The Native Guy

From time to time, a quote of ours is declined because the customer decides to handle the translation “in-house”.

Aside from the fact that a translator is a professional in his or her own right who could only really be replaced by another translator, this choice primarily reveals poor management of human resources within the company.

As a result, translations are allocated to a foreign employee who is assumed – by his or her exotic nature – to be gifted with excellent writing skills and flawless spelling in his or her native language.

Yet, we all know that the mere fact of being born in a particular country and having studied at university level does not necessarily mean a person knows how to write well. French, German, Spanish, but also English and Italian, are languages often persecuted by company executives. So why trust someone without a literary background to do a translation? That’s right, I do mean literary background. You can be fairly sure that a person will write well in his or her native language if he or she has studied literature (the question remains whether that person will be able to understand and convey the source language message without cumbersome phrasing). But I will swear my life on the fact that if the person has, for example, a language degree, he or she will be incapable of correctly translating even a short press release.

Even this very post – written by my fair hand in French – has been proofread by my colleague Laura, a French translator. Nor have I attempted to translate it into English myself (merci Jazz!), even though I am a translator… and bilingual to boot.

Let’s say though that there is “a native guy” in your company who is perfectly bilingual and can give Balzac, Shakespeare or Goethe a run for their money, translation is highly unlikely to be included in his job description. You are therefore forcing a person who is supposed to be focusing on other objectives to devote time and energy to a task for which he will not be evaluated and which prevents him from doing his real job. It takes a lot of time to do a good translation, and even more so when it’s not your line of work. That poor marketing director, webmaster, engineer, salesperson or secretary is bound to rush this complicated task in order to be shot of it as quickly as possible. The translation won’t be checked by anyone anyway (because if there were someone capable of evaluating translation quality within the company, the job would be entrusted to a translator, not the first available native speaker). The end result will be sloppy, not only because you need years of study and experience to produce a good translation, but as it’s presumed that any old person knows how to translate, the translation will be considered and treated like a minor task.

So here is how communication, at the very heart of the company’s concerns and budget, finds itself taking last place in the development plan as soon as the target audience happens to be across the border.

Still think you’re right to handle translation in-house?