Foreign language – do you really know it?

  • Foreign language – do you really know it?

    Foreign language – do you really know it?

    A few words about foreign languages and translation and do you really need to know everything about them.

    It’s great that you know your mother tongue well, but…

    My previous translation tip (Translator – know your mother tongue inside out) was that you should know your native language(s) inside out. This is true. Because if you don’t, then who will believe that you know foreign languages well? However, an excellent knowledge of one or more foreign languages is just as important as knowledge of your mother tongue.

    You better learn how to use foreign languages properly

    Recently I was searching for a good translator from English into Polish who would help me with my work. The first offer that came was from a Polish translator with over 10 years of experience. I was more than happy, but before I opened his CV, I read the whole message which was written in English. To my surprise, I found many basic mistakes that I did not expect from an experienced translator.

    Walk the walk

    The reason I mention this is to make you realize how important it is to walk the walk instead of to talk the talk. Let me put it this way. We all are customers after all. We purchase products and services every day. And  as customers, we want to be treated seriously and when we buy something we expect it will work the way the advertiser tells us it will. If it doesn’t, then you can make a complaint. This is why so many companies put their customers first in order to make things that will make their life easier. Take Apple as an example. They try to identify what their customers need and try to deliver on their promises. They not only improve every year but also excel beyond expectations and outperform others.  This is why millions of people buy iPhones and iPads every year despite many better products on the market. Apple simply knows what their customers want and they don’t just tell them that their products are great but make them work, so the customers can feel and see that Apple products are actually great.

    Know your weaknesses

    Identifying your weaknesses is the most important way to become good in what you do. If you know what you are doing wrong or not so well, then you can improve your skills in this particular area. I will give you an example. During my studies, I knew that I had to improve my German because English was my lead foreign language. So I decided to  attend an additional course in German history. I not only learned about Germany during the 20th century but also improved my language skills. Now I know German as much as I know English.

    And don’t lie

    So another lesson to learn from this is that you should not lie. I don’t want to say that this translator lied to me because maybe he was not aware of the mistakes that he made in his email, but he put not enough effort to show me that he really knows his job. Because when you write in your CV or in your cover letter that you have over ten years of experience (and, as I found later, he actually had 17 years of experience) this tells me that you know both your native and foreign language well, you know how to write, you know all translation techniques and you have one or two areas of specialisation that you are really good at.

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    Hanna Gembus

    Hanna Gembus is a professional Polish English and Polish German translator and communication specialist based in the United Kingdom providing translation, content, interpreting and market research services to small, medium-sized and large companies and organisations. She specialises in business, marketing and e-commerce, using linguistic and cultural knowledge to help both start-ups and established companies improve their presence on the market and increase sales.

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