The Difference Between a Translator and a Bilingual Person

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Written by Diego Achio

The CEO & Co-founder of Traduality. Diego loves visiting national parks, playing tennis, go-karts, and Italian food. He also has over 13 years of experience in the translation industry leading language operation teams.

January 6, 2024

Have you ever met someone who says translation can be done simply by knowing another language? Have you ever been asked to translate a file because you know the language it’s written in?

If you’re a translator or an interpreter, you’ve probably met someone who believes they can perfectly translate a document just by being highly familiar with another language. However, being bilingual doesn’t necessarily ensure someone can translate or interpret content accurately. In fact, many linguistic factors play into accurate translation or interpretation that many bilingual or multilingual speakers aren’t even aware of.


What is a Translator?

A translator works with written texts in different languages, although film, radio, and video games also fall under the translator’s umbrella. They aim to efficiently and effectively translate the original text into another language they’re familiar with. Like bilingual people, translators must know at least two languages and be familiar with two different cultures associated with each language.

To properly translate a work, the translator must fully understand the culture surrounding the language. Figures of speech, dialects, and word order are often overlooked parts of translation that translators need experience with to ensure their translation makes sense. Translating without knowledge of cultural norms and common idioms might make the text more confusing for native speakers trying to read the translation. In some cases, a mistranslation can also make or break a film, video game, or marketing campaign.


What is Bilingual?

Someone who identifies as bilingual can speak two or more languages, either from learning multiple languages while growing up or by learning another language as an adult. While a bilingual person doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert in any language they speak, they do speak each language fluently. You’ll find bilingual people everywhere– from immigrants who communicate in languages different from their native ones to students who study abroad.


The Differences Between a Translator and a Bilingual Speaker

Regarding the differences between a bilingual person and a professional translator, it’s important to understand that for a translation to be accurate and high quality, the person translating must have a deep cultural understanding of the source material.

The translation process begins with several steps based around understanding a text, the culture it comes from, and the specific dialect it’s written in. While translators are experts in analyzing texts this way, not every bilingual person is as well. On top of that, the translator also has to deal with general writing problems like grammar and spelling. Some of the most outstanding differences between the two are:


Both bilingual people and translators are fluent in multiple languages, but what sets translators apart is their mastery of the languages they speak. Mastery includes a deep understanding of the language and how it functions linguistically.

In addition, translators and interpreters can communicate ideas in multiple languages in real-time. Besides having the speed to express ideas, translators also need to be able to think in different languages simultaneously to understand the concepts in their sense and context.


Bilingual people are just a few steps away from being experienced interpreters because of their fluency in multiple languages. However, professional interpreters undergo specific training and education to become licensed interpreters. When it comes to interpreting, bilingual speakers can probably interpret a message, but they risk being unable to transmit it in the target language faithfully. For example, a specific word might not exist in the target language, and they’ll have to take extra time to explain it. Professional interpreters can quickly make up for lost words during the interpretation process.


Why Hire Translators?

If you’re still on the fence about hiring translators for your next project, keep in mind that the reader’s ability to understand your text is paramount. Traduality has everything you need to succeed; create your first project today and find vetted translators, or book a meeting with us to learn more about your specific needs.  

Updated 2/21/2024.

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