By Mariana Bolaños Corao - Student of English Teaching and Translation

Can translations be done by people who are not professional translators but know the languages well? This seems to be the thought of many (the author of this paper also used to have this perspective). As long as you are fluent in both the source and target language, other than mistakes in the text itself, there is no real risk to translation, right? This is far from the truth because translators face a series of situations that cannot be treated by someone who just happens to speak different languages. The risks presented during translation need the attention of a professional in order to mitigate them successfully.

Before going any further, it is important to clarify what a risk is. According to Carmen Ardelean (2013), it is “the unexpected and unwanted result of an inappropriate decision, or of an incorrectly performed activity” (p. 99); it is also considered by most dictionaries as experiencing a loss or misfortune (Ardelean, 2013). In translation, the risks can be seen in a recurrent outcome: translation loss. This happens when there is no exact correspondence between the source and target text (Haywood et al., 2009); the results of this are visible within the translation.

Nonetheless, a poor translation can have negative effects that go beyond the paper. Making errors may seem more dangerous in the case of other fields, just like Ardealean (2013) says: “in medicine, they are related to the danger of losing lives due to illness; in economics and finance risks are closely linked to the failure of an investment” (p. 99). This, however, doesn’t mean that an inaccurate translation cannot be harmful. One example is what Costa Rica’s Criminal Code (Asamblea Legislativa de la República de Costa Rica, 1970) stipulates about a translator who falsely or inaccurately translates information for a trial. This affects not only the translator’s income or future job offers, it can even send him to jail. Translators can work in many disciplines, and the risks can change and be more or less serious; the dangers are not limited to the quality of the translation itself.

It has been established that translating does have risks, but how do you mitigate them? Knowledge of different translation strategies is needed to help reduce the loss (Haywood et al., 2009) or elude significant mistakes. You would think professional translators can avoid these situations, but Roberto Mayoral (n. d.) says that there is no ability that differentiates a professional translator from a nonprofessional one. Why are professionals more capable of mitigating risks, then? Because to compensate (which consists of reducing unacceptable translation loss by introducing less unacceptable loss) (University of Cambridge, n. d.), special knowledge on phonic effects, cultural issues, and syntactical and morphological aspects (Haywood et al., 2009) has to be taken into consideration.

This is why nonprofessionals cannot replace people who studied linguistics and translation theories. Someone may be very proficient with languages, but he still wouldn’t know how to justify a translation through strategies and skopos. Translation goes beyond just taking a phrase and saying it in another language. Many elements like target audience, rhyme (poetry), and grammar are fundamental (Haywood et al., 2009). What makes translators indispensable is the fact that they are well aware of the risks and have the tools to face them; they receive lessons on how to tackle these matters.

In conclusion, risks can be mitigated. The losses won't disappear, because they’re unavoidable, but professional translators are instructed on what to do in order to prevent severe consequences from happening. Translation is an activity that should be taken seriously and done by people who are experts on the subject, just like any other occupation. This craft needs specialists that stand their ground and are confident, for they are the ones who truly know how to produce high-quality translations.


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  • Ardelean, C. (2013). Monitoring Potential Risks in Translation Activities. НАУЧНИ ТРУДОВЕ НА РУСЕНСКИЯ УНИВЕРСИТЕТ, 52.
  • Asamblea Legislativa de la República de Costa Rica. (1970). Código Penal.
  • Haywood, L., Thompson, M., Hervey, S. (2009). Thinking Spanish Translation. A course in translation method: Spanish to English. (2nd ed.). Routledge.