Should You Just Translate that Article into English Yourself?

Enlisting an Academic Translator vs. Writing in Your Second Language

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If you are not a native English speaker but you need or want your work to be rendered in English, you may be wondering how to go about this. Should you write in your native language and have the paper translated into English? Should you write it in English and have a professional academic editor polish the language afterwards?

Due to the dominance of English as a global language, many international academics have a high level of proficiency in English. Perhaps you read widely in English, have done some of your studies in English, and/or interact with colleagues in various countries in English. Because of your proficiency, it may not be clear to you what kind of language service would be most appropriate for you.

Here I set out some considerations to help guide your decision about whether to use a professional academic translator or editor and what kind of service to utilize:

Does the final text need to be in publication-ready English?

This may seem obvious, but this is the first step in making your decision. The answer will vary depending on the purpose of the text and the intended audience.

If you are aiming to publish in an English-language journal, your article will generally need to be in impeccable English prior to submission for review. (An exception might be, for example, a literary journal that publishes articles in more than one language.) Reviewers will focus on substantive issues and will not edit your English for you.

On the other hand, perhaps you have a white paper or working draft—something you are not planning on publishing, at least not in the near future. You may decide it would be helpful to have this in English, perhaps to circulate among colleagues from various countries or to hand out when you make a presentation at an international conference, however it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Are you capable of writing in English at the level of a well-educated native speaker?

It can be difficult to objectively assess one’s own skills in a foreign language.

One way to think about this is to ask yourself: Do I write in English regularly at a sophisticated level, for example as a required part of my job? If you do, your skills may be sharp enough that you can go ahead and write your article in English yourself, even if it is for publication in an English-language journal.

If your written English is less than perfect, it may still be adequate for a text that is not meant for publication. The bottom line, though, is that if you need or want the final text to be not just error-free, but also clear and polished, you will need the assistance of a professional translator or editor who is a native English speaker.

Do you have time to do it yourself?

Even with high-level writing skills, writing a document in your second or third language can be considerably more time-consuming than writing it in your native language. It may be that hiring a professional is the only way for you to get your text into excellent English while staying on top of your other professional responsibilities.

If that is your situation, then the only question left is:

What is your budget for translation and/or editing?

As a general rule, free machine translation (such as Google Translate) should only be used to get the gist—the basic meaning—of a piece of text, for example the abstract of an article that is unavailable in your own language. You would be using machine translation as a consumer to add to your own general knowledge and perhaps help you decide whether to purchase access to an article.

Free machine translation is not appropriate for producing any kind of professional document in an academic context, especially for publication. Even if you have no budget for translation, it is a bad idea to use free machine translation for your own academic writing; mistranslations can be subtle and difficult to spot.

If you decide you need the assistance of an expert, your options include (from most to least expensive): translation, translation editing, and regular language editing. Keep in mind the distinction between the latter two when budgeting. If what you need is for someone to make sure a translation is an accurate and well-written reflection of the original text, you will need to budget more for this (translation editing) than for an editor to review the translation as a standalone text (language editing).

Publishing academic work in one’s second or third language can be a daunting task. Language professionals such as translators and editors can help you break through the language barrier and make your work available to an English-speaking audience.

Receive an individualized quote!