Despite its size, the language industry is most likely not well known to those who aren’t directly involved in the field.  Niche terms like LSP (Language Service Provider) or “Post Editing,” probably don’t ring a bell for someone not familiar with the language translation business. And employees in the industry are often asked “what exactly they do” at work. “Do you speak more than one language?” “What does your company ‘translate?’”

In the hopes of providing some clarity to those unfamiliar with the wide of world of language translation and interpreting, here is a list of five common misconceptions regarding the language industry.

1. The Customer Is Always Right

In the language industry, it’s important for a project team to understand the full scope and intent of a project submission. For example, a project submitter could request translation of a document from English to Spanish to be distributed in Latin America.  This poses a few issues that the LSP should clarify. There are many different dialects of Spanish, Portuguese, and French spoken throughout Latin America, so it’s important to specify the countries the content will be circulated in. So, even if a client asks for Spanish, they might actually need Portuguese, or vice versa.

In addition to having a knowledge of the location where a translation will be used, it’s important for the LSP to grasp the subject matter that’s being translated.  Law firms often submit content from the medical or industrial sectors as a part of a case. For this, a Subject Matter Expert aligned with the field most related to the document should be used for translation, not just someone familiar with the sector the content is being submitted from.

The customer service cliché is “the customer is always right,” but in the translation industry, that’s not always the case. In some instances, a client may not know what he or she needs translated, or what the process should look like.

2. Every LSP Employee Is A Translator 

Not everyone who works at an LSP is a translator. It just so happens that most employees happen to speak multiple languages, have studied linguistics and may have some language-related expertise. However, there are plenty of language service employees who are monolingual and do work that’s not directly involved with translation or localization.

3. Internal Employees Make The Best Reviewers 

To be compliant with certain quality standards, the person translating a document must be located in the country of the target language and hold degrees in translation and the subject matter of which they’re translating for. Having the summer intern who spent a month in Spain translate your HR materials is probably not in the best interest of your company.

Certified, experienced Subject Matter Experts make for the best document reviewers, not internal employees.

4. It's Just Translation 

Although widely referred to as “the translation industry,” language services consist of more than just word-for-word translation. Source documents also need to be localized, meaning that the text is adjusted to abide by the cultural and linguistic nuances necessary for the target locale.

Transcreation is also used during the localization process, and refers to changing a message in one language to convey its original meaning in another. This practice is used often for marketing or advertising copy.

With that said, interpreting, too, is a major component of the language services industry.

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5. Professional Translators And Interpreters Only Possess Language Skills 

Both translators and interpreters are no doubt skillful linguists, but having a way with words isn’t the only prerequisite for working in the language industry. Translators and interpreters need to possess the cultural knowledge and interpersonal skills required to facilitate effective communication.

Interpreters are not just repeating the words of a non-native speaker in a different language, but also employing the necessary emotional intelligence to successfully communicate with clients.

Not only are they called upon to localize a conversation in a setting where multiple people may be talking, they’re also inserting certain tones, emotions and implicit meaning into the messages they’re conveying.  

Translators, on the other hand, need to not only be adept linguists, but also meticulous enough to make the right decisions in situations that require extreme concentration. Translation is a craft, and takes both cultural understanding and language skills.

The More You Know

Hopefully this sheds some light on the inner workings of the language industry. The need for localization services will likely continue to grow, and it’s important to establish a foundational knowledge before entering the field as a client or a practitioner.

For more articles on the language industry, visit The ULG Daily’s Strategy page.

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William Lange

William Lange

William Lange is a product manager at ULG and has vast experience in the language industry. At ULG, William develops new technologies while providing support to the sales department in creating competitive advantages.

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