Why being bilingual is not enough to be a translator?

 bilingual is not enough to be a Chinese translator

When speaking of a translator, the remark one hears most often is “But you have to be bilingual!”. It is true that every translator must master at least one foreign language in order to do his job, of course.

However, being bilingual or trilingual is just one of many skills required to be a  translator and it is certainly not enough to be a professional.


Indeed, in written Chinese translation, we normally work into our native language only (oral translation or interpretation, is a case somewhat different). A translator, for example, translates English, Spanish, German, etc. into Chinese, but not in the reverse direction. It’s an unwritten rule in the industry that ensures a quality result, fluid and flawless. We’ve all seen enough of manuals translated by non-natives to know what kind of a result it would bring to translate into a language that is not one’s native!

Only a native speaker will be able to have a thorough knowledge of its language. Grasping one’s own language, grammar, spelling, syntax, and typography is therefore an essential skill to be a translator. That is why the Chinese translation agency YBD uses only professional  translators who translate into their native language.


In translation, there are also techniques to know, ways to get the information needed to work, the software that is used … so many things that we discover in specialized studies or work placements.

Being a translator is a craft that can be learned. We do not improvise a translator overnight.

Also, while the translators have passed the days when they need to go to libraries and be surrounded by large paper dictionaries, the translators of the 21st century need to have extensive computer skills. The variety of media and text formats to be translated (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, RTF, etc.) requires translators nowadays to master a minimum of the computer skills, the internet for online research, as well as software for translation assistance, which, without replacing translators, allows them to optimize their work process .


Finally, professional Chinese translation also attaches great importance to the cultural knowledge of the countries where the languages are spoken to best adapt the communication media to the target audience. Some types of presentations are more common in one country than in another, for example, certain phrases or puns require adaptation in order to be included in the country of destination of the translation …

In summary, a translator, as those working in YBD, is of course at least bilingual, but mostly he knows his own language and culture, he is qualified, he is good at computer and he knows the issues of professional translation. Every translator is bilingual, but not all bilingual speakers are necessarily translators.