Frequently Asked Questions about Translations


What is translation? And interpreting? Why can’t machines do all of this? Below you can find the American Translator’s Association’s answers to these questions:

Translators do the writing

Translators work with the written word, converting text from a source language into a target language. This is far more than replacing one word with another. The translator must also convey the style, tone, and intent of the text, while taking into account differences of culture and dialect. The finished document should read as if it had originally been written in the target language for the target audience.

Translators usually work in one direction

In general, translators have just one target language—typically their native language.

Translators often specialize by subject areas

Like many professional writers, translators specialize in certain subject areas, such as law, medicine, business, banking, technology, science or tourism. Specialization requires an in-depth knowledge of the subject and its terminology in both the source and target languages.

Keys to successful translation

     1. Hire a translator who is skilled in writing in his or her native language

     2. Look for a translator who specializes in the subject area of your business

     3. Provide the translator with as much information as you can about the assignment

     4. Establish the basis for word count—source or target—and rush services

     5. Check references and review sample translations

For more information on translation, visit the ATA Website

Interpreters do the talking

Interpreters work with the spoken word, converting speech from a source language into a target language. This is far more than speaking two languages fluently. The interpreter must also communicate the style and tone of the speaker, while taking into account differences of culture, dialect, and setting. The listeners should hear the interpreted message as if it had been originally spoken in their own language. I do not provide interpreting services.

For more information on interpreting, visit the ATA Website

Why can’t a machine do all of this?

Advances in machine translation (MT) have spawned a wave of popular speculation about the imminent end of the translation profession. Here is an insider’s perspective of how to distinguish when MT can be used as a great tool and when it is much better to rely primarily on "human" translators.

When to use a free online machine translation service

Web-based communication is multilingual. Long gone are the days where you could expect a webpage, a Facebook post, or a tweet to be in English (or in another language of your preference). That's where free and generic machine translation services such as Google Translate or Microsoft Bing Translator can be excellent tools for gaining an approximate idea of what that foreign-language communication says.

We have all heard at least one of the many, many mistranslations arising from these kinds of services—and while many of these stories may be urban legends, enough are true to indicate that you'll need to be cautious about the reliability of those "gisted" translations. Still, there are many helpful uses for the casual user.

Caution: it's not confidential

Any content that is translated by one of these online machine translation programs is stored and analyzed by Google and Microsoft as fresh content for later translations.

When reliability counts

There's more to MT than these generic systems, though. Since the generic systems are trained by the vast amount of online content, they are often unreliable when used with a specific terminology or a specific style of writing. This is where customized MT that has been trained on a specific data set comes into play.

For more information on machine translation, visit the ATA Website

Read the American Translator's Association's guide to buying translation: ATA Website


Ata American Traslators Association

Molly Yurick
+34 665 497 915
Oviedo (Spain)