Why Hiring a Translator Isn’t a Free Pass for your Organization

Translator’s serve a critical role in facilitating conversation between people who speak different languages, absolutely. But do we really recognize the full scope of a translator’s responsibilities?

Having a solid command of multiple languages is hard enough, but in order to be truly effective, a translator is also responsible for bridging the gaps between two different cultures:

Translation that leads to meaningful conversation requires the translator to be highly adept at the art of interpretation: listening to what one side has to say and then conveying it in a way that has the highest impact on the person sitting across the table (most likely in a language that is secondary to them, Woah!)

This requires strong cultural fluency as well as linguistic mastery on the part of the translator.

Imagine a Haitian translator trying to explain the following phrase to an American audience:

Rayi chen di dan li blan. = Hate the dog, but say his teeth are white.
[Whether you like someone or not, you have to recognize their good qualities even amidst the bad.]

Or better yet, imagine an American translator trying to translate the following for his English speaking colleagues:

M voye dlo m pa mouye pesònn. = I throw water but I don’t get anybody wet.
[I’m talking generally, I’m not trying to offend anyone.]

Even if he succeeds in translating the words, with the pace of regular conversation, the meaning is probably lost.

And so the common phrase “lost in translation” exists for a reason: many translators are not adequately equipped to handle cultural differences in addition to linguistic ones, and many things are just not that simple to translate.

So what’s the solution to reducing how much is “lost in translation”?

Men anpil, chay pa lou. Many hands make the load lighter.

The more people you have involved in the conversation who have a working knowledge of both languages and both cultures, the better the communication between parties.

So, believe it or not, hiring a translator does not give you a free pass to forego learning a foreign language.

If you’re passionate about working in Haiti, and you plan to stick around, your conversations (even those aided by the presence of a translator) will go much further if you study the language and make the effort to learn more about the culture yourself.

Kreyol pale, kreyol konprann.

by Erin Nguyen on April 9, 2015

Fun Fact:  Do you know the technical difference between a translator and an interpreter?  While many refer to any professional that helps people communicate between languages as a a translator (like we did above), a translator actually only translates written communication, while an interpreter is responsible for helping translate verbal communication. 

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