Only using native speakers – yay or nay?

Category: Languages

One of the big questions that’s divided the translation industry since its beginnings is this. Should a translator only ever translate into their native language or not? It’s a recognized industry standard that translators should translate into their native language, but is it really necessary?

In-house speakers or professional translators?

One issue that frequently comes for LSPs like ourselves is that some end-clients don’t actually see the need to always use a professional translator. If Agnes in accounts can speak Polish, why can’t she just translate our documents into Polish for us? Or consider Peter, for example. He lived in England for 12 years, and as a German company, it’s so much easier for us to get him to do our English texts as he knows the company.

While this may, in theory, sound like a great way of saving time and money, in reality, it’s going to cost you more in the long-run. Even if someone speaks a language, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are well-versed in grammar and style – especially if they have lived abroad for a long time. Also, inexperienced translators have a habit of translating things literally, which will make your texts look odd and put your reputation at risk.

Another aspect to note is that no matter how long someone has lived in a country, they’ll never be a true native speaker in that language. Even if they speak English perfectly, they might not be all that great at producing good texts, and they often won’t be used to all the idioms and nuances used by native speakers on a daily basis.


But surely professional translators can handle their 2nd language?

This is a good question! What good is a professional translator if they can’t translate into their second language? In fact, in order to guarantee fluency and linguistic perfection, even the most experienced translators need to translate into their native language. It’s not that they’re not proficient in their second language – it’s simply that they’re still not quite native. In addition, it also depends on which translation course they attended. Some universities only prepare translators for translating into their native language, while others train them for both. This is what happens for rarer languages when there may not be any native English speakers, for example, who speak that particular language.


When using a native speaker might not be the best idea

Believe it or not, there are even times when using a native speaker might not be the best solution. When you’re dealing with complex technical or medical texts, terminology can be far more important than style. The problem here is that for rarer languages, there’s often a lack of native speakers familiar with that industry’s specific terminology. This is why it can be better to opt for a doctor from Hungary who practiced medicine in the UK for 20 years than a native English translator without extensive medical experience. Moreover, there are translators who are truly bilingual who were raised in two different countries or had native parents that spoke to them since birth.

Anyway, we hope we’ve shed some light on this topic! If you’d like to know more or need some advice on what’s best for you, please feel free to get in touch!



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