Translation and language services drive communication and business in the global marketplace and business world. The translation services industry was valued at over 39 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach over 46 billion by 2028. Despite the industry’s importance, you may have some preconceived notions about it if you haven’t done any or very little work with translations before. This leaves clients with knowledge gaps, leading to misunderstandings and uncertainty. The language service provider (LSP) should ensure everything is clear, and the client feels comfortable asking any questions they might have.

In this blog, we’ll address 10 common misconceptions about translation.

#1 Translators and Interpreters Are the Same Thing

Here are basic definitions:

  • A translator is someone who converts text from a source language into a target language. A translator translates all kinds of written text, from technical instructions to website copy to signage. Other people on a translation team format the content to fit into the medium.
  • An interpreter is someone who transforms verbal or signed language (source language) into a different verbal or signed language (target language). Depending on the type of event, an interpreter may provide simultaneous, consecutive, over-the-phone (OPI) or video remote interpretation (VRI).

Learn more about the differences between translators and interpreters.

#2 All Qualified Translators and Interpreters Do Any Type of Language Work

As we just described, a translator is about written communication, whereas an interpreter is about verbal communication. These two styles are very different, just as they are for all of us. Also, every individual has expertise, so a Spanish interpreter in the healthcare industry may not have the expertise to interpret in a legal setting. And marketing content requires a different type of translator than a technical manual. So many specializations exist, and a language expert can’t do everything.

#3 Linguists Only Need to Be Native Speakers of a Language

Just because someone is a native speaker of a language doesn’t mean that they have the skills to be a linguist. Linguists are specially trained professionals with acutely developed skills. This comes by way of certifications, continuing education credits, professional development, learning, formal education, and professional memberships to hold everyone accountable to high levels of professional standards and code of ethics.

#4 Bilingual Employees Can Meet Our Language Needs

Having a bilingual employee do translation work is not a sufficient way to deliver translation projects since:

  • A person may not know the technical or industry content, and therefore not provide an accurate translation.
  • You’re taking time away from that person’s primary job responsibilities.
  • A person may know a different variation than the target language, as language isn’t universal.
  • Depending on the industry, privacy concerns may be an issue.

Learn more about the hidden costs of using bilingual employees for translation.

#5 Sign Language Is Sign Language

“I need a sign language interpreter” is too vague to provide any meaning. A sign language interpreter is not just one type of interpreter. Between 138 and 300 different sign languages are used worldwide. In the US, the most common types are American Sign Language (ASL), Signed Exact, and Tactile. While many people who are deaf do know sign language, there are also many who know different varieties or home signs, or who have different levels of proficiency in a sign language.  

In order to provide meaningful access, certain questions need to be asked to find the best suited interpreter match. Learn more about deaf or hard-of-hearing interpreter requirements.

#6 “I Just Need a Spanish Interpreter” 

You may get a directive to “translate this into Spanish.” Yet Spanish isn’t a universal language; it’s the same idea as “needing a sign language interpreter.” So while the target language may sound simple—Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic or Chinese—many languages are regionally targeted.

Some translations, especially in the US, need to use Universal Spanish to target multiple varieties and most common Spanish understandings. For regional language varieties, such as smaller, established communities, a Community reviewer might be necessary. A Community reviewer can help with these specialized language variations.

#7 A Child Can Interpret for the Parent or Guardian

Another misconception about languages is if a child is willing to interpret for a parent or guardian, and the adult says it’s OK, then it’s OK. This isn’t a good idea for several reasons:

  • A child may not fully understand what the adult is saying, so the translation won’t be correct.
  • A potential misinterpretation is especially concerning in areas where the language is very specific and technical, such as healthcare and legal situations. In both of these situations, it can be hard enough to understand as a native speaker, let alone for a child.
  • The child may react to stressful interpretations by omitting certain critical parts of the conversation.

Using an experienced interpreter is the best way to go—not have a child do the work.

#8 You Can Save Money on Translations by Using the Lowest Cost Language Service Agency

If you received multiple bids on an RFP, know that the lowest bid charges aren’t necessarily the only charges you may incur. Hidden fees may pop up or the quality is poor, which results in more time to manage the project, re-do the work or worst case—errors go unnoticed and turn into a liability or lawsuit.

In addition, over time, these costs and more might actually add up to a higher price than the best-value bids. Some agencies that appear to cost more outright might have technologies for built-in cost savings (e.g., re-using already translated terms, project management tools) that enable you to save money over time.

#9 Language Service Providers Only Translate or Interpret

While the most obvious thing that an LSP does is provide translation and interpreting, they do so much more, such as:

  • Desktop publishing – formatting content into the target language.
  • Prepare translation style guides – make a database of translations and style preferences.
  • Linguistic consulting – help organizations prepare for and optimize their translation processes.
  • Employee assessments – assess language skills before hiring or use assessments continuously.
  • Interpreting quality assessments – evaluate the quality analysis process.
  • And much more.

Some of the most innovative solutions are done on a consultative basis by creating services that are tailored to that organization and their limited English proficient (LEP) consumers.

#10 You Only Have a Small Budget, so You Can’t Do Much

Depending on the type of organization, you may be eligible for additional funding for language services. Sometimes grants are available that help fund language services. Find them and apply to grow your language access programs. For example, grants that promote equity in Social Determinants of Health among immigrant populations, improve student learning, and others are available.


Having misconceptions about the translation industry is understandable, especially if you’re new to working with it. We’re here to help answer any of your questions. For more information, contact us at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040. Let us help you provide the best language services.