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Many agencies, especially those outside the UK, use translators who translate into their second or third language. What are the arguments for and against this? Why do we only use native translators? Are there any specific regulations or guidelines on the matter?
In the UK translation industry texts are predominantly translated by native speakers of the target language but in other countries translators frequently translate out of and into their non-native language. The benefit of this, of course, is that non-native speakers have a perfect grasp of the source text and nuances (unless it’s particularly complicated or poorly written) as well as the source culture, since it’ll be written in their native tongue. Please note that it’s unusual, but not unheard of, for translators to translate between two languages where neither is their native language.
Non-native translation also comes with certain drawbacks, however. For example, non-natives risk making mistakes when writing in a language that is not their mother tongue – or, at the very least, more mistakes than a native speaker. It’s also much harder for a non-native to develop truly excellent style in a foreign language – although, of course, exceptional linguists occasionally do acquire highly refined and versatile stylistic skill in their non-native language, for example by living in the country and writing a lot of content in that language over a long period of time.
We pride ourselves on the fact that we only use native speaker translators. This is because native translators are much better able to produce refined content in the suitable style. Of course, any good translator should have an excellent understanding of the source language they specialise in, so comprehension is not a problem. When writing in their native tongue, translators are also better able to ensure that the message they are communicating is clear and easy to understand – which is often the main purpose of any written text. This can often make the difference between a good translation and a truly excellent one, and we believe this is the best way to guarantee quality.
This decision to impose a native-only policy even goes beyond industry guidelines and standards, which only require translators to have an excellent command of the target language. For example, the Code of Professional Conduct of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting stipulates that translators should translate into “their mother tongue or language of habitual use” and the specific translation services standard ISO 17100:2015 only requires professional translations to have “fluency in the target language”.