We Translate On Time

Are Bilinguals The Best Translators?

August 15th, 2018

Did you know that more than half of the world’s population is bilingual? As claimed by François Grosjean, bilingualism may be found within all the age groups and society levels. According to him, in the USA there are around 50 million bilinguals – it’s the same number as the population of South Korea. Since this is such a common phenomenon, are also the best translators bilingual? Maybe growing up in a foreign country is the recipe for becoming an outstanding translator? It may seem true, but the reality is different.

Christopher Thierry explains that the notion of "perfect bilingual" has two definitions. One of them refers to a person who acquired two mother tongues ­­­- so both of them were not taught by the means of another language, but immersed in childhood. The second Thierry's definition says that the "perfect bilingual" is a person who speaks two languages fluently, with having acquired the same level of knowledge about the given cultures. Isn’t that the perfect set of skills that every translator must have?

Chartered Institute of Linguistics (CIOL) claims that the notion of bilingualism refers to being fluent in two languages, yet not necessarily in the same fields. What is more, according to CIOL: "Being bilingual does not necessarily include the ability to interpret or translate. This requires additional skills in order to transfer concepts between languages." Samuel Kolawole explains that in case of bilingualism, people may lack the analytical linguistic skill to work with a difficult paper. According to him, bilingualism is then "necessary, but not sufficient for translation proficiency and efficiency." What also matters is the way of conveying the meanings, the ability to preserve the style, and introducing proper terminology.


Thiery, C. (1978). True Bilingualism and Second - Language Learning in Gerver, D. & Sinaiko, H. (Eds.), Language, Interpretation and Communication, New York: Plenum Press.



by Gabriela Stępień