Overall in the translation community, there is no doubt that a translator who is a native speaker has a bigger vocabulary and through intuition knows more about the use of syntax. They also have a feel for nuances and other stylistic differences found in their language.

Non-Native Versus Native Translator

This means quite simply that a native speaker overall writes better in his/her own language than somebody who has gone through the process of learning the language from scratch. This in practice is the same with translators who are far better at translating into their native language. To ensure a translation performed by a non-native speaker of the language is of the highest quality an experienced native translator just needs to go through the translation and add their own knowledge and expertise.

As a general rule, if you are in the position to choose a translator you should select one who is a native speaker of your targeted language. This is due to the fact that it is far easier to write sentences that are grammatically correct that end up meaning what they are meant to mean in the translator’s native language.

Too often one reads a manual accompanying a product where some of the sentences are written awkwardly and in some cases, it is difficult to get the gist of the meaning. This has probably been translated by a native speaker of the source language and not the targeted language. Of course, a translation could be much worse if the translator is not a native speaker of either the source or targeted language.

Non-native speakers may make better translators if they have lived in the host country for a long time. Of course this will depend whether they only use the non-native language but if they use their own native language at home and the non-native at work they may not be getting sufficient exposure to make them competent enough to translate into their non-native language.

Hiring somebody just because s/he is a native speaker may not enough

Experience by companies who market translation services indicates that much of the terminology used in specialist translations like medical, legal and business are not a normal part of a native-speaker’s language so the specific language has to be learned. Even if you are a native speaker of a language this doesn’t mean you are qualified to perform specialized translations. A high-quality translation can only be completed successfully by a translator who has the most advanced language ability and skills in both the source and the targeted languages.

There is a Huge Variety of Non-Native Speakers Who are Translators

How well someone translates depends on their educational background, the countries/places they have lived, their talents and experiences. There are some native speakers who make excellent translators but there are a few that do not. The majority of non-native speakers are not able to translate well into their non-native language.

However, there are a few that are able to do an excellent job. It is great if a translator says s/he has native-level competency in their 2nd language, and this could be true. However, undertaking a translation into a language when the translator is not fully aware of the culture of the people who speak the language is like sidling along a tightrope without using a safety net.

A translator can put words together so they appear grammatically perfect, but if s/he does is unable to adapt the cultural references in source text correctly into the targeted text the audience may neither understand nor appreciate the translation.

Just translating a colour from one language to another the translator has to know the role the colour plays in the targeted culture. Getting it wrong could cause anger and mockery and non-acceptance of the translation. The best translation is when the audience can’t tell it’s a translation in terms of both language and culture.

Many clients seeking translators believe that the translator they choose is capable of translating in two directions. Translators often go ahead with doing this at their client’s request. Any errors made may only be small and unless the client is fluent in the targeted language s/he will never know there are any errors. However, being more selective and choosing a translator to translate just into their native language any small errors will be correcting when proofreading. 

Translators Like Challenges

A translator who spends all of his/her time translating into their native language can cause loss of interest and boredom. Saint Jerome spent several decades translating from a number of foreign languages into one other foreign language which was not his native language. He was doing this at a ripe old age which no doubt he found the whole job quite challenging.

The moral of this story is that you will probably get the best translation from a translator who feels challenged and who persists until the translation is perfect whether the translator is a native speaker or non-native speaker.