The Art of Translation and Why Being Bilingual Isn't Enough

The Art of Translation and Why Being Bilingual Isn't Enough

It is common to believe that in order to translate documents or statements, you simply need someone who is bilingual. However, even though being bilingual or even multilingual is an important part of being a translator, there is a significant amount of additional skill and expertise that is required. In this post, we look at the importance of using a skilled translator for legal translation and the key skills that professional translators possess. 

Can I use a person who is bilingual to translate legal documents or statements? 

You could, but the translation is unlikely to be accurate, and you put yourself at risk. People who are bilingual can communicate in two languages. However, they are not necessarily skilled in transferring information across these two languages, or au fait in certain subject matter across both languages. For most bilingual people, they acquire a second language for a different purpose, for example, they may learn a new language for work or to communicate with family members or a new partner. Many bilingual people actually find it challenging to switch between languages in a situation if they do not often use their second language in that context. As a result, being bilingual does not always make a person completely fluent in all contexts, or even give them skills in understanding or expressing themselves in the written language. In most cases, people who are bilingual but not professional translators lack the understanding and skill required for accurate translation. 

What additional skills do translators possess? 

The role of a translator is to accurately transfer the meaning of  one language into another. Many translators have particular specialisms; translating childrens’ books or marketing slogans for example - we specialise in legal translation

Language skills 

Even fluent, native speakers do not necessarily possess strong language skills. Translators are required to fully understand both the source language (the foreign language they are translating from) and their own native language in which they should have an exceptional grasp. As they continue to develop and hone their skills, there is an increased accuracy and understanding of nuance and meaning which eventually leads to them becoming experts in both language and subject. Much in the way a professional writer crafts their pieces of writing, a translator will redraft and spend time ensuring each word is perfect for conveying the exact meaning. 

The foundation of accurate translation is to preserve the exact concepts found in the source language, while creating a translation that both accurately conveys these concepts as well as reading well and making sense in the target language. This is why a machine such as Google Translate is nowhere near as skilled as a professional translator. Translators have the human skills to understand nuance and express themselves in an appropriate style, using the most accurate terminology to create a clear, precise and unambiguous translation. This is an essential skill in legal translation, as even the smallest margin of error can affect the outcome of a case. 


Professional translators typically have formal translation training and hold several qualifications related to their translation services. For example, At IMD Legal Translation and Interpreting Ltd, all of our translators are highly qualified in line with ISO17100 standards, but also specifically in legal translation, having not only a native understanding of the language but in-depth comprehension of the legal practice area they work in too. This is a key difference between those who are bilingual and those who are professional translators, and between those who are professional translators and those who are professional translators specialised in the legal sector; only specific qualifications and experience can ensure an accurate and reliable translation. 

Analytical and excellent attention to detail

As discussed above, even the smallest error can have a huge impact on the influence of a legal translation. A highly trained translator has exceptional skill in identifying potential errors in a translation, and using their language skill and knowledge to assess the translation and improve its accuracy. Professional translators are not only top notch researchers, but also have the ability to be critical of their own work, to redraft and reanalyse a translation several times to make sure it is word perfect. 


Like most professions, experience plays a huge role in translation. Experienced translators develop not only a stronger grasp of words, expressions, idioms, and terminology, but also an understanding of the best resources to use where they are unsure and a deep understanding of the subject matter in which they specialise. 


The modern world moves quickly, so too do translators. With the ever increasing demand for speed and accuracy in legal translation, it is essential that modern translators use all of the technology tools available to them to provide a fast, accurate and reliable translation. IMD Legal Translation and Interpreting, as well as the professional translators with whom we collaborate, invest in the right technology and resources too, including access to databases, tools, files and stored translations that others do not. 

Contact IMD Translation 

At IMD Translation, we know how important your clients are to you and how missing a court deadline can have a huge impact on the outcome of a case.  Unlike many other translation firms, we focus solely on the professional services sector, specialising in the provision of translation services for law, financial, and medical firms.

Our team has built an impressive reputation by providing a fast, accurate, and confidential service tailored to our clients’ requirements - get in touch at or on 03309121530