It looks like English is the global lingua franca or even the language of the Universe. It’s quite easy to get the idea that everybody speaks English: even Asterix or Cleopatra or creatures from other galaxies. So, when everyone understands English, why does the profession of a translator exist?

English is also an important translation language. The common practice is that, even if something is written in one’s own language, a translation to English is usually the next step. This was the case with for example the first Twitter-sourced book. It was first written (or tweeted) in Finnish. Then it was first translated to English and only after then to several other languages. It’s either from English or to English in most general translation projects.

Countries where English is an official language

The logic seems to be reasonable because a huge part of the World’s population knows at least some English and because you see, hear or read English everywhere. However, the perception of the English language’s power can be misleading. According to Wikipedia, English is spoken as the first language by 309–400 million people, while overall as many as 1.8 billion are able to speak English. There would be a much bigger language available. For example, Spanish has more native speakers than English.

The reality can also be different. For example, Icelandic texts are being translated mainly to German before any further translations. In spite of these exceptions, English has its roots tightly around the World. One outcome of this trend is that the distribution of knowledge around the Globe is definitely not equal. When English rules the world, those who speak English have all the information. Another consequence is that when people think they should use English, their native languages are likely to suffer. Languages have less attention and resources to live and develop if English is used in most literature, novels, and other linguistic output.

Unfair? Yes. But to make the World a little bit more equal, it is reassuring to know that even the English-speaking world (Americans especially) don’t have everything. They don’t have much translated literature in the American market.

This whole phenomenon is not all positive either for English itself. When non-native speakers use English, they use it differently than native speakers do. It is almost not the same language at all. It may sound and look the same, but the rules are different. There’s no point to deny it, we non-native speakers make more mistakes with our English than the native ones.

And if we go back to my original question; translators are needed desperately. The more English is used in the World the more difficult it is to find flawlessly used English. We incorrectly think we know it. Translators help us to avoid all the possible mistakes and misunderstandings. Do you agree?


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