Why is being bilingual not enough to be a translator?


Sure! There are plenty of benefits attached to being bilingual (or multilingual). But, it is a common misconception about translation that “speaking” multiple languages equals the ability to translate between these languages. This is rather an underestimation of translation as a practice.

Translation is a lot more than the mere “conversion” of words from one language into another. Translation is a high form of science. As a matter fact, it’s one of the oldest, most crucial to human development and at the same time least valuated profession and field of knowledge I can immediately think of in terms of (financial) reward. Think about the way science and knowledge have been transferred from nations to nations, countries to other countries throughout history, transcending barriers of geography, culture and language. Image

With excellent translation, comes excellent specialist knowledge (literary, journalistic, scientific, legal, technical, medical, financial etc.) and in many cases all-round knowledge of a group of these disciplines combined to be able to convey a complex message correctly. It is not for nothing that most top-tier translation companies call explicitly for country-knowledge and up-to-date language-knowledge of a certain language or language-pair, next to specialized expertise and jargon. Also, with excellent translation comes refined knowledge of the delicate nuances of “cultural language”, semantics & dialectical language.


  1. When do you call it a “law firm” and when a “legal practice”?
  2. How do you translate “homepage” into a non-Western language? By adding the separate translations of “home” + “page” to each other?
  3. Will you translate the brand name GIF (a cleaning product) into “GIF” in Dutch, while knowing it means POISON in Dutch? Will you try to avoid a bigger cost by changing the whole brand name altogether in CIF instead with all costs associated, or succumb to laxity and terribly consequential inaccuracy?! (a true case)