Most people would think that the best foreign language translations can be obtained by in-country translators, in other words, translators living in the country where the language to be translated is spoken natively. After all, this is where the translator will have grown up, gone to school and probably have lived a majority of his or her life. So the thinking goes there is less chance of getting “rusty” by having been away for too long, and this is where in-country translators will be at the cutting edge of linguistic developments. Not to mention that there will be larger numbers of linguists to choose from abroad rather than at home.
In theory all of this is true. But in practice it frequently does not hold up. Translation requires effective knowledge of two languages. It is a professional rule of thumb in the translation industry that one should only translate into one’s native language, and the reasoning behind this is perfectly self-evident, even to someone not familiar with industry standards. But what of the source language?
One of the problems we have encountered over the years when working with in-country translators is that their English language comprehension is often not as good as that of a translator who lives in the United States. The source language, too, is a living, growing, developing thing and keeping up with it requires an investment of time and energy and perhaps most importantly, exposure.
So it should come as no surprise that in-country translators may have a harder time understanding colloquial English than their US domestic counterparts. Being surrounded by the source language in every aspect of life and culture gives you better insight into the subtleties of usage and understanding. And this is not just a problem that is limited to a particular culture: We have seen source language comprehension problems in countries ranging from France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Egypt to China, Japan, Vietnam and too many others to name. In fact, it occurs in all countries, even in countries where English is widely spoken, such as India.
While InterNation frequently works with in-country translators, we have learned that pairing an in-country, in-culture translator with a domestic editor or proofreader produces a superior result, to the point where it has become all but a mandatory requirement in our workflow. Making sure a message is keeping up with a language and its culture is certainly important. But it is equally important to make sure that the message was understood correctly in the first place.
For more information about highly quality translation services, please visit our Best Practices Guide on Translation.