I sometimes talk to smaller organizations operating on grant money with tight budgets and documents that need to be translated. Because of financial constraints, these businesses or nonprofits try to save money, often by asking bilingual employees to help translate various documents.

The obvious downside to giving translation responsibilities to a non-expert is quality. At Avantpage, our translators have gone through professional training and undergo a rigorous qualification process before they join the team. We look for linguists with a deep knowledge of both source and target languages and cultures. Bilingual employees will likely not have the same experience, education, or expertise of a professional translator.

However, while some organizations have considered and rationalized accepting lower quality translations to save money, many have not weighed the other effects of this questionable practice. Here are four ways tasking a bilingual employee with translation responsibilities outside of their regular duties could affect your organization.

Productivity and Engagement Costs of Using Bilingual Employees 

Putting aside the fact that your in-house staff members are not professional linguists, translating a document or reviewing a translation is not in their job descriptions either. When you ask them to take time away from their primary responsibilities and translate, you’re distracting them from their actual job.

The cost of this distraction can be more significant than you think. According to data from the U.S. Labor Department, employees can experience 50-60 interruptions each day. That’s an interruption every 8 minutes. After each interruption, it can take an employee 23 minutes to return to his or her original task, according to a study by the University of California, Irvine. There is a financial cost to these distractions—$10,375 per person, per year, according to Harmon.ie.

Distractions also take their toll on your employees’ engagement and effectiveness. Harmon.ie’s research showed that 33% of employees had difficulty working and producing because of workplace distractions and 25% had no time to think deeply or creatively as a result. One in five workers found distractions caused information overload and 1 in 10 missed deadlines because of them.

So, before you ask a bilingual employee to translate that flyer “real fast,” ask yourself what unaccounted costs you may be incurring.


Additional Time to Complete the Translation

Sometimes, in-house staff isn’t responsible for translating a document. Instead, they are asked to review a translation completed by a professional Language Services Provider. While this may seem innocent enough, there are still ways this practice can cost your organization time and money.

While your bilingual employees may have grown up speaking a language at home, that doesn’t mean they have the same linguistic expertise to understand specific grammar or cultural conventions. Therefore their edits or suggestions may actually hurt the accuracy of the translation created by a professional linguist.

There’s also a subjectivity of language. Professional editors and proofers know how to identify when a translation is wrong versus when it is just not quite how they would say it. When in-house staff makes their edits based on subjective concerns, they can extend the translation process longer than necessary and introduce errors or inconsistencies.

Finally, it’s doubtful that your in-house staff understands how to use some of the tools that a professional LSP uses for productivity, such as translation memory and glossaries. As a result, having them review a translation can take more time for an ultimately subpar product.

Privacy Concerns with Using Bilingual Employees 

If you need translations completed for a healthcare organization or another industry with strong regulations concerning privacy, asking a bilingual employee to translate sensitive information could be dangerous. For example, a medical translation project will need to comply with many standards simultaneously. To comply with the Joint Commission Standards and Healthcare Compliance Law, your organization must be able to communicate with a Limited English Proficient speaker in his or her own language. However, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits the unauthorized sharing of medical records and personally identifiable information without patient consent. While it is probable that any bilingual staff member is fully aware of HIPAA regulations, a professional Language Services Provider working under a BAA will have technical processes and safeguards in place to protect privacy and clarity equally.

Potential Equal Pay Act problems

Assigning and compensating employees for “additional duties” may be illegal under the Equal Pay Act in some circumstances. For example, let’s say Sarah and Sam are both administrative assistants at your organization and that they both speak Spanish. Both have the same level of education, experience, base pay, and performance. But, Sarah receives a small bonus each month for translating documents. Seems fair, right? It’s not if Sam didn’t receive the same opportunity.

According to HR Drive, pay differentials related to additional duties can cause pay disparity problems in many scenarios. More broadly, however, pay disparity issues — real or perceived — have serious implications for employee engagement and workplace culture.


Considering these four factors, I strongly encourage organizations to avoid using bilingual employees to translate documents or review translations. While this may sound biased, coming from someone who works for an LSP, the data speaks for itself. By using bilingual employees to complete translation work, you expose your organization to costly mistakes. Is it really worth the risk?

At Avantpage our experienced team can help guide you through the translation process and make it fast and easy. To find out more about our services call us at 1-530-750-2040 x11, or request a free quote today.