Professional reasons vs personal reasons for learning a language


Today’s guest post comes to us from the fingers of Hidaya Warsame, a fellow translator who currently resides in London.
Her company asked me to write a bit about about the niceties and vicisitudes of being a translator; in exchange, I asked them to share their impressions of using languages for fun versus for work. So here you go: answers to the questions that anybody aspiring to be a translator wants to know beforehand. Take it away, Hidaya!

It’s often said that “to possess another language is to possess another soul.” A sentence which for language lovers such as myself couldn’t be any truer. This particular sentence is somehow engraved onto my mind and has stuck with me throughout my language learning journey.

Initially, I started learning languages for the same reasons perhaps a majority of people do – to be able to communicate during my travels. I have always travelled a lot as exploring new countries, their culture and history is something that has fascinated me from a very young age. Truthfully, being able to speak the native language of a country you’re visiting will not only allow you to ask for the dessert menu or directions, but also, and most importantly, will let you experience matters that you could easily miss otherwise as a monolingual speaker.

In time, the love I have for travelling somehow extended itself onto language learning. I currently speak Italian, Polish, French, Spanish, and of course, English. In the future I hope to learn Thai, although this task at the moment seems rather difficult, to say the least, not only due to complete lack of time, but also due to the tonal nature of the language!

Knowing languages not only allowed me to make use of them in my personal life, but also, it made it possible for me to transfer my knowledge to my professional life too. I am currently working for a professional translation agency based in London, and therefore something I truly enjoy – interacting with different languages and cultures, is now part of my everyday life!

Many people think that simply being able to speak another language fluently will allow them to become a professional translator. Unfortunately, the truth is a little bit more complicated than that…

Make it official.


One of the most apparent differences between speaking a language for personal use and using your language skills and knowledge professionally (e.g. a translator) is obtaining a legally recognised qualification. A person who only wishes to be able to communicate with friends and family or perhaps during their travels does not require any type of official recognition of their skill. Consequently, such person is able to use a number of different learning resources such as the internet, books and group classes – whatever they find most suitable – and when they feel confident enough with their language skills, the world can truly be their oyster.

On the other hand, a person who wishes to become a professional translator or interpreter and work for an agency (such as the one I work for – Translation Services 24), must complete specific exams and assessments which are legally recognised and which allow you to officially work within the industry. A number of translators complete either a degree in a language related subject or another widely recognised qualification, one of the most popular being DipTrans by CIOL. You can find more information about it here.

Going an extra mile…or two.


Another important difference, which is rather obvious, yet many people manage to overlook it, is the level at which a person is able to speak a language. Of course, a person who only learns a language for personal use might be able to speak it fluently, yet, a professional translator must not only speak the language fluently, he or she must also go an extra mile, or two miles perhaps. A number of times a word might exists in one language but have no literal translation into the target language (e.g. gattara in Italian or Waldeinsamkeit in German). Such words can truly be a headache as a translator is required to recognise them and substitute with a word in a target language without losing their original meaning. Often changing the meaning of a single word during the translation process can affect not only a particular sentence but also the entire document!

Cultural knowledge

Cultural knowledge also plays a major part of learning a language for personal and professional use. When learning a language for personal use (e.g. travelling), a person would study the language in order to later experience and learn more about the particular country’s culture. In contrast, professional linguists must understand the local culture and values in-depth prior to starting a translation project. This allows them to localise documents and target specific audience better, especially when translating marketing documents.

Specific lingo

A number of translators work within specific business sectors such as legal, marketing or medical areas. This obliges them not only to learn a language, but also to learn the particular lingo that is used specifically within those sectors. A great example of this could be an English marketing term ‘SEO’, if you were a marketing translator, you’d be require to know exactly what the term stands for and what the localised translation in your target language is. This particular knowledge wouldn’t be expected of a language lover.

As you can see, learning and being able to speak a foreign language for personal use is rather different to using your language skills for earning a living. Do you have any other examples of how language learning differs between professional and personal use? Let us know in the comments!