thanks, Gert! I don’t insist on having good source data (for editing) as much as I’d like to, but I do charge more for fixing shoddy texts. 😉

    2. Translation is an art.
      Lewis, you made my day 🙂
      It is our responsibility to educate our clients that bilingualism is not enough and is ultimately harmful to their bottom line. Terribly true!!!

      1. Thank you, Silvia! Glad you like it! Thanks also for spreading the word – it’s so important we inform our clients about this issue.

    3. Hey Levis, great post.
      I always have that rule to only translate to my native language. Unfortunately I see many translators (on the web) bidding and offering themselves for translation into a language which is not their native language. They might wright without mistakes. They even might translate correctly. But that is it. It’s a long, boring and unnatural text which you want to stop reading the second you started. And I think this case is even rare, because as you mentioned, you spot from the first sentence errors that make realize it has been translated by a non-native or by an “amateur”.
      Your proposition about “translator professionals” seems a good start. We should more market ourselves as real cross-culture specialists and linguists as well as marketing professionals (kind of). Each of us has its own value that can be brought to the client, we just need to spot it and underline it more than we are actually doing!

      1. Hi Kevin, I completely agree. Thanks for commenting! A technically correct translation is not the same thing as a localised translation that is a pleasure for the target language speakers to read.

    4. Great Post! I feel the frustration. I have not had experience with posers but have sensed that that would be a reason I am having trouble finding direct clients. Luckily, I have not quit my day job. At some point there has got to be a way to weed the bottom feeders out of the industry. I know it is a mistake to ask for any type of regulation, but would you feel comfortable going to the hospital if you knew that anyone could put on a white coat, step in the office, and call themselves a doctor. I guess we need to plead to clients who understand quality to educate themselves and demand proper standards.

      1. Thanks, Nancy. I’m not sure if I’d be in favour of regulation (I instinctively dislike bureaucracy) but that would be one possible solution. The other, more readily available solution is we just develop our own reputations positively – which is what we should be trying to do anyway.

        1. Exactly Lewis. I agree. Regulation always brings problems. But this is really bad. I mean really. I have been at this for over 3 months and, honestly, the only legitimate job I have received was from a relative who is an attorney. A multitude of scammers have invaded me from Up Work and there are no answers to my bids. How do you find private clients? How do you get a chance to develop a reputation, when no one will even give you a chance? With that said. I am seeking certification for National and State interpretation. I am hoping that will either lead to some actual jobs in the court systems or, at least, make me more noticeable to desirable clients. If you have any tips on how to find direct clients for Spanish-English legal clients, I would be indebted. Thanks.

    5. Hello Lewis,
      Very interesting post! I’ve also encountered this problem as an Italian – and I think it’s because our job isn’t regulated enough. Although there are a few specialized universities and masters, in Italy there’s no trade union for translators, nothing that states clearly “to be a translator you have to….” and therefore many people think they can do this job because they know the language or they are bilingual. I would like to underline, as we all know, that knowing a foreign language IS NOT translating! Depending on the field of specialization, a translator must have studied and developed particular skills that does not only concern the language knowledge. One thing we can do, as Silvia has already commented, is to educate the clients and make them see that from a cheap offer you can only get cheap quality. And let’s keep on being professional, updated and competent in what we do, that’s ultimately out biggest weapon 🙂

      1. Hi Giulia, thanks for your comment! Again, I’m not in favour of regulation – and I believe we all have the ability to rise above the competition by simply nurturing our profiles as well as educating our clients. After all, many of them are also fed up with poor quality translation. I’m sure our message would resonate with their past experiences. 🙂

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