Non-native translation and localization. Opportunity for a best-practice?

Non-native-translators It is commonly asserted that the best translation can come only from a native speaker of the target language. This is mostly the case, but there is wide-enough range of exception that deserves to be specified. After all, wouldn’t we be ready to consider that a personal investment in learning languages generates a distinctive asset for an individual?

Let’s focus on the case of a translation involving two foreign languages for the translator. We all know people who are talented with languages. In many cases, that talent might turn into a scholar interest which will lead that person to deeply study the languages of his or her choice. He or she might want to further deepen that interest by travelling and living in other countries for extended periods. At the same time, when we are deeply involved in a language, we will also research and study several cultural, historical and literary elements of the cultures that speak it. We will start to understand differences in tones, get to know idiomatic expressions, and perceive the distinction between accents. In most cases, we make long lasting relationships with natives; we will learn how to express ourselves to them; we will need to negotiate contracts, talk on the phone and write letters.

Biology makes us adaptive. In a globalized world, the chances to experience such trait are many and constant. Sometimes we are even forced to adapt, and often we must immerse ourselves in a yet different language. Given the right combination of talent, education, interest and demand for self-improvement, an individual might very well be the most qualified person to translate in a non-native language pair. While it is difficult, though not impossible, to be native-level fluent in Italian and knowledgeable in Shakespearian English to the extent of providing an optimal translation of King Lear in Italian, many texts are at perfect reach for well-prepared individuals. And though this is valid for translation in general, it seems of great relevance also for localization projects. Cultural preparation and experience is a must on localization, and excellence does not preclude non-native individuals.

As a final remark, I would stress that, in the translation market, there is an excessive accentuation in nativity/nationality on the side of the client. It is the set of skills and experience that make a good translator/localizer, and not only his or her mother-tongue. Everyone will be benefiting from turning the awareness of this question into a best-practice.


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