Exploring the bilingualism spectrum

Posted by Audrey Dubois-Boutet on Apr 26, 2011 Apr 26, 2011

spectrumAccording to a recent poll, 45.6 percent of translators say they’re not bilingual. The translation networking site ProZ.com asked whether or not people considered themselves bilingual. Out of 1705 people who voted (as of April 25), only 38.7 percent considered themselves bilingual, a surprising number for the translation industry. And 13.5 percent voted “I’m trilingual actually”.

So are people not giving themselves enough credit or could it be that we apply the term too loosely?

Some of the translators who responded to this poll commented that they were fluent in two languages, but not bilingual. “Bilingual” is defined in the dictionary as the use of two languages with near to equal proficiency, and I’d wager to say that most people, if asked, would consider translators bilingual.

In my opinion, you are bilingual if you can go about your typical day in another language. I went to secondary school and college in English and therefore possess more advanced vocabulary in that language, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t live and work in French if needed.

Being bilingual or trilingual, or multilingual for that matter, isn’t about measuring up to some yard stick. If you were plopped down in the middle of a foreign country and you could converse easily with the locals, then consider yourself bilingual!

But again, that’s just my opinion. How do you view the bilingualism spectrum? Do you think translators are too modest about their language skills?

Visit the ProZ.com poll.

Topics: Language, Translation