Why being bilingual doesn’t automatically make you an interpreter or a translator

Why being bilingual doesn’t automatically make you an interpreter or a translator

Around the world, more and more people speak two or more languages; we move around more as a result of conflict or for work or education, and we live in a world where the majority of countries are bilingual to begin with. In fact there are relatively few countries that are traditionally monolingual, and things are changing fast.

Published 3/21/2016

But what exactly is bilingualism?

The dictionary definition is usually along the following lines: When someone speaks two languages (almost) perfectly, and both languages can be regarded as his or her native language. However, things are rarely that simple. Even if someone grows up in an environment where they learn two languages and learn them well, they are rarely equally good at both languages in all situations. They often have differing levels of knowledge and vocabulary depending on the situation, due to the contexts in which they have learnt their languages. This is one reason why you cannot automatically embark on a career as an interpreter or a translator, even if you are bilingual. Professional language work also requires a whole lot more. You also need to:

  • have good knowledge about different dialects and dialect expressions
  • know specialist terminology in both languages for the types of situations in which you will be interpreting or the types of texts you will translate
  • have extensive knowledge of cultural differences in various areas of the language
  • know which words, expressions and subjects may be taboo
  • have a good insight into stylistic levels, and know what is appropriate in different situations
  • have a good understanding of the situation and the target group.

Virtually all experience is good experience, whether this consists of broad education or professional experience, or a combination of both. Technology is also important for both professions, particularly for translators who need to be able to use computers and various specialist software to do their job.

Good language skills in both languages are, of course, very important in order to succeed as an interpreter or a translator, but since interpreters and translators must convey information accurately for a specific situation, these additional skills are also needed.

How do I become an interpreter or a translator?

Of course, it is entirely possible to find out about and learn these skills. You can find out more about becoming an interpreter here.

The Swedish Association of Professional Translators lists the translation courses offered by Swedish universities here.

Kammarkollegiet is the Swedish body that examines authorised interpreters and translators. Find out more about the process and the requirements here.

Latest blogposts